8: Cortez the Killer…Neil Young

In the 70’s the USA was simultaneously familiar and alien. Our television relied heavily on imported series from the states especially comedy, Happy Days was insanely popular, but we would also get reruns or the Monkees on a spasmodic rota. Shows were well crafted and sometime very funny, but they were also saccharine. The USA still seemed to be the land of plenty, people seemed wealthy and happy and confident. The irony was that unless you lived near a tourist attraction you were unlikely to meet a genuine American person. I was slightly the exception to this as I had an aunt who had emigrated there and every decade she would return for a couple of weeks. I must admit though that on basis of that brief encounter I had no evidence to revise my opinion, my Aunt appeared happy and confident and very proud to be an American.

Perhaps because of this cultural disconnect I was slow on the uptake with American music. The like of Alice Cooper and Aerosmith seemed a bit over confident and crass to me, nobody like a show off. Even British bands who toured America a lot seem to return changed, tougher, slicker and less fun.

The early exception was the glut of singer songwriters who emerged in the early 70’s. They were producing music that was more introspective with maybe even a trace of uncertainty. Like all sensible teenagers though I needed more than an acoustic guitar, I would be into my 20’s before I was willing to sit down and really engage with the likes of Joni Mitchell.

The reason why Neil Young was different was that he had two sides, to this day I’ve never listened to Harvest, that sort of thing didn’t really interest me at the age of 16. Post HarvestYoung ‘headed for the ditch’ away from the middle of the road where he thought he had strayed to. The next few years produced some of my all-time favourite music in the form of some troubled downbeat albums. I first picked up on Young  when he was coming out of this time with his new record Zuma.

The most important thing, in all honesty, about the album was that my friend Phil had a copy, so I actually had a chance to listen to it. Records were relatively expensive, it would be a few years before I had enough money to actually buy anything I wanted and by then it was the 80’s so there wasn’t much I did want. If a friend lent you a record you listened to it, it was free music.

The other factor in Zuma’s favour was it was almost entirely electric with his band Crazy Horse. As a band Crazy Horse were simultaneously brilliant and incompetent. It’s a bit like the argument over whether Meg White is a good drummer, their playing was hard to defend on an analytical skill level but the end result surpassed all criticism. Even by the time of Zuma the band had become looser and sloppier than they had been on their debut record ‘Everybody Knows this is Nowhere’, 20 years later they would sound like they were on the verge of disintegrating with every verse they played, but they never did.

As an electric guitar player Young has the same qualities and most importantly he knows about sound, Young and Crazy Horse are a pretty visceral experience which is why as punk was raging, I was listening to Zuma.

The standout track is ‘Cortez the Killer’. Its long but not by the standards of his later work. It’s also lyrically intriguing, there’s not a whole load of songs about the Aztec empire. There’s an ambiguity about the words encompassing both awe and admiration of the Aztecs about to be subsumed by Cortez ‘what a killer’.

But there’s a strange magic in the music itself. I’ve played it in many settings, I jammed it only a couple of weeks ago. When I played in an acoustic duo we would jam the song for ever if an audience appeared disengaged or absent. There’s a dreamy quality to the music the chords can go around and round forever. And that’s the magic, its only three chords, three basic chords at that but chords that are altered a little with suspensions and augmentations. It sounds complicated but really its just adding or taking away a note, it’s not hard to play. What it does mean though is the song never really resolves or comes to an end, it finishes when the player(s) decide.

I’ve stuck with Young over the years, not everything of course, I’m not insane! The last record I bought by him was Psychedelic Pill which offered more of the sonic thuggery of Crazy Horse. Lets face it, I’m unlikely to feel the need to buy anything else from the Young catalogue in the future. 

Over 40 years later there’s still some magic left in Cortez though

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Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher was a constant throughout the 70’s. It was not that I would every get to see him, he was a little too big to play somewhere like Norwich. Occupying a place in the popularity ratings somewhere just above Budgie but below Status Quo, Rory was just there in the background all the time.

I cant remember his records being released with any great fanfare and it was debatable why anyone could make a strong case for preferring Deuce over Blueprint or making a pitch that Tattoo was a better record than Against the Grain. It sounds like damming with faint praise but the unassuming Gallagher was one of the greatest guitarists ever.

 

Firstly he was older than he seemed having been musically active since the early 60’s. For most of that decade he had been tucked away in Ireland and therefore invisible to the rest of the world. While in his teens he had been a mainstay of the Fontana showband  which he managed to mutate into the  Impact which in turn became more blues orientated and eventually became a trio which was to be Gallaghers’s preferred method of working.

