Saturday, 31 May 2008

'The Pink & The Lily' by Sandi Thom

Sandi Thom's second album was released this week and it is good, much better and more consistent than her first album.

I came across Sandi through a google alert that quoted an article that said she sounded like Buffy Sainte-Marie. I followed the article back to source and found 'I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker' and then went to see her play a little gig at Islington Academy Bar. About that time the single charted and she became the latest internet-based sensation. She doesn't really sound like Buffy but she has a vibrato voice and I suppose that's similar enough. I liked about half of the first album - it was short with only 10 songs and felt like it was rushed out. The new album is longer (both number of songs and duration) and a lot more fulfilling.

Sandi released a few songs to download from her site earlier this year, songs that didn't make the album, and I liked them so was looking forward to the album's release. There's a much bigger sound on this album with the music really fleshed out by a full band rather than the sketches on the first album, a rockier sound and definite statement that she's not a one-hit wonder.

A few of the songs drip with cultural references from the last century, referencing 'Gone With The Wind', Judy Garland, the Rolling Stones, punks and hippies (as she would!) and a lot more. I'm not sure why she does this, maybe it's an attempt to place her music in an ongoing tradition down the years? Whatever, Sandi writes songs on a wide range of topics and I wonder what the inspiration for 'Success's Ladder' was? It's a celebration about a man leaving the rat race and commuting and moving down the ladder of success. That's an odd one for someone in Sandi's position and age but it's one of my favourites and shows how thoughtful she can be.

I prefer the rockier songs on the album and there's a good few to choose from: 'The Devil's Beat' (the single), 'Shape I'm In' (with the harmonica break), 'Remote Control Me', and the great 'I'm A Human Being' (which should be a single).

Well done Sandi, a big thumbs up from me!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Maximo Photos

I took some photos of the great Maximo Park when I saw them last night and here's a few:

Four Bands in One Night

Tonight I saw the magnificent Maximo Park in concert in the venue with the stickiest floors in London, the Forum in Kentish Town. It took an age to get home to the other end of the Northern Line so I thought I'd wind down by giving you a potted review.

Much to their credit, the Maximos don't have a record or DVD to promote, this was a one-off charity gig to support The Royal Marsden Hospital and the No-Surrender charity for young people with cancer. Worthy causes and good of them to put the gig together, with all profits going to the two organisations. It was a four-band line-up, starting with...

Pete & The Pirates: now, anything involving pirates gets a thumbs up from me (I still haven't decided whether to be a pirate or join a circus when I grow up) but I wasn't entirely impressed with the band. It's a five-piece band and, let's face it, no band needs four guitarists. They struck me as indie-by-numbers, trying different styles and sounds for half an hour on the off-chance that one style might work. They were entertaining enough but, unless they up their game, I wouldn't bother seeing them again.

Blood Red Shoes: I first saw the BRS supporting the Maximos last year and then supporting Siouxsie this year. I *like* the thump-thump-twangsters and they did a great set with some of my favourites from the new album. And for the first time, they were actually lit properly so I could see them clearly. Laura-Mary was in a nice grey frock and black stockings but I admit to wincing to see that she wasn't wearing shoes on stage - bad girl, you might tread on something out there! Steven was in tee shirt and jeans banging away on the drums as usual. They opened with 'It's Getting Boring By The Sea' and played 'You Bring Me Down' and 'I Wish I Someone Better', two of my favourites. They also played for half an hour and ended with Steven standing on his drums and part demolishing them - so rock n roll! I liked 'em and so did most of the audience, so that's a good thing.

Mystery Jets: while a lot of people around me (generally of the younger persuasion) seemed to enjoy the Mystery Jets I thought they were pretentious tripe. Any band that sets out three sets of keyboards and then only use them for the first song, after which they switch to guitars, deserves derision. The sound mix was awful, I couldn't hear what was being sung and it seemed like they threw everything possible into every song - how many kitchen sinks do they own? I coined the phrase 'progressive indie' watching them - they reminded me of early '70s progressive rock more than anything. Half an hour was purgatory. And for some obscure reason Laura Marling joined them on stage to sing one verse of their last song and then left, followed a few minutes later by the rest of the band since that really was their last song. A bit shambolic and not in a good way. Moving on ...

Maximo Park: Magnificent. Godlike. Heroic.

Me Geordie Lads were great (obviously). I think this is the 6th or 7th time I've seen them live and it always feels like such a privilege to see them play. They're a great live band and it was totally scary to see the huddled masses below on the floor bouncing and pushing one way and another whenever the lights shone on them (I sensibly was sitting in the second row of the balcony). Paul is an excellent front-man, whipping up the audience and keeping the excitement at a peak. I don't understand why he wears the bowler hat though - it must be very sweaty in that hat after the first couple of songs. He jumped all over the stage, wiggled his hips, leapt from Tom's drum podium arms and legs akimbo, ran from one side of the stage to another, bounced along with Lukas at his keyboards. He makes me feel tired.

The Maximos played for an hour (finishing at 11.20pm, hence the long trek home) and it was mainly a hits set (which is fine by me) with the addition of *new* songs! They played two new songs, one a romantic piece and one, called (I think) 'Tanned' which caused a big grin to appear on my face. Dunc has discovered 'Electric Warrior'! The guitar riff wasn't a rip-off or anything but it instantly took me back to early T.Rex circa the 'Electric Warrior' album and it works perfectly. There were also hints of psychedelia in the song and if this is the direction for the new album then it's going to be fab! I loved it! I don't think any of them of them were born when 'Electric Warrior' was released but I was and I think Marc would approve. I really hope that song is on the new album - it's excellent!

