Friday, 31 October 2008

'Lustre' at The Soho Theatre

Went to see Justin Bond's show, 'Lustre', at the Soho Theatre again last night and I'm pleased we did - he was on top form, in good voice and mad as a hatter with tales of pagan rituals, not snorting coke and causing the current financial meltdown. The weight on his soul must be truly terrible with all this responsibility he carries. And that's not mentioning the frocks. It seemed full last night, with people budging up to get more onto the pews - the show's only on for a couple more nights so see it while you can.

Justin is a surprisingly calming person to listen to (considering he's all over the place) and it made me wonder how much is carefully scripted, how much simply falls into place naturally because it's proven it works and how much is really improvised? Whichever, it's nice to hear him talk and just go with the flow. The theme of the current show is all things 'trans' which leaves him a wide canvas to play with. He also has a gift for choosing interesting and thoughtful songs and arranging them to fit his voice and delivery. Justin introduced me to the mad, bad and probably not very nice to know Bambi Lake a few years ago and now he's introduced me to the unfortunately dead Benjamin Smoke via his painful song, 'Clean White Bed' (he's someone I need to investigate further).

Our Lady J was, again, very glamorous on piano and sung 'Pink Prada Purse' to great applause. She had a slight accident when she slipped and fell off the stage when leaving for the guest act but seemed to be ok on return. She is an excellent piano player - mad and exuberent one minute, introspective and evocative the next - and mentioned that she's a music teacher in New York, so that explains it. Justin said he'd also had some accidents and blamed the ghosts of the theatre.

And, of course, Novice Theory was there on cue to sing the strange, 'About The Dream' with his accordion. Justin mentioned that he was plucked from the theatre the other night to record for 'Later... with Jools Holland' which will be shown tonight. I *like* Novice Theory, with his raggamuffin approach, big voice, odd lyrics and an overall wonderfully dramatic sound. I meant to buy his CD the first time we went to the show but he was busy chatting so didn't disturb him but I missed my chance since he's now sold them all - which is great for him, but bad for me since I wanted one. Still, the album's now on iTunes so I downloaded it (he'd earn more money if he printed more CDs though). I'll definitely be watching out for young Geo in future.

The guest act was a singer called Scotty who was new to me. I'm not sure what to make of him - he has a nice voice in a stage-school kind of way and I liked his cartoon jacket but he didn't really engage one way or another and, oddly enough, didn't join the rest of the cast for the final bow.

On the way out it was nice to see our three Lustre stars at the exit with a table and their CDs (except Novice Theory had a handwritten sign on a scrap of paper referring us to iTunes). Even Justin was there with the Kiki & Herb CD. I will say again, he really ought to record his own. I had a very brief chat to Novice Theory but forgot to ask him why he chose that name, so answers on a postcard to me please. And out in the cold Soho night ...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Alphabeat at Shepherds Bush

Chris treated me to an evening with the 'saviours of pop music', those smiley, colourful Danes, Alphabeat. Now, try as I might, I've never really 'got' Alphabeat and thought the best thing about their first album is that at least John Lydon gets some royalties from their atrocious - but brave - cover of 'Public Image' (they whistle in it, *shudders*). Thankfully, they didn't play it.

First up was Pandering & The Golddiggers (yes, double-d), a sort of sparkley, dancey, disco-y type of act, two girls/one boy singers, a drummer and keyboardist (I suspect backing tapes as well). They're being tarted as the next thing with free badges on offer for joining their email list. They were entertaining enough and made a lot of noise. The lad should lose the haircut though, it just looked retro-daft.

Then we were treated to something a bit more polished in the form of Das Pop from Belgium who are probably more used to headlining on the Continent. They bounced on one at a time, three skinny lads and one more hefty beardy guitar player in dungarees (they need style advice badly). They produced some nice punky-pop sounds and the lead singer got the audience singing along to a couple of set pieces that worked well. They were quite fun with some good bouncey songs but, unfortunately, their mates or record company people (or whoever) were standing behind our seats and yakked throughout their set and went on talking throughout the main set as well (I think one of them was trying to chat up a 'bird' or summat - didn't look like the lanky streak of wotsit was having much success when we left). The beardy dungareed guitar lad had a drink with them later so that marks them as Das Pop people. Negative mark for that, lads.

And then on bounced Alphabeat. All colour and smiles, well practiced songs, moving non-stop across the stage, singing their little hearts out and giving their fans a great time. I only recognised one song towards the end ('Touch Me Touching You') so spent most of the gig observing and looking around at the audience which was a very mixed bag, from youngish kids there with parents to oldsters like me and everything inbetween. The band stormed round the stage putting on the show and, even though I'm not a fan, felt they'd earned their pay and adulation that night with their boundless energy and sheer giving of themselves. That was nice.

I worried about the bass player who did the traditional bass-stomp on a platform and every time he stomped backwards I worried he'd go flying off the platform. The girl singer's mic was too low and should've been turned up - I could hardly hear her singing. The lightshow was excellent, bathing the stage in every colour imaginable to match their colourful backdrop and it was great fun at the encore when the glitter-cannon erupted and flooded the place with sparkley stuff. I had to cheer and clap with everyone else by that time, as a thank you for all their hard work and fan-pleasing over the previous hour or so.

Since I was slightly disengaged from the whole affair it left me time to think while Chris was grinning and singing and clapping away to his heart's content (see his review here). I wondered what the younger contingent in the audience felt and thought. For some of them that will be their first ever gig. I still remember my first time in 1973, seeing my gods bestride the stage. For some kids in the audience that night will, possibly, be something they remember forever. I think they'll have good memories - a full bill with three bands, great lights ending with the glitter downpour, loud music and their heroes on stage. Maybe it will inspire some of them to start their own bands or at least start going to more live gigs. I hope so, and then Alphabeat's job will be done.

GB by NF

I'm not going to mention the current madness over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand (oops, I just have) which is getting far more attention than it deserves. What about all their previous "pranks" and those of other c'lebs which have been ignored or lauded as good fun? There's no justification for it but is it really front page news?

My two-penneth is much more mundane. The lady at the centre of it is called Georgina Baillie. Has no-one remembered that hit of yesteryear by Noosha Fox about Georgina Bailey who grew up with her uncle and fell in love with him, only to discover that 'he keeps company with a man from gay Paree, you see Georgina, that's his way ...'

I thank you.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Rave-Up Blues

My Alex Harvey record collection expanded today with the arrival of the much sought after 'Hair Rave-Up' and 'The Blues'. Now, I've mentioned Alex quite a few times on here, usually when I find a new CD to buy and get all excited, and today is no exception. Don't you love it when the post arrives early?

'Hair Rave-Up: Live From The Shaftesbury Theatre, London' (1969)

Alex played in the Hair Band for a few years in the late '60s, after being Scotland's Tommy Steele in the late '50s, a soul and blues singer in Germany in the early '60s and before creating one of the hardest rocking bands ever to grace this earth, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the first band I ever saw back in 1973.

Now, Alex played guitar in the Hair Band and one night they recorded the 'Rave-Up' live, a sort of big after show party in the theatre, and this record is the result. It's a mix of songs from the musical 'Hair', some covers and some songs written by the band themselves, a mix of psychedelic instrumentals (like 'Hare Krishna') and rather fun ditties with Alex on vocals, like the mad 'Royal International Love-In'. There's a great version of 'All Along The Watchtower' with Alex's trademarked dramatic vocals backed with loud brass, totally changing it from Dylan or 'Hendrix's versions.

Two of the tracks are available on the anthology, 'Considering The Situation' (but, strangely, not available to download on iTunes although the rest of the album is there) - 'Hair' and 'Birthday' - and these give a flavour of the album, euphoric and way over the top. Alex's tracks have the same kind of brass sound as some of the songs on 'Roman Wall Blues', a big sound pushing their way on top of the guitars that just isn't made these days. It sounds good to these ears. As does Alex's vocal delivery and dramatic phrasing - what a great interpretive singer he was.

The 'Rave-Up' vinyl record appears on eBay every now and then and usually goes for around £60+. I didn't know there was a CD version put out by Castle Music in 2001 (part of the Sanctuary Group of labels). I've never seen it anywhere before, but found it last week through a lovely little online shop in Finland called Hippie Shake Records and they sent it to me most speedily, for which I am grateful. It sounds good and comes with a great fold-out booklet with loads of photos and artwork from 'Hair' as well as a brief history of the Hair Band.

Cor, I've got the 'Hair Rave-Up' by the Hair Band, a record I never expected to hear, let alone have.


El Pussy Cat
Royal International Love-In
Bond Street Baby

Hare Krishna
All Along The Watchtower

Keep Out
Movin' In The Right Direction

I Know Where You Are

'The Blues' (1964)

This record is a collection of various bluesy recordings Alex made in 1964 with his brother, Leslie (who later played with Stone The Crows) on guitar. The CD is on Walhalla Records in Germany and was released in 2006.

The sound is very stripped down and minimalist with Alex in full-on blues wail for many of the songs. The mood is lightened by a few songs, like 'Waltzing Matilda' (yes, *that* song) and 'The Big Rock Candy Mountain', and a couple stray into folk/country territory. His version of 'Strange Fruit' is harrowing, just voice and guitar. There are no credits to the songs so I don't know if any are Alex originals. It's definitely an album for completists.


Trouble In Mind
Honey Bee
I Learned About Woman
Danger Zone
The Riddle Song
Waltzing Matilda
TB Blues
The Big Rock Candy Mountain
The Michigan Massacre
No Peace
Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
St James Infirmary
Strange Fruit
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

Good God Almighty

I'm pleased with both CDs but I'm sure I'll play 'Hair Rave-Up' more than 'The Blues' - it's well groovy, has energy and life, a euphoric lift that pleases the ear and the heart and you just know that they're having fun on that stage. Rave on Alex.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Kitchen Appliances

I've finally entered the Twentieth Century. I am now the curious owner of a microwave. I know everyone else had one 20 years ago and these days people use them without thinking but I'm never one to jump aboard a bandwagon. I'd much rather consider my options, work through the implications and then make a tentative step forward. And, since we don't seem to have created a generation of microwaved mutants, then I suppose they're safe (-ish).

My microwave-thingy does all sorts of things but I just wanted to know where the on/off button was, the timer and how to open the front door. Not for me the glorious culinary extravaganzas of the recipe books, I just want something to heat stuff up on a cold winter's evening.

It's nice and shiny (that's a good thing). Now, how do I move into the Twenty First Century?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Linda Lewis at The Jazz Cafe

The legendary Linda Lewis was playing a couple of nights at The Jazz Cafe in Camden so it was mandatory to attend. I was a bit of a fan of Linda back in the mid-70s when her strange brew of folk, jazz, soul, rock and (later) disco made her a voice to listen to, starting as a singer-songwriter and morphing into disco queen with 'It's In His Kiss'. Linda has also worked with virtually everybody who was anybody and (as Chris keeps reminding me) did the background screeching on Bowie's 'Panic In Detroit' (one of my favourites). She also knew Marc Bolan and delivered stonking versions of 'Children Of The Revolution' and 'Metal Guru' at the Bolan celebration last year (now available on DVD so you can enjoy her performance live). So, getting tickets was essential.

I've seen Linda three times before and heard her twice. I saw her leave the stage door at the Royal Festival Hall after The Funk Brothers gig a few years ago where she must've been a back-stage guest. Someone asked 'are you Linda Lewis' as she left, she said 'yes' smiled and kept on walking and people standing there all stood with mouths open in amazement. I saw and heard her at the Soul Britannia concert at The Barbican that was recorded by the BBC for telly at the start of 2007. She only sang two songs but it was a great thrill just seeing her after all these years. Then I saw her again at the Bolan celebration a year ago where she was one of the highlights of the night, helping to bring the event to life and add some sparkle.

Linda walked on stage wreathed in smiles and the most gorgeously elaborate and colourful silk jacket the world has ever seen (it deserved a round of applause itself) and opened her mouth for those high notes and those deep, deep low notes (she has a wide range). She did a nicely paced set with music from across her career and some nice friendly chatter in-between songs showing her cheeky sense of humour that kept us all smiling, a consummate professional. About two thirds of the way through the band left the stage and Linda picked up her guitar for a couple of solo acoustic songs. That was a nice touch, reminding us of her beginnings as a folkie troubadour.

My favourite songs were those from the olden days, that I remember from sitting in my bedroom with the record player - 'Rock A Doodle Doo', 'Remember The Days Of the Old School Yard', 'My Grandaddy Could Reggae' (re-named 'My Grandaddy Could Calypso' for the evening with calypso beats) and, of course, 'It's In His Kiss'. She did excellent, extended versions of 'Reach For The Truth', 'Old Smokey' and 'Sideways Shuffle'. She also sang a lovely song I hadn't heard before, 'I Keep A Wish' ('I keep a wish under my pillow, I sleep on it at night...'). It was great hearing those songs live but the real thrill was having Linda right there in front of me singing for me after 30 years. How time flies.

And Linda was fun on that stage, laughing and joking with the audience, pogoing across the stage and grasping us in her small hand and not letting go until the end and she came back (in a peacock styled jacket this time, for you fashionistas out there) for the encore. She saluted us a with a glass of red wine and, when the band were late coming back on stage after her acoustic set, said they were probably sharing a spliff outside. I was smiling and singing throughout and left with the glow of having seen someone special (yes, in full-on fan-boy mode). I've seen Linda Lewis play a full set after all these years ... wow!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Beth Rowley At St James's Church

Last night we went to see Beth Rowley play at St James's Church, just off Piccadilly (which was, apparently designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the church where William Blake was baptised). It's an odd venue for a gig, the main church laid out for a Sunday service with old pews, and upstairs the balcony (where we went) was full of fixed pews with little chance to see the singer in front of the altar (well, you don't necessarily want to stare at a vicar, do you?). Beth didn't always seem that comfortable, with everyone sitting on pews and not moving while she was on the little platform in front of the altar. It was an impressive sight, all lit up, but not necessarily the best place for a gig. I used to work round the corner from the church in St James's Square back in the '80s.

Beth was supported by two folkie acts, Vashti and a bloke who flew in from Los Angeles the day before. Neither inspired me to buy their CDs afterwards. Beth came on at 9pm and looked nervous and fidgety, fidgeting with her strapless frock and not knowing whether to move or to stand still. But when she opened her mouth we all listened and marvelled at her strong and flexible voice. She didn't seem comfortable at all during the first few songs and only settled down a bit when Vashti came on to sing backing vocals - I wonder if also having somone at the front of the 'stage' is what helped her calm down a bit, so she wasn't necessarily carrying everything herself? But, of course, she still was.

She sang about half of the tracks from her album, 'Little Dreamer' (plus the song, 'Little Dreamer' which, strangely, isn't on the album), some new songs (which sounded a lot more cheerful and poppier than the album) and some spirituals. It was an odd selection of songs in some respects and strangely put together with a stonking extended version of 'Only One Cloud' finishing the main act and then playing a couple of comparaively downbeat spirituals for the encore - always leave 'em on a high, Beth, leave 'em wanting more (as Mama Rose says in 'Gypsy').

Beth has the voice of an angel but just doesn't seem comfortable out front as the star of the show. The band was tight and going down a bluesy route which perfectly fits Beth's voice, but it still needs her doing her stuff at the front. And if the new songs are planned for the next album it'll be a corker, since they were really good. It'll be interesting to see how she develops - Beth's clearly a very talented singer but where's she going?

Amanda On Q

According to the latest newsletter from those nice people at Q, Amanda Palmer will appear on Q internet radio next Wednesday on the 'Q The Jury' show at 9:00pm. I've never listened to it but the blurb says that, 'Q editor Paul Rees is joined by guests from the music world to review and rate the latest releases and chat about their work.'

I wonder how many times Amanda will have to stop herself from swearing and whether she manages a plug for the 'Leeds United' single or for 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer'. It all adds to her charm.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Buffy's New Album, DVD And Tour

Rumour and misinformation abound about Buffy Sainte-Marie's new album, DVD and tour. Buffy starts a tour across Canada with Richie Havens on 31 October (Richie's playing in London this week) and some bits of the press are reporting that some dates are cancelled because Buffy's new album's not out. What's going on?

I don't know, but, in a message published on the Buffy wires, Maria Starblanket, Buffy's right-hand-woman, say's the tour is going ahead between 31 October and 14 November in Canada and (get *this*) in the USA and Europe in 2009 (to be arranged)! Am I pleased with this information? O yes.

And to top it off, I went a-hunting for any news about the new album and finally found what looks like the record cover for 'Running For The Drum'. It's a teeny picture, but it's on EMI Canada's website so I'm assuming it's real. It quotes the tracklisting for the limited edition CD/DVD as:

1. No No Keshagesh
2. Cho Cho Fire
3. Workin' for the Government
4. Little Wheel Spin and Spin
5. Too Much is Never Enough
6. To the Ends of the World
7. When I Had You
8. Bet My Heart on You
9. Blue Sunday
10. Easy Like the Snow Falls Down
11. America the Beautiful
12. Still This Love Goes On
1. Opening
2. Greenwich Village (Chapter 1)
3. Growing Up (Chapter 2)
4. Consciousness Raising (Chapter 3)
5. Until It’s Time For You To Go (Chapter 4)
6. Hawaii Retreat (Chapter 5)
7. Digital Art (Chapter 6)
8. Sesame Street (Chapter 7)
9. Up Where We Belong (Chapter 8)
10. Buffy And Chuck (Chapter 9)
11. Cradleboard (Chapter 10)
12. Between Two Worlds (Chapter 10)
13. Going Home (Chapter 12)
14. Ending

I heard Buffy play some of those songs live in New York earlier this year - they sounded great live and will, no doubt, sound even better in pristine studio recordings. The only downside to this joy is confirmation of the release date, and whether it'll be available in the UK.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


The untimely demise of our beloved Amanda Palmer is spawning strange developments. Do the clicky thing...

The Dresden Dolls - 'Ballad Of A Teenage Queen'

The Dresden Dolls might be 'on a break' while Amanda Palmer tours her marvellous new record and Brian Viglione drums with World Inferno, but that doesn't mean there's no new Dresdonia. 'Ballad Of A Teenage Queen' was recorded earlier this year for a Johnny Cash tribute record in aid of breast cancer and it was finally released today. I haven't found it available to download anywhere yet but you can hear a clip by choosing the song here.

The blurb tells us:

All aboard the Johnny Cash Express! Boasting a lineup of punk and alternative rock's most indie minded artists, proudly wearing their hearts on their sleeves while effortlessly blending Punk Rock with Americana, this new homage to the spirit of Johnny Cash is good for the soul and for our communities. Anchorless Records will be donating all the profits of All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash to the Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE), a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to underprivileged women who cannot afford the expense of fighting breast cancer.

All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash Track Listing:

1.Man In Black: The Bouncing Souls

2.Country Boy: Fallen From The Sky
3.Wreck Of The Old '97: Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music)
4.Let The Train Whistle Blow: Joe McMahon (Smoke or Fire)
5.Delia's Gone: Ben Nichols (Lucero)
6.God's Gonna Cut You Down: The Gaslight Anthem
7.Cocaine Blues: The Loved Ones
8. Give My Love To Rose: OnGuard (feat.Jason Shevchuk of Kid Dynamite and None More Black)
9.I Still Miss Someone: Casey James Prestwood (Hot Rod Circuit)
10.Hey Porter: MxPx
11.Cry,Cry,Cry: The Flatliners

12. Ballad of a Teenage Queen: The Dresden Dolls feat.Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady

13.Folsom Prison Blues: Chon Travis (Love = Death)

14.There You Go: The Sainte Catherines

15.I Walk The Line: Russ Rankin (Good Riddance, Only Crime)
16.Bonus Track/Vinyl Only: Delia's Gone (Alternate Version) Ben Nichols (Lucero)

The Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE), an Internal Revenue recognized non-profit organization, provides financial assistance to underprivileged women who cannot afford the expense of fighting breast cancer. Since their inception in 2002, SSE has raised funds through a handful of programs including The Shirts for a Cure Project, The SSE Benefit Concert Series, annual charity dinners, awareness walks and online auctions. SSE has awarded gifts to organizations that help women in struggling neighborhoods find the means to fight this killer. For more information see www. syrentha. org.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Sugababes - 'Every Heart Broken'

The Sugababes singing 'Every Heart Broken' from the new album live on T4 last Sunday. Enjoy!

A Few Random

Went for a browse on YouTube and found some Boy George videos I hadn't seen so thought I'd share. You never know what you might find on there ...

'Bow Down Mister' Hare Krishna

'Generations Of Love'

'Run' with Sash! Nice to see them running round the rooftops of Barcelona (I've been on the roof with all the weird chimneys).

'Yes We Can' (the new single available from iTunes)

Monday, 20 October 2008

Boy George at The Shaw Theatre

'The Boy Is Back' tour hit London last night at The Shaw Theatre - George must like it for some reason since he did a short season there back in January when we last saw him. He arrived on stage wreathed in smiles, laughing and joking with the front of the audience and looking good. When he started singing it was also plain that he was sounding good too, his voice in top form, sounding smooth and effortless. And I approve the 3/4 length trews and sandals!

He was in full-on crowd pleasing mood doing a set full of old Culture Club favourites as well as trying out some new songs on us, his new single, 'Yes We Can', a couple of pop-gospel songs and a couple of special covers. It was a great set list with something there for everyone but nothing from 'Cheapness & Beauty' and 'U Can Never Be 2 Straight', which is a shame since there are some great songs on those albums. Lots of singalongs and I was perversely pleased that I could sing along to 'Yes We Can' while most of the rest of the audience simply swayed in time. The band was tight and, as ever, George's backing singers were excellent, nicely complementing his voice.

Favourite songs of the evening were 'Stranger In This World' from 'Taboo' (I wish he'd record those songs himself), a manic bass-heavy 'Church Of The Poison Mind', a tender 'Victims', 'Karma Chameleon' (one of my Dad's favourites) and a really soulful version of 'Summertime' (another song he should record). He did a great live version of the new single, 'Yes We Can', which sounded much better live than I thought it would and that's bound to be a firm favourite for live shows for years to come. He did two amazing covers - Bowie's 'Starman' and Bolan's 'Get It On' - and both sounded excellent. The show finished with his by now traditional closer of 'Bow Down Mister' with the audience singing along to all the Hare Krishna/Hare Rama's while flowers were thrown into the audience. And phew! I was worn out from singing along.

It was a great show, a fun night out and great to see George enjoying himself and sounding on top form. I was too far back to get any good photos so here are some pics of some of the artwork from the souvenir programme. We're going back in November for second helpings! Well done George!

Impossible to escape...

... John Lydon at the moment. Not only is he doing his butter advert on telly but he's appearing all over the place sticking his head through giant posters. Here are two within 5 minutes walk of my house:

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tony Visconti - Brooklyn Boy

Despite getting 'Tony Visconti _ Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy' by Tony Visconi for Christmas I've only just got round to reading it and a jolly good read it is too. Well, for anyone with an interest in music, that is, and particularly David Bowie, Marc Bolan and all the other musicians Tony worked with over the years.

It's a chunky book with a chronological narrative and lots of details of recording techniques and people who played on particularly significant albums. Lucky for us, Tony is a lifelong photographer so there are some nice intimate shots of Bowie and Bolan in the studio, in his flat and elsewhere, as well as others. I didn't know he married Mary Hopkins (yes, *that* Mary Hopkins) and produced loads of folk albums as well as classic Bowie and Bolan records and, um, the Boomtown Rats (another 'B').

As with every autobiog or biog you've got to be aware that you're being told one version of a story from one perspective but I think Tony tries to tell us the truth, awarding credit where due to colleagues but also slightly irked that he wasn't always given full credit for his work (like Marc crediting Ringo Starr with that iconic 'top hat' photo on the cover of 'The Slider' or Paul McCartney not crediting Tony's string arrangements on 'Band On the Run'). I suspect it's not a full 'warts and all' telling of his life but there's definitely a scattering of warts, like his heroin addiction when he was 20 and an affair in Berlin while married to Mary (which inspired a verse in 'Heroes'). But we don't learn why his marriages failed, he doesn't talk about substance abuse of friends and colleagues other than to say they 'looked thin' and he seems to shrug off not talking to Bowie for 14 years for no apparent reason. So it's a mix of some cruel self-truths and some vagueing. But maybe being vague is his way of saying 'it's not for me to tell tales outside the classroom'...

It's a thoroughly enjoyable read, well written and kept me engaged to the end (which is why I'm blogging at this time of the morning since it's buzzing round my head having just finished it). It's a delight to read about how Bowie and Bolan's records were made and all the name-dropping is wonderful - I'm probably the ideal age to read it. He even mentions Cherry Vanilla who was occasionally mentioned in NME but I didn't recall that she was David Bowie's personal assistant. It's this kind of detail that makes it a great read.

Marc Bolan doesn't emerge as a very nice person (that's common knowledge really) but gets full credit for his creativity in the early 70s before blowing it big-time. David Bowie, on the other hand, comes across as a thorough gentleman, unfailingly polite and generous. Tony dedicates a lot of time to talking about their albums that he worked on but pays special attention to 'Scary Monsters' giving a track by track narrative of the songs, referring to it several times as Bowie's 'Sgt Pepper'. I'm listening to it at the moment.

His great works were when he was based in London from the late '60s to late '80s after which he moved back to New York where he still lives and still produces and writes. The book ends with a short chapter on how the music biz has changed over the years, the almost ceremonial nature of buying a new vinyl record and listening to it for the first time and how that's now changed in the digital age. I recall that ceremony, saving up for a new record, treasuring it, reading the lyric sheets and gazing at artwork. It's not the same today and he blames big business for much of what's wrong with music today, the blandness. He sees the internet as the way forward, where people can discover obscure music from the other side of the world that changes their lives. I think I agree but still revel in live music - that's a ceremony too.

At various stages in the book I wondered why he wrote it. Money? Certainly, he doesn't seem to have made it big-time rich though probably still gets a healthy cheque for his work with Marc and Bowie in the '70s. But he could probably make just as much by doing a book of his photos which would be a lot easier and quicker - a lot of work seems have gone into writing the book. For posterity? To illustrate aspects of the lives of legends he worked with that only he could know? Probably.

But I wonder if it's also to get down on paper the details of the recording process from the '60s through to the '80s and the rise of digital media that made it all obsolete. He clearly loves music and studios and he was the rebel producer in the '70s delighting in creating and discovering new sounds, as he did with digital equipment in the '80s and '90s and even has some drum machine programming named after him. What we can do with the press of a button on a computer now used to take a day of careful work back then. And he did it endlessly to give us the sounds we take for granted today. Credit where it's due.

If you're interested in music history at all, or especially in Bowie and Bolan, then this is the book for you. He talks about working with loads of others, from Joe Cocker in the '60s, Thin Lizzy in the '70s, Hayzey Fantazey (I never thought I'd name-check them in this blog!) in the '80s, U2 in the '90s and Morrissey in the '00s. But the core is his friendship with Bowie and Bolan and the wonderful music he helped them create.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


It's taken six weeks but I've finally finished going through my A-Z CDs, loading them into my iTunes library and from there to my iPod. I have a set of shelves in my hallway that holds about 900 CDs and these are organised A-Z so I can find things. I have separate shelves for compilations, box sets, burnies (ie CDs of miscellaneous downloads), cast recordings and soundtracks and, of course, Christmas CDs. This last lot still have to be copied but the bulk is the A-Z shelves and they're done - at last!

I have 14,902 songs in my iTunes library. I have singers/bands for every letter of the alphabet except Z. The first artist for each letter (in iTunes order, ie American cataloguing) is:

Candi Statton
The Damned
Earl Wright Orchestra
The Faces
H B Barnum
Ian Brown
J. Flexx
KC And The Sunshine Band
Labi Siffre
M People
The N'Betweens
The O'Jays
Pamela Blue
R. Carlos Nakai
Sam Cooke
Vampire Weekend
The Waitresses
X-Ray Spex

No doubt this will change when I've got the soundtracks and wotnot recorded, but it does me proud to see it.

This time, I'll leave the music where it is - and copy it to an external hard drive - so I don't have to go through this again. Live and learn.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Levi Stubbs

I heard the sad news today that Levi Stubbs has died, aged 72. Levi sang lead vocals on all those fabulous Four Tops songs from the '60s - 'Reach Out, I'll Be There', 'Bernadette', 'Standing In The Shadows Of Love', 'I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)' and so many others.

I don't have many musical memories of the '60s but the Four Tops feature in one of them. I recall being bundled into the car to drive to my Dad's sisters' house in Wardley where my five cousins lived, all girls and mostly 5-10 years older than me. One liked Tom Jones and played his records endlessly, and two of them loved the Tops. I remember hearing 'Reach Out' and 'Bernadette' played several times and that memory's stuck with me. I have no idea what the year was, probably late '60s I should think.

Until the last few years I only had a few Four Tops songs on Motown compilations but I've been exploring their music more recently. And I'm so pleased I did - so many great songs and Levi's great voice shining out front. Play a Tops song tonight in tribute to Mr Stubbs.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Boy George - 'Yes We Can'

There are five remixes of this on iTunes all waiting patiently for you to do the downloady thing... go on, press the button...

Justin Bond - 'Lustre' at the Soho Theatre

Last night we went to see Justin Bond's new show, 'Lustre' at the Soho Theatre. It started late due to the early evening show over-running and it was the night after the press show - Justin said he wasn't on top form and it showed every now and then, but was still hugely enjoyable.

The show opened with some atmospheric chanting over the speakers as the lights dipped and then on came Justin with Our Lady J at the piano and we were treated to songs and chatter with Justin's mad flights of fancy all vaguely around the theme of 'trans' (as in transgender). Justin can be a very calming person to listen to provided you go with the flow of his personal stream of consciousness and don't worry too much about where you're going, and I like his selection of oddball songs that turn into high cabaret in his presence. But Justin, where on earth did you get those frocks? Flattering is just one of the many things they aren't...

Our Lady J was on piano throughout Justin's performance, providing backing to the songs and occasional tinkling through the chatter. She also had her own solo spot and sang an amusing song about her 'Pink Prada Purse' and the gun she keeps inside it (for emergencies only, you understand, like killing potential boyfriends before they become boyfriends and can hurt her). She's an excellent piano player - not just plonking away at the keys but stroking them and coaxing them into sonic adventures. I was most impressed. And she is unfeasibly tall, probably emphasised by the teeny, tiny sparkly black mini-dress and acres of leg.

Also on the bill was a small waif and stray from Brooklyn with sleeves torn off his shirt who did his turn from the balcony and part-way down the stairs to the stage before vanishing. He goes by the name of Novice Theory, looks about 15 but has a big voice and accompanied himself on an accordion. Like Our Lady J, he can really play and writes the wordiest songs I've heard in a while. And he's really good. He only sang one song in the show but scoot on over to his MySpace page to listen to a selection of his songs (with piano, not accordion). I think his songs and delivery are excellent and will be happy to see him again - I'm cursing myself for not buying his CD after the show.

Each night Justin has a local guest to do a turn and last night it was Dickie Beau who came on stage in a clown outfit and left wearing a basque. He did two atmospheric songs, simple, stark electronica with his desolate voice, ending with opening a glitter-filled umbrella which must be his signature piece. I enjoyed the songs but it felt like they were part of a longer performance cut short to fit into the slot.

Justin was all over the shop with tales of pagan festivals leading to the current economic crash, possibly voting for Sarah Pallin since she reminds him of his mother, not knowing when his friends are seriously mad (as in ill) because they're wierdos anyway and how trans people are the best since they can be one thing or another or neither if they wish - they have the power to transform. Every now and then Our Lady J played a phrase from Bambi Lake's 'Golden Age of Hustlers' that made me think they were going to play it but they didn't, it just popped up for a few seconds and then vanished.

Our Lady J and Novice Theory both had CDs for sale after the show but Justin didn't - he really ought to get his finger out and get into a studio for a day. I've seen three of Justin's shows now, and one Kiki & Herb show, and I prefer his solo shows, free of the Kiki persona. In these digital days it's not that difficult to record stuff for posterity - and to improve the profit margin. I'd buy a CD or two.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Ballroom Blitz!

"Are you ready, Steve? uh huh
Andy? yeah
Mick? ok
All right fellas, let's gooooooooooooooo!"

Quite simply, one of the greatest singles, like evah! And if you're the one person left in the multiverse that hasn't heard it, then scoot over to Sweet's page and give it a listen. Now! And then bounce round the room like a thing demented!

Yes, this means I'm loading 'S' onto my iPod at long last...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Patrice Holloway

Patrice Holloway died on 1 October 2006. For some reason I went searching for information about Patrice online yesterday and found very little, either information or photos. That's a great shame, but there's a very informative biography of Patrice on Spectropop called, 'Requiem For A Pussycat'.

Patrice was a name on the Northern Soul scene with her few, very rare singles. Even now, with the Motown compilations from the vaults, there's still very little available and I only have eight songs by Patrice.

Patrice sang backing vocals for loads of people including Joe Cocker and Neil Young and is name-checked for vocals on Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Moonshot' album. She sang lead vocals on some of the songs recorded by Josie & The Pussycats - Patrice was a Pussycat and the first ever leading black character in an animated series. I can't find any Pussycat's songs to download but I'm sure they'll turn up at some point.

Patrice also wrote and co-wrote songs, most famously 'You've Made Me So Very Happy' with her big sister, Brenda Holloway. That song's been recorded so many times that I should think virtually everyone reading this blog will be familiar with it. Patrice recorded a duet with Brenda - 'Come Into My Palace' - which is available on Brenda's double compilation, 'The Motown Anthology'. Both Holloway sisters had great voices but lived in Los Angeles when Motown was based in Detroit so didn't receive the attention they deserved.

Courtesy of the magic that is YouTube, take a listen to 'Stolen Hours' which, as far as I know, isn't available on CD...

... and here's a Josey & the Pussycat's song with Patrice on lead vocals, 'Every Beat Of My Heart'. Enjoy!

Amanda Palmer - 'Sing'

I found a series of clips of Amanda Palmer's concerts in June this year with the Boston Pops in Boston. The quality leaves something to be desired but I'm grateful that they were posted since they give a feel for what the concerts were like. Brian Viglione joined Amanda on stage to sing 'What A Wonderful World' as a duet and also played guitar in the following clip. Here's the marvellous 'Sing' from 'Yes Virginia' and it's spine-tingling when the audience joins in towards the end.

As Amanda says, 'You motherfuckers, you'll sing someday!'

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Hellboy II

It seems likes ages since I've been to the pictures so we took advantage of being in the West End to see one of the last screenings of 'Hellboy 2' before it vanishes from the big screen. I didn't really have any expectations of it other than lots of cartoon violence and special effects and I wasn't disappointed.

I liked the sub-text of another world of magical beings existing alongside our world that we simply can't see (and a troll market under Brooklyn Bridge) but the film didn't really explore this and moved quickly from one special effects laden fight sequence to another. Naturally, I enjoyed it! Who wants to think when there's a goody and a baddy slugging it out on screen while everything around them gets trashed? And it's set up nicely for another sequel when Hellboy becomes Helldad.

The thing that did surprise me is that Luke Goss - yes, from Bros - plays the main baddy, the elf prince, and he was good, if totally unrecogniseable!

Kirstyfest 2008

I went along to Soho Square with Chris today to attend the seventh Kirstyfest, a celebration of the life and music of Kirsty MacColl. Kirsty died in a diving accident in December 2000 off the coast of Cozumel in Mexico and her mother, Jean, set up the Justice for Kirsty Campaign to seek a full investigation of the accident and appropriate legal action taken. Every year since then, fans of Kirsty gather at the bench dedicated to her in Soho Square, remember her and then go to a local hostelry to raise a glass to her memory. Chris is one of the original fans who raised the funding for the bench and kicked the whole thing off.

I became a fan of Kirsty with the release of the 'Kite' album in 1989 and have fond memories of Kirsty's version of 'Days', the lead single from the album. I knew about the earlier releases and work with Tracy Ullman, but wouldn't say I was a fan until 'Kite'. She had a lovely voice and wrote great songs and, of course, sings with The Pogues on that eternal Christmas song, 'Fairytale Of New York'. One of her most enduring songs is 'Soho Square' in which she sings about an empty park bench in the square, hence the reason for the bench and meeting in the square on the Sunday closest to her birthday each year.

It's both a sad get together and a happy one, smiles and laughter and a small tear, thinking of a life cut short. Jean was there along with Kirsty's sons, and they came along for a drink afterwards. The event is organised by Claire these days and a good thing she's made of it too. We took over the function room of the Spice of Life pub, set up with mics and amplifiers, Kirsty's songs playing in the background and, every so often, people getting up to play and sing Kirsty songs. People turn up form all over the world, from as far afield as San Francisco. Four women from Norway turned up to sing Kirsty songs that they'd translated into Norwegian and they did a very atmospheric version of 'Angel', one of my favourite songs - if it was available I'd certainly pay to download their version. There was a very good turn out and the room was packed - it must've been very good business for the pub on an otherwise quiet Sunday.

It says a lot about Kirsty that nearly eight years after her death her fans and admirers still make the effort to get together to celebrate her life, in, it seems judging by today, increasing numbers. I was heartened to see a lot of young faces there today along with the older stalwarts, which suggests that she's still attracting new fans. Music can touch us all in different ways and Kirsty's music is often the sound of fun and joy as well as sadness and thoughtfulness.

Alegria Alegria, happiness and joy ...

Amanda Palmer at Koko - YouTube

I've found a few videos of Amanda live at Koko on YouTube that I thought I'd share:

'Guitar Hero'

'I Google You' (scroll in to 2.45 for the start of the song, but I like to hear the chat too)


Saturday, 11 October 2008

British Gas

O, the fun I've had this week - laugh? I could cry. Or, more likely, shout. And I would if it would have any effect.

My gas boiler broke down last weekend, so I've had no heating or hot water since then. I rang British Gas to get someone to come out and fix it under one of their "customer care" contracts that costs close to £400 per year. Because last weekend was so cold then lots of people are switching on their heating and finding problems, so the earliest they can arrange an appointment is Wednesday between 12.00 - 6.00pm. OK, I will sit at home and wait for the engineer for 6 hours. He eventually turned up at 7.25pm but didn't have the right parts so would have to order them and arrange another appointment.

The second appointment was for Friday between 8.00am - 12.00pm and the engineer turned up at 11.45am. With the wrong part. Ooops. So he arranges another appointment for Saturday morning, this time between 10.00am - 12.oopm. The engineer turns up at 10.15am (well done for that) and has the right parts but can't do any work because there's no gas supply ...

Friday saw lots of activity in my street and outside my house as another bit of the gas supply industry dug up the road, shouted and swore a lot, a couple of them played keepy-upsey with a football in my drive way and then damaged the main gas supply pipe for the whole road. Ooops again. They were still trying to repair it at 1.00am last night (I know because the generator to provide light was incredibly loud and heard quite clearly in my flat). I had no idea whether it's fixed or not this morning but it turned out that the supply pipe was fixed but gas has been switched off to this house until engineers can turn off and then on all the individual supply pipes in each flat. I am now waiting for this to happen.

I have also rung the "customer care" contract people to arrange for the engineer to come again to fix the boiler and was offered either between 8.00am - 6.00pm on Sunday or on Monday between 8.00am - 12.00pm. Since I'm going out tomorrow afternoon then it'll have to be Monday.

Of course, I haven't itemised all the phone calls I've had to make, how many different departments I've been passed around or the different companies I've spoken to (British Gas charges me for gas used but another company supplies it and another company again seems to do the maintenance... it gets complicated). The engineers all seem nice enough people, and they would be since they're standing in front of you, but the call centre people are irritating rules-is-rules types. As with most things, it's the system that's wrong.

So far, I've spent about 16 hours sitting waiting for the gas man to arrive or sitting here while he's done some (incomplete) work and I now have to wait around over the afternoon for another engineer to come and switch the gas back on. Then, potentially, another 4-5 hours on Monday. And can I claim any compensation for this or claim loss of earnings? Of course not!

The "customer care" people are almost eager to tell you the address to write to for complaints which makes me assume they're so used to this that it's water off a duck's back and any complaint will get a bog standard reply. I can't simply cancel my contract with them since I'll be charged the full amount (it's in the small print) so it's lose-lose all the way for me.

Update: 4.05pm and I now have gas again. That's taken 6 hours from first talking to the engineers about reconnecting the gas supply to the house. Now I just need to wait for Monday to have the boiler fixed and I'll be back in business.