 

By this point it was the late 60’s, he had barely turned 18. Already he was flying in the face of convention, the showbands were still pretty much the only outlet for music for most of Ireland and the blues may as well have been a Mongolian death chant for the level of popularity it could garner. It would take a pretty exceptional 16 year old to start to turn this around in conservative Ireland.

Gallagher was starting to play abroad which was the only way forward. Finding that a residency in Hamburg didn’t want to book his trio he sent them some publicity pictures with a friend behind the organ and then went anyway.

By the time he had formed Taste in 1966 he had pretty much arrived at the format for the rest of his life. Taste supported Cream at their farewell gig. I you want blues based power trios I would have picked them over Eric’s boys any day of the week.

 

As the 70’s dawned Gallagher’s solo career was underway, joining up with bass player Gerry McAvoy  who was to be with him for the next 20 years along with assorted drummers and an occasional keyboard player he toured and toured and toured. Gallagher was the antithesis to glam and prog and punk and whatever new fad came knocking. Almost always dressed in jeans and a check shirt and playing a severely distressed Stratocaster, allegedly the first in Ireland that he had bought in 1963,he was regarded as generally humble, decent and hardworking, not always qualities associated with rock gods. Significantly he continued to tour Ireland through what we quaintly called ‘the troubles’ (also known as a war) when most English rock bands simply would not have bothered.

 

If anyone wants a dose of the 70’s Gallagher experience I would direct them swiftly to Irish Tour 74 where Gallagher wows provincial audiences onstage before returning soaked in sweat to the rankest dressing rooms ever, night after night. It’s a real delight to see these purest of performances, Gallagher seems to get by on a guitar, an amp and a lead, there’s no pedal gazing and without any sonic trickery there’s some scarily accurate guitar playing, night after night.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s wings of Pegasus

 

  https://youtu.be/f-tGEQYZRfg

And there was more, Gallagher could play slide and acoustic and mandolin and harmonica.With Taste he even switched over to saxophone, and pretty good it was to!

I liked and admired Gallagher, who couldn’t but he never really moved me. I had an early compilation LP which, naturally was a bargain buy, and I liked it enough, but post Beatles there probably wasn’t enough for me in the actual songs. In my formative musical years I grappled to understand what made his music. Most people said it was blues but it wasn’t the blues like BB King or Clapton.It was only decades later when I began to understand more about folk music that I noticed the uniquely Irish take. Listen carefully and there’s an element of the ‘diddly diddly’, reels and jigs that he must have heard growing up.

Gallaghers’s reputation has grown steadily over the years. There’s a surprising amount of footage available of him in his heyday which is a mystery and a delight. He had a sad end, having survived the 80’s which were the kiss of death for organic music, his liver began to fail. There were mentions of him being a heavy drinker, but if that was the case it never seemed to affect his career which is pretty weird when you consider the amount of out and out drunks who are still with us. I had lost track of him, he still made good records and seemed to have avoided any attempt to spruce him up for the MTV generation. It was a real shock to me to find him in the pages of the glossy new Q magazine clearly ill and bloated on steroids and it was only when we lost him that I realised I missed him. Soon the blues would be back, and the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn would be celebrating the same simple formula that Gallagher has started.

 

Gallagher worked hard, he didn’t seem to have any other interests, his brother was his manager but there were no other significant relationships. His musical achievements are magnified by the fact that he came from a country that would do little to promote his talent when he started out. And his legacy is his music, there are no bad or even poor performances by Gallagher, you could pick any at random and be impressed.

 

So here’s one of them.

 

 

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This Is Pop

A quick perusal of this month’s Shindig magazine has convinced me that 1968 is back in fashion. It’s 50 years ago of course and so it is time to convince the ageing punters that still buy CD’s that now is the time to but another version of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake or The White Album or Electric Ladyland.

We all love nostalgia of course we do, I remember in 1976 that the New Musical Express was listing all the great albums that had been made in 1966. To be fair they had a point, it was a great year for music, but then 1966 seemed as far away as 1968 does to the present day.

And so, with my Futureispast head on I thought I would look at 1978 to see if it held the same sort of treasures as 1968. The latter, of course was when psychedelia and ‘progressive’ music was becoming heavy and ‘rock’ was being born. You can hear the Beatles doing it before your very ears on ‘Helter Skelter’ on the White Album.

So, onto 1978, a mixed bag as might be anticipated, the nearest to a classic might be Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town which has grown in stature over the years. A genuinely great British eccentric, namely Kate Bush was emerging and there was interesting stuff from the likes of Pere Ubu, Television and The Only Ones.

Inevitable there was going to be variety, these were interesting times, my overall memory of the end of the 70’s however was the emergence of post punk and the re-emergence of pop.

