Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Post Bowie Vacuum Finally Begins to Fill

Of course, the first thing you'd expect here would be a nice picture of The Dame.

I don't think you need to see another one, do you? You've already got your own best image of him in your head.

Like almost everyone who has already written things far better than I ever could, I never met David Bowie. And yet... and yet. He was personally important in ways which I  - and the rest of the world - are only now really realising.

I missed the one opportunity of meeting him when I was working at RCA/BMG and he signed to us for the Earthling album. He came into the building at Putney Bridge and by all accounts hung out for a bit and was very friendly. I was out that day; probably in a studio pretending to be important or maybe sitting in traffic on the M56 in an attempt to find a group in Manchester. I have no idea. I just remember that "guess who you missed meeting?" crowing on my return. Ah well.

Anyway, since I last wrote this on my return from all those US and Canadian record shops, where have I been? What have I been doing?

Well, for starters, although it seems like a lifetime ago, there was this:


Yes, that's me, gesticulating wildly whilst doing a lecture. I was explaining What's the Point of A&R?  to a hall of students studying Popular Music. Who would've thought that would be a course? It is, though. I wonder if I'd gone on it, I would have ended up signing more successful bands?

I also wrote a text version of it a couple of weeks ago for Music Business Worldwide and was astonished how many friends and colleagues got back to me agreeing with my 3 Commandments of A&R. After all, it's been a very long time since I actually did the job. It appears, however, despite massively decreased sales, that not much has changed about the actual job. And its necessity.

Then Christmas happened, Lemmy died, then Bowie and it we were suddenly beached into a whole new year where everything seemed different.

Since then, my bearings have been steadied by a number of things. Firstly, the new Mystery Jets album Curve Of The Earth. A friend of mine gave me an advance copy of it before Christmas and I've been living with it since then. To be perfectly honest, I don't often get excited about new records: last year I enjoyed Courtney Barnett, Ezra Furman and Slaves but I'm not sure I'll be continuing to listen to them much this year. This new Mystery Jets elpee is staying with me; it's about as good as it gets: opaque intriguing lyrics, brilliantly sung by a singer who's really got the chops and most important - the thing that gets underestimated or simply taken for granted - great soaring tunes that twist in unexpected yet entirely satisfying ways. These are songs that somehow always existed yet here they are for the first time! Listen to Bombay Blues if you don't believe me. If you want a glib, quick reference it's The Shins meets Arctic Monkeys. I've read a couple of miserly reviews in The Guardian and Mojo already. Ignore them, go and listen to it, then tell me I'm wrong if you must. I met two of them a few days ago for the podcast and they as good company as their music.

Another surprise and bearings-steadier in the post Bowie vacuum was discovering that Micky Gegus, co-founder and guitarist of West Ham hard case punks Cockney Rejects is a total gent.


I interviewed him ahead of a screening of Richard England's wonderful film about the band, East End Babylon and I suspect like a lot of people, I hadn't really properly listened to the Cockney Rejects during their heyday. They were too firmly aligned with football,which I have never been interested in, and the songs I heard on the radio (I've Forever Blowing Bubbles and Greatest Cockney Rip Off) seemed too lumpen and dull to warrant investigation of any album. Now giving their tunes a bit of time (in both senses: distance from the release date as well as my own listening time), whilst they're never going to compete with, say, The Clash or The Jam,  I was overwhelmed by their musicality and freshness. Tracks like East End or Oi Oi Oi are genuinely great. They were so young at the time too. And who can argue with a band who spent their advance on fireworks and treats from the school tuckshop?

I'm wasn't going to go about rock deaths today but after losing two originals like Lemmy and Bowie within weeks, I fear, we're going to have to start getting used to losing old friends over the next few years. Rock's first great wave are now that age: getting ready to leave the planet,  It's the pitiful cry of a 50 something white westerner but we're not going to see their like again; once they're gone, will we be charting the fascinating courses taken by Bieber, Swift and Kanye? Well, I'm sure some people will be, but not me.

Just before he died, Lemmy made an advertisement for a well know brand of Finnish milk. If you haven't seen it, have a look; it's the only advert I've ever seen where the product is actively spurned by the person promoting it. Anyway, it provided me with the inspiration to write a column for BBC Radio 4's Front Row about how products use wild men of rock to promote their stuff.

And if you like the sound of my voice banging on, try this one I did on charity shops being the new record shops - it was broadcast just tonight (Thursday 28th January) but I recorded it before Christmas as a timeless piece they could use to fill space. They added it so last minute that I don't even get billed on the website - it's about 20 minutes into the show.

