This week: Nicky Wire seems pleased with my review of the new Manics album, I visit my local charity shop and emerge with some amazing records, and the NME continues to cater for morons rather than music fans. Also, as the grisly televisual abomination that is The X Factor returns, I prove the worthlessness of the show and every talentless cunt that it produces. No new music recommendations this week (aside from brief notes about Troumaca and MONEY), but instead there is Volume 9 of The RW/FF Compilation to listen to, plus a great track from the ‘Afrobeat Airways’ compilation… In the second half of the column i rewind to September 1995, and the beginning of my life at secondary school.
So after spending the last few weeks listening to their fantastic new LP, I was proud and honoured to find out that the Manic Street Preachers had shared my album review with their fans on their Facebook and Twitter pages, with Nicky Wire himself describing it as “great”. What makes it even better is the fact that this happened exactly 15 years and one day after I bought ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ on its day of release. Back then I’d dream of being a music journalist one day, so having my work read by my heroes exactly 15 years later seemed somewhat appropriate…
The charity shops around Wiltshire are always worth a visit when it comes to buying music. I found some incredible buys at my local Dorothy House shop last Saturday: Echo And The Bunnymen‘s amazing ‘Ocean Rain’ for £1 (already had it on CD, but sounds even better on vinyl), as well as ‘Brewing Up’ by Billy Bragg, ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’ by Hüsker Dü (the first record of theirs I have ever heard, or owned), and ‘Surfer Rosa’ by the Pixies, also all £1 each. Very pleased with those! The thing with charity shops is that they’re often staffed by retired folk or people who aren’t very familiar with music. They don’t know how to price things accordingly and often whack a bigger price on things that they think are popular, when really it should be the other way round! those ABBA and Phil Collins LPs theyre charging up to £6 for can be bought anywhere else for about 50p! I’m not complaining though, because they were completely unaware that a 12″ copy of ‘Victoria’ by The Fall should have been sold for more than £1!
My weekly radio show The BPS Broadcast was delayed slightly earlier this week, due to the fact that I arrived 20 minutes late to the studio. But I made up for the latency by delivering a fantastic set of tunes old and new, which included the latest additions to my ’1 To Z’ feature. For those who don’t know, every week ’1 To Z’ consists of two songs picked from my record collection, and will continue until I have featured every single band or artist whose music I own. This week it was the turn of The Abyssinians, and one of my favourite new bands of recent years, Two Wounded Birds. I thought they’d been quiet for a while, and decided to check out their Facebook page to see if they had any news to share with us. Then I saw a post from November 2012 announcing that the group had split up. So why didn’t I know about this? How could a hotly-tipped, critically acclaimed band like them split up without the fans noticing? It’s clear that certain “music news” sites aren’t doing their job properly. And yes, I’m talking about you NME, failing to inform us of news like this and instead preferring to cater for morons who want to read meaningless tabloid gossip.
The days of picking up the NME, being informed of important news and being kept updated with the latest goings on in the music world, are long gone. Their website is awful, and any relevant stories are buried under loads of showbiz “news”, so I’ve decided to re-launch my weekly news round-ups. This is how music news was when I was growing up. Unlike the NME, I don’t attempt to increase page views with showbiz gossip or stories about these manufactured pop stars who are irrelevant to the world of music. The only time you’ll hear about such people is when I’m giving them the critical kicking they deserve, something that I’m sure you’ll enjoy joining me in. My improved news round-ups can be found on the RW/FF site HERE.
For the last few days, I have been indulging in brand new albums from Troumaca and Money, both released at the beginning of this week. ‘The Grace’ is the debut from Birmingham’s Troumaca, a group described as “a melting pot of sound”. Judging by this superb LP, this description is an accurate one. Manchester four piece Money have kept an air of mystery about them, which suits the haunting enigma of their sound wonderfully. Their debut ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ is already being talked about as one of 2013′s best albums so far, with God Is In The TV’s TC declaring “It’s dark, deep, emotional and needs some TLC….” More about those albums next week when I’ve spent more time with them. I’ve STILL not got round to hearing the new ones from Crocodiles, Vieux Farka Touré, and Nine Inch Nails. Things for me to do over the weekend. Unless I get another urge to listen to the brilliant ‘Afrobeat Airways Vol 1′ compilation on Analog Africa records, in which case I will be getting that one out again. Volume 2 is out in a few weeks on September 13. The priceless Monolith Cocktail site has a fine, appetite-whetting review of it HERE, and the site’s author Dominic Valvona is also responsible for this great write-up of Volume 1 HERE. From that first edition, here is ‘Me Yee Owu Den’ from K. Frimpong And His Cubano Fiestas.
