Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Very Big Blouse Christmas

A mere 25 years ago this week there took place a significant musical event which resonates down the years, and here it is made public for the first time.

OK. Really it was a bunch of young people in the North East of England, getting up onstage and making a bit of Christmas entertainment for anyone mad enough to show up to a windswept nightclub on the Sunday before Christmas and party. Band leader and inspiration was Mark Raynes, who loved Marc Bolan and Marc Almond and spelt his name with a `c' too. I joined the band as you did in them days, by merely walking down the High Street in Marske at the right time. I bumped into old school mate Ian `Ely' Conlin, where it was quickly established that yes indeed I did play the drums and would be happy to join their band and make some new friends. They were doing their first show with a part timer on the skins , but had 2 more gigs lined up over the Christmas of '83, for which I had just instantly agreed to take over. I said I'd turn up for the first show and bring my Moog synth for a laugh.

As the band hit the stage on that freezing night in Saltburn at the legendary Philmores (not to be confused with Fillmores East and West which were in New York and San Francisco respectively) we didn't even have a name. It was to everyone's surprise that compere Tinker Dick took it upon himself to introduce us as `The Big Blouse Show'. Mark had a great collection of Glam style (OK OK, women's) clothes, which we all took great delight in wearing, and there were girls in the band too to do us make-up too. We kept the name.

Aaah the girls. I wonder where they are now ? Possibly mothers with kids of the same age as they were here. Before this gig, as far as I know none of them had ever sung into a microphone before, or indeed had experience of what is known in the business as a `desk tape' where everything they say or sing is picked up in brutal clarity. Throughout the gig, you can hear them saying things to each other "I was miming during that one", "I'm getting dead paranoid" and falling over giggling.

So, I give you a Christmas medley North East-style. We made our own fun in those days that's for sure. It's said that Punk instilled a DIY ethic in the youth of the day, and here it is in action. Those brassy Teesside girls bawled out `White Christmas' as if they were on the terraces at Ayresome Park. I love the way they are all singing different words at the same time too. You can almost taste the Cider and Black and Bacardi and Coke, and just about see the tinsel sparkling at the end of memory lane.

I was wearing some sparkly gloves I'd borrowed off my Nana, a colourful lurex `thing' and leather trousers. You can hear me swooping away for no good reason on the synth in the background. As the extravaganza finishes and we take a bow, on comes Tinker Dick, flat-capped MC extraordinaire who came to Saltburn for these gigs on his bike come rain or shine. A local legend who I am pleased to report is still around.

"A big bloody hand please !"


and here if that wasn't enough...

Happy Christmas !

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Nothing Is Sacred

This year's `X Factor' winner has recorded Leonard Cohen's `Hallelujah'. I was horrified to learn this as I awoke to another day and hoped I'd dreamt it. This is one of those songs that truly qualifies as one of the greatest ever written, by anybody's standards, including God's. Legend has it that it took Cohen at least a year to hone it to perfection after discarding some EIGHTY verses. A Sistine Chapel of a song really. It is heartbreaking, bleak, eternally true and transcendently beautiful. Real tears are shed to this song by true music lovers all over the world.

But hey, along comes Cowell, who decides it's just the song he needs to give to the three finalists in his grand plan to ruin music and make himself richer. My initial reaction was one of abject paranoia. I felt as if the rising tide of mediocrity and disrespect had finally reached my door and threatened to destroy one of my favourite songs JUST TO ANNOY ME PERSONALLY. Work like this is the pinnacle of the art of songwriting. The emotional power of such a precious jewel can truly elevate people and take them to a sacred place. This is what music means to me, and thankfully I am by no means the only one. There are thousands upon thousands of us out there. It is an affront to everybody who was ever moved by this song.

The `X Factor' final was won by Alexandra. She's inevitably one of those soul divas who thinks that singing a dozen pointless notes in the space where one meaningful one will do is a substitute for soul and emotion. I forget her second name. Don't worry, everyone else soon will too. (Oh, apparently she's a Burke...damn you Wikipedia you know too much !)

What a wholly and completely inappropriate song for ANY of these pitiful lambs to the slaughter to sing anyway, given that it at least relies on some life experience before it could even begin to come across convincingly. Isn't it incredible that it didn't even matter who won the `million pound recording contract'* be it Burke, little Irish hair gel boy or J2O or whatever they're called, that any of them were deemed worthy of singing this song, and presumably any of the other 118,722 cattle who queued up in our rainswept towns and cities for hours in the hope of being humiliated by the musical philestine who brought us Robson and Jerome.

Q: Is nothing sacred ?

A: No, not any more

After my usual bout of ranting and raving (apologies to long suffering wife and child) and a visit to the Xmas Panto where Cinderella was determined to "accentuate the positive" I thought I'd take a leaf out of her book. After all, she got her reward in the end by marrying a Prince with tits.

Anyway I got to thinking of the absurdity of the situation, all those kids and musically challenged grown-ups who will go and buy the wretched thing, toss it aside after a couple of weeks but in the process line the pockets of a 74 year old genius poet from Canada none of them have ever heard of. This is indeed a sweet silver-lining because Leonard Cohen was recently relieved of most of his pension fund by his manager, and despite winning the court case against her was told he'll probably never recover the money. Nice manager, I hope she's enjoying the millions she stole. Don't you just love people sometimes ?

Futher research drew a groan of inevitability that...guess what ? The winner of `American Idol' in March this year also sang `Hallelujah'. God almighty, there really is no beginning to the imagination of Cowell, the man Roger Daltrey once famously and accurately described as a "turd" (I couldn't find his original quote but was delighted to find this instead....two turds for the price of one. Roger, put it there me old son !)

Reading on, I was delighted to learn that the ultimate outcome of the `American Idol' victory was that Jeff Buckley's definitive reading of the song topped the download chart instead, giving him a posthumous number one, thanks to a protest campaign by people who'd just about had enough of this shit. Don't you just love people sometimes ?

I am even more heartened to learn that there is a similar rising tide of disgust in the UK and that there are campaigns to do the same thing and stop this wretched, overwrought landfill from being the UK Christmas number one over here by downloading the Buckley version en masse over the week to follow.

Join the campaign on Facebook NOW.

The extra incentive is that Xmas `Top Of The Pops' makes a return this year. Wouldn't it be sweet to drink a toast to the mighty talents of Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley on the 25th December instead?

*When they say `Million pound recording contract' what they mean is that it will cost them a million pounds in manufacturing, promotion, