Friday, December 29, 2006

James Brown - I Feel Good

James Brown R.I.P

I couldn’t let the passing of Mr Brown pass without adding my humble tribute. I was lucky enough to see him a couple of years ago at Glastonbury. He must’ve been around 70 by then and, whilst he couldn’t be compared to the unstoppable force of nature that he was in his earlier years, he had more funk in his little finger than most of the other acts that he shared the stage with. Now, at last, the hardest working man in showbusiness can take a well deserved rest.

Creatively bankrupt...

Okay. So it’s the holiday season. I can’t be arsed to prise myself out of the chair. After all, ITV are showing Back to the Future and Jurassic Park I, II and III on three consecutive days…genius. Therefore I have no gigs to write about. My d’etre doesn’t have a raison. I can’t just stick another video from You Tube on here. Too easy. And I ain’t gonna bore you with the minutiae of my life…went shopping, met Hank, picked my nose…you know the sort of thing. So instead I am going to bore you with my poorly researched, factually inaccurate thoughts on the state of the music business and creativity in general at the end of 2006. I make no apologies for the sweeping generalisations and crackpot theories that are contained herein. If you’re bored enough to read it, I’m bored enough to write it.

A few little things prompted this outpouring. Beanos Records (a legendary record shop in Croydon is closing its doors after 40 years), Reddingtons (a kind of Birmingham equivalent) shut down a month or so ago, Tower Records has just gone bust and HMV recently announced a drop in sales of 40% in just two months.

Then, browsing my local Tesco (I know how to live eh?) I came across a number of Mastercuts compilations. Mastercuts is/was a pretty good series of compilations of classic tracks covering soul, funk, blues, hip hop etc, all in their original forms (no shitty edits or pointless mixes). Each one was a triple album, containing 30 tracks. How much? Go on…take a guess. £2.84. I’ll say that again in bold. £2.84. Now, of course these are ‘old’ tracks. You could argue that the music business has already had its pound of flesh from this material, but £2.84? For someone who can remember buying 7 inch singles back in 1980 for £1.15 that’s a pretty shocking sum of money.

So what I hear you cry. The big record companies have had their day. They’ve ripped us off for far too long. Let’s hear it for people power! Okay. I agree…sort of. I’m sitting here listening to a mix by The Kleptones. It’s brilliant. A collection of some of the best tracks of 2006. The cost? Bugger all. Free. Gratis. Buy none, get one free. 100% extra free. I can sit here all day (and believe me, sometimes I very nearly do) listening to and downloading music to my heart’s content. But it’s not just the music that’s free. Do you know how many music blogs there are out there? No, neither do I…but the point is that there’s loads of them. Many, like this one for example, aren’t much cop. But there’s some seriously good stuff out there. Out of habit I still buy NME for £1.99 a week. The journalism is generally pretty poor now, it’s sort of moved to fill some of the gaps left by Smash Hits. There are lonely hearts ads, glossy posters of the poppermost stars, pictures of readers posing with ‘celebs’…even a lot of the reviews end up being nothing more than childish name calling and cheap shots against bands that aren’t considered cool enough. Compare this with something like Fluxblog or Headphonesex for example. Good, entertaining reads, loads of great info and the chance to download tracks for zilch. Locally I’ve been drawn to the Silver Footed Gig Slut (her words, not mine) who handily lists many of the gigs in Birmingham over the next week or so and even rates the acts concerned by listening to their tracks on MySpace. RussL writes reviews that are far more comprehensive than anything you’d find in NME and Pete Ashton’s site is a goldmine of information on music, art, the ‘net in general…

In pretty much every case bloggers blog in their own free time. They don’t get paid. We don’t pay to read them. Looking ahead, where does this leave so called professional journalists? What will happen to all of the magazines on the shelves? Will people continue to fork out money for books? What about DVD’s? Why bother buying or renting stuff when you can get it for free or at very little cost from the comfort of your own home? It’s a scary thought but it seems to me that creativity is becoming something that many of us just take for granted…it’s just there and because we’re now getting comfortable with ‘free’ access, that’s going to be the norm in the future. Photo libraries like I-stock photo now sell high quality pictures that you can use for anything from advertising to album covers for just a few dollars. You Tube doesn’t charge anything to watch a dazzling array of videos (I’m talking here about the music stuff, not mall rats miming to Hit Me Baby One More Time).