The 9th edition of The RW/FF Compilation can be listened to via the Mixcloud player below. It showcases the music that has featured in this column over the last few weeks.
The idea is to buy all of these tracks and burn onto a blank disc, hence why each compilation will be roughly the length of a CD. Featuring new music from: Temples, MONEY, Higamos Hogamos, Asian Dub Foundation, Hello Skinny, Horse Thief, The Family Rain, Gary Numan, The Little Kicks, Manic Street Preachers, Northern Uproar, Tripwires, Atlanter, Melt Yourself Down, Six By Seven, Weekend and Holy Ghost!
So this week the public and the press have been expressing their outrage at trashy teen pop star Miley Cyrus doing a sexually provocative dance in a flesh coloured bikini at the MTV VMA Awards. Yawn. What exactly did the public expect someone like that to do? Suddenly develop some talent and open up people’s minds by creating an innovative piece of musical art? I think people are forgetting who we’re dealing with here. It’s just another part of this industry-funded celebrity bullshit world that is entirely separate from the music scene. It’s tiresome, it’s pathetic and I can’t even be bothered to have an opinion on it. What annoys me more is people playing along with the game and making such a fuss over it that the publicity snowballs. Ignore it, get on with your lives and don’t do what those pop marketing men want you to.
Talking of cheap, trashy things, the horrific karaoke shitfest that is The X Factor seems to be returning to the TV screens of idiots around the country. I know this because one of ITV’s sponsored tweets ended up in my Twitter feed, spamming me with advertisements for Cowell’s dirty televisual cash cow. Well done ITV, you just earned yourself a “blocking”. If only Twitter would introduce that “Report abuse” button that’s been spoken of. I’d report them for abusing me by sending me what is effectively cyber junk mail, for abusing my intelligence by insultingly suggesting that I might want to watch that awful bollocks, for abusing the world with another series of this worthless shite, and most of all, for abusing the music scene by taking all publicity away from real musicians.
The people behind the show find ways to desperately whip up media attention with shallow stunts and planned “incidents”, which gets it in the papers. The majority of people don’t want to hear about it, and yet it’s being forced down their throats from all angles. All this fuss, and what for? A karaoke show.
By making it as annoying as possible for intelligent, well-informed people, this also helps stir up more promotion. People have asked me if I’ve heard the show’s boyband One Direction and their attention-seeking covers of ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Teenage Kicks’. They know things like that aren’t going to go down well with music fans. They are fully aware that it’s going to create a shitstorm. For people with taste, it can be very difficult not to criticise this programme, and when fans of the show hear these opinions, they realise deep down that they’re being sucked in by rubbish, and get offended by being made to feel like idiots. So it makes them even more determined to keep watching it and talking about it. Attention seeking is what it’s all about. Do any of the winners go on to make valuable contributions to the world of music? Unless “the world of music” has become a nickname for Simon Cowell’s bank account, then no. Morons and the misinformed can try and argue all they like that “these singers must be good because they’re having number one hits”. That’s not going to help in ten years time when they’ve wasted all those years singing whatever they’re told to, rather than developing as artists. Plus, by that point the hits will have dried up, no-one will remember who they are, and any money earned would have been spent. It’s the worst of both worlds.
A few days ago my friend Jason B tweeted me to tell me news of an upcoming event at The Kings Arms, a hotel located in out home town of Melksham. In terms of live music, this hotel has recently played host to a couple of brilliant charity gigs that featured the region’s finest up-and-coming bands, but following a recent change in management, it seems they think that having rock bands there may “lower the tone” of the newly refurbished establishment. Jason’s Twitter message read: “Steve Brookstein to appear at The Kings Arms…”. A little bit confused, “who?” was my reply. Was I supposed to know who this Steve Brookstein is? A local singer perhaps? Then I was informed that this individual was in fact the very first winner of The X Factor! A small column on page 5 of the Melksham News confirmed this: “This is the first of many live cabaret nights planned” said the venue’s manager. Brilliant. All that hype, all that fuss, all that headline-attracting bullshit and what for? A cheesy twat singing cabaret at a hotel.
They may also be “forgotten about” by the majority of the general public, but at least many of indie’s former chart stars have always kept doing the same thing they always did: writing songs, recording them, and playing them to people. Due to the fact they’ve always been able to come up with the goods, they still have dedicated fanbases, even if they are smaller than they were in the 90’s. The only thing that’s changed is the fact that they’re not in the singles chart anymore. Pop singers only exist to make money, and when their moment in the limelight is over, they give up on their career as puppets and spend a bit of time enjoying the money they conned mostly from the pockets of the world’s children. Then, when they miss that attention they used to get, they attempt to desperately relaunch their careers, often with disastrous results. Why would any fans have a reason to stick with them once they’re out of fashion and out of the limelight? Their big hits are written by well-paid songwriters, who aren’t going to want to write for them when their success dries up. Because they don’t come up with their own music, they can’t be relied on to keep producing output of a consistent quality. There is no glory in being a pop star. Fake illusions of glory, yes: money, fame and popularity. But in the end, you’re left with no credibility, and no way to turn back and do start again differently. Meanwhile many genuine musicians may be penniless and ignored, but they have something more important and valuable than fame and money: a collection of work that they can be proud to call their own.
My full article, ‘The X Factor: A Shit Stain On The Pants Of Culture’ can be read HERE.
From the horrors of today, to the wonders of yesteryear…
In September, it was time to begin life at the George Ward School in Melksham. The transition from primary school to secondary school is always a big one. Rather than sharing an educational establishment with 5 and 6 year old, we were now sharing one with 15 and 16 year olds, in fact if you included the sixth formers, there were even students close to their twenties. The whole tone of the place seemed more serious, more grown up, and that was something that suited me. Towards the end of primary school, the rumour was that when you reached “big school”, all the older kids would hunt you down and flush your head down the toilet for being a “picnie”. That was a myth, but a myth that led the rest of my new class to think that bullying was one of those essential things that everyone had to take part in at some point to become popular and to earn a bit of power. Our class was the same size as it would have been in primary school, but instead of having about 14 different classes of kids to deal with, the school had at least 50, and being aware of every incident would have therefore been a lot more difficult for the teachers. It was a much bigger place, and teachers eyes are only able to see so far.
Most of my classmates were a load of dicks, none of them showed any signs of maturity, and I felt that I had outgrown them on every level. I felt like I had already grown up in a lot of ways, and school was just a compulsory thing that had to be done to satisfy the system and to earn those official qualifications that we would be judged on in later life.
However, I felt that music was in my blood, and it was my destiny to get a job somewhere within the music world. I was already a club DJ and an aspiring record collector (although it was mostly tapes and a few CDs) who had a more advanced knowledge of music than all the other 11 year olds. I felt that my future was going to involve earning a living from working with music in some form, and that school wasn’t teaching me anything relevant to what I would be doing as an adult. It all seemed like an inconvenience, and I thought that I would have been more useful out there in the wider world rather than sat in class. The other kids were starting to turn against me too, since I didn’t show any desire to follow their fashion or take part in the same activities they enjoyed. I would always be more interested in talking about bands and songs that they had absolutely no knowledge of, plus my increasingly evident wish to be an adult was beginning to take the form of dismissing everything my classmates did as “kid’s stuff”. Needless to say, this didn’t make me a very popular person.
Each week seemed to follow a familiar pattern: start the week on Monday and patiently waiting through the next five days, tolerating boredom and bullying and hanging on until it was home time on Friday. The weekend was the time when I could really come alive, make use of my talents and be a part of that adult world. Music was now not only my passion, but an escape from the turbulence of school, and something which made me feel powerful and worthy. Perhaps at that point my brain formed a permanent subconscious link between music and being safe from the bad things in life. On Friday night, my Dad’s club would have a resident DJ playing a more dance-orientated selection of club tracks, and on Saturday night it was my job to take control of the decks. There would be a few less genuine clubbers around than there usually would be on the previous night, so I was expected to play some of the more commercial chart songs of the time, as well as a few older tracks for the more mature customers. However, watching the Friday night DJs pack the dancefloor made me want to do the same. The club had also begun hosting a house music night, where the tunes were unfamiliar to me and a great deal cooler than the more mainstream dance hits of the time. But since I didn’t know any radio shows or other places where that sort of music could be heard, I found myself listening to the next best thing available to me at the time: dance mix compilations that combined club mixes of chart hits with a few of the credible and slightly more underground tracks of the moment, as well as a few radio shows on Galaxy 101 that almost did the same thing.
A few dance tracks I used to play at the time that I loved back then, and I still have a nostalgic soft spot for now: ‘I Believe’ by Happy Clappers, Jinny’s ‘Keep Warm’, the ‘I Feel Love’-aping ‘Sunshine After The Rain’ by Berri (a singer who Liam Gallagher apparently had a fling with), De’Lacy’s rather brilliant ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Destination Escaton’ by The Shamen, a single which I bought on cassette in Woolworths without having even heard the song. I was just curious to see how they’d changed since 1992’s ‘Boss Drum’, and was curious to see if they could be as successful as they were then. They weren’t. I didn’t get round to listening to the accompanying album ‘’ for about 17 years. I never felt embarrassed about playing those songs. Which is more than could be said for some of the other chart hits of the time: Shaggy’s ‘Boombastic’, N-Trance’s hideous ‘Staying Alive’ cover, Simply Red’s nauseating ‘Fairground’, and a crap remix of Michael Jackson’s uncomfortably soppy ‘You Are Not Alone’. By this point, every chart song had a compulsory dance remix, a way for mainstream hits to cross over into the clubbing world. Many DJs must have had their integrity and good taste compromised by being asked and expected to play these remixes.