A lovely thing appeared online towards the end of last week which for me, put an end to the unexpected period of Bowie mourning. It was the release of a bit of studio japery by the Bo-man recorded during the Langer & Winstanley sessions for Absolute Beginners. In it he impersonates Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Anthony Newley and several others. It's both funny and also touching; a snapshot of the great man taking a break at work. I love the fact that he was capable of being a highbrow bonafide artist whilst simultaneously being a South East London piss taker. OK, so there are far less Laughing Gnomes than Beauty And The Beasts (and a good thing too) but there is also a catalogue of evidence, which points to Bowie being able to laugh at himself and others. To be perfectly honest, when I hear a band like, say, this week, Savages, talk earnestly about their art, I just want to reach for the eject button. When Ricky Gervais suggested Bowie finally got a proper job as he turned 60, the Dame apparently replied he had one and it was 'Rock God'. This is the man who talked in the unique scatalogical manner of Derek to Brian Eno's Clive whilst the two of them recorded Heroes and Low.

And of course his last TV appearance on Extras. Is it too much to ask for Little Fat Man to be released as a charity record?


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

A Trip to The Thing: About Secondhand Record Hunting.

I'm sitting in reception at BBC's New Broadcasting House. I'm reasonably familiar with it as I have a few friends here, but this is the first time in ages that I'm doing a job. In a few minutes I'm going to go through the revolving door and into a recording studio where I'm going to read an article I've written.

Regular readers may be wondering what the big gaps have been between posts. I know, it's not a great way to run a blog but hey, it's the only way I know how right now. I've been in the States again. This time not for work but for pleasure, accompanying my dad on a trip to celebrate the 100th birthday of a friend of his. Here's a picture of me and dad 'having it large' in New York.

I think both of us need a little work on selfie technique

The 100th birthday party turned out to be a, well, a gig - held at a venue called the Town Hall. The birthday boy, Eric Bentley is the man responsible for bringing  the English speaking world's attention to the works of Bertolt Brecht. He didn't make the show but watched his party on a video stream. He's well known (to those of us who had to study Brecht at school and then went and did German at University) as being the translator and editor of a lot of Brecht's work including the songs Brecht wrote with Kurt Weil. Bowie fans may remember this, although the translation here is by John Willett. Bentley also recorded a lot of Brecht's stuff himself which makes him possibly the only scholar and critic who has his own page on Discogs.

Anyway, that's why we were there. But while dad went off to see Eric the day after the show, I did what I most like to do. I think you can probably guess what that is and it also pertains to why I am now sitting in the BBC lobby...

Just a handful of years ago, Manhattan used to be quite the place to buy records: there was a massive Tower on Broadway, Virgin Megastore on Times Square, Bleaker Bobs in the Village and loads of  smaller stores. Now all that's left seems to be Other Music. No, in order to complete my quest, I had to go to Brooklyn. Greenpoint, to be precise. I'd read about a legendary shop called The Thing which has endless crates of albums all of which are priced at $2. As ever, I'm looking for a facsimile of that charity shop experience of serendipity and bargain. I found it; here's what the inside of The Thing looks like:

Believe it or not, this is one aisle out of many - and this is just the basement!


Some of you may have seen a tweet I posted suggesting that this might be what is behind the pearly gates. It's hard to imagine anything better with the possible exception of a dinner with Harold Pinter, Jean Seberg and Kenneth Williams.

I dived in and began the trawl. At first I thought I was going to be the boy in the candy store but it soon became apparent that this was hard work. Not only were the records tightly packed into the shelves, each section requiring some manoevering before rack-flicking could commence, but also the condition of many of them was poor - dust and cardboard shards flew everywhere and soon I was covered in a thin layer of powder. It wasn't until about half an hour in, after looking at hundreds of unwantable dance 12"s that I began to find some good stuff: an early Grace Jones album complete with the original Island press pack including a glossy pic of the great lady; the debut Graham Central Station album Release Yourself still in its shrinkwrap, a sealed copy of the Bravery's album (yes, I know they're not hip anymore but it's a good album - and quite pricey on vinyl, pop pickers!)

With these and other gems, I made my way up Manhattan Avenue towards my next vinyl stop, Co Op 87. But before that I chanced upon a store which specialised in fishing tackle but had recently branched out into vinyl. There, I discovered more Grace Jones, an original of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing and the Bee Gee's Idea with its amazing Klaus Voorman cover:

Each part of the composite face is either Barry, Maurice or Robin. There's a handy guide on the back cover.