I’m not complaining. In fact I’m in hog heaven. I’m not one of those old bastards who pines for the days when you could only buy vinyl or tape at vastly inflated prices. The Internet will be the greatest media and communications tool ever created. I worship at the alter of Mr Blueyonder. However, imagine for a moment a world where a crack team of rich plumbers decided to do plumbing jobs for free…for ever. All of the other plumbers would have to find something else to do. Unemployment city ahoy. This is, for me, the nightmare scenario (not the plumbers bit obviously….I’m doing the analogy thing). A world in which creative people can earn a living being creative is a great thing. It sure as hell beats stacking butters and fats in Somerfield on the Isle of Wight (don’t ask), but who the hell is going to pay them (us) to do it in the future? Will kids in 2010 bother buying CD’s or paying £7.97 to download an album? Won’t many of them just get their musical and literary kicks for free and spend the rest of their dosh on crack?

Anyway…just a thought.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ultra Modern Nursery Rhyme Promo

I just love this. I did back in 1990-ish and still do. Jerry Sadowitz in the video, Terry Hall, the lovely Blair Booth...pop perfection. Why Terry Hall hasn't had hit after hit will be a mystery that I'll take to the grave.

I should be so sucky, sucky, sucky, sucky...

My Space sucks. Buffering, unexpected errors, connecting...jeez, what is this 1982? Can someone not do a better job? Anyone? Please?

Fyfe Dangerfield / er...someone else but I can't remember his name... / Godfrey Salter and His Invisible Ducks Glee Club Sunday 17th December 2006

Bit of a last minute jobbie this one, and a bit odd it was too. I'm starting to seriously dislike the Glee Club. Nothing wrong with the line-ups, staff, sound or even the overpriced drinks. No, the real bug bear is the bloody seating. You're crammed in like freakin' sardines on bum numbing makes the whole thing like a School Assembly. Aaagggghhh. Rant over.

Godfrey Salter (aka Al from The Courtesy Group) kicked things off in fine form by annoying most of the audience who clearly weren't expecting a poetry set from a slightly mad Brummie. As a Courtesy Group fan I loved it, sure it takes some thought and getting in to but judging by the cheers when he announced his last poem most of my fellow audience members would disagree (I guess none of them know he's Fyfe's brother either). The next act was fine. Yes, I've forgotten his happens sometimes, especially at my age. I'm 92 you know.

This was Fyfe's first solo gig. Away from his fellow Guillemots (who delivered one of my gigs of the year a few months back) he was clearly a little nervous and the fact that he had his back to the audience for most of the set didn't help to establish the kind of rapport that you look for in a great gig. That being said, the voice and passion was a strong as ever. Perhaps a guest slot or two from other artists to break up the set a little (and give Fyfe someone to bounce off) might make for a more rounded experience in the future (can you tell I'm being diplomatic...good).

No pictures 'cos my knees were rammed up round my ears thanks to the generous leg room afforded by Messrs Glee and Club. Grrrrrr.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Billy Bragg / Get cape. Wear cape. Fly. Birmingham Academy Wednesday 13th December 2006

I've been a bit of a Billy Bragg fan for...a number of years (yes I know I'm old) but for some strange reason I'd never got to see him live. He plays Glasto most years but he's normally in the Acoustic Tent which is rammed full of men with beards drinking scrumpy. So I was rather looking forward to tonight. GC.WC.F. (far snappier don't you think?) got things off to a flying start with a set that was half Sam with his guitar and half a bloke on drums and a bloke with a trumpet. He's got a lot more oooommmph on stage than he has on record/CD/download (delete as applicable) and the drummer added an almost Drum and Bass vibe to a few tracks. In some ways GC.WC.F. is/are the Billy Bragg of the 21st Century. But then that would mean that Billy was no longer relevent and, judging by his performance tonight, that couldn't be further from the truth. One man and his guitar. No more, no less. Kicking off with 'Sexuality' (which represented the birth of a poppier Billy back in the early 90's) the whole set was littered with the classics plus a couple of new tracks from next year's new album. In between Billy chatted about this and that offering little insights into his life which, coming from most performers might seem a little odd (often there were gaps of several minutes in between songs), but tonight it just felt right. Inevitably, as tonight was part of the Hope Not Hate tour, there was strong political edge, given extra poignency by the closure of the Peugeot factory earlier that day. In fact some of the workers who had been made redundant were there collecting signatures to stop the loss of what's left of our manufacturing industry. Music and politics have, at times in the past, gone hand in hand. Today, few musicians, or any of us for that matter, bother. Of course this is all wrong. But perhaps what we lack are enigmatic speakers who genuinely believe in justice, rather than voting themselves a 66% pay rise. Then again, perhaps most of us are too busy voting for Celebrity ASBO Dancing Hairdresser to vote for politicians. Good grief, I'm turning into Ben Elton. The point I'm very clumsily trying to make is that Billy Bragg works. You trust him. You believe in him. As a person as well as a perfomer. And that's a talent that's all too rare these days.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Band - Don't Do It