The gig ended with 'Apply Some Pressure' during which some twat got onto the stage and somehow ended up with Paul on the floor before the twat was pulled off and bounced into the wings and Paul could finish the song. It was all over in a few seconds after which Paul immediately went to the front of the stage to stand on the monitors to show he was ok and I hope he really is ok and doesn't find some odd aches and pains tomorrow when the adrenalin has worn off. Why do people do that?

Anyway, the Maximos won hands down on quality of songs and performance, they were great. You really must go and see them if they play a venue in your area since they're immense fun live. Now I just need to wait for the new album...

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

'In Your Room' by Yazoo

The new boxset from Yazoo, 'In Your Room' was released on Monday. It comprises the remastered 'Upstairs At Eric's' and 'You And Me Both' plus another CD of non-album tracks and remixes and a DVD with a documentary and videos. I haven't been into town so far this week so I haven't seen a physical copy yet but I downloaded the audio today and have been happily bopping along to it all afternoon. I wouldn't say I was a great fan of Yazoo but I got both albums on vinyl when they came out and have enjoyed Alison's music ever since (I never got into Erasure). I'm looking forward to seeing them live in concert in a few weeks time.

'Upstairs At Eric's' is a great album, one of those landmarks when suddenly you hear something new. Listen to it now and, without the history, it doesn't stand out the way it did back when it was first released. But listening to it today and I keep hearing hooks and sequences that seem to be the bedrock of so much dance music - it tapped into something that has now become mainstream but you can trace it back to Yazoo, Vince's electronic wizardry and Alison's vocals.

Although I had the albums on vinyl I've only ever had a 'best of' CD that includes less than half of the album so it's been great to hear the album in full again. Fab tunes like 'Bad Connection', 'Goodbye 70s', 'Midnight' (which allows Alison to show off her voice), 'In My Room', 'Tuesday' (with the drear line of 'Woman of 30...' sung as if 30 is ancient and at the end of life [sigh]) and 'Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)' as well the obvious 'Don't Go' and 'Only You'. Mind you, it also reminded me of my pet hate of the waste of space 'I Before E Except After C' in which the best part is Alison's stoned laughter (I've deleted it from my iPod already for it's sheer annoyance factor).

'You And Me Both' was Yazoo's second and final album and I think they split the week it was released or something like that. I bought it. 'Upstairs' is the better album since it was ground-breaking and, by the second one, we had a good idea of what to expect, but it's a good album nonetheless. Highlights for me are 'Mr Blue', 'Nobody's Diary', 'Sweet Thing', 'Good Times' and 'Ode To Boy' (although I prefer Alison's solo version).

The third disc is remixes and a few non-album songs and rareties. It's nice to have the bonus tracks, but they're extras really. I decided to download the three audio discs rather than buy the full boxset largely because of the price - £10.99 for 3 CDs compared to £35.99 for 3 CDs + 1 DVD + the packaging. I suspect I'd only watch the DVD once and not look at the packaging after the first time, so £25 isn't a bad saving and shows what the retail and record company mark-up really is. My music-listening habits have changed over the years but that's for another blog.

Anyway, I've enjoyed listening to it, the sound quality is great, nice and clean, and I'm looking forward to seeing Yazoo on 19 June - not long now!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Overheard In London

I found an interesting website this afternoon - Overheard In London - that resulted in some loud guffaws emanating from my gob. It's full of things people have overheard in and around London and emailed to the site. Who knows if they're actually true but some of them are laugh-out-loud quality.

Some examples:

Parenting skills

chav mum dragging screaming 3 year old child along

"stop f***ing struggling or I'll leave you behind"
Overheard by danthefloorman, wimbledon
posted Monday, 10th March 2008

I wouldn't call it brain drain!

2 white blokes on a bus doing along by Denmark Hill.

White bloke #1 (looking out of the bus and onto the street): 'It's all shit round here.'
White bloke #2: 'All these fucking immigrants.'
White bloke #1: 'Yeah. If there was a country without immigrants I'd go and live there.'
Overheard by Phil, On a bus in East Dulwich
posted Friday, 28th March 2008

Horny Chocolate Sellers

Girl #1 selling chocolates: "Alright mate; how about it? Wanna try?"
Bloke: "Nah thanks love, you're sweet enough."
Girl #2 selling chocolates: "That guy was so fit, and he just made a pass at you."
Girl #1 selling chocolates: "I know. If he'd have bought a chocolate I'd totally already be sat on his face."
Girl #2 selling chocolates: "I'd have just given him a chocolate..."
Overheard by Craig, Camden Market
posted Tuesday, 05th February 2008

Fidelity or not

Guy 1: "... so you're in an open relationship?"
Guy 2: "Yeah, well kind of .."
Guy 1: "What do you mean 'kind of'?!"
Guy 2: "Well, she doesn't know yet."
Overheard by K, The Big Chill, Shoreditch
posted Monday, 03rd December 2007

Friday, 23 May 2008

Chelsea Flower Show 2008

After work this afternoon I headed over to Chelsea for the Royal Horticultural Society's annual flower show. I'd left it too late to order an afternoon ticket (they sell out quickly) so got an evening ticket for entry at 5.30pm. I got straight in shortly after 5pm so that gave me ample time to browse. As ever, it was incredibly crowded, people milling round everywhere but that's part of Chelsea, I suppose.

First stop was the Grand Pavilion and all the flower displays, banks of gorgeous flowers all over the place, colour and shape making me wander like a magpie round the Pavilion, veering off course when a blaze of colour caught my eye. I think the Pavilion is larger this year - it looked it and felt it while I wandered round.