By now, I suspect you're thinking that I have a bit of a vinyl problem. And you would in part be right. The issue I have is akin to the one Henry Rollins describes in the LA Times:

You can read the whole article here

Rollins "self medicates" on vinyl, he says. And this is what I do too. The problem for me is not so much that I am desparate to hear the music but that I love the artwork: it's the presentation of the music that has always seduced me. I found myself buying a Buzzcocks T-shirt at their recent show in Stroud partly because I love those songs and they were the first group I ever saw, but mainly because Malcolm Garrett's logo is a beautiful piece of art. It's criminal that Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures (designed by fellow Mancunion Peter Saville) should beat Buzzcocks in 6 Music's T-shirt Day last month.

So given how much I love the presentation of music, imagine how excited I was to chance upon this when my dad and I were in MOMA:

Oooh! Look at the lovely Barney Bubbleses



Our trip then continued to Canada. Even writing that sentence makes me wince with the expense. I simply don't earn enough to be doing this trip, but boy, am I glad I did it. I know this blog is about music but allow me to step outside the brief for a moment and say that real, quality time spent with your parents as they get older is just the most rewarding thing. I just hope my own children see it that way too.

Anyway back to the records... In Toronto, where we were visiting my uncle, it transpired that no one had shared the news that record shops were over; the place was brimming with them. The biggest - and possibly best, although I sadly didn't have time to visit them all, is Sonic Boom. A whole floor of secondhand vinyl in the basement which is organised and curated by proper music fans and reasonably priced. Dare I say that it was better than The Thing? Mind you, there was still No Parler for Paul Young in the bargain bins:


Sonic Boom reminded me of Amoeba in L.A. with slightly lower ceilings.


Amongst other things, I snaffled a sealed copy of Fingerprinz' debut The Very Dab, Julian Cope's debut World Shut Your Mouth and Stevie Winwood's cowritten with Viv Stanshall album Arc Of A Diver. I also treated myself to a brand new 10th anniversary double vinyl version of Spoon's Gimme Fiction. If you've not heard of Spoon they really deserve a blog all of their own because they're brilliant. Listen to Sister Jack from that album. Great artwork too.


The following day I also found time to visit one of Toronto's oldest secondhand record shops, Vortex. It was situated on Eglington and Yonge Street in a squat row of red brick buildings of the sort that presumably used to be quite common in Toronto but which are now clearly fighting a losing battle with glass and steel high-rise structures. If Pixar were making a movie of it, this small row of shops would be cowering and whimpering while the rangy skyscrapers kicked sand in their faces.



Somewhat inevitably, Vortex was having a closing down sale.


Sentimentality over, I'd managed to time it perfectly. Combined with this and the fact that sterling is currently much stronger than the Canadian dollar, I emerged from the Vortex half an hour later holding a brace of albums I'd been looking for for ages but had never found at a reasonable price - Stephen Duffy's wonderful debut Lilac Time album, Squeeze's US release on red vinyl, Marianne Faithfull's Broken English, Julian Cope's St Julian... Let me pause for breath...'

Frankly, I don't know how I managed to get them all home. But you'll be happy to hear there were no breakages during the return flight. It occurred to me during the journey home that you simply don't get this vinyl hunting experience in the UK. There are not many used record shops which have such massive stock as Sonic Boom or even others I visited but haven't had time to mention like Rotate This or Gimme Gimme in L.A. And the ones in the UK, I won't mention their names in case they get cross, but they're a bit unexciting and almost always overpriced.

The experience of finding records you never knew you wanted and not paying much for them - that's the thing. Or indeed, The Thing.

The Thing, last week before I bought all their stock.
And that article I presented for BBC Radio? Well, the recording went OK, I think. I'll put a link up to it when it goes live. I won't say what exactly it's about now but it does go some way towards answering the question of where to find record shops where you can have the experience above.

Right now, I'm floating in vinyl heaven. 


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Devo, The Adicts, Benjamin Clementine and Motörhead.

If you read this with any regularity you may have noticed, perhaps with some disdain, that you are here far more regularly than I am. I apologise. The whole point of a blog is to be regular. 'Regularly and in small doses' writer Tony Fletcher once advised me about blogging and it looks like I have completely ignored him.

If I have an excuse it's not because I've been spending time with the telly. Although I was of course glued to it last night watching the Mercurys. Benjamin Clementine, eh? 

