Saturday, 6 December 2014

Lucinda Williams. My My My!

Here is my Lucinda Williams top five. Why was I not told she was so awesome before?

1. Drunken Angel
Damn this is sensual, and bitter and sweet and loving and hating and wishing. Oh my but it brings tears to the eyes and whisky to the glass. Love it. Love, Love, Love it.

2. Compassion.
Beautifully showcases her voice. The words are so blue: so blue and dark and marvellous. It's also great advice. 'You don't know what wars are going on down there where the Spirit meets the bone.' Simply magnificent.

3. Are You Alright
An emotion that comes and stays too long. The missing is never easy. A few tears don't make it better all of a sudden and the gone stay gone. Yes, she understands that utterly, perfectly and the song is marvellous. Whar's that there hound dog of mine?

4. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Cinematic pictures painted behind our eyes. Apparently this was her big hit. It's more rocky that the other stuff, but you know what, Lucinda Williams does rawk just as well as country. Like it? Love it.

5. Something Wicked This Way Comes
A favourite novel from my preteen years. And she's clearly read it, not copied the story but it's there, the way wickedness tempts. AND the bass is awesome and her voice, again her voice. This is not country whatever they say, this is something else, something older, something greater.

Hurts to leave out "Still I Long for Your Kiss", "Cold Day in Hell", "Sweet Old World", "Passionate Kisses" and if I keep on listening, there will be many more so thank you Kevin P. Burns for introducing me to her. She's lovely.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Bjork (including the Sugarcubes etc.)

My Bjork top five. I have a top million for Bjork, but let's go with some songs that i really really wish more people could hear.

1) 107 Steps - this is not a single, not a record, but it's definitely a song. It's from Lars von Trier's film Dancer in the Dark. Bjork plays Selma, a blind Czechoslovakian woman executed because she refuses to spend on a lawyer, the money she needs for an operation that ensures her son, who has the same hereditary condition, will see. This song is her walk to the gallows. The guard starts the rhythm because when there is music, Selma is not afraid, because nothing truly dreadful ever hapens in musicals unless they are directed by lars von Trier. This rips the tears from my eyes.

2) Deus - From the Sugarcubes album "Life's Too Good". The Sugarcubes were - what can I say, a breath of fresh supercooled Icelandic Air. Deus is beautifully antireligious and shows of Bjork's voice wonderfully. Rock and Disco and a hundred other things and it has Bjork and it is marvellous.

3) Venus as a Boy - This is Jazz, most definitely, and maybe a bit of swing as well. There are interesting percussians and strings doing glissando and her voice, and the words and it's so so delightful. If I did not believe in beauty, I would now because this is beautiful, so beautiful.

4) Army of Me - Listen, this is brilliance. I'm posting the version she did with Skunk Anansie because I love it more than almost anything, and yeah, 'cause I love Skin too.  So Skin AND Bjork doing a song which, as someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder I think of as my song, that is very heaven.

5) Violently Happy - Yes, she makes me so, I feel so, i'm a crazy person, how could I not include this. Oh Bjork. Goddess Bjork. You make me/us so. Yeah

Hurts to leave out anything else she ever did.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Joy Division

Here's my Joy Division Top 5. It would be hard to pick if this wasn't a band I already loved because my computer is playing silly buggers with the sound. Fortunately, that is not the case. I have resisted the temptation to choose five tracks from Closer, not least because this is the first thing of theirs I heard. I remember the shock when Ian Curtis died and people started writing to Sounds claiming he died for our sins. That pissed me off to say the least because it's a cop out, not for Curtis but for those who worshipped from afar and could not accept that their idol was (a) human, and (b) deseperately unhappy.
Anyway, enough of my angry rant. I choose this as number one. I know it's the most popular but I LOVE the way it's used in urban horrorflick "Series 7: The Contenders". Ladies and Gentlemen, Love Will Tear Us Apart.

2) "Colony", Ladies and Gentlemen. "God in His wisdom took you by the hand". Normally I'm a fan of singers and Ian Curtis was marvellous, but listen to the rhythm section on this. To die for. Did I really type that and not delete it? The perfect club mix and it's effortless. Love it Pop Pickers.

3) I've always wanted to write. Everything else came a distant third after writing and suicide and so, In the eighties, every time Interzone (the only market for SF short stories in the UK) sent me a rejection slip, I was tempted by plan B (which involved a belt and a bang). But then I would listen to this and sing it loud and think 'fuck 'em, they ain't worth it'. Interzone is my number 3.

4) After this it gets harder, but this song is another for blowing away the green cloud in my head and silencing the growling of the bears. After all, Ian Curtis clearly put his trust in me. So this song for me does what it says on the tin. It's "A Means To an End".