After wearing my eyes out with colour I went outside for an ice-cream and a look at the gardens. I think my favourite was the 'George Harrison garden' which is a bit of a coincidence since I bought 'All Things Must Pass' the other day. It's a colourful garden with a riot of planting at the front alongside a ceramic star celebrating 'Here Comes The Sun' with a winding path to a little stream and leading to a Mughal pavilion with silk cushions for relaxing on. Beside the stream is a large photo of George circa 1970 from the 'All Things' shoot with water seeping over it as a fountain and bubbling into the stream. Beside the stream are etched the words, 'Floating down the stream of time from life to life with me... by George Harrison'. It's a peaceful garden.

It was fun walking round the exhibition seeing all sorts of plant-related stuff - stalls selling flowered wellies, plant pots, little tractors, wind-chimes, sheds, water-colours... you name it, it was there. There were plants and flowers in all shapes, from a giant rugby player in the Cardiff garden to shoes made from tiny alpines in a 'designers' garden. The Caribbean gardens once again won my award for most colour and form but they weren't as imaginative as last year, and some of the other exhibitors seemed to use the same designs and motifs as last year. I was pleased to find the display of orchids from Japan I'd been hoping to see, with delicate little orchids with their roots wrapped in moss and suspended from a tree. After a day at work it was knackering, but nice to see.

Did I take any photos? Oh yes, and here's a sample....

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Christmas in May

Yes, I know it's a bit early but may I shout MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERBODY at you, please?

The Merry Xmas Everybody Tour 2008 will be stopping off at Shepherds Bush Empire on Monday 22 December 2008 with the magnificent Slade, T.Rexstacy and Mud2. I saw the 2007 tour at Croydon and Slade were fab but the venue was a bit odd - now, I'm not a fan of Shepherd's Bush but at least it has the requisite sticky floors and is a traditional rock venue.

I really want to see the noize boyz at a proper venue so please don't invite me to a party that night as I'm afraid I'll be busy...

"There'll Always Be An England" DVD - The Sex Pistols

Look out for the new DVD from the Sex Pistols chronicling their sojourn at Brixton Academy last November - and I was there! The DVD is released on 30 June so I know what I'm doing that evening! Um, well, I'm actually going to see Lou Reed at the Royal Albert Hall, but you know what I mean.

Here's a preview of the artwork for the DVD courtesy of John's site:

As John Lydon so rightly said at the end of their last night at Brixton, "They're the best band in the world" and, believe me, that night they were!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Thumpy Thump

I'm sorry to go on about The Dresden Dolls new album but it really is good. I want to go on record to say that I *need* to see the punk cabaret ragamuffins play 'The Mouse And The Model' live. Amanda is being gorgeous and teasing singing, 'If you did it say you did it, if you didn't suck it up and say you did' (I love that line) while plonking away on the keyboard, but it's a tour de force by Brian on the drums.

Brian is a great drummer, has played with Nine Inch Nails and in Jesse Mallin's band on the last tour. He feels music. He knows when to touch the cymbal and when to thrash it. He's an artist. And I love his drumming on 'The Mouse And The Model'. Whenever I hear it I want to go into head banging, arms thrashing drum mode, arms flailing all over as I join in with Brian's manic drumming. There's so much drum on that song that you could be forgiven for thinking it's multi-tracked but it isn't. That's how Brian Viglione plays. He's a drum god.

Incidentally, if you want to hear the song - or the whole album - then you could scoot over to the Virginia Archives site and listen to it. If you like it then buy the album. In fact, buy the album anyway - it's your duty as a human being.


I was brushing my teeth this morning and, out of the blue, found myself in Kathmandu.

Many years ago I went on an adventure to the northern parts of the Indian sub-continent. I travelled by car, train and plane in a higgledy-piggledy way across Northern India and up into Nepal, from Delhi to Varanasi to Kathmandu and back to Delhi. I had a wonderful time and saw some amazing sights that will stay with me forever, such as opening the curtains in my hotel room and having that 'wow' moment as I looked out over the red roofs of Kathmandu and into the foothills of the Himalayas as the sun glinted on the snow-covered peaks. I saw 8" tall marigolds in Kathmandu. Honest.

I floated a candle as an offering to Mother Ganga at dawn as I was rowed up the Ganges at Varansi past the burning ghats as the Ganges turned orange as the first rays of the sun hit it. I was blessed by a Jain monk in a wave of incense smoke. I was surrounded by mutilated beggars outside the Palace of the Winds at Jaipur until a coach tour arrived and the picking were better elsewhere. I met Kali in an ancient temple and she was daubed in blood. I drove through endless fields with women picking the crops while wearing the most colourful saris imaginable. I drove through a desert and stopped at a country club with the greenest lawns I've ever seen. The majesty of the Taj Mahal at Agra. Oh, the memories...

I'm not sure why brushing my teeth made me think of Kathmandu but it did. I also thought of last Thursday when I saw two Buddhist monks in orange robes - one in Tooting Broadway station and one in the Cabinet War Rooms. My mind is telling me something. I need to go East.

I have yearnings in me.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Buffy Sainte-Marie - The '70's Albums

The Buffy wires are still agog with the news that - finally - three of Buffy Sainte-Marie's albums after she left Vanguard will finally be released on CD. 'Buffy', 'Changing Woman' and 'Sweet America' are due to be released on 30 June 2008 as a double album. Play is advertising the album for pre-order and is showing the cover as an interpretation of the back of the record cover for 'Sweet America' with a topless Buffy and a feather. I've always liked that picture.