Okay, I'll even up the score. One weird video for one 'cool' video. Just watched The Last Waltz (one of the great music docs, directed by Martin Scorcese) so here's The Band.

Why? I don't know why. Maybe it's the drag queen in me coming out...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Misty's Big Adventure / ZX Spectrum Orchestra Glee Club Birmingham Wednesday 6th December 2006

Jingle Bells indeed. With the time of Yule fast approaching the lovely BBC gifted us with a freebie gig at the Glee Club, during which they recorded a show for The Freak Zone (6 Music) hosted by Staurt Maconie. Actually it was less of a gig and more of an old school Radio One roadshow in parts with some character called The Professor delivering a 'lecture' on Serge Gainsbourg, supported by lovely clips of the old devil himself perving over young girls.

In terms of live music the ZX Spectrum Orchestra kicked things off in typically freakish style. Part of the Modified Toy Orchestra, Mike in Mono and other ecentric, electric 'groups', they make music using, yes, you've guessed, it Commodore 64's. No. I jest. ZX Spectrums. I'm so old that I actually had a ZX Spectrum, 16K as I recall. The only sounds mine made was some kind of fax noise whilst I sat and waited 15 minutes for Hungry Horace Goes Skiing to load from a tape...a tape I tells ya...only to get to the last 10 seconds for the whole thing to crash. But I digress (emotionally scarred, moi?). The Orchestra (two blokes in reality) are actually very good. It's strange how 'computer' music still sounds like something from the future, even though it ain't. A kind of Dr Who of the music world...

Anyway, next up, and finally, we were treated to a short but sweet set by the magnificent Misty's Big Adventure. I keep trying to remember when I first saw them. At The Flapper & Firkin back in the late '90's I think, when Erotic Volvo wore a Doctor's coat with surgical gloves stuck on it. If you haven't seen them, that last statement won't make any sense. Good. Shame on you. They are one of the greatest groups in British music, up there with the Bonzos, Pulp and Haysi Fantazee...have you ever heard John Wayne is Big Leggy? A sizable chunk of the audience was frugging (it's like dancing, only fruggier) like mad tonight to a set that, as ever, was strewn, nay littered (it's happening again, I've come over all Frankie Howerd...I had to be very careful how I typed that) with classic songs. I still love The Wising Up Song most of all, mainly 'cos it sounds like a cross between Frank Zappa, German Caberet and a bus full of brass instruments falling off a cliff. It ends with a tale of a man who tries to move a mountain using a spoon. I won't spoil the pay off line for you, but it beats the hell out of 'lil Chris any day (aww bless I can hear you saying, leave him won't...he scares me...and his new record sounds like a bastardised version of The Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen in Love).

Anyway, to cut a long rambling review short, Misty's were excellent as ever, as you can all hear by listening to The Freak Zone, BBC 6 Music (some new fangled digital thing) on Sunday 10th December..sometime...I don't know when...what do you think this is, the freakin' Radio Times?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Men Women and Children / Kill The Arcade / Montana Birmingham Barfly Saturday December 2nd 2006

Wow. Top 10 gigs of all time alert. Woo woo the cops. This was a seriously special gig.

Montana (yet another fantastic local band) kicked off things by playing a set that wouldn't have been out of place at Woodstock. They have a long haired guitarist who might just be one of the best I've ever seen in 18 years of gig going, a vocalist that combines a bit of Anthony from the Chili Peppers, a bit of Robert Plant from the Zep, a touch of Jagger and his own phrasing that somehow seems like a natural development of all the above. If this band were around in 1974 they would be flying the globe in their own jets.