These days pop is hotbed of force-fed acts where the songwriter and producer are king (or queen). It is the sound of radio one and the X factor, I don’t like it, it’s too artificial. But then again, I am 60.

In the late 70’s however pop was a broader church, the weight of the Beatles still laid heavy on us all, they had been the ultimate pop band, they had spent years playing covers in clubs trying to entertain everyone with everything from showtunes to Elvis. There was a lack of snobbishness about the band but also a lack of desperation. The Beatles were happy to play pop.
After a couple of years of punk, we were beginning to consider there might be more to life than going to be insulted by a bunch of people who couldn’t play very well and risk being beaten up by whatever local subculture had turned up looking for a fight. However, Punk had opened some kind of door to other possibilities and one of these was the need for a bit higher energy playing.
All of a sudden, the time was right for a bunch of people who had been biding their time on the side-lines waiting, watching and making sure they could play their instruments. Notably  Glen Matlock’s Rich Kids were ahead of the pack. Since leaving the Sex Pistols Matlock was free to indulge in ‘wanky Beatle chords’ and this time we were willing to listen. In his new band he had recruited Midge Ure, a talented and opportunistic young Scottish Guy who would have been laughed offstage in 1976 but now was newly credible.
The Rich Kids were a very short-lived phenomena but others were in it for the long term (which in the 70’s was about 4 years)

Blondie had been lurking around as a kind of joke band since the mid 70’s. They had toured Britain with Television and during the attractive women shortage of 1977 Debbie Harry was everywhere. Blondie never got that good at playing live but Harry was a brilliantly charismatic front person. Their other strength was their songs were melodic and energetic. Likewise, Elvis Costello was transforming from county influenced  angry young man to angry young man with good pop songs. His Armed Forces was in the pipeline, chock full of tunes that had allegedly been deconstructed from Abba. Costello’s old producer Nick Lowe had released Jesus of Cool which mixed rock with pure pop. Spikey Swindon band XTC were on the verge of jettisoning their experimental keyboard player for Drums and Wires. Squeeze had suddenly revealed a real flair for melodic song writing as had Buzzcocks. The Police had now left their individual Jazz Rock and Prog Rock projects behind and after flirting with punk for a while had stumbled across a kind of pop reggae that would take over the world.
All of a sudden musicians seemed to be having a bit of a good time and getting paid for it. At the Polytechnic Disco we could dance to ‘Oliver’s Army’ ‘Heart of Glass’ ‘Can’t Stand Loosing You’ and ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ without any real self-consciousness. These were all proper bands with proper musicians who just happened to make great records. There was more to come, the Two Tone movement and then the advent of electo pop recognised the importance of tunes. We had a couple of years before it all started to get a bit silly or miserable.

But by then it was the 80’s

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Going Mad

We’ve just had another mental health week (message ‘be kind’). Even the future King of England wants to be talking about mental health, mental health is everywhere, we recognise that there are parallels with physical health, it fluctuates, maybe there are things in daily living that can make it better or worse. Most importantly there’s the possibility of talking about it. In the 70’s things were a lot more brutal and clearer cut. Either you were ‘ok’ or mad. If you were mad you got put in the loony bin and could officially be a loony.

In the early 70’s madness held something of a fascination. The 60’s had been a time of consciousness expansion but that had led to some people just expanding their consciousness too far. We didn’t know enough about mind expanding drugs such as cannabis and, most significantly, LSD. People experimenting with these drugs were pushing the psychological barriers as early mountain climbers, polar explorers and astronauts tested physical limitations, they really were going where nobody had been before, at least in their heads. Inevitably some of them lost their minds. In most cities you would encounter the odd longhair wandering about in some state of confusion, often, in an attempt to self-medicate they had turned to harder drugs or alcohol which just compounded their problems. But the fascination lay in the fact that they had travelled so far out they couldn’t get back.

Bowie was an early disciple of madness. His own brother had significant mental health problems, but Bowie had also come across 50’s Rocker Vince Taylor who had allegedly overdone the LSD experience and was wandering the streets of London telling people he was Jesus. This set the seed for Ziggy Stardust in Bowies fertile mind. Pink Floyd, understandably considering their frontman Syd Barret’s plight had explored ideas around madness on Dark Side of the Moon and would continue to do so.

The mental health establishment has started to question itself. Psychiatrist RD Laing set himself up as an anti psychiatry figure arguing that madness could just be a logical response to an insane society, Ironically Laing was addicted to alcohol for a lot of his life and despite his criticisms of the family unit was a pretty awful father and provoked mental health problems in some of his own children. He was however posing some pretty significant questions about the nature of mental illness and how society defined this. Also significant was the Rosenhan experiment where basically a bunch of researchers were able to fake their mental illnesses, and all were admitted to psychiatric institutions with the minimum of fuss and bother. In popular culture ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest’ was an extremely popular and influential film. It wasn’t real of course but most of us believed that it was an accurate representation of life in the ‘loony bin’.