The tracklisting is noted as:

Disc 1 - Buffy

  1. Can't Believe The Feeling When You're Gone
  2. I've Really Fallen For You
  3. Sweet Little Vera
  4. (Hong Kong) Star Boy
  5. Sweet Fast Hooker Blues
  6. Generation
  7. Hey Baby! Howd'ja Do Me This Way?
  8. I Can't Take It No More
  9. Waves
  10. That's The Way You Fall In Love
  11. Changing Woman - Eagle Man/Changing Woman
  12. Can't You See The Way I Love You
  13. Love's Got To Breathe And Fly
  14. You Take Me Away
  15. `Til I See You Again

Disc 2 - Changing Woman (continued)

  1. Mongrel Pup
  2. The Beauty Way
  3. Nobody Will Ever Know It's Real But You
  4. All Around The World
  5. A Man
  6. Sweet America - Sweet America
  7. Wynken, Blynken And Nod
  8. Where Poets Go
  9. Free The Lady
  10. America My Home
  11. Look At The Facts
  12. I Don't Need No City Life
  13. Sweet January
  14. Qu'appelle Valley, Saskatchewan
  15. Honey Can You Hang Around
  16. I Been Down
  17. Star Walker
  18. Ain't No Time For The Worryin' Blues
This listing suggests no bonus tracks but I don't really mind, it'll just be so good to have the full albums on a proper CD at last. I hope this doesn't fall through for some reason!

More Records

So, ok, I went to HMV yesterday to get the new album from The Dresden Dolls (and pretty damn wonderful it is too) but did you think that was all I bought? How little you know me...

After snatching my copy of 'No, Virginia' from the new release shelves I headed downstairs to check on the Buffy Sainte-Marie records. The last time I was in HMV and dutifully went down to tidy up the Buffy records I found a new one so who am I to scoff? Sadly there were no new Buffy records yesterday. But ...

The Buffy wires have been a-buzzing with the news that three of Buffy's early '70s albums - 'Buffy', 'Changing Woman' and 'Sweet America' - will finally be released on a double CD at the end of June. It's showing on Amazon as a pre-order but there's no information about it, whether it's remastered or anything, but that's good news anyway. Now all we need is a release date for 'Running For The Drum', Buffy's album of new material, some of which I heard her play when I saw her at the Highline Ballroom in March.

'Little Dreamer' by Beth Rowley

Beth's first album is finally out. I first saw Beth last year at the Bedford Bandstand supporting Kiki Dee and was most impressed with her voice. I saw her again a few weeks ago at her first headlining gig at Bush Hall and I'm even more impressed with her voice. She has a sort of soul, bluesey, jazzy voice, a big voice that easily goes up and down the scale, very versatile and flexible. What I didn't realise is that she co-writes most of her songs. She can certainly out-sing the current crop of 'new girl singers' but it looks like she's not being pitched against them and not heading for the singles chart. She's signed to Universal Music Classics and Jazz and that suggests she's being groomed for a long-term career rather than a few quick hit singles and then obliteration.

This album will reward repeated listenings, probably late night listenings, and the songs will grow on you. There's a great selection of songs, very mature songs, all of which are perfect for Beth's voice which is always to the fore. About half of the album has been available for download from iTunes for some time (the 'Violets' EP and two follow-up singles) so it's nice to hear the new songs.

Favourites are 'Oh My Life' which reeks of sunshine, the reggae-ified version of 'I Shall Be Released', 'You Never Called Me Tonight' and 'When The Rains Came'. The only mistake seems to be 'Angels Flying Too Close To The Ground', a duet with Duke Special - if someone is being sold on their voice why include a duet, and a relatively poor one at that? Seems daft and it's the weakest track for me.

Give it a listen if you get the chance, it's class stuff.

'We Started Nothing' by The Ting Tings

I'm new to The Ting Tings but saw them on Jools a few weeks ago and loved the new single, 'That's Not My Name', so thought I'd grab the new album. It's a good record, very 'now' and very 'young', full of energy. On a first listen, I like it, but I'm not sure it'll survive repeated listenings.

The music is minimalist, reliant on rhythm and beat with some interesting lyrics thrown over the tunes . The record includes the previous single, 'Great DJ' (was that targeted at getting radio play?) as well as the current one, and all the tracks sound like they're potential singles. I like it and they seem to have hit 'now' but I can't help wondering whether I'll listen to this album in a years' time? But does that matter?

'Shut Up And Let Me Go' opens with a blatant Chic guitar rip-off which sounds fabulous. Something that I do find a bit irritating is the London/Essex 'estuary' glottal stop appearing in the vocals when she's from the North West. Please don't.

'All Things Must Pass' by George Harrison

OK, so the old 'ippy in me is emerging. I bought the vinyl back in 1974 or '75 and liked most of the songs (except the 'jam' sessions). I bought a couple more albums and then Johnny Rotten and Poly Styrene came along and it was 'bye bye George'. Lennon still had some cred, but not George. I got his 'best of' in the '90s and quietly enjoyed it. Then he died a few days after my Mam and the radio was full of 'My Sweet Lord' and it took on a different meaning. I've been looking at this album for months now and not bought it because of the price (£21) but it's got a third knocked off at the moment so thought I'd indulge. I haven't listened to it yet, but I will.

'Ask Me Again' by Nancy La Mott

Chris introduced me to Nancy, a cabaret singer who died a few years ago, and 'Ask Me Again' is her latest posthumous album. It came out when we were in New York so I should've got it there on the cheap, but I've bought it on import prices for, essentially, one song, 'No One Is Alone/Not While I'm Around'. I love her version of this song and I'm not ashamed to say it brings a tear to my eye. She has a lovely voice and a wonderful way of interpreting songs. She was on the verge of greatness so it's lovely to hear these songs and think of what might have been.