Kill The Arcade had a hard act to follow and didn't quite blow me away as much. But it was still a strong, powerful set and on any other night they would've made more of an impression.

Which leaves Men Women and Children. After hearing Lightning Strikes Twice in New York and Dance in My Blood last year I knew they were a cut above most other bands around. The album backed this up. But live...well I can't think of anyone else who could top them. Every single member of this band puts 100% into their performance. They obviously know their musical stuff (I'm sure I caught the bass player tuning up to Money by Pink Floyd! Good choice fella) and have managed to create a kind of funk/disco/rock/metal/rap hybrid of music that puts some of the best moments from the past 40 years of music into a big blender, adds loads of other great new ingredients and serves it up piping hot.

If I'm starting to sound like a teenager who's just been to his first gig rather than a 36 year old bloke who's been gigging for half his life then that's how this band makes you feel. I defy anyone not to love them. If they played this music all over the world it would stop wars, cure disease and make people dance in the streets. It's THAT good. We had the good fortune to meet the after the gig and, to top it all, they're bloody nice people who genuinely seemed to enjoy meeting fans and appreciated everyone who came out to see them. Pretty much every second was a highlight, but respect due to a band that don's hard hats with miners lights on them then leads a conga through the crowd.

Hopefully there may be the chance to interview the band in the future - watch this space - in the meantime go out and tell your friends, buy the record, become their friend on My Space, go see them live...they will restore your faith in humanity.

Captain / Polytechnic / Envy & Other Sins Birmingham Barfly Friday 1st December 2006

If ever a line up was arse about face, this was it. Local boys Envy & Other Sins simply blew the socks off both Polytechnic and Captain. This was the third time that I'd seen them and they have developed into a truly brilliant live band with clever, grown up lyrics, catchy choruses and oodles of energy. I love 'em! If ever a band deserved to break out of the nefarious 'Best Midlands' scene (nice one NME, now fuck off and patronise someone else) Envy & Other Sins should be it.

I don't really know what to say about Polytechnic. Nothing wrong with their vaguely West Coast vocal stylings and gentle melodies (they kept reminding me of that band that sang Santa Cruz you're not that far...The Thrills...thank you Google) but I couldn't detect anything about them that justified this week's NME single of the week (if you're detecting a little anti-NME sentiment you're most perceptive. It's still the best weekly music paper 'cos it's the only bloody one left. But it's now full of ads for mobile 'phone wallpaper - whatever the chuff that may be - and lonely hearts. I have a terrible feeling it's going to go - in the words of Smash Hits - 'down the dumper' before too long).

Headliners Captain were also ok. Frontline (which has been rereleased more times than a 17 year old with an asbo) was delivered competantly, but that's not what music is all about is it? A little like Deacon Blue, without the songs or Scottish anger shining through (listen to Dignity, then listen to Frontline and tell me I'm wrong...go on, I defy you). The keyboard player, Clare, annoyed me from the outset by pulling a hissy fit about her vocals not being high enough in her ear piece. Real bands don't need ear the following night's headliners showed...

The Rumble Strips / The Answering Machine Birmingham Bar Academy Wednesday 29th November 2006

This week (or four days to be precise) has seen an orgy of live music, some good, some not so good so I'll keep these brief.

First up The Answering Machine from Manchester. Quality, gentle Indie pop with a dark but romantic heart. Hints of New Order in places. One to watch for 2007.

Next, and finally (this was a two band bill - I demand three bands grrrrrrrr), The Rumble Strips. Why they aren't yet on Top of The Pops every week...oh bugger that's gone hasn't it...anyway, the point is that The Rumble Strips produce the kind of music that there's just too little of these days. You got a lot of it in the late 70's and early 80's, music with real instruments to the fore, bags of soul (even if it was highly polished - step forward ABC, Heaven 17, Blue Ronda a la Turk and oodles of others) and lyrics that seem to mean something. Live they're even better than on record, I never saw Dexy's in their heyday (and I imagine they were a different kind of power), but reviews that link The Rumble Strips with Kevin Rowland's crew would seem to be pretty close to the mark. Given that Dexy's were widely acknowledged to be one of the live acts of their era, that's a pretty good compliment. Oh Creole and Motorcycle were personal highlights but, in truth, every song was delivered with passion, balls and a little ingredient the music fairy calls X. If their debut album (out May 2007) doesn't tip them into the big time I'll eat Charlie's hat.