Benjamin Clementine graciously invited the other eleven nominees up onto the stage with him after the announcement that he'd won. It was a genuinely moving moment, topped only when he almost broke down honouring those affected by the atrocities in Paris.
The attraction of the Mercury Prize is that it is about what is happening NOW. There is little thought for posterity in the judges'  voting which is a good thing; they always go for what feels right precisely at the time of voting. This accounts for Gomez beating Massive Attack or The Verve, Roni Size trouncing Radiohead and of course famously M People triumphing over the combined muscle of Blur, Pulp, The Prodigy and Paul Weller. If anything - and I have to confess to preferring Clementine's cheekbones over his voice -  this year's winner pipped the others to the post because of his Parisian backstory. PJ Harvey's win in 2001 was partly because of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea's connection to a grieving New York.


I was due to go to Paris the weekend the atrocities happened. My brother had  never been to Paris and is a massive fan of Motörhead who happened to be playing at the Zenith that weekend in the 19th Arrondissement. 


Motörhead went on to cancel the show despite the venue initially claiming all shows there would go ahead.

I'd booked the tickets, Eurostar and hotel months before and we'd both been looking forward to seeing Lemmy barking out Ace Of Spades as well as doing a quick once around the beautiful city. As I travelled down to London to stay with him on Friday night, the news bulletins started coming in and by the time I arrived at his in Cricklewood, it was clear that even if we did get there, our weekend in Paris would be a very different one to the one we'd planned. 


I'd booked the tickets, Eurostar and hotel months before and we'd both been looking forward to seeing Lemmy barking out Ace Of Spades as well as doing a quick once around the beautiful city. As I travelled down to London to stay with him on Friday night, the news bulletins started coming in and by the time I arrived at his in Cricklewood, it was clear that even if we did get there, our weekend in Paris would be a very different one to the one we'd planned. 

In the end, after a day spent watching the driving London rain whilst checking Twitter, Facebook and BBC updates (and watching Spectre - more international terrorism, thanks), we gave up and I travelled back home. I felt the luckiest man to be alive and shortly to be able to see my family. The target could just as easily have been the show we were due to attend. 

Going to a gig is such a magical, freeing thing to be able to do and to know that something like that can happen in a the capital city of a country whose entire ethos is based on liberty is truly tragic. My sympathies are with anyone affected by the events.

To briefly sink to bathos: that's another reason why the blog never happened. 


Other reasons are that I've been travelling. I went to L.A. for the first time in 20 years to conduct interviews for a book I'm putting together on DevoFor those of you who aren't sure what I'm talking about, just click on that link and watch the clip for their film (produced by themselves incredibly in 1976) and you'll get a sense of just what a remarkably odd, influential and yet always melodic group they were. 

I struggled picking a photo of the band that encapsulates them because they changed their look with every album release.  However this one (despite being a mirror image of the actual picture I think) does it better than most as it features not only their legendary Energy Dome hats, but also their collective facial expression, self designed clothes and also, remarkably, self designed fabric behind them. Sweating the small stuff, that's what it's all about.



I'm not going to band on about Devo now though, because I suspect I'll be bringing the subject up again in the course of the next few months. Suffice to say, that both founder members Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh were incredibly gracious with their time and also brilliant fun. Plus, visiting Mark in his office/studio was a bonus because it looks like this:
This roman amphitheatre style office on Sunset Boulevard was originally built in 1967 by a plastic surgeon. Mark painted it green ostensibly to offset the gold tinted windows but really I suspect because it makes it entirely Him.

While I was there I also had the opportunity to do a little shopping. Blimey, there are a lot of second hand record shops in L.A. I think I went to all of them.


I took this shot outside Gimme Gimme just after emerging with my mate Jason (who shares my vinyl addiction and knows every record shop in LA) laden with albums including Sly And The Family Stone's There's a Riot Going On ($1!) and Mandrill's first album ($15). I was jealous of this passer-by, partly because she'd found a trolley to match her top but also because I needed something to cart my booty around in.

On the flight back I had an odd serendipitous experience: The overhead lockers on VS23  were all stuffed full of hand luggage and I was trying to add mine to it at the eleventh hour. Sat next to my window seat was a middle-aged man who looked all toothy and charming  - a bit like the actor Phil Davies. 

He stood and offered to move his coat and make room. 
"haven’t got anything fragile in there have you?” he asked about the Amoeba Records bag I was shoving in on top.
“Actually, yes, I’ve got a couple of vinyl records ..”
His eyes lit up, “Really? What you got?”

