one faint deluded smile

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Come So Far

Picture by David Boswell

So it's Friday night and we head off to the Sydney Opera House for "Came So Far For Beauty - An Evening Of Leonard Cohen Songs". I've never even vaguely liked Cohen - the length and verbosity of his lyrics bores me and his spare, gloomy voice puts up the final roadblock to any sensual enjoyment. But I can appreciate the song-craft (sort of) and they seem perfect for re-interpretation.

I suppose the singers involved in this event were the main drawcard for me : Rufus and Martha Wainright, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Beth Orton, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Linda and Teddy Thompson, Antony (?) and 2 of LC's backup singers - Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen. The band were made up of people I didn't know except for the late inclusion of the great Chris Spedding on guitar! They had a guy playing musical saw on most songs too - very nice.

I won't go through it song by song because (a) I don't know their titles and (b) I prefer to enjoy a musical evening rather than take notes like some weird train-spotter. So just some general impressions then:

It was a 3 hour concert which was probably a little too long, especially when at least 1/3rd of the songs had similar arrangements to the originals: sometimes this worked beautifully as with a trio of Linda, Kate and Anna but overall it made the evening drag. Nick Cave was the least impressive of them all although his rock star moves made for a change from what everyone else did - standing still for the most part. I didn't expect much from Jarvis Cocker or Beth Orton but, in many respects, their tunes were the most effective. Cocker was a complete showman and his voice was great - perfect for the tracks he took hold of. Orton's 1st solo piece was magical with a slightly East European style of vocals backing her up and the most atmospheric arrangement of the show. Turn up for the books was Antony - someone I'd never heard of before - whose angelic voice is high but very smooth at the same time. He seemed enormously nervous and fluttered his hands a lot - as one friend said, like Joe Cocker - crossed with the stylings of Jeff Buckley. The Handsome family were a hoot, apparently as they always are, even if Rennie can't sing worth a damn. Perla's R&B diva vocals were quite grating even if she got the most applause in the night (for some reason, people just love that type of singing) but Julie Christensen's cabaret inflected performance was perfect for her solo piece. Teddy Thompson was in pretty good voice too. And finally, Martha Wainwright's slutty 70's outfit came as a complete surprise especially when her boobs kept on trying to have a good look at Utzon's lovely Opera Theatre.

I suppose Hal Willner's involvement will mean that a CD will appear eventually. One that I await with pleasure.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Better Late Than Never (re-posted due to extra interest)

from the cover of the 1st single

Fantastic news - Green Gartside has finally OK'd the re-release of Scritti Politti's pre-"Songs To Remember" singles and EPs. The album is called "Early" and will be out in mid February in the UK so pre-order it here right away why don't you?

He's consistently treaded water on a re-issue of this material throwing out words like 'embarrasment' and 'juvenile' to denote his displeasure at this era of the band. You can read some of his thoughts at Stephenage where a section of a larger interview has been posted. In some ways I can understand an artist having this attitude but at this point in time - 25 years after the recordings took place - this is musical history we're really talking about. And this is especially true for a band whose later, glossy incarnation was very, very popular indeed.

These singles and EPs were very important to me and, I think, most of my friends in the Sydney Post-Punk scene. The sound was completely unlike anything we'd heard with scratchy, thin guitars, Green's lovely voice and melodies and a rhythm section that seemed at odds with everything else. And I was so impressed with how difficult to play they sounded - my prog-rock tendencies coming to the fore. We tracked their little career and marvelled at the slight, important changes. But, in some ways more importantly, these hand crafted messages from the UK defined a level of autonomy in terms of record production and distribution that made us aware of how easy it might be to do the same thing ourselves. And so we did.