We were getting the message loud and clear, maybe madness was ok, maybe society was wrong, probably psychiatrists and nurses were evil bastards and being labelled as crazy would inevitably be a bad thing. It wasn’t that clear cut of course but the general belief was that you were sane until you got labelled mad which meant you would be put in a ‘loony bin’ and given horrible drugs for an indefinite period of time. What that missed was the subtleties that contributed to mental health. The film ‘Withnail and I ‘perfectly captures the way that intelligent young men and women were happy to live in the 70’s. Poor sleep, diet, accommodation, lack of exercise and lack of purpose contributed as much to mental health issues as drugs and alcohol, but we simply didn’t know about those things in the 70’s.

Most musicians, in Britain at least, would be living in those circumstances, for a group of people who were attracted to being outside straight society madness was almost a badge of honor. ‘Looning’ had been a pastime of musicians since the 60’s, generally crazy behaviour almost certainly with alcohol was something of a badge of honour. Keith Moon was known as ‘Moon the Loon’ not just to an easy piece of rhyming most people would claim he was crazy. No one meant lock them up and full them with Thoridazine crazy obviously, that was no fun at all and not what we would expect from our loons. No, rather we favoured a mixture of eccentricity and mental health usually with some involvement in alcohol and or drugs. The trouble was it was a thin line to tread, take Moon the Loon himself, a young man full of fun and mischief to a prematurely aged and burnt out man with an alcohol problem. Our loonies were never quite as much fun as we wanted to believe they were.

Next week I’ll look at 4 of the most crazy men of rock (70’s UK version only)

My own visit to a psychiatric institution is covered here as part of my acclaimed ‘Who Month’

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2018/07/15/who-month-out-of-my-brain-on-the-515/

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15:Hallogallo… Neu

Covid coma has hit me this week so I am recycling an old post

Hallogallo holds a place in my heart even though I’ve sometimes gone decades without listening to it. This is partly because its a great track perfectly made for driving along a motorway (yes, even better than ‘autobahn’). More significantly it symbolized the beginning of me starting to play in bands as told below….

And so the great day arrived!

Being the prospective  drummer the band was going to come to me. Plainy and Sucho were traveling reasonably light with guitars and practice amps. Robbo the bass player was cursed with the 70’s bass cab which was about four foot tall and three foot wide so he had had to rely on the good will of his father for a lift. These days parents seem pretty indulgent of their rock offspring especially if they ever had any aspirations in that area themselves, I know people who seem quite happy to spend the weekend living the worst part of the rock and roll lifestyle, humping gear, driving, sitting in the car outside insalubrious venues, just so their kids can have a good time. Robbo’s father was not so indulgent; the bass amp remained in my bedroom for pretty much the next year.

Sucho was the leader at this point, Plainy cultivated an attitude of barely being involved in the project although he had very clear views of what he would and would not play. Robbo, as with bass players since the beginning of time seemed a pleasant well balanced chap who over time would become a good friend. This however was the first time I had met him and only the second time I had met the others (and the first time totally sober). There was also allegedly a singer Steve who also dabbled on a basic keyboard but being a fairly free spirited character he only tended to pop along on occasions, he was a nice guy and it was always good to see him but his musical contributions were fairly minimal.

I can’t remember if there had been any discussion about the actual music, I wanted a band they wanted a drummer. In fact I can’t really think of any musical choices that would have been a deal breaker, ideally I would have preferred something a bit hard rocking like Rory Gallagher but instead Sucho produced a vinyl album which he eased onto my rather basic turntable.

It was by the German band Neu.

neu2

I had never heard of them but within the first few seconds I decided with the arrogance of youth that I could master the Neu beat. I assume the track was Hallogallo and to my untrained ears it sounded pretty simple. The first rule of auditions is not to show weakness so as soon as the other guys started to pick up the track I launched in with full force. This rather overwhelmed them as I was by the far the loudest but it takes little encouragement for young men to turn their amps up and soon we were grooving to our own version of Krautrock.