As I finished loading the locker and sat down next to him I prepared myself for his deflated reaction to the ancient obscurity in the bag.
“Well, I was in Amoeba earlier today and I found an original copy of a record by Patrick Fitzgerald”
Patrick Fitzgerald!” 

I don’t usually write the word ‘exclaimed’ but there is no better verb to  describe how he repeated the name. Fellow passengers’ heads turned. He continued, “what, the punk troubadour? Safety Pin Stuck In Heart? Genius!”

If you want to hear what my fellow passenger got so excited about here it is

The Virgin check-in person had not only sat me next to the only person on the flight to have heard of Patrick Fitzgerald but quite possibly the only person in L.A. to have hear of him. 
“What a treat to sit next to fan of punk wave,” I replied , “Pleased to meet you, I’m Ben, “ I said offering my hand.
He took it and gave a toothy grin, “Kid.”


It turned out that I was sitting next to the drummer from Clockwork Orange-clad punk chancers, The Adicts.

Kid is the fella sitting on the far right. He's actually much cooler looking than this pic gives him credit for.
He proceeded to tell me some amazing stories about his early life, growing up in a family where dad was the entertainment promoter for military bases where the itinerant family lived. Kid - or Michael as he was then known - would often wake up in the morning and discover members of The Kinks or whoever had played the previous evening, sleeping sitting room. 

I must confess to having been almost entirely ignorant of the band's work other than their Alex Droog-look, but listening to the stuff on Spotify the songs are witty and pretty powerful, kind of like early Adam And The Ants without the whips and leather. What was genuinely inspiring to hear from Kid (still can't quite resolve that name with my 50-something fellow passenger) is that their longevity and popularity has earned them a real respect from fellow bands young and old. They now headline punk festivals all over the world and  have a seriously devoted fanbase. Lemmy's a fan apparently.


Kid had been in L.A. writing and recording new stuff with his brother Pete Dee and singer Monkey who both live there now. Kid has remained true to the band's hometown of Ipswich and was returning there to wife and kids. "We're still popular because we're still the same - I mean, no offence, right (he points at my shaven head) but we've all kept this (pointing at his own) and Monkey still looks the same in his make up. But when I get home, I'm not Kid anymore, I'm Michael Davison, just out walking the dogs..."




And so we sat there, two fellas of a certain ago talking about music and enjoying the inflight hospitality. Kid seemed remarkably adept at persuading the initially reluctant staff to keep us refreshed, something he put down to the 35 years of punk rock international travel he's had.  It struck me that like The Adicts, Devo could in theory have gone on without pause given that their image was about costume and disguise too.



The reformed Devo in the noughties. Older, wiser..



And that's all pop music is isn't it? Just dressing up and making up songs. Some artists use  their own life experiences like Benjamin Clementine, others dress up and sing about imaginary events people or invented worlds like Motörhead, The Adicts or Devo. Jerry from Devo was at Kent State University when State troopers opened fire on students protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. His friend Allison Krause was one of those killed and he witnessed it. The trauma part inspired Devo. 

Let's hope the events in Paris last weekend go on to inspire something positive.



Monday, 2 November 2015

10 Reasons Why Rock Music Might Be Dead

This could be what a new fan of rock music looks like. But who is it?

Last week found me sitting in a ubiquitous coffee chain in Central London talking to the Saul Galpern ahead of him guesting on the podcast. Saul was on to discuss the Mercury Prize and as we went through the nominees it was clear that there wasn't much in the way of guitar music represented. Saul was telling me about a recent conversation he'd had with the son of a singer from quite a famous band and how this young fella - himself a huge fan of music - uttered the immortal words, "rock is dead."

So while I don't necessarily agree with him, here are some reasons why he might be right. As my seven-year-old daughter would say, "Just putting' it out there."


Rankin took this picture. I'm undecided as to whether it does the album justice.


1) The Mercury Prize
There are only three Mercury music prize nominations which you could describe as guitar rock  but while each has its own merits, are any of them really taking the genre forward? In fact has rock been redefined by anyone since, say The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys or The Libertines. Wolf Alice have got some tunes and good vocalist but there's something relentlessly ordinary about them.  I'm fond of Slaves, but it's a concoction which most people over 30 will be very familiar with. One disclaimer to this point might be that I am relentless old so I am clearly not the target audience. As Saul wisely said, if he was 15, he would never have heard Buzzcocks or The Fall so Slaves would be a clarion call. The third nomination is my favourite of the entire Mercury shortlist: Gaz Coombs' Matador. Arguably Coomb's has never wanted to break rock's mould but with this album he has definitely swerved off Supergrass Boulevard into something more interesting. Perhaps he could keep rock alive for a bit longer.


Sleaford Mods in their state of the art recording studio
2) Sleaford Mods
One band who are getting championed  as doing something interesting and showing genuine passion are Sleaford Mods. But these guys are almost old enough to remember punk rock the first time around. As a boy, singer Jason Williamson was a huge Jam fan, which led to his disillusionment with recent Weller output. As well as this, the audience at Sleaford Mods shows would appear to comprise of ladies and gentleman of a similar age to the band who have - like me, I admit - found angry kindred spirits in the band. Great, yes. Keeping rock alive by inspiring young kids? Not sure.

3) Archivisation
Dylan's label started this back in the 90s with the Bootleg Series, which is now on its 12th volume with The Cutting Edge, a trawl through the outtakes of his 1960s big hair period featuring, I kid you not, 20 versions of Like A Rolling Stone. Again, the old fellas like me, especially the ones who like packaging (again: me) will be adding this on their lists for Santa, but it's more nails in the coffin for the plan to convince 'the kids' that rock is about exciting, rebellious new things. Oh, and there's another Beatles package for Christmas too.

4) Bedroom Strumming
Bands are expensive. To keep going with no art school grants or any of the other financial support networks that used to exist (in the UK at least ) in the past is hard. Who pays Paying for rehearsals, equipment, petrol for gigs and all the other stuff you need to do to keep a band going? Clearly it's the greatest fun in the world playing in a room with other musicians but wouldn't it be quicker and cheaper to do it in a bedroom with computers and shit? Well, ask Ed Sheeran, Laura Marling, Villagers. And these are just names I'm plucking from the forefront of my brain. These days it's easier to cite solo artists or duos than bands. This doesn't necessarily make for less effective music - the previous three artists are at the forefront of my mind because I like them - but are they rock? I think the answer is no.


Sheeran archived.


5) It's Everywhere
How good do your favourite records sound after you've been starved of them? I remember coming back from holidays when I would only have so much room for CDs and experiencing the physical pleasure of satiating myself on missed music. Now we can take everything everywhere. And if that wasn't enough we're also exposed to it in shopping malls, hold music while your call is being valued, in taxis, and while we wait for planes to take off. Even when you're on a flight there is no escapge from Classic Rock - which now means Ride, apparently.

Virgin Atlantic's current choices of All Time Greats.
Incidentally, I just found a copy of There's a Riot for one dollar. Result!

6) Books Books! BOOKS!.
First sign of something being over is when it gets its own shelf of books. Books on Rock used to be tucked away in a corner of Waterstones. Recently in Foyles in London I was confronted with the sight of three bowing shelves full of rock minutiae. And still they keep coming. Peter Dogget has just written another 720 words about 125 years of pop music. Like so much modern art, I suspect the main achievement here is really to say I Have More Time Than You.

7) Brand extension.
My brother now has a pair of Motörhead headphones. Why not? The Motörhead logo is arguably the finest part of their legacy; it should be on more products. Extra Mature Motörhead cheddar, anyone? I'd buy that. Iron Maiden have just marketed their own beer Trooper which looks like this:


You can buy Clash notebooks, Sex Pistols iPhone cases, Rammstein steel lunch boxes and... well, I don't need to list them all here. You know what I'm talking about - and don't get me wrong, I am tempted. My favourite purchase is the punk rock coaster set:




8) Heydays
Think about classical music. Or Jazz. Every music genre has its heyday. Yes, classical is still immensely popular. But here the clue is in the name. Those going to a classical concert will more than likely be listening to music written hundreds of years ago. Just like those of us going to see Iggy Pop. As for Jazz, it's been a heritage industry for all of our lifetimes and is still going. Yes, practitioners still write new jazz music but it's the great artists and albums which attract young fans. Having just seen the movie Amy, it was clear that Winehouse was not queuing up to listen to Courtney Pine or John Schofield, she wanted Tony Bennett and Billie Holiday. So perhaps Rock will soon just be another canon of work which new artists interpret. But will anyone be reinterpreting Catfish And The Bottlemen in 50 years?


9) Reforming reforming.
Recently I saw a bunch of posters on a wall in a market in Bristol. For a moment I thought it was a collectors stall with lots of original posters from the late 70s: The Rezillos, The Ruts, The Cockney Rejects. Then it became apparent that these were freshly produced posters for artists who were on tour and playing at a nearby venue. It's now hard to pick a band from this period who haven't reformed. The original artists reinterpreting their old work. Can't see the kids queuing up for it.

10)  The ruddy music!
I'm desperate for a new innovative band to come along like The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes or The White Stripes. But they all emerged over 10 years ago. Yes, I am old and jaded and possibly not worth trying to engage with new music, and I know that it's the same for every music fan to chase the thrill of discovery first felt when they heard that band or that record for the first time. But I'm open-eared and I know lots of people male and female just like me who have not given up looking for new acts which excite them.  Please someone direct us to them!

So is it dead? I think I'm with Pete Townshend.

Oh yes, that new rock fan up at the top of the page. That's my daughter Maddy. She likes Rockaway Beach by the Ramones and Bad Blood by Taylor Swift. On vinyl of course.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Along For The Ride




An apologetic, yet simultaneously confident voice greets the crowd at the Academy. Like Hugh Grant in a Humphrey Bogart hat, holding a Fender. ‘Hello Brixton, we’re Ride. Thanks for coming.’

Mark Gardiner (the man in the hat - who'd have thought?) seer into a song that I’ve not heard for maybe two decades but it sounds… well, it sounds fantastic; absolutely up to date and somehow not of its time at all.  Loz, Steve, Mark and Andy are ripping through Leave Them All Behind. Possibly their finest moment. They're back together (again, who'd... etc.) and it’s a good thing that they’re back together; good for them, good for fans, good for those who were born the year they first played. I wonder what Taylor Swift would make of them. 

Ride were a good group. Notice I didn't use the word great. Somehow, the apologetic air haunts them still, although as I stand watching them this October night 26 years after first seeing them, I think maybe that adjective might start getting used. They were Creation Records’ first popstars, a band on the cusp of greatness when they got swept away on the tidal wave of Grunge then crushed swiftly by the red double decker of Britpop. 

Don't be fooled by the Starting Out (1988 - 1989) entry on Ride's Wikipedia page.  This is how it happened: 

By rights, they would have been the first band I signed. I got my first music business job working as a talent scout at East West in 1989. Within days, I was coursing through boxes of unsolicited demo cassettes that had been abandoned by my predecessors and the rest of the A&R department. Dutifully, I listened to the first few bars of each of the standard three tracks on each one and then packaged them up in pristine Jiffy bags to be returned. Such were the pre-Internet days of the record business: Tanita Tikaram, Enya and The Ginger Prince provided us with the funds to spend on the R&D and I felt we were almost offering a public service. My rejection letters were masterclasses of tact and evasion “Thank you for making the effort to send us your material… It always boils down to a personal opinion so if we’re saying no that doesn’t mean you should give up – somebody else might love it!” Or words to that effect. I’ll try and dig out a rejection letter but for now here’s a collection of all the misspellings of my name on demos sent to me, which I made into a complements slip.




Ride were, as you might expect, not discovered via an unsolicited demo cassette. I heard about them from a local Oxford music paper called Gig. I believe Ride’s future manager, Dave Newton, had something to do with Gig but anyway, it was he I spoke to at the paper. Nobody tells you how to be a talent scout so I just did the things I imagined a private detective would do: I phoned up a lot of people who I thought might know something and asked lots of questions. Without hesitation, Dave  recommended Ride and a couple of days later a tape arrived which was and remains the best-presented demo I ever came across. Ride started as they meant to go on – everything had been thought through: 








The block capitals logo, kept for their entire career, was there from that very first demo; the solid, defintive colour; the minimalism; the iconography. 

Musically too, it was amazing. Both future classics Chelsea Girl and Drive Blind were included as well as a third (and first in the running order) I'm Fine Thanks (later available on the box set, completist chums!)

I went to see them live and it was clear they had been blessed: It all. That’s what they had. A great guitarist, a charismatic, hurricane of a drummer, a stoic, monolithic bass player and a ludicrously handsome lead singer. They were young, they were intelligent and they played a cover of Tomorrow Never Knows.

I couldn’t get much interest from the rest of the A&R department but Cally (a legend who I have written about here before  and had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this week for the podcast) loved it as much as I did.  He had signed a kind of UK version of Jane’s Addiction called Underneath What who despite being signed to our multinational powerhouse, had just released their debut single Firebomb Telecom on a small label called One Big Guitar for credibility’s sake. Cally suggested we convince Ride to do the same – we wouldn’t even sign them, just put it out for goodwill and see what happened. Again, the public service nature of how some of us viewed the job is apparent. Cally told me recently that he never thought the band would happen if they signed to East West and he may have a point. But then again Geoff Travis had done the Blanco Y Negro deal with WEA and Jesus and Mary Chain were doing quite well thank you very much.