This is the "Early" track list:

1st single
1. Skank Bloc Bologna
2. Is And Ought The Western World
3. 28/8/78

Peel Sessions
4. Scritlocks Door
5. Opec - Immac
6. Messthetics
7. Hegemony

4 A-sides
8. Bibbly-O-Tec
9. Doubt Beat
10. Confidence
11. P.A.S.

1st "Songs to Remember" single
12. The "Sweetest Girl"
13. Lions After Slumber

Now I know I may be asking too much of poor Mr Gartside's aesthetic sesibilities but why has the rest of the Peel Session material been excluded? Surely this CD should have been treated as a complete historical document with carefull re-mastering of the previous releases PLUS the same carefull treatment applied to any other available recordings from the time PLUS a detailed, informative booklet. If the Slugfuckers can manage to find 2 cds worth of releasable material then I'm sure that Scritti Politti must have something more in the archives.

In the cause of all that is good and pure, I post the rest of the Peel Session material here:

mp3: The Humours Of Spitalfields : This is quite similar to the Skank Bloc songs although it's not as fully realized.

mp3: Knowledge and Interest : a dubby jam slowly falling apart until the vocals cut in.

mp3: Doubt Beat : an earlier version of the 4 A-Sides track with clearer vocals and finger snapping!

mp3: 5.12.78 : a version of 28.8.78 with the radio samples at the end replaced by studio talk by the band.

Some Links :

Scritti Crush Connection for all your SP links
possible site for the re-release(??) that's currently got nothing on it
Trouser Press entry
AMG entry

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


So Thursday night and there's a massive electrical storm down my way. 2 huge lighning crashes no more than a block away - the closest I've ever been to them, really, and it was amazingly frightening. Luckily I'd turned off the PC, eh? Well, no, in fact it didn't make an iota of difference. Friday and first the phone line craps out, then the adsl modem goes (maybe) and now the PC hard disk is inaccessible. Hopefully the gurus at work can fix it. But no more mp3 postings till next week or after that. maybe I'll try some modern music again.

Anyway, I get into work today and browse the normal sites I usually do every day and find that Domonique Leone has added the Voigt/465's "One Faint Deluded Smile" in the Pitchfork 2004 Found Sounds listing. Thanks you Mr Leone for the kind words about music I was involved in 25 years ago!! Time flies.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Effie, Madge & Mabel

rock lobster 7 inch cover

Somewhere in the past 20 years, the critical tide turned against the poor old B-52s. I suppose it was a buildup of frustration at their studied quirkiness, their reliance on kitsch and 'the space age', their continued use of lists, groups and countdowns and... Fred Scheider's awkward talky-singing. I can see that these may be taken as genuine concerns but, really, they're nothing in comparison to their real strengths.

The crrrritics should just sit back, be entertained and actually listen to the sounds that this great band of 'entertainers' made.

mp3: 52 Girls

This was the B-Side of their 1st single and a high point on their self titled 1st album. All the pieces are in place: a fantasticaly simple rock guitar riff with insistent synth bass backing overlayed with the voices of the Cindy and Kate, blending together in a way that still raises the hairs on my arms. Oh, and a vocal line that is impossible to tie down, twisting the harmony into a lead line.

mp3: Dirty Back Road

A softer but very intense moment on their 2nd album "Wild Planet" which still has that same riff magic and vocal line fascination. The use of the organ in counterpoint would continue to the very end. I'll admit readily that they went completely off my radar after this. I never knew until recently that they'd made an album a year for 2 more years or that they had another album in 86 before their 89 renaissance. I can only assume that I too had had enough of the fun.

mp3: Trism

After the sludgy "Mesopotamia" where they'd obviously run out of ideas, they returned with "Whammy!" in 1983. This used a more electro backing but still continued with their trademark sounds. "Trism" isn't a great song by any means but I had to include it here because of the wonderfull organ phrases behind the main riff. Fred S. rears his rather ugly one note voice for the 1st time on these mp3s but, as was often the case, it actually fits in with the music more neatly than people want to admit.

mp3: Communicate

They took another 3 years to come up with "Bouncing Off The Satellites". Released in 1986 but recorded in 1985, it was the last album to feature the fabulous guitar of Ricky Wilson who died from AIDs soon after recording finished. It's a terrific album, full of great songs and slightly less exuberant 80s production. This song is a complete surprise. It starts with some sort of unresolved chord - I have no idea what bass note is being played (maybe a 7th but very, very low) but it creates a delicious tension, finally resolved by the 2nd verse section. The chorus is sublime - what the hell is that coughing behind the 'straight from your heart' refrain?

mp3: Dry County

They took a while off to mourn their friend and eventually came back revitalised with the album that really made them famous - "Cosmic Thing". The lyrics and melodies for the most part on this one seem more personal, human and sad and I assume this is due to some sort of introspection. It all comes together beautifully on this unexpected funky shuffle where, sur-pi-ise, Fred's vocals are restrained and absolutely essential.