By this point Neu were in fact no more. There was just two of them guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger. Both had served time in an early Kraftwerk before breaking away to record their first album, the one I had been introduced to today, with Kraftwerk producer Connie Plank. Dinger was a pioneer or the’ Motorik’ so let the mighty Wikipedia explain what that is all about

Motorik is a term coined by music journalists to describe the 4/4 beat often used by “Krautrock” bands such as Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk (when promoting the official album release of Neu!’s back-catalogue, Klaus Dinger stated he called it the “Apache-beat”).The word “Motorik” means “motor skill” in German, although the word’s use in music journalism may be derived from a punning modification of “motoric”, a term long used by music critics to describe relentless ostinato rhythm, or simply from a combination of “motor” and the German “Musik”

The name perhaps derives from the repetitive yet forward-flowing feel of the rhythm, which has been compared to the experience of driving on a motorway – indeed, the motorik beat is in one section of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”, a song designed to celebrate exactly this experience. While The Velvet Underground’s influence on Krautrock is often mentioned, Moe Tucker’s drumming style has specifically been characterized as “proto-motorik.”

Apart from the krautrock bands, the motorik has also been used by newer bands like Stereolab, Primal Scream, Radiohead, Sonic Youth and Fujiya & Miyagi

The motorik beat is in 4/4 time and of moderate pace. The pattern is repeated each bar throughout the song. A splash or crash cymbal is often hit at the beginning bar of a verse or chorus.

Thank you Wikipedia !

I hadn’t really got this of course, for me it was just a simple beat but listening to it again 40 years later I can’t help but be impressed, especially with the bass drum work which I had totally overlooked.

Neu made two records initially, the first one which graced my room that afternoon and the follow up. During their second attempt they ran out of money so simply fiddled with the tracks they already had changing the speed and adding effects to bring the album up to full running time. Like most bands of course they couldn’t just call it a day and persisted in various unsatisfactory and half arse reunions until Dingers death

And that was the start of my life in Rock bands.

Because we were young and fairly musically stupid the band was always as much about socialising and showing off as it was about music. I can’t remember actually playing that Neu song again but we did cobble together some musical detritus into some form of a set. It transpired that Plainy was the only one with any coherent musical vision which seemed to be Krautrock and Jazz Rock, Sucho rather liked Led Zeppelin and Robbo added a bit of a Lou Reed vibe. We didn’t have a clue; Plainy and Steve were on their ways to University anyway and while Plainy was away we inevitably crept towards heavier rock only to be chastised by him on his frequent visits back.

And so within a few weeks we had a set list which included Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’, Wild Cherry’s ‘Play that Funky Music White Boy’, an attempt at ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus and a self-penned creation called ‘Macbeth’ which sounded like a speeded up Black Sabbath.

We decided on calling ourselves The Rockwell Buzz Company for reasons which escape me. We had no plans or visions and didn’t need any because we had friends. Robbo was at the City College which was considerably more bohemian than Thorpe Grammar School and invariably people began to attach themselves to us. The most that crammed themselves into my bedroom with bed, drum kit and bass speaker was 12. I don’t know how that happened the room can’t be more than 100 ft square. Everyone apart from me and Robbo everyone smoked and we kept the windows shut to avoid too much noise pollution. My room from then on smelt like an ashtray.I would fall asleep in bed among amps, guitars and effects pedals. Some of our guests would have motorbikes which they would park, leaking oil on our front lawn. My parents remained unphased, my mum even going as far as to bring tea and biscuits into the fetid bedroom on occasions.

And so my world changed again. I suddenly had new friends, my 18th birthday beckoned

And Punk was on its way…..

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14: Welcome to the Working Week..Elvis Costello

So, it’s ok to go back to work as long as you can’t work from home (I can!) and its safe to do so (?) and you can get there without using public transport (??), or you can use public transport if its safe(???)

What better way to welcome the new normal than the very first track of the very first album from Elvis Costello. Costello, like the Police of the Stranglers managed to be just punk enough to straddle the fine line between credibility and music which was all important in 1977.

This was largely a matter of luck on Costello’s part. WTTWW was recorded as part of the ‘My Aim is True’ sessions at the end of 1976. During this period the Sex Pistols swore on TV and the musical landscape changed overnight. Costello was a superior songwriter, he would have been another Warren Zevon with different timing.Instead he was the best new wave songwriter He had impressed Stiff records enough for them to stump up enough money for an 8 track studio, some time for producer Nick Lowe and a backing band, it was the princely sum of £2,000.

The backing musicians were Californian band Clover who, had specialised in countryfied soft rock since the start of the decade. The lead singer of Clover who unsurprisingly wasn’t needed on the sessions was no other than Huey Louis later Huey Lewis of 80s fame. Clover were generally well liked with the London pub rock crowd, they were the ones who took Dr Feelgood out for the night in San Francisco which lead to the song ‘Milk and Alcohol’. They had spent quite a bit of time in London they were good guys and good musicians, but they were going nowhere fast.

