Monday, September 27, 2004

Detroit Cobras

It’s an album I’ve passed onto a few people but it’s not had the same effect on them as it has in me. It’s basically a Detroit garage band with a female vocalist doing rough covers of 60’s soul songs with a tendency to go for the obscure rather than the obvious. There that’s sold it to me all over again. Punk Rock Soul.

It includes covers of Stupidity (Solomon Burke)
Cry On (Irma Thomas and also the singer who vocalist Rachel Nagy’s style is closest to)
Shout Bama A Lama (I think Otis Redding wrote it for Arthur Conley)
Hey Say Lo Ney (I know a version by Micky Lee Lane…but there may be others)
Boss Lady (don’t know the original).

Shout Bama Lama and Boss Lady are my favourites. I always like records about dances, and Boss Lady itself manages to list the Watusi, The Dog, The Jerk, The Monkey and all in a song that owes a fair bit to Do You Love Me.

When singer Rachel Nagy says she’s the “Queen of the hot sauce”. I believe her. I also believe I would.

Shout Bamalama works because of the way the song repeatedly builds up and then breaks down again, a pause and then a rolling guitar bringing it back in. Again the nonsense lyric (sorry Otis) is given an urgency and an importance…. Yeah we all need to do it.

The album has a monochrome cover of a woman singing into old fashioned looking broadcast mike, wreathed in cigarette smoke and it’s on a great sounding label, Sympathy for the Record Industry.

Detoit Cobras also released 7 Easy pieces and Mink Rat or Rabbit (or as my mail order receipt called it Mink Rat or Rabbi…now that’s a better title). Similar formula but not as good. The far superior Life Love and Leaving though sounds like a band belting through some great songs which they obviously love, but aren’t afraid to shake up a bit. In my book, that makes for better performances than reverence and exact mimicry.

I’ve just looked round the net and there’s a new single Cha Cha Twist (Meg White apparently in the video), out in October and some UK dates. I fancy that…I don’t just listen to old music…I also like new bands doing old songs.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

New York Dolls

Things came full circle after I watched the video of the New York Dolls at Manchester Move festival recorded over the summer.

It’s one of the most joyous, outrageously rock ‘n’n roll performances I can remember by a band who can’t believe they’re still alive and still playing. (Sadly Arthur Kane died shortly afterwards.)

Personality Crisis (and yes it is my favourite New York Dolls song, although I also find it hard to resist Pills with it’s line “The rock ‘n’roll nurse is making it worse”) was just inspirational. David Johanson seemed to be wearing some form of apron and Sylvain was wearing a denim suit with massive turn ups and a cap….lots of pointing, at each other, at the crowd, at stray seagulls, mouthing along to the words and frantic guitar rifferama. So far so Status Quo. What elevated it to genius though was the part where the other guitarist let go of his guitar to wolf whistle (as the song needed it) and then when everyone threw their hands up to go “woooh”. Again the song demanded it.

It was full circle for me though because it brought me right back to where I’d first seen them. Aged 17 around 1981 I used to lurk and loiter (and occasionally buy something) in the Record Peddler on Swan Street in Manchester. Videos were then the cutting edge of technology and the owner had amassed a stack of Bowie, Pistols and other live performances and promos. And that is when I first saw The Dolls (I think it was the Old Grey Whistle Test footage) doing Jet Boy. I was quite anti guitar heroics then, but forgot all principles at the sight of Sylvain wrestling with this semi acoustic that dwarfed him and yet still finding time to pull ridiculous poses. A risky business given the height of his heels….and with all that satin and nylon under the studio lights the band could have spontaneously combusted. The vision is so fresh though, and as that video got rewound several times that day, the story should really end with me searching out their records and turning into a Morrissey figure of Doll adulation. I didn’t though…I expect I just bought another single by The Fall.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Mekons Where Were You

There has never been enough written about Mekons Where Were You. I bought it on the same day as Siouxsie and The Banshees Staircase mystery single (was that 79?) and remember showing my haul to a mate who I saw on the bus going home. He already knew it and loved it, but I don’t think I’d heard it before and I can’t remember why I bought it. I’ve played it hundreds of times since though and it’s still one of my favourite singles.

As a record it’s got everything. Smudgy cover, optimistic gold discs on the front and a great label (Fast). A love song stripped down to the absolute bone…but no sex.
“I wanna talk to you all night, do you like me
I wanna find out ‘bout your life, do you like me
Could you ever be my wife do you love me?”

“I was standing in the queue did you see me
I was standing in the queue did you see me
You had yellow hair did you see me”

What a fantastic, moronic line that is. Impress girls…tell them you love their yellow hair. Go on ….I bet you it works. Better still though it’s a pop song without a chorus. Well what it has got is …

“I was waiting at the bar where were you, I was buying you a drink where were you.”

…But the tune doesn’t change so it might not convince anyone outside the band or the wilfully obscure that it’s a chorus up there with Lennon and McCartney and The Cheeky Girls. Works for me though.

The vocals sit on top of the one chord backing, with a 1 note (it might even get up to a crazy 3 at times) guitar line and then the only change in melody is a 2 chord link back. It’s the 3 chord trick, the 8 bar blues. The records short. It begins with lone guitar and the worlds longest drum roll. Once the songs got going the bass and guitars don’t really change, so it’s the increasingly busy drums and the vocals that push the song to it’s climax and then it just finishes (exhausted) with the guitar hammering on a single note.

The B side is the (I’ll just have to) Dance then on my own. Much more complex, ringing guitars, and a predecessor to The Fire Engines, Big Flame, Josef K sound, with Beefheart as an ancestor. I’ve got to admit, it doesn’t get played very often. But then I never liked any other Mekons record as much as Where Where You.

Whenever I play Where Where You I always think of (and usually play) The Scars Adultery (also on Fast) and Blue Orchids Work. But that’s another story.

Friday, September 03, 2004

How I stopped worrying and learned to love Ocean Colour Scene

If you've followed the links back you'll have realised that I don't just spend all day thinking about pop music, but I also played bass in what AC/DC would have referred to as a "97 decibel rockin' band". We just called ourselves Onionhead though as it fitted on the posters better.

In the early days the paths of Ocean Colour Scene and Onionhead crossed frequently. After they became more successful than us, I suffered a medical condition commonly known as "jealous as Fuck". Pre becoming OCS they were called The Fanatics and specialised in Beatley,Velvety Undergoundy type songs. While the Velvet's Mo Tucker had shades,The Fanatics female drummer had a penchant for Mickey Mouse sweatshirts...and drumming. The guitarist was known to one and all (well, us mainly) as Moonfaced Paul Wilkes (on account of his Moon face andthe fact that he was called Paul Wilkes) and he'd got a few George Harrisontricks up his sleeve. Even at this stage Simon Fowler was obviously massively talented and a really engaging front man. Damian's appalling zippy boots also had stage presence of their own....but not in a good way. The only original members who would make it through to the OCS stages then were Simon and Damian.

The first time we played with them was summer 88 at Birmingham Irish Centre, where Steve Craddock was also playing guitarwith his band The Boys. In fact with me looking at it as an outsider it was probably Craddock that made the difference to OCS not just through his excellent playng but his persisitence. After a reviewer had said The Boyswere shit, Steve phoned him up to ask how they could be better. The usual answer to that is..."Don't be shit". He also persisted with Paul Weller, got paid and yet persisted some more with OCS. I thought that was admirable, as I'd always known that I'd do anything to keep my band going.

We played with them about 10 times in 1988. They put a single out which included Suburban Lovesongs and My Brother Sarah which I don't remember as being particuarly well recorded. We still lolloped enthusiasticly after them though as at that time they were the only other band we knew. The band made a huge leap when Steve Craddock joined. Jules (Onionhead's singer) saw them at Birmingham Poly 89ish shortly after Steve had joined and had raved about the new guitarist and the sounds he was teasing out. Later, while we were recording our own songs soon after, we listened to the tracks they'd recorded earlier at the same studio. OCS weren'thappy with them though and were coming back to redo it. Beatles Revolver era but sounded good to us.

They'd got caught up in the whole baggy Madchester sound though and through a mixture of disinterest and jealousy I stopped paying any attention. The first lp came out...I didn't listen to it. They played to packed venues and indeed our friends Karen and Kate went to more of their gigs than the band's van driver (so girls must have liked them) but the press were suspicious, the snidey reviews started and they were soon filed and tagged as dull jobsworths who were boringly good at playing their instruments. A label they're still living with. I didn't pay attention again until saw them twice in 94 in Brirmingham at the Jug of Ale and Edwards when they were fantastic. They had a really powerful chunky Small Faces sound and did a terrific version of If I Were A Carpenter with stop start powerchord guitar.

By now they'd been dropped bytheir label, the big tours had been toured. Ed (Onionhead's guitar wrestler) played football with them occasionally and Simon, althoughreguarly spotted out and about in Moseley, was incapable of speech but an expert at druggy incoherence.. At this point they were cooking up what would be Moseley Shoals with the money from Steve Craddocks paper round wthPaul Weller.

When they came back it was 86, I was working night shifts in a care home and doing a comedy walk in tracky bottoms after a plum pounding motorbike crash. My game plan had been for either Onionhead or Tenderloin to take me on a rock 'n' rollercoaster ride playing great music to an eager world. Care homes in Smethwick didn't come into it. I was hounded by theRiverboat Song (which I dislike today as much as I did an antichrist Hovis advert) but cheered by You've Got It Bad, The Day We Caught The Train and The Circle. It actually took me 7 years to buy Moseley Shoals despite liking so many of the songs and I didn't buy any of the subsequent ones or see them again after those gigs in 94. They were excellent at those two gigs....of course 10 years on I can't remember what they played, it was probably all the songs I didn't think I liked or wouldn't have liked if I 'd heard them on the radio. I played MoseleyShoals again last night and it's got some really good, well arranged and played songs on it. Last night it was Get Away that stood out. Ultimately though the band are too reverential about the music and it feels like the songs are assembled from the best bits of the best bands they like. Get Away has got a Who bit followed by a Led Zep bit.

So OCS were never going to challenge preconceptions or change the way people thought about music,but then how many bands do? I don't listen to Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu (and I don't go near blether and squawk free jazz) as often as I listen to Gram parsons or southern style country soul with aching brass parts, warm electric piano sound, and a twangy guitar. Sometimes you just want to hear music that's "right". That "rightness" is probably what OCS thought they were doing. So what...It ends up reverential. We did the same as Onionhead/Tenderloin.

And I'm not jealous as Fuck anymore.