I saw the album tour wind down in Sydney 1990 and you could tell they'd had enough. The show was fine but Cindy especially seemed way, way past entertaining any more. The crowd, though, was fantastic - mainly young girls singing along to 'Dead Beat Club' and 'Love Shack' with joyous abandon.

So Cindy left and they returned as a 3 piece in 92 for "Good Stuff" (which I haven't heard) and then they started little tours in the new millenium. They probably look like vultures on a stick but I bet they still sound marvellous.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

That Old Mid-West Feeling

cover of the 1st jane aire single

The people at Stiff Records woke up one morning, hung over from another night of punky debauchery, tasted the thick London air and decided that Jane Aire should release a record. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, she seemed an unlikely choice for a small UK inependant. But I'm still really glad they did it:

mp3: Yankee Wheels

Piano driven at a time when guitars were king, slow and slightly plodding when fast bar chords were the norm, with a chorus that stutters magnificently and then shifts into a really poorly played shuffle, it's simply one of the best things they ever released. Jane put out another single and an album but this is really the only thing she did that I care about: great pop singing.

Some info on Jane.

charlotte pressler in the cleveland mean streets

Back in Cleveland things were noticeably grimmer. But that was just the ticket for Hearthan records who always put out great, dark things like the 1st Pere Ubu 7". They released this Pressler-Morgan single (they were part of the family after all) in 1979 and it's a different, more arty fabulous to Jane Aire's but it's fabulous none-the-less:

mp3: The Hand Piece
mp3: You're Gonna Watch Me

Read what I said about this quite a while ago...

Read the guff from Terminal Drive.

Read her reminiscences of Cleveland.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Teenbeat Reprise

Leg End

So it's 1974 and I'm way past Glam (or at least I think I am until I hear it all again in the 1990's). So it's lucky that Virgin records are around to satisfy my cravings for something a little more esoteric. I think this is how it went:

- bought Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt and completely fell in love with it.
- oh, he's on the 1st Rotter's Club album. So I got that as well and, wow, someone from Henry Cow (what a great name!) is playing on it.
- so I bought Leg End and that's all I really needed to become completely obsessed for quite a few years.

mp3: Nirvana For Mice

It's the duelling horn arrangement that always drags me in. And then the slightly weird way they initiate changes - by a handclap. Sure, it's got a lengthy jazz style sax solo but the music behind it seems so off kilter that I can forgive dear old Tim Hodgkinson. And then it ends on an unexpected vocal refrain of "sweet mystery of life i will remember". I never knew what it was all "about" (songs were supposed to be about something, weren't they?) but that hardly mattered.

mp3: Bittern Storm Over Ulm

As soon as I saw the blackened sock of their 2nd album "Unrest" I anticipated something stranger. It starts off with this Fred Frith extrapolation of The Yardbirds' version of "Got To Hurry" and it remains one of the tracks I constantly go back to for a bit of quick energy. More handclaps, lots of guitars and poop-de-doop saxes ending on a sharp violin squeel. It still sounds like the same band but skewered on a sharp stick. Unlike this track, half the album is improvised in the studio with lots of overdubs - influenced entirely by hearing The Faust Tapes.

mp3: War

A side on the Greasy Trucker compilation followed and then they backed Slapp Happy for "Desperate Straights" (another of my favourites). But then the supposedly combined bands produced "In Praise Of Learning" - their most obviously political record : "Art is not a mirror - it is a hammer", indeed. And, ofcourse, the red coloured sock is a major giveaway. This 1st track sets the tone with a heavy prominent bass line, Dagmar's throaty yelping and a more strident instrumental section. The LP then goes on with the daunting, lengthy "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" and I wonder whether I'll still like this in 30 years time (apparently I still do).