Produce Lowe had managed to rein in their funkier tendencies with a pretty boxy garage band sound but Clover still managed bar band shuffles and some tasteful guitar licks. Costello probably wasn’t complaining, he’d been playing this sort of thing round the pubs of London with his band Flip City, a couple of years later he would be redeclaring his love of country in vinyl with ‘Almost Blue’. By early 1977 he had a record which sounded like a good bar band playing some incredible songs (the outtakes show him dipping into some real country)

Just six months later Costello had a more muscular band in the Attractions. I had heard them doing some radio sessions and it was clear that they were something exceptional. There were also the singles starting with ‘Less than Zero’ and ‘(The Angels Want to) wear my Red Shoes’ which gave the impression Costello was a rather edgy goodtime merchant, the music was familiar, the energy and lyrics were different.

And so, I was willing to trek down to Robin’s records and purchase the LP. It wasn’t risk free, record sales assistants could be very judgemental, I had long hair, they had long hair, I’d have been more worried if had been the Dammed but despite his Oxfam Jacket and skinny jeans Elvis was just about acceptable.

WTTWW isn’t the best track on the album but it hits hard

“now your picture’s in the paper being rhymical admired”

There are few albums with a better opening line

The thing that really impressed me about the song was the length just one minute 23 seconds long there’s not a second wasted. It might seem like a minor point, but this really was the energy of the time as the Talking Heads would have it ‘say something once, why say it again? ‘There’s also an attitude about it that is pure country dealing with adult issues. Songwriters didn’t usually write about work, they didn’t even get out of bed until midday. Costello had been catching the tube to work everyday just like the rest of us and like a lot of us he didn’t want to be doing that anymore.

I also love the sound of the record, Nick Lowe was famous for bashing a record out a quick as he could, its very live sound but its also immediate. Finally there’s also the inevitability of the debut record containing some really strong material Costello had been polishing some of these nuggets for a while, and it showed.

Costello was soon to move on, the Attractions could play good time grooves like ‘Sneaky Feelings’ but they would soon move on to a sound more aligned with a more aggressive new wave genre. In fact, the band had re-recorded the album over a couple of days with a view to releasing these tracks when the record was repressed, six months into his career he was looking to re-write his history.

It didn’t happen of course and with such a varied back catalogue My Aim is True makes more sense, pub rock meets punk rock meets singer songwriter and an all time great record.

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13:Sylvia…Focus

Do people record instrumentals anymore ?

In my early childhood instrumentals were a staple of the top 20. From Russ Conway to  Lord Rockingham’s XI, from James Last to Mantovani from the Shadows to Fleetwood Mac, I could go on but I wont.

Bear in mind that for the 40’s and 50’s Jazz/Big Band was the music of the youth and that was largely instrumental so perhaps its wasn’t surprising that we weren’t willing to drop the instrumental immediately despite the likes of Dylan persuading us that lyrics might the future.

In the 70’s there was still a currency for songs without words, partly because the single was popular and the single has two sides. Not wanting to waste precious lyrics B sides were often instrumental, sometimes, if a record company was really lazy, it could be the A side without a vocal track but equally it might be an undemanding instrumental track recorded with the minimum of fuss and bother and occupying at least 2 mins and 30 seconds on the dark side of the single.

The rise of prog also meant an increase in non-singing bits on records but they didn’t usually make hit singles, ELP had a hit with Fanfare for the Common Man of course but equally freakish was the sudden rise of Focus a band who never sung and were Dutch.

I cover the short-lived Dutch invasion here

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2015/08/09/going-dutch/

As Sylvia recently jumped out at me from my Spotify Hawkwind Radio playlist (which I was utilising to get me through a very dull working at home afternoon), I was reminded of what a great sound Focus were able to produce for a short time.

And, for me it’s all about the sound of this track. It’s a simple tune, guitarist Jan Akkerman bends a few notes but this this is a major key rather jaunty tune, its not impossible to imagine it being played 10 years earlier by the Shadows with their trademark shimmer. However, Sylvia is the sound of hairy young 1972 largely due to the Hammond Organ of keyboard player/flautist and yodeller Thijs van Leer, its actually Van Leer’s song so all credit to him for resisting the temptation to insert a bit of keyboard wibbling. As JS Bach would tell you, you can’t go wrong with a good organ descending bass lineand it’s present and correct here.

Just the sheer sound of this track is superlative though , there’s a minimum of effects but its an electric performance. Standard industry equipment. Hammond, Gibson Les Paul, Fender Jazz bass, a live warm sound that really hasn’t been bettered, and never will.