Monday, 19 May 2008

'No, Virginia' by The Dresden Dolls

Today saw the release of 'No, Virginia', the new album from The Dresden Dolls so, as soon as I could manage this afternoon after work, I scarpered up to HMV on Oxford Street with my pocket money to buy a slice of heaven. I grabbed one off the new release display near the doors and then found more in the 'HMV recommends' shelves further inside. It's not being heavily promoted in the store but at least it's available in two places as well as in the 'D' shelves. That's a good thing.

The packaging is, as you'd expect from the Dolls, excellent. It's a gatefold digi-pack with lush photos of both Dolls inside in lace frocks and much attitude. There's a marvellous photo on the back of Amanda in Brian's arms after a gig - you can't see their faces but it's them hugging and is a lovely expression of their love for each other. I love that photo. The CD itself has a photo of Amanda's arm with the words 'I was young I needed the money' written along it and, when you take the CD out of the tray underneath is the bold statement 'I Love You' with stick drawings of Brian with a melting ice-cream and Amanda holding out her heart with blood dripping into a puddle. Further artwork, lyrics and photos will be available on a new part of the Dolls website when it's launched, presumably tomorrow to coincide with the American release.

And the record? Well, there are 11 tracks lasting 48 minutes and they're a mixture of old and new. A couple of the tracks have been available for a while in studio versions, others have only been available as live recordings on various sites and another few are new tracks recorded for this album. All were produced or co-produced by Sean Slade, an interesting surname, I'm sure you'll agree. The blurb on the back states, "A collection of unheard treasures from the Vault of The Punk Cabaret taken from the 'Yes Virginia' Sessions and featuring new songs from the Winter '08 Sessions". And treasures they are.

I've only heard the record once so far so I really need to hear it on loop on my iPod for the rest of the week to do it full justice, but, so far, I love it. An excellent selection of songs, intriguing lyrics, Amanda plonking away on keyboards and Brian doing his thumpy-thump thing, between them creating a full and atmospheric sound. The punk cabaret is growing up but it's still there with its tongue firmly in its cheek and a glint in its eye.

Dear Jenny is a brand new song with the marvellous opening line of, 'Boys wear overcoats in the heat like this to keep themselves from showing..' - when was the last time you heard a song opening with a rationale for wearing a coat? And a chorus telling us that, 'Rates are better in the summer...'. A great Dolls song!

Night Reconnaisance is excellent, a potential single and already has its own video (posted last week so click here and take a look and a listen).

The Mouse And The Model is six minutes of glory for Brian going well overboard with his delicate and wild thumpy stuff proving (if it's needed) what a great drummer he is.

Ultima Esperanza is a tour de force for piano and drums and even includes a mellotron (played by Mr Slade), a wild aural romp.

The Gardener is a strange song, menacing with the threat of 'we will plant brambles in your bed' and you just know that Amanda doesn't mean the springy, comfortable thing you lie on at night. It's very atmospheric and spare, showing what good musicians they both are, creating moods and terror with a gentle tap on the keyboard or drum. It ends with the refrain, 'The Gardener's coming to collect...'.

Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner is one of my long-term favourites, the 'B' side to 'Sing' from 'Yes, Virginia'. Manic piano playing and worrying lyrics. Halfway through the song Amanda cries out, "Maybe I'll find out why this damn thing won't stop bleeding..." and I've never quite got what that is about.

Sorry Bunch is a mid tempo song with the refrain of 'Just so long as you are on my side...' and reminds me slightly of 'The Jeep Song' from the first studio album. It's not really like it at all but there are echoes of it. Maybe it's the most 'rock standard' of the songs on the album?

Pretty In Pink, yes, the Psychedelic Furs classic from the film. It's a great version of the song and I love Amanda's world-weary tone throughout the song.

The Kill opens with the wonderful words from 'Anarchy in the UK', 'I am an anarchist, an antichrist' and goes on to talk about being a 'rocket-ship' and other things. Amanda then sings that she is a 'plagiarist' and an 'optimist' and host of things. I suspect that Amanda is really saying that we're all wierdos...

The Sheep Song is a slow 'un and I'm not sure what its about except counting sheep? It's obviously very deep.

Boston is a trademarked Amanda song, whispering one minute, shouting the next, but with some interesting piano twiddles and seduction lyrics, keeping score for who you've had sex with. "Come back to bed my darling" Amanda croons, "But now we're here in Boston...". And Boston is where Amanda and Brian are from, of course.

I'm very pleased with my small slice of heaven. They make so much noise for a duo that the noise-demons must have them on the payroll. Go out and buy it and make it a great big hit record.

Friday, 16 May 2008

A Little Thrill

I had a little thrill tonight. Yazoo - Alf & Vince - were on the Jonathon Ross Show, together for the first time in a generation, playing 'Don't Go' to close the show. A bank of keyboards and an Apple laptop for Vince, a microphone for Alison and some lights. They didn't do much on stage, they just stood there doing their thing but I was a little bit 'wow'.


Thursday, 15 May 2008

More Buildings

I've been getting round recently, y'know. Last week saw the showcase of the Parent Know How suite of services at the London TV Studios on the Southbank. It generated quite a bit of press coverage and even got debated on Radio 2... from totally the wrong angle, of course, but that's not the point.

Today I was at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms in a maze of corridors underneath Whitehall for a meeting with parents. We were in the private function rooms at the back of the war rooms which were reached by walking through the corridors showing Churchill's office and the cabinet room from the Second World War. I was impressed with the 'disco wall' - if you've seen it, you'll know what I mean.

I wonder where I'll be next week...?