The Reed brothers as it turned out, were Ride’s favourite band.  Cally and I found this out when we travelled to Oxford to meet them. They were hugely polite and well behaved but genuinely inspiring. We suggested doing some recording with them. One thing major record labels did all the time in the 80s and 90s was offer artists ‘demo’ time. Normally budgeted at around £500 it was both a gesture of goodwill (public service!) and a way of avoiding making a foolish A&R decision by simply signing a group because you’d seen one exciting gig. Looked at another way, it was a way of avoiding making an actual decision whilst keeping your options open. 'Umming and Erring' as the perenniel  A&R joke used to go.  I did it a lot at East West because I couldn’t get my boss interested in most of the things I brought in. But that’s another blog.

The band quickly agreed to us recording them so we could put out a record. I can’t remember any other record companies sniffing around. Major labels were all looking for the next Deacan Blue or U2. Even a handful of years later, the kind of scenario where a band this good, building a fanbase locally would be able to exist without their every show being rammed full of industry chancers. But back then, when Taylor Swift wasn't even 1,  it was just me, Cally – and one other person I’d told about them, Mike Smith who was at MCA Publishing. He couldn’t get any interest from his boss either.

Cally and I paid for some demos and recorded them in Oxford at same studio where they had recorded the demos. If you look back to the pic of the demo you can see Cally's distinctive writing in pencil '16 track Oxford'. My scrawl is next to the phone numbers, where I've put Mark and Steve's names next to the numbers (I've obscured the numbers just in case). You see the slick way we worked: proper grown-up A&R man and trusty scout. We mixed it in London at a studio called Arkntide of which I have a vague recollection. There is however one crystal clear memory.  

Crucially, when it came to the final mix, the band and manager trusted myself and Cally to man the faders to get it sounding how we thought would best show off the band's brilliance. It was the first and as it turned out, only time that a band let me get my own mucky paws directly onto their work. All respect to Ride, they knew we loved them and perhaps did it out of thanks. In addition to that Cally and I got a credit for remixing it. Not in our actual names, mind but in alternative monikers based on that favourite band of Ride's you remember from earlier. They switched Jim and William Reid's names to James and Bill and lo! Cally and I were immortalised. 

What happened next happened fast. Dave sent us transparencies of the artwork, the beautiful roses artwork that I'm sure you remember if you're bothering to read this:


Cally, being an artist and sleeve designer himself helped with all this and we started setting up the release with One Big Guitar. Then suddenly...

Nothing.

We were nowhere. 

What had happened was inevitable. Just like a girl in the tentative early stages of a relationship, Ride stopped returning calls. Eventually, we were told. It was obvious really, and we should have known all along: the band had been seduced by Alan McGee at Creation. Who could blame them? If you were 19 and in love with Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine and then their manager and record label offered you a deal, would you sit around waiting for a a pair of blokes who worked for Tanita Tikarum and Chris Rea's label? 

Ride rose swiftly after the release of the Ride EP. Cally and I wished them no ill because they were great and deep down we kind of knew that Creation was a better label for them than us. As well as this, Dave and his charges remained very loyal: we got our credit on the record and even a decade later they credited us on the OX4 box set and indeed sought us both out to give us a copy each.

And now here I am watching them on stage. They play two sets, one comprising the imperial period from Going Blank Again then they return and give us the whole of Nowhere. They've just returned from the US and they're going back again after they finish in the UK. The signs of this relentless touring are not that they seem jaded and exhausted but rather they have become the band they always threatened to become in their heyday: Loz's drumming is tighter, the harmonies are more strident, the playing simply better. They are as muscular as the block capitals behind them:



Added to this the audience are not, it must be stressed, just a bunch of old blokes like me, but a healthy mixture of male and female. This makes sense because Ride were after all, the thinking women's early 90s totty alongside the Charlatans and before Blur. 


After the gig I decide not to go backstage and shake hands with them all 26 years later. It would be lovely of course, but I suspect it being a London show that there are many folk like me who will be forming an undignified queue outside the dressing room. 

I say goodbye to the friends I came with and walk back through Brixton humming Drive Blind and Chelsea Girl. After everything, those two songs from that first demo are the songs they save for the encore.