Monday, 30 September 2013

Joey Ramone

Did you now that there are two solo Joey Ramone records? Joey died in 2001 and both were released posthumously, firstly 'Don't Worry About Me' in 2002 and then 'Ya Know?' in 2012. Both are excellent (obv) and include the expected as well as the surprising - buzzsaw 3 minute rockers and slower, more thoughtful, songs.

My first Ramones song was 'Judy Is A Punk' on a sampler album in 1977. I only saw The Ramones play once, back in around 1980 after the explosion of punk. I still remember the stick figure that was Joey in ripped jeans, leather jacket, shades and hair covering his face - the stereotype that Joey created for himself was there on stage. I saw one of Joey's former 'brothers', Tommy Ramone, when his new band Uncle Monk supported Buffy Sainte-Marie at a gig in New York in 2008. It's not everyday you meet a Ramone so when he came out into the audience after his set I had to shake his hand. Some things are important.

Every now and then Joey pops up on my iPod and his distinctive voice and delivery makes me pay attention. One of the most poignant songs is 'Life's A Gas' that closes 'Ya Know?' when he sings, 'Life's a gas, so don't be sad cause I'll be there, don't be sad at all.' Sorry, Joey, I can't help it.

The Ramones and Joey will always be associated with New York. Joey even has a block of East 2nd Street named after him and the sign for 'Joey Ramone Place' is reported to be the most stolen street sign in New York. I suspect he'd be pleased about that. There's also a great video for Joey's song, 'New York City' (in which he sings, "I'm proud to make my home in New York City"). I think it's Joey's brother that opens and closes the video. Everyone wears a leather jacket (of course) and it's a delight to see Tommy Ramone hold up the 'Joey Ramone Place' street sign at about 1:20 minutes into the video. Once a Ramone always a Ramone and it's a proud heritage.

Krista Siegfrids - 'Can You See Me'

Krista has just released the video for her new single, 'Can You See Me' from her 'Ding Dong' album. I'm used to seeing Ms Siegfrids romping round in a wedding dress or wearing very little in nightclubs, but here she is in a more thoughtful and tender mood for this video. The song is about losing her father and hoping he can see she's doing OK. And she is.

Take a look and then download the song - go on, you know you want to.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Viv Albertine - 'Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys'

Viv Albertine is writing her autobiography called 'Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys' after something her mother said to her about her interests back in the '70s. I was lucky enough to see Viv play a short gig at the 12Bar Club in January at which she also gave us a short reading from a draft of the book from her laptop. She read out the section of the book about The Slits supporting The Clash on their 'White Riot' tour in 1977 and mentioned their Newcastle gig. It was made even more interesting by Mick Jones (her boyfriend at the time) being in the audience.

It's nice to see progress has been made with the book and it's now listed on Amazon with a publication date of 1 May 2014. I'm not getting my hopes up since release dates often change (usually pushed back, rarely forward), but it's another step closer to it actually happening.

After seeing Viv's great shows supporting Siouxsie at Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival in June I'm pleased to say that I'm seeing her again on the Southbank in a couple of weeks time. This time she'll be playing the Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 17 October. If she does a signing after the gig I'll ask about the book. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A New Buffy Album?

That scallywag Michel Bruyere, better known as drummer for Buffy Sainte-Marie's touring band, has let the cat out of the bag. Buffy and her band are in Winnipeg recording new songs for a new Buffy album. O yes please! The last album of original songs only took nearly 20 years to make so it's a delight to know there's another one on the way.

Buffy's last couple of albums have been just her and one or two others playing all the instruments at her home in Hawai'i so it'll be interesting to hear her backed by a band. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. I shall wait patiently.

Michel does good drums and good pow wow dancing and that's him to the left of Buffy in the photo.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Krista Siegrieds - 'Seventeen'

Krista Siegrieds is my favourite pop star from Finland and she is full of energy and bounce, big dance songs and a big image. But she is also capable of touching just the right nerve with her songs. I've been listening to 'Seventeen' and would put it in my list of perfect teenage pop songs that say just the right thing and sound just right.

I remember being that age - I was 17 in 1977 when punk exploded out of London, the Sex Pistols released 'Pretty Vacant' and the Clash released their first album. And a host of other things like first hearing X-Ray Spex on a 10" compilation record and The Adverts' 'Bored Teenagers' (weren't we all?). I got my hippy hair cut short in 1977. Punk wasn't the only thing going on and disco was in the air with Donna Summer ruling the world with 'I Feel Love', full of sounds we'd never heard before. There was 'Rock Follies of '77'. And of course, there was growing up, hormones raging and getting ready to enter the adult world (although I'm not entirely sure I've managed to do that yet).

I think all of that helps to explain why I love Krista's 'Seventeen'. 17 is one of those ages that matter, a transition stage between childhood and becoming an adult and our experiences influence us for good or bad. Krista sings:

When i was seventeen, 
                                 We treated every moment like it was the last 
My boyfriend was nineteen, 
I am looking at a picture thinking of the past 

Every song was the best song ever, every kiss could last forever 
Every Friday night was stunning, every heart went wild drumming 
No worries in the world could stop us, we where always gonna be on top cause 
We could be what we wanted to be 

Look at me, living for the day like a dancing queen 
Young and free, there's something in the air when you're seventeen 
There's something the air when your'e seventeen 

And wasn't every song you loved the best song ever? Nothing could ever be better than your latest favourite song. I have a vivid memory of hearing 'Pretty Vacant' on the Kid Jensen show on Radio 1 on a Saturday morning and immediately getting the bus into town to buy the record straight away. I had to.

There's definitely something in the air when you're 17...

Friday, 20 September 2013

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - 'Don't Worry Kyoko'

Look what I've found on YouTube - some quite good footage of the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band gig at the Royal Festival Hall back in June that opened Yoko's Meltdown festival. And I was there!

The video is of 'Don't Worry Kyoko' and Yoko is joined on stage by Peaches.

I first came across this song on 'Live Peace In Toronto', the John Lennon live album with the cover depicting a tiny white cloud on a deep blue on blue sky, one of the images Yoko used in the Royal Festival Hall. On the album it's called 'Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)' which is a rather more wonderful title.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - 'Take Me To The Land Of Hell'

Yoko's new album, 'Take Me To The Land Of Hell', is now out as a download and will be available in a couple of weeks as a physical record. I pre-ordered it to get the advance release of 'Moonbeams' in June and have been enjoying it - 12 songs, mostly coming in at around three minutes or so, almost a pop album.

The Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band is really Yoko and son, Sean Ono Lennon, with a range of guests and the concept works. From tender piano-led songs to raucous rock thrash, it all hangs together really well. But make your own mind up since you will anyway.

Thank you Yoko, another album well worth listening to!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Paul Smith - 'A Mind Full Of Nothing But Continue'

Paul Smith has written a choral interpretation of his take on The Great North Run that will be performed tomorrow evening (Saturday 14 September) at The Sage in Gateshead. You can hear a short extract from it below and find out more about the project on the Great North Run Culture site.

The gig at The Sage is free and is sold out.

It's odd hearing Paul's voice without a guitar, keyboard and drums accompanying him but I like the sound. I hope it's released at some point. He could do worse than follow the lead of fellow Geordies, The Unthanks, and do a tour along the lines of their 'Songs From The Shipyards' tour. I'd go.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

PolyFest at the Half Moon, Putney

I am delighted to report a tribute gig for Poly Styrene in London - at last! It's at The Half Moon in Putney on Saturday 5 October with proceeds going to Cancer Research (which is appropriate).

I don't know anything more about it except the line-up of performers includes Kevin Rowland, Doctor & The Medics, Youth (who produced Poly's last album), Jennie Belle Star, Anita Harris (yes, *that* Anita Harris!), Jona Lewie and DJing from Tessa Pollitt from The Slits. The list of performers seems to be growing and it depends on which page on the website you look at as to who's performing but I think the list opposite is the latest. I am ever so excited.

Who else might turn up on the night? I'm hoping for Lora Logic and Paul Dean (both ex-Spex) and maybe Viv Albertine (ex-The Slits and a Poly friend). Wouldn't it be fab if someone like John Lydon turned up (he might be in the country since he's playing PiL gigs in October)?

I hope this will become an annual event. I shall be there!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Black Market Clash Exhibition & Pop-Up Store

Yesterday I went back in time to the '70s to meet The Clash when I visited the 'Black Market Clash' exhibition and pop-up store on Berwick Street in Soho. Soho is a much tamer place these days than it was back in the '70s, even down to the very polite and smiling bouncer on the door of the exhibition (well, I assume he was a bouncer since he didn't move from the door). Clean white walls and everything nicely spaced out shouts out that this is more than just another small shop trying to be trendy, and so it is.

The Clash have remastered, re-packaged and re-released their studio albums and the exhibition is part of the launch of the records. And the nice thing is that they're involved in the whole thing - Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon. No nameless technician re-mastering their music, they've largely done it themselves and have donated their own stuff to the exhibition, like Paul's broken guitar underneath the Penny Jones photo of him on the cover of 'London Calling'.

You can buy the remastered records in different formats and packages, vinyl as well as CD. The top of the range edition comes in a ghetto-blaster styled box (designed by Paul) with a range of extras including a DVD, CDs of rarities, badges and other stuff. The package is just shy of £100 and looks good. Or you can buy the albums in a tour-box designed box with your very own cut out 'Clash' stencil. Or you can buy the new compilation double album 'Hits Back' that reproduces the gig The Clash played in Brixton in 1982. Or you can buy the albums individually. I bought the tour-box set.

The exhibition and pop-up store are in an empty shop on Berwick Street. It's quite small but holds some great memories. The ground floor has a few guitars and stuff, but the gems are downstairs in the basement with posters on the walls and one long wall glassed off and fronted with a pink partition with the word 'Clash' cut out so you can see the memorabilia inside.

There are records in the original sleeves, hand-written lyrics, tee shirts and jackets worn by the band, posters (including the poster for the Sex Pistols gig at the Screen on the Green), gold records, badges... ooo loads of stuff! I particularly liked a photo I've never seen and which I've seen thousands of times - the original black and white photo of the band on the cover of the first album. The original is of three young lads being a bit sulky and moody, not scary or menacing at all until the designer got it, added the ripped effects to the record sleeve and there you have it, a classic punk cover.

It's a fun exhibition and a trip down memory lane for those of us old enough to have been there back in the day. It's only open until 22 September so, if you get the chance, pop in and take a look. The shop at the front of full of stuff - including the remastered records. You can even buy a Clash mug if you want to...

And there's more...

Take a listen to the Radio 4 Front Row interview from a few weeks ago with Mick, Paul, Topper and an old interview with Joe here

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Seasons of Mellow Fruitfulness and All That

One year ago London was sweltering under the intense summer heat of the Paralympics - I should know because I was there. I got sunburned sitting watching Paralympic football and escaped into the indoor Basketball Arena for respite and wheelchair rugby (a most exhilarating sport!).

This year hasn't been so good weather-wise. One day of scorching heat on Thursday and then the temperature drops and the rain emerges. O yes, this is September in Britain. It's been raining on and off all weekend but that's not all bad. The berries are starting to emerge and this will help them plump up and be juicy.

That made me think of pomegranates and how they always used to appear and then disappear over a few weeks from about mid-September to mid-October and then those lovelies wouldn't be seen again until the following year. Do you remember when that was the norm? When fruit came according to the seasons and was a joy for a few weeks or months before it vanished again?

These days you can see pomegranates in some shops whenever you want one and little tubs of pomegranate seeds in many supermarkets all year round. I take advantage of the tubs of seeds every now and then but wouldn't dream of buying a whole pomegranate out of season. That's just not right. Pomegranates are for September/October and that's a fact that has always been a fact throughout my lifetime.

Younger folks and folks in other countries might find this odd, that some fruits only used to be available at certain times of the year but it's what I remember. I had my first pomegranate in the late '60s as a treat from my Grandma and we ate it with pins to prick out the seeds. I don't bother with pins these days but launch straight in!

I suppose it's partly a hang-over from rationing after World War II (that went on in this country long after the war ended) and the slow development of preservation techniques (refrigeration and such) but I quite like the idea of some fruits being only available at certain times of the year. Not just pomegranates but also berries like blackberries. I admit to buying blackberries in the summer months but they are, really, autumnal fruits and should stay there.

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that.

David McAlmont - Wall To Wall Prince at The Hideaway

On Thursday evening we went to see David McAlmont play at The Hideaway, the swanky jazz club in Streatham. It was Wall To Wall Prince night following on from his previous themed shows singing David Bowie and James Bond themes. Thursday was the first of three nights of David and Baby Sol singing Prince songs (and neither of them wore purple).

The Hideaway also doubles as a supper club serving a good selection of food and drink including Newcastle Brown Ale so I was obliged to partake. Nice food and a nice, friendly atmosphere always work well, particularly with a Brown Ale! All that was missing was Mr McAlmont.

David came on in what he called his 'Versailles' look of a lightly brocaded frock coat suit covered in his bling, with the familiar lizard pinned to his sash. There was a five-piece and on stage with him providing a generally funky backing noise for him to sing against. Considering this was their first show they were really good and obviously well practiced with the new arrangements of some classic Prince songs. We had two roughly 50 minutes sessions with a 20 minute break.

David did the first few songs then Baby Sol joined him on stage to sing 'Sign O' The Times' and, later, 'Nothing Compares 2 U' (I don't understand why people sing this when the perfect version is by Sinead O'Connor). David took on 'I Wanna Be Your Lover', 'Money Don't Matter' and a lovely 'Diamonds and Pearls', but the highlight of the first half was what he introduced as his '1989 version' of 'When Doves Cry' in full Soul II Soul styleee. If you're going to sing a classic then have an arrangement to match and this was most excellent.

The second half opened with a stonking 'Kiss' and 'Alphabet Street' before Baby Sol braved 'Purple Rain' - I immediately felt sorry for the guitarist whose job is to be the guitar hero version of Prince and who can follow that (he did a good job though). We had excellent versions of 'I Feel For You' and 'Gett Off' but the highlight of the second half, for me, was a great and fun version of 'Guyana Beret' (aka 'Raspberry Beret'). This was an Africanised version of the song with a bit of patois finding its way into the song and I loved David changing 'I think I love her' in the chorus to 'I think I love she'. The encore was a fun mash-up of 'Manic Monday' and '1999'.

It was a very fun evening with David on top form and it was nice to be introduced to Baby Sol. I can't help but thinking that a good, old fashioned double A-side single could be made from the great versions of 'When Doves Cry' and 'Guyana Beret'. Go on, David, I dare you!

And here is 'When Doves Cry' from the Friday night show:

What do you think?

Monday, 2 September 2013

JimBob - 'Dream Come True'

That JimBob, successful author, musical comedy star and sometime popstar has released a new single in advance of his new album in November and here is the video to watch and listen.

'Dream Come True' is a cheeky little number about crowd-sourcing and reality TV shows like The Voice. Quite frankly, he's selling himself cheap if he'll come and play a gig in my living room for only £100! He needs a lesson from That Amanda Palmer if you ask me.

It's a fun song with JimBob's usual witty, cheeky lyrics and a simple melody that works perfectly. It's not the raucous attack music of Carter USM, but it does the trick. And, of course, he has to include a snapshot of Maggie Thatcher, his target of old.

Go on, pop on over to iTunes and give JimBob a nice surprise - make it a hit! He had loads in the '90s but let's make his dream come true!

*Presses download*

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Mother Ganges at Varanasi

I went to India nearly 20 years ago to travel across the northern states from Delhi to Varanasi and then further north to Kathmandu in Nepal. Varanasi is also called Benares but I prefer Varanasi, a city of many souls, of many temples and markets, of colour and noise and smells and traffic and worship and magic. Varanasi is home of the burning ghats at the side of the Ganges, a sacred river for millennia, a river that can cleanse the soul of a lifetime of sins if you bathe in her.

Varanasi was my last stop in India before flying up to Nepal and I chose to stay in a nice, posh hotel in the suburbs, away from the crowds so I could relax after my trek across India. I didn't take advantage of it much since I headed out into the amazing city straight away and met sadhus and pilgrims, beggars and saints. I went to a madly colourful and crowded Hindu temple and to a quiet Jain temple where I was blessed by the priest. I visited Sarnath, the deer park outside the city at which Lord Buddha first preached the Dhamma and the sanga was born. I saw the ruins of the first Buddhist monastery there and had a quiet moment.

I also did shopping at Varanasi. Not just in the markets but in real shops where you're sat down at a table and offered tea while the owners show you their wares. I wanted to get a Buddha image, a nice one, not mass produced or plastic, but carved and, in one small shop I found the one I wanted. A small image, maybe 8" tall and carved from sandalwood of Gautama Buddha sitting cross legged in the teaching position. The statue didn't come cheap and cost real money but I didn't mind, the intricacy of the carving deserved it. A Buddha image mere miles from where he preached his first sermon 3000 years ago.

A memory that sticks with me was getting up before dawn to meet my guide who took me by car to the ghats that lined the Ganges. I put my hands together to greet the various half naked sadhus sitting cross legged with matted hair and beards on the route to the river and then there she was, still dark in the pre-dawn morning. I was invited to make an offering of candles in what looked like little cake tins - light a candle and set it to float away on the river. So I did.

I then got into a small boat to be rowed out into the Ganges as the sun rose, orange and pink and turned the river the colour of the sun as we rowed out surrounded by little candles in cake tins and then further out. That's when my guide explained that one drop of Ganges water would clear away a lifetime of sin. I dipped the little finger of my left hand into the river to be purified - I have the purest little finger in London. I wasn't about to dip any more into the river at that point since half cremated bodies were regularly pushed into the river from the burning ghats. But it was a special moment, obviously so since I still remember it.

I have fond memories of Varansi, a city of millions of souls. I have fond memories of my guide who was a young Hindu woman and, rather than ignoring the beggars and pests that any tourist attracts, came prepared with small coins for them. As well as taking me on the Ganges and to Sarnath, as well as shopping, she took me to a Hindu temple to Shiva and took me to the lingum shrine to make an offering (important for any man). I wonder whatever she did next? Is she still a guide or did she become a teacher or. perhaps, did she move to London at some point in the last 20 years.

I would like to go back to Varanasi again one day. In the manic crowds of shouts and chatter, of selling and begging, there's a spiritual core and it's that that's at the heart of the ancient city. Varanasi was thriving before London was born, before Rome and before Athens and it's still there. Mother Ganges looks after it.