'The Year Of Magical Thinking' - Vanessa Redgrave

This evening Chris treated me to a front row seat to see Vanessa Redgrave in 'The Year Of Magical Thinking' at The National Theatre, a play by Joan Didion based on her memoir of the death of her husband and daughter. It played on Broadway last year with Vanessa in the same role, so it's a role she's very familiar with.

The play is very much 'Joan' talking to us about the circumstances of the deaths of her family in the space of a year - her husband and her only daughter - how she tries to rationalise it and understand it, explaining her perception of what happens when someone dies and how people respond. It sounds gloomy but it isn't really. It's about an intelligent woman left alone in the world and trying to make sense of what happened around her. It's quite touching in that respect and anyone who's lost a close family member will be able to relate to some of the feelings exposed.

It's a one-woman show. Vanessa comes out and talks for 90 minutes - I didn't feel 'acted at' at all, she was going through those emotions and thoughts in front of me. It was Vanessa sitting in a chair in the middle of an empty stage, the backdrops changing now and then and very effective and subtle lighting. The only thing that threw me for the first few minutes is that she uses an American accent which I wasn't expecting. It's a thoughtful piece and thought-provoking. Enjoyment is the wrong word, but I'm pleased that I've seen it.

Vanessa Redgrave is a great actress and it's an experience to see her. I saw her a few years ago in a Greek tragedy that was not a great experience. The play I still regret not seeing is when she was in 'Anthony & Cleopatra' in the '80s. I'm sure she was magnificent as a mature Cleopatra.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

A Dresden Dolls Sampler

I'm having a bit of a Dresden Dolls-fest this evening in anticipation of the new album, 'No, Virginia', being released next week. Y'know how it is, sometimes you've just got to.

The Dolls have released three albums so far, 'A Is For Accident', 'The Dresden Dolls' and 'Yes, Virginia'. 'No, Virginia' will be number 4. There are various singles, the '4 Track Radio Sampler' of songs that are on 'The Dresden Dolls' (different production), songs on compilation records like 'Pretty In Pink' and, of course, loads of live downloads, either through the Dolls website or through Automatic Joy, mainly cover versions, some of which are truly wonderful.

If I was preparing a sampler CD of The Dresden Dolls it would have to reflect my most played songs on iPey. These are:
Mandy Goes To Med School
My Alcoholic Friends
Good Day
Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner
Shores Of California
The Time Has Come
Girl Anachronism

I'm not saying these are the best Dolls songs - where is 'The Jeep Song'? for example - but they're my most played. At least as of today. I suspect the list will change when I get my fingers on the new record.

Punk cabaret ragamuffins rool OK!

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Sublime Beth Rowley

Beth Rowley (that's 'row' as in argument rather than the coxless fours) has released a new single, 'So Sublime' backed with 'Little Dreamer'. It's a surprise for me, I wasn't expecting a new single since the album is due to be released in a couple of weeks time, but it's great to hear some new songs from Beth. The single is available for download from iTunes.

Here's a lovely pic of Beth from the Bush Hall gig a few weeks ago - I was standing at the back of the hall so didn't get close enough to see her in all her curly glory like this. It's by jystewart so well done on the pic!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The '80s Are Alive

2008 seems to be the year that the '80s come back to life, at least for me.

There are always the 'nostalgia' tours, like the Here & Now Tour, which I don't object to in principle but most of the artists aren't favourites of mine so I'm not going. This year's tour features Rick Astley, Johnny Hates Jazz, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Paul Young and Cutting Crew, none of which I care for, although I'd love to see Bananarama and ABC who are also on the bill. I saw the 'Nanas doing a promo gig in support of Scissor Sisters a couple of years ago and they were daft as ever. So, no, I don't mind missing these folks for their 15 minutes sets doing their hits.

Of far greater interest is the Yazoo reunion with their remastered albums, 'In Your Room' boxset at the end of May and 'Reconnected' tour in June. I'm seeing them at Hammersmith and looking forward to it. I like Alison Moyet and saw her at the Royal Albert Hall five years ago but I've never really got on with Erasure.

A couple of days later I'm seeing Gang Of Four and Tom Tom Club at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Massive Attack's Meltdown season. I'm not too fussed about GoF but the Tom Toms will be great. I saw them a few years ago at a New York punk thing celebrating CBGBs at the Great Eastern Hotel and they were fab, Tina's bass forcing us all to bounce. It was a wierd affair full of young city kids and meedja types pretending to be punks and, in a crowded corridor, it was great to see Tina walk up to Dawn Right Nasty and give her a big hug with all the youngsters oblivious to who Tina was. During the gig I managed to liberate Tina's knickers for Dawn's trophy cabinet (it's a long story).

In July it's time to explore the Funplex with the marvellous B-52's. I've mentioned their new album a few times recently and it really is good. They're playing the Roundhouse which is as good as anywhere else for them to strut their stuff. I suspect it'll be a mix of promoting the new album and reliving the hits and that sounds good to me.

At the end of the year, there's the Steel City Tour in December. That is, of course, a reference to Sheffield and that means the Human League, ABC and Heaven 17, united for an evening of electronica and pure pop. Thanks to David for pointing this out in his blog.

The Human League need no introduction and one of the highlights of last year was seeing them perform their classic album, 'Dare', live at Hammersmith. Their last album of original material was six years ago but I'm just getting into it and their '90s albums now.

ABC have just released their first 'new' album in ten years, 'Traffic', and it is excellent, full of classic pop songs, catchy tunes and the full-on production values you'd expect from ABC. Obviously timed to coincide with them being on the Here & Now Tour, but I hope we get to hear quite a few of the new songs on the Steel City Tour when they'll have more time on stage.