It’s a bit of a mystery what happened to the bands music after that. Sylvia was their biggest hit but there was the equally good and completely deranged Hocus Pocus and then very little. Akkerman liked to keep things a bit loose which can be seen by the Old Grey Whistle Test Video below. The band struggled to get on on most levels which led to changes in the rhythm section and eventually Akkerman’s departure. Inevitably though the band just wanted to move on from what had made them distinctive but as new keyboards were developed and new members joined the music became more musak and their audience moved onto different things, theresonly so much yodelling a person can take

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12: Mother and Child Reunion…Paul Simon

To my 13-year-old self, Paul Simon, didn’t amount to a whole lot. Of course, I had heard of Simon and Garfunkel, they were a constant presence on British Forces Radio which had literally been my only entertainment for the last three years of the 60’s. In my adolescent brain the duo were just part of American folk/pop up there with the Mamas and Papas and the Turtles, pleasant but unexceptional.

When Paul Simon emerged with a solo career there was a lot of interest, rock music was becoming a bit respectable, it wasn’t just the music press, the mainstream media would sometimes spare a few kind words. As a teenager I was even less interested in what the Guardian or the Telegraph had to say than I am now, and that’s saying something, we weren’t a paper reading household. As a consequence, I remained firmly unimpressed, it wasn’t that I disliked Simon’s music, but it seemed just a little too glossy and pleased with itself, I imagined that it was the sort of music that people who read the Guardian played at dinner parties (another thing my family didn’t do). It wasn’t as much fun as The Faces or even Chicory Tip.

‘Mother and Child Reunion’ somehow snuck under the radar of my inverted snobbery. There were a few reasons for this, firstly it was the first release by Simon after dissolving his previous musical relationship, I didn’t really make the link between Paul Simon and the bloke in Simon and Garfunkel for a start. There was also the fact that it featured on one of my early recording attempts when I recorded part of the top 20 and listened to it so many times the tape wore thin.

Most significantly I just liked the way it sounded. In fact, it sounded very different from anything else Simon was to record ever again. One of my issues with Simon was that he tends to record songs that sound quite profound but when you dissect the lyrics it’s hard to make out what its actually about. ‘You can Call me Al’ used to drive me mad in this way until I just learned to relax a bit and just enjoy him dancing with Chevy Chase. In the same way ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ sounds pretty profound. Apparently, the title is taken from a meal on a Chinese menu involving chicken and egg in the same dish which as a long-standing vegetarian makes me feel slightly bilious. Apparently the lyrics revolve around Simon’s feelings about death, it all sound pretty good until you look closely.

As usual it wasn’t the lyrics but the music that hooked me in. I had read (probably in someone else’s copy of the Guardian) that it was a reggae track. I hadn’t really worked this out for myself, I was aware of reggae, ‘The Israelites’ by Desmond Decker has been a big hit, but I couldn’t really work out what made Reggae Reggae. My younger brain just accepted music as music, a decade later I couldn’t work out what made Be- Bop different from big band, it was all just jazz to me. When I first heard the Ramones I couldn’t really work out how on earth that sound could come from a guitar it sounded more like a vacuum cleaner than a musical instrument. Post Bob Marley everyone from the Clash to Linda Ronstadt would have a go at Reggae with varying degrees of success, I still couldn’t work out why M&CR didn’t sound like ‘I shot the Sheriff’ though, it wasn’t all my fault, Simon’s composition, actually recorded in Jamaica has a more Ska/Rocksteady feel but it took me 40 years to work that out.

Eventually I got old enough to appreciate Paul Simon especially on tracks were he was joined by great drummer Steve Gadd (that’s him on ‘20 ways to leave your lover’) and I rather like the way that his lyrics are a little obtuse.

But on a purely literal level lets hopethat we can have some mother and child reunions for mother and children of all ages as soon as its safe.

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11: Maybe I’m Amazed…Paul McCartney/ The Faces

The official video for McCartney’s classic has been released newly remastered. It’s just over 50 years since the release of his first solo album ‘McCartney’. A record recorded before we were even certain what was happening with the Beatles. Most of the record is pretty sketchy, McCartney was partly relieved and partly traumatised at breaking free of band democracy and so recorded a selection of half formed songs with just McCartney on all instruments and himself and his wife Linda on vocals.

‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is the standout track by a long way, his drums might be a bit lumpy, his lead guitar might be a bit clumsy but that just enhances the wonderful inventive melody. Its a mixture of jaw dropping prowess and rustic charm.

Rustic being the operative term because this was McCartney’s Scottish rural period. The accompanying photographs on the video mainly originate from this time when he was focussing on raising sheep and children and generally getting it together in the country. There’s some charming pictures of Paul and Linda with a couple of children and a sheepdog. (I know the dog’s called Martha, not sure about the kids). Paul looks pasty, he was going through a difficult time with the Beatles divorce, but he rocks a beard like few other popstars.

More poignant is that its also 22 years since Linda McCartney died (the same day 17th April) during a dark period that also saw cancer deaths of the Beatles publicist and friend Derek Taylor and musical mentor and rock and roll star Carl Perkins as well as the beginning of George Harrison’s cancer journey. At the time of recording the album Paul and, especially, Linda were reviled by the rock and roll world for their lovey dovey musical collaborations. 50 years on it seems ground-breaking, unique and not a little touching. It demonstrates that as long as you stick to what you want to do it will all come around again.

My introduction to the song was not this version though but rather via the Faces who plonked a live version on their second LP a couple of years later. Like all their records ‘Long Player’ was flawed and partly formed rather like ‘McCartney’ but still a big favourite with me then and now. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ had been in their set for a while and a pretty good version it was too. Starting with a Ronnie Lane vocal it moves up a gear when Rod Stewart takes over. Lane complained for years that he had to sing it in Stewart’s key but it sounds great as does the slightly sloppy band arrangement. Is it a case of the cover being better than the original?

You Decide…

Has a band ever made more eye contact on stage with each other than the Faces ?

Here’s an earlier post about Macca’s early solo career

https://thefutureispast.co.uk/2015/08/27/maccas-manic-months/

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Goodies

The death from Coronavirus related complications of Tim Brooke-Taylor has been a real shock. He might have been 79 but his personality and even his appearance had changed little since the late 60’s. Brooke-Taylor had always been about 40 years old.

There was phase a couple of decades back when comedy was supposed to be the new rock and roll but in the 70’s it was so much more important than that. Comedy was the great unifier, generations would gather together to watch in real time, and the next day we could talk about it at school. The greatest unifier was the Morecambe and Wise Show, there was really nothing else that could have entertained three generations of my family equally. The greatest kudos in terms of next day playground conversations was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The show was usually hidden away on some latish slot, a lot of it wasn’t actually that funny but the sketches were very repeatable when spoken in a funny voice by a 12 year old.

The Goodies navigated the ground between the two poles. Still a recognisable sitcom format but quite invent and surreal at times. Formed by Brooke -Taylor with two contemporaries Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie the show was incredibly popular and spanned the 70’s. Like a lot of comedy and variety shows The Goodies blossomed with the BBC but eventually turned to the big money of ITV and fizzled out. The show was in fact very expensive to make as it utilised lot of special effects which, although primitive were very costly.

At the heart of the show however, like most great sitcoms there was the characters which loosely reflected the actual actors themselves . Although they had all been part of the Cambridge Footlights scene Oddie was the least posh and from ‘the north’ and so was the scruffy anarchist. Brooke-Taylor with the double-barrelled name was inevitable the conservative royalist and Garden was the ‘mad scientist’.

The Goodies came from the same background as a lot of the Monty Python cast but inevitable got labelled as a bit Python lite. With a lot of slapstick humour, they appealed to kids and were one of the most popular shows for years and years.

In many respects though The Goodies had more in common with the Monkees than the Pythons. This was further reinforced by a diversification into music. Ever since the days of Charlie Drake and Bernard Cribbins comedy songs were a prominent feature of the charts and invariably Top of the Pops were willing to promote songs from their stable of talent. Like a lot of entertainers Oddie clearly fancied himself as a pop star and had actually had an earlier far less lucrative career releasing some singles in his own right. Eventually it seemed the time was right to use Oddie’s abilities to broaden the Goodies brand (as we didn’t say in the 70’s). The first real attempt (after the Goodies theme) was ‘the Inbetweenies’ the B side was ‘Father Christmas do not Touch Me’. Yes, it was the 70’s, in fact in an attempt to revive the record the sides were flipped. This was followed by ‘Black Pudding Bertha’,’Nappy Love’ (which luckily I have totally erased from my memory banks) and finally the apex of their career ‘Funky Gibbon’. On the latter they were apparently backed by genuine funk band Gonzalez.

Oddie was actually quite a good singer but no one has looked more unlikely as a pop star than Graeme Garden although he appeared to enjoy donning the glove as an Alvin Stardust Tribute during Funky Gibbon. Brooke-Taylor, as in everything he did, just appeared to be having a great time.

My favourite Goodies musical moment was their rendition of ‘Wild Thing’, suffice to say I wasn’t really familiar with the Troggs or Hendrix at this time. I’m slightly ashamed to admit the Goodies were my first introduction to this classic.

Time’s not been that kind to the Goodies, although the BBC have been happy to repeat Dad’s Army weekly for the last 40 years they’ve kind of disowned the series, possibly because, unlike Dads Army, it was a contemporary show and reflected 70’s values which don’t hold up too well today.

Or perhaps it wasn’t that good.. you can be the judge, head for YouTube !!

Goodie Goodie yum yum

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