mp3: Udine (edit)

So Virgin kick them off the label and they release a double live cd "Concerts". Most of it is like this track and it became an imprint for the kind of improv I continue to love. A gorgeous descending bass line with scratchy organ, marimba, vocal and guitar overlays. One man's noodling, I suppose...

mp3: No More Songs

Without a recording contract they continued to play live to pay the bills: this is a bootleg recording from a 1976 radio concert in Stockholm that I hadn't heard until 2 years ago. They'd just learnt that Phil Ochs (who wrote the original) had died so they decided to end the concert with this hastily practised version. It shows up Dagmar's lovely Slapp Happy style voice and the complete professionalism of the group.

mp3: Gretel's Tale

So eventually they haggle and haggle and haggle and go and do the Art Bears thing and right away record their last LP "Western Culture". One side is a piece by Tim H. and the 2nd is (mainly) by Lindsay Cooper of which this is a small track. It's very reminiscent of the 1st album again but without a lot of the grace that "Leg End" had. It's many people favourite but definitely not mine. By this time I'd moved onto This Heat, The Pop Group and Pere Ubu so it barely rattled my cage.

Once again - go to Chris Cutler's terrific website for the complete lowdown on the band's history.

You can buy all of the remastered version of these wonderfull albums (bar "Concerts" - apparently an enlarged version will happen sometime) from ReR.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Do That Glitter Dance

Denise from the I Can't Stop It video

The Primitive Calculators made a baffling, strident, beat-driven noise, jerkily syncopated to the last drum machine pock. I was never a great fan, just an admirer, but when they got it absolutely right, like on "Do The Icepick" I wondered why I didn't like them more. And, ofcourse, they were the apex of the grungier, punkier part of the Melbourne experimental music scene spawing the "Little Band" nights where the DIY ethic was prime: a necessary balance to the private school dilletantes of St Kilda and the art school noodlings at Clifton Hill.

Their 1979 s/t LP + 6 bonus tracks + the video for the "I Can't Stop It" single is now available on Chapter Music. It's a terrific document of a great band with the bonus material outshining the original LP in many ways. Buy it.

As for mp3s:

Go to The Primitive Calulators' Releases Page and you'll find 5 tracks from their whole career.

And below are the B-Side tracks from the Glitter Kids vinyl release:

mp3: Signals

mp3: Lullaby

These (along with the A-Side) were recorded live at the Champion Hotel, Fitzroy in 1979. The single was released on clear vinyl via meeuw muzak in 2003.

You can also visit an interesting page by some un-named individual who talks about the recent CD launch.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Up 'n' Away

Up, Up and Away

Unlike many of my peers (and a whole slew of critics over the years), I'd never loathed 60s loungey vocal groups and so on. They always sounded pretty and innocuous and vapid and quite, quite lovely on the radio. And they still do too, although on my big hi-fi speakers they sound even better with a clarity and lightness of production that you don't often find anymore.

I've got nothing much to say about any of these except that I love them all dearly and they manage to soothe me in these sad times.

mp3: Augusto Alguero - Discoteque

No vocals on this one, just a delightfull piece of fluff found on the 1st Inflight Entertainment cd (which you can buy here)

mp3: Brigitte Bardot - Je danse donc je suis

A similar style - sexy euro pop - with the added langorous gaze of BB. Buy her best of.

mp3: Harpers Bizarre - Witchi Tai To

The only unusual thing HB ever did (they were usually too sickly even for my tastes). Try this old PSF article too. Buy their best of.

mp3: The 5th Dimension - California My Way

One of the highlights of the 5th's 1st album with a wonderfull, complicated, un-nerving vocal chord at the end of the 1st line of the pre-chorus section: "yes, I do, I really, want to go there". Buy their stuff here.

mp3: The Association - Everything That Touches You

The real highlight of The Association's recordings with the softness of the 1st verse gradually transformed into a magical vocal beast as the song moves forward. Buy it here.

Also have a look at the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame for really bad MIDI (and some good overviews).