Heaven 17 had the great hit, 'Temptation' but, from memory, that's about it. They're very much the junior partners on the tour from my perspective but should be fun nonetheless.

And, of course, other 80s greats are still releasing new music and touring, and have done so for years. Janet Jackson's 'Discipline' came out a few months ago, Madonna's 'Hard Candy' was released a few weeks ago and the Pet Shop Boys have recorded a great version of Madness's, 'My Girl' which deserves to be released as a single (take a listen on the PSB website).

Phew. What next, I wonder?

Friday, 9 May 2008

Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

The undoubtedly fabulous first solo album from Miss Amanda Palmer will be released on 15 September in the UK, 16 September in the USA. It will include songs of joy and melancholy and will be a highlight of the year. I will start saving up my pocket money...

As far as I know, this isn't the record cover but it's the front of the tee shirt I bought when I saw Amanda at Bush Hall last year so, until I see the real cover, I'll use this picture instead.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Lawn Ornaments

Those delightful punk cabaret ragamuffins, Amanda and Brian of The Dresden Dolls, are setting a bad example again my stealing garden ornaments. The ornaments are featured in their latest video for 'Night Reconnaisance', a track from the new album due out in a couple of weeks, 'No, Virginia'. Go on, give it a view...

***The Dresden Dolls - Night Reconnaissance NEW Music Video***

The Big Day

I rarely blog about my job but I will today. One area of my job is information services for parents and one of the projects is called Parent Know How, a suite of information and support services for parents, and we held an event to showcase the PKH services today. It was held at the London Studios to make it a bit different to the bog standard, everyday conference. So, today, Studio 2 was Parent Know How studio.

We've been planning it for months so it was both a challenge and a relief for the day to finally come round. And it worked well. I only took a couple of photos before we opened up the studio to all our guests for the day but these should give you an idea of what it looked like. Naturally, it was saturated with colour.

Monday, 5 May 2008

My Toes...

My toes have seen the sun for the first time in 2008. It's a lovely afternoon, warm and not too sunny, so I went out in sandals and shirt-sleeves and it felt good (oh, I also wore jeans, just in case you're wondering). That's the least amount of clothes I've worn outside this year. Shorts will follow soon at this rate. I hope we have a good summer this year - it's nice to feel the sun even if it is just while walking to the shops.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Sci-Fi Heaven

I've been in science fiction heaven this week with FilmFour's Sci-Fi Season. They've been showing a strange mix of sci-fi films all week, things like 'Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow', 'The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen', 'I, Robot', 'Planet Of The Apes', 'Fantastic Four', 'Evolution' and a host of others.

Today has been even more heavenly with, on various channels, 'Spiderman 2', 'The Flood' (the TV drama about London getting flooded), 'The Fifth Element', 'Bionic Woman', the 'Star Wars' episode of 'Family Guy' and, in a related genre, 'Raiders Of The Lost Arc'. Not to mention 'Dr Who' yesterday. What on earth is happening in television land? Whatever it is we need more!

I've watched more TV in the past week than in the last month.

"Stayin' In Touch" - The Sunday Times

Bit of a cliche I suppose, but when a Bee Gee's involved it's bound to get trotted out.

Not entirely accurate, but close enough.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Four Albums

I've invested in four long playing records over the the past couple of weeks and want to tell you about them.

ABC - 'Traffic'

'Traffic' is the new 'un from ABC (or rather from Martin Fry) and it is good. I've always liked ABC and their singles were part of the soundtrack to the first half of the '80s with Martin in his gold lurex suit and classy tunes. The class is still there, mature lyrics and killer tunes. It's ABC's first album of new material in over 10 years and it's a welcome come-back. They're on the 'Here and Now' '80s revival tour at the moment so it's a good time to release a new album.

Some of the tracks smack of classic ABC with the lush production, plucking violin strings, piano chords and thumpy-thump drums and some are pure now. When I hear the opening track, 'Sixteen Seconds To Choose' I leap to Siouxsie's 'Into A Swan' with the almost industrial electronica sound - it's not similar at all, but that's where my ears take me.

The first single from the album, 'The Very First Time' is classic ABC, with all the production and sonic hooks you'll remember from their massive hits. But what I really like about it for some reason is the chorus where Martin sings, 'I'm not stupid, I'm not smart, I'm not arrogant enough to suffer for my art'. I like that line.

I've played the LP a few times since buying it yesterday and I'm really getting into it. The only downside is the awful packaging. No photos, no gloss, no lyrics, no nothing except an uninspired design of a 'thing' on the front and an extended 'thing' spread over the inside of the triple gatefold cover. The lushness of their early albums seems to have escaped them for this record. But it's the music that matters and that's ace.

It's not nostalgia, it's music for now. If you liked ABC back in the day, you'll love this record.

Jean 'Binta' Breeze - 'Tracks'

I saw Jean 'Binta' Breeze a month or so back on the bill with Linton Kwesi Johnson, liked what I heard and bought the album in the Barbican record shop. Unfortunately the wrong disc was in the case and it's taken a while for the right one to arrive, but I've finally got it. Jean is a dub poet from Jamaica and all tracks are credited to Jean, Linton and Dennis Bovell, with Dennis's excellent Dub Band playing the music.

Jean has a lovely way with words, a poet indeed, and, although I can't claim to understand all the patois, her voice is soothing and sexy with words just dripping from her tongue. The album opens with a short poem from Jean followed by a musical track and this sets the scene for the rest of the record, spoken poem followed by musical poem throughout. It works well. Linton and Dennis are credited with the music and the Dub Band is excellent. It's not all reggae, not dub, it's more lazy, sun-filled jazz than anything else, with an emphasis on horns. This is perfect sunny, lazy Sunday afternoon stuff.