5) For last place, I lined up the ones it would hurt to leave out and rolled the dice. It came up snakes eyes and so I had no choice but to choose "She's Lost Control".

And the others it hurt to leave out? The Atrocity Exhibition. Isolation. Ceremony. Disorder. Something's Gotta Break. New Dawn Fades. Pretty much anything else. What can I say? I'm a fan.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Nina Simone

The time has come for me to try to narrow down my appreciation of Nina Simone to a top five. That is not easy but, never being one to back down for a challenge unless it involved doing some actual you know, like work, I'll have a go anyway.
1) Nina Simone is not the most accessible of artists and it makes a big difference how you come to her music. My number one is a song that incites anger at the world she grew up in, and delight at her appreciation of the music she brought together from blues and soul to classical. So, my number one. Mississippi Goddam.

2) Nina Simone is known for a whole load of awesome versions (I won't say covers because she always made them her own). Here she takes on Screaming Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You".

3) The greatest thing about her, for all her training and drop-down gorgeousness, is her clear eyes. She sees into the future, the one we're living in now and she sees clearly, so very clearly what is needed. "Revolution" baby, revolution.

4) The next one is an education in itself. It should be illegal for a child to reach adulthood without hearing it. This is 'Roots' in less than five minutes. "Four Women". It should really have been my number one, but it makes me cry too hard to type in the others.

5) And of course, she's so Goddam GOOD at good old-fashioned love songs like this one. "Love or Leave Me."

And all that's left to say is how much it hurt to leave out "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and "Sinnerman" and "Ain't Got No - I Got Life" as well as half a hundred other songs. A hundred, two hundred, a thousand years from now, Nina Simone will be remembered and her songs sung beneath other suns long after Elvis is forgotten.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

My Human League Top Five

Here is my Human League top five (only five). In the time when they dominated the charts along with Kraftwerk, I would sit in my room in Cambridge YMCA and try to make sure they heard Travelogue in Trumpington.
My love goes even further back though, to the name itself. Before Dungeons and Dragons was released, I had come up with a roleplay game of my own. It changed a bit but eventually, I adopted rules from the SPI boardgame, Space Marines. The game had several factions for players to be including two separate human factions: The Pan-Human Hegemony and the Human League. Any band picking that name would have my attention.
SO here goes.
1) WXJL Tonight - a thoroughly disturbing track in which a DJ is plugged into the system so that it HURTS when the ratings fall. I hate the idea of popularity bing that important because there is no world in which I could be popular but this song, this song I love.

2) Dreams of Leaving. Repetitive electro-beat with a melodic sound over the top, then chaos for a second before refugee status arises. But of course, being a refugee is not a solution and the second half of the song shows this. Magnificent.

3) Being Boiled - I bought this when it first came out, solely on the basis of a review in Sounds. I didn't even have a record player so I had to wait until I got my own from my mum's house before I could play it. I liked it so much, I've stood on stage and done an acoustic version.

4) Empire State Human - first because I identify with this and second because I've used it as a lullaby for the kids.

5) Sound of the Crowd - This is a representative of the later stuff. I preferreed the old stuff, of course I did, but Dare made the Human League popular, and also paved the way for the magnificent Heaven 17, so I refuse to reject it. This is my favourite example of the later stuff. 

Hurts to leave out "Crow and a Baby", "Don't You Want Me", "Tom Baker", "Austerity".
Hope this works this time

Saturday, 20 September 2014


Folks.  I haven't clue one what's going on with the displaying of some of the elements on this blog but if anybody knows how to fix it, I'd be real grateful for a lesson.

Another Top Five. Tom Waits this time

Here is my Tom Waits top five.
1. Hell Broke Luce.
Yeah, regrets. Just listen to this one. It is absolutely awesome. I wish I'd written it. Not only does it have a beautifully up-front beat so rare in music these days, but the words are such a beautriffic (beautifully horrific) way of spelling out the reality of war. Oh yeah, and Luce? That's not a misspelling, it's a character's name.
2. Rain Dogs.
A jolly little song about becoming a refugee. Tom Waits does a lot of stuff like this, danceable hummable tunes which for a while sound beautiful until you wonder about Waits' voice (some say he tries too hard at that, but I think he tries just enough). I've chosen this as representative of that kind of song.

3. The Piano Has Been Drinking
What can I say? It reminds me of some of the dives I've played in, and you know what? I've loved it every time and from this song, I suspect so has Tom Waits. Hallelujiah.

4. God's Away on Business.
This has a certain personal resonance for me because I sang an acapella version of this in 2010 at the Purcell Room on London' South Bank, and that was one of the major highlights of my life. A quote from this song, "Who are the ones who are left in charge? Killers, thieves and lawyers", has been a quote on my facebook profile since I joined facebook in 2009.

5. Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.
Yeah, we've all been there. Good for us. The song is about trust and illusion, and that includes self-delusion. I think it's brilliantly done.

And then there are the others it hurt to leave out - the twisted folksy nostalgia of "Innocent When You Dream", the bitterness of "Heart Attack and Vine", a straight (ish) C&W love song like "Hope I don't Fall in Love with You." There are so many and yet I don't really consider myself a fan. I've never bought a Tom Waits album, nor been to a concert... and yet I smiled when i saw him as the bartender in Book of Eli, so colour me ambiguous. I don't like everythign he does but there's a Hell of a lot I do like.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

My Own Musical Career

I've been in radio silence mode for a while and told almost nothing here, which was remiss of me, so, let me see if I can righ that palpable wrong.

First of all, Vaccination finally gave up the ghost in April 2012.  For a while, we truly did feel like the best band in the world but it all ended in the New Cross Inn when I got so pissed off that I walked off stage and listened to the rest of the set from Richard and Chris (and nobody else) while trying desperately not to cry.

I'm glad to say that Richard and Chris and Luke from Vaccination are working together as The Child Wren, With Chris on vocals and accordion, they hve become something sharper, less improvisational perhaps, a kind of folk for the end times.  In May 2014, they played at the Tottenham Festival of Musical Legerdemain, which was my feeble attempt at being a musical impressario.  (Note for next time, don't try planning an event like this on your own, and if you do, try not to have intensive radiotherapy in the middle of the planning period).

With a Vaccination shaped hole in my life, I needed to fill it with something.  Early in 2013, I got together with a bunch of musicians to form The Band of Malcontents, which was a lot of fun but we never got past the rehearsal stage.  That wasn't because any of us were less than brilliant as musicians, but simply because life got in the way.

And then, in August 2013, I finally got together with Dave and John from The Pennebakers to form a new band.  I called them e-Cog Zero (after my oncologist told my doctor that I was at "Performance level ECOG Zero", meaning my cancer was no worse than when I was diagnosed).

We played our first gig in November 2013, just before I went in for Radiotherapy. We had no drummer then and that was a problem, but over the gigs we've played, we've found ourselves getting better and better.  At the abovementioned Tottenham Festival of Musical Legerdemain, Richard Winstanley of The Child Wren, played Drums and we were a lot better than we were to begin with.  Since then we've found a new drummer in the shape of Keith Sharp and since then, things have been better and better.

As a result of the 'success' of e-Cog Zero, Mike Fleming has now, sadly wound up the Swampies, which was also fun, but John and I don't have time to do both bands justice.

Feel free to get in touch via our facebook page if you want to be added to our mailing list when we start it.  We want to make this really work.

My Marc Almond top five

I've been posting these top fives as part of an exercise on a page on facebook, and suddenly realised, I've been neglecting this blog and it should be here as well, so, here's my faves from Marc.  Hope you enjoy them as much as me.

1. What Makes a Man a Man
I didn't grow up with Marc because I'd already moved from Deliverance to Cambridge before I heard of him. This song though, I knew because I'd heard Charles Aznavour (of all people) do it first. It speaks to me. My sexuality is not that of the song and yet I found myself growing up so different as to be practically an alien. It's a beautiful song and Marc does it beautifully, so very beautifully.
2. Tainted Love
I DO like eighties synth pop, but prefer something with a real edge, and this song has that. I love it so much. So much so, that after I had buried my singing and Cabaret in a shallow grave and built a career of a faceless bureaucrat on top of it, and built a stone sacrcophagus around the remains, THIS was the song I sang in a bar in Almeria when I decided I dared to sing again. Ladies and Gentlemen, "Tainted Love".
3. The Bulls
Brel, I did grow up with and this song, The Bulls, was one of my favourites. Marc GETS it, he really gets it, that's why I love him so much. Sorry to post a video with just a record sleeve but I can't find a live video where you can hear Marc's voice properly. Marc and the Mambas sing "The Bulls".
4. Ruby Red
Back to pop but Marc does it so beautifully and bitterly. This is the darkest of dark pop songs, with a pretty beat, something to dance to if you ache for the eighties, but with Marc's voice, insidious and wicked to seep into your nightmares when you go home alone, or worse still with someone you'll nver love in the morning.
5. Torch
I know there are a lot of better songs Marc did, it hurts to leave out Jacky, and Marc's version of Caroline Says, and hell even some entire albums but for my last choice, I've picked a piece of eighties synth pop. Sorry to go there, but one thing that makes this song so special is the fact that it was on Top of the Pops, for fuck's sake! All those teenies and their moms and pops were watching and they did this... oh my, so magnificent. Welcome to my room Marc. I love you.