I also had to playlist novelty rubbish like Technohead’s ‘I Wanna Be A Hippy’ and Roy Chubby Brown’s “who the fuck is Alice?” update of Smokie’s ‘Living Next Door To Alice’. Add to those the tedious likes of Annie Lennox’s ‘No More I Love You’ and Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’, which were sometimes played at the beginning or near the end of the night as things were warming up or winding down. TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ was typical of the bland and utterly unappealing so-called “RnB’ that had started to leak into the UK charts like a trickle of piss. I hated it, and I hate it even more now for leading to the likes of Destiny’s Child, Mis-Teeq and a million other acts whose names I can’t remember because none of them stand out in any way. I don’t think I ever actually played TLC though, just as I was never expected to play Take That, Boyzone, East 17 or Bad Boys Inc (if anyone remembers them). Asking me to play those would have been crossing the line. But back then it wasn’t quite as easy to hate crap chart pop as it is now, because although we had to put up with it on the radio, there was an equally omnipresent wave of fantastic British guitar bands that were capturing the public’s minds and immediately presenting a more substantial and long-lasting musical future. It seemed unstoppable at the time, as Blur and Oasis were household names, while Pulp, Suede and Supergrass were in the process of becoming all-time greats. I didn’t think of it as “Britpop”, I just thought of it as the standards of popular music improving.
At the time, it really looked like indie was replacing pop, and for those who wanted a break from the guitars, there was plenty of good dance music around. It made perfect sense to me, and I couldn’t see any reason why it should change. However my involvement in Britpop only really stretched to a knowledge of Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede and Supergrass. They’re still the ones that the majority people remember the most, but at the time other groups were emerging underneath my radar: Sleeper, Cast, Dodgy, Ash, Menswear, Gene, The Verve, Northern Uproar and Elastica to name just a few. Within a year I would have discovered most of those, but while Britpop’s main bands were all at their commercial peak, the upper part of the charts were still where my attentions wandered towards. A couple of non-Britpop tracks I bought at the time were ‘‘74-‘75’ by The Connells; a brilliant one hit wonder song that I purchased on tape from HMV in Swindon, and Def Leppard’s turgid ‘When Love And Hate Collide’, bought on CD from the short-lived Taylormade Sounds, which was a small shop in Melksham (now an amusement arcade next to the Iceland supermarket). Don’t have a clue why I bought that one.
Earlier in the year it looked like Blur were going to be become the biggest musical phenomenon the world had ever seen, and ‘Parklife’ was the ultimate way of promising that. But Oasis were catching up with them in terms of popularity and attention of the music world. Even though ‘Country House’ had beaten ‘Roll With It’ in that well-documented chart battle, Blur’s latest album ‘The Great Escape’ had failed to live up to expectations, and since the public had given Damon Albarn and co the time of day, many of them felt that they also owed Oasis a fair chance. The opinion on Blur had shifted somewhat, and for their Manchester chart rivals, the moment presented the perfect opportunity for them to prove themselves. The second Oasis album was coming, and it had already spawned two massive hit singles.
One of my first memories of George Ward School was of an assembly that took place during our first few weeks there. Stood in the long line that filled the corridor towards the school hall, I was surprised to hear a familiar sound coming from beyond us. As we made our way in, it became obvious to me that for some reason an Oasis track was playing. This was fantastic. By the time all present were seated, the track was coming to an end. The school’s deputy headmaster Mr Austin introduced himself to us and asked everyone if they could name the song that had been playing. “‘Get It On’”, someone replied. To this day, I don’t whether they genuinely thought that it was in fact the T Rex classic, or whether they were making a knowing reference to Noel Gallagher’s musical theft.
The song was of course ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’, and Mr Austin had brought with him the cassette format of the single with its fag packet-style packaging that declared “Rock n roll can be fatal”. According to him Oasis were misunderstood, and the song was actually an anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-drugs statement. At the time, I didn’t have the confidence, nor the cheek to correct him, and I wasn’t sure whether this guy was just making a misguided attempt at being “down with the kids” or not. It soon turned out that Mr Austin was by far the coolest teacher in school, and music was a major passion of his, just as it was mine. I doubt there were many school assemblies across the country that featured Oasis songs, but judging by their rising popularity at the time, it’s possible that there were many other instances of the Gallagher brothers appearing in places that you wouldn’t have expected them to. And as 1995 began to turn to autumn, it was them who would go on to define the year and perhaps the whole era…
More next week.