The lyrics are printed in the cover and they're written in patois. The opening poem, 'Dreamer' reads,

roun a rocky corner
by de sea
seat up
pon a drif wood
yuh can find she
gazin cross de water
a stick
eena her han
tryin to trace
a future
in de san

Simply Jean's voice in an echoey studio. It sounds lovely. And relaxing.

Jean's published a few books over the years but she should do more records. I'd buy 'em.

Madonna - 'Hard Candy'

Madonna's latest album came out this week and I was terribly disappointed when I opened it and no candy flew out at me... I even licked the CD and it tasted of CD rather than sugar. O well.

'Hard Candy' was touted as Madonna's hip hop/R&B album and yes, it has those themes weaved into it, but it's not a hip hop album (thankfully, in my view). We've all heard '4 Minutes' and I downloaded 'Candy Shop' a few weeks ago and, to be honest, I prefer 'Candy Shop'. It doesn't have Justin Timberlake in it so that's a good thing. Why on earth she's included him and 'the thief' is beyond me. And I think that sort of sums up my problem with the album as a whole, it doesn't really sound like a Madonna album. She's handed over control to others and it's *their* sound rather than *hers* that I hear. The individual songs sound great as 'singles' but put them together back to back on a record and I start to lose Madonna and my attention wanders.

Madonna has forged her own way over the last 25 years, a strong woman not afraid of sexuality or individuality, moving where she wants to both musically and personally. She's been in control of how she looks and how she sounds, a powerful and unafraid woman, pushing a few boundaries here and there. Reinvention sums her up, and sod off if you don't like me. But, despite how good some of these 'Candy' songs are, she's let someone else take control. Or at least that's how it sounds to me. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good album, it's just that something's missing.

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to the tour and how she'll present these new songs - it'll be a *big* show, no doubt, and I want to see it.

The Human League - 'Romantic?'

A dash back in time to the '90s to one of the Human League's come-back albums that I've finally tracked down from Germany, 'Romantic?'. I was turned on to these songs when I got their 'hits' DVD for Christmas and a session from the '90s was included as a bonus section. It's fab! I don't understand why the Human League aren't still a big name. They've produced some fantastic songs over the years and they're still doing it, very danceable, very electronic, very radical, but, for some reason, we don't really hear of them much. Seeing them play 'Dare' live last year was definitely a highlight of the year for me.

'Romantic?' is a good mix of electronica and dance, with Phil and the lasses doing their thing. I love 'The Stars Are Going Out', an atmospheric, repetitive trance song, and 'Soundtrack To A Generation' is a piece of infectious dance-fluff and truly gorgeous. We need more Human League in our lives.

The Ting Tings and Operator Please

I quite like the Ting Ting's 'That's Not My Name' (heard on Jonathon Ross)

I also like Operator Please's 'Just A Song About Ping Pong' (heard on Jools Holland)

Thursday, 1 May 2008

'The Devil's Beat' - Sandi Thom

I received a message from Sandi Thom's MySpace tonight to say she was on Graham Norton's show playing her new single, 'The Devil's Beat', at 10pm. I glance at the clock and it's 10.25pm. So I quickly tune in and, just in time, catch the start of Sandi singing her new song wearing the shortest miniskirt this side of Britney getting out of a car in LA. You know what I mean.

Anyway. She's now backed by a four-piece band that looks like they've been together for a while and are having fun being together. That's a good thing. The new single sounds like a nice bouncy thing and I'm pleased to report that Sandi wears glitter eye make-up. Glitter is important.

The new album is due later this month, 'The Pink And The Lily' and I'm quite looking forward to it.

Discs 'n' backs 'n' things

Some of you in the 3D world will know that I'm having problems with my back again.

I've had problems for a while and had another MRI scan in January. I finally got the result at the end of March, just before heading off to New York, and it seems like my disc has slipped again (or wasn't properly dealt with during the last operation) and it's aggravated by scar tissue around the disc. Here's a scan of my insides from last year where you can see the disc. Most slipped discs are pimples from the spinal column, but mine was a golf ball.

It's not yet bad enough to warrant special attention, but it's started to play up, particularly this week. I don't have the sciatic pain, for which I'm thankful, but I've started seizing up which means that the muscles seem to go into spasm from my bum up through the small of my back so that my muscles are rigid. I'm unable to move properly until all the muscles release from spasm, especially in the morning. That takes time. And hurts. It means you walk with the 'slipped disc waddle'. In my case this week, I found I couldn't even stand still since that increases the pressure on the nerves. Fidgeting is good. I suppose the deeper I sleep, the less I move in my sleep and that results in greater and more prolonged spasm. Drat.

I'm not sure what happens next but it feels like I'm near the top of a downward spiral and can almost feel myself start the long, slow, downward trip. Not something I'm looking forward to.

Backs are such awful things when they go wrong. It's different for everyone and we all experience pain in different ways and to differing dgerees. You can't bandage it or take a pill and everything's ok again. I hate talking about a 'bad back' because anyone can have one of those from sleeping awkwardly on the couch one night. I have a slipped disc, not a 'bad back', and that's something different entirely.

Even I've become a bit blase about it and not necessarily taking it seriously. I was in a meeting a few weeks ago when one of my colleagues apologised in advance for needing to fidget during the meeting because she had a slipped disc. I blithely say, that's ok, I've had two operations for my slipped disc and I understand. At the end of the meeting when we got up to leave the room I was shocked to see how badly she was moving and how pain took over her face with every movement. The memories came flooding back and I remembered that that was me before I had my first operation and several times before my second operation. But I'd forgotten. It's so easy to forget the extremes of pain when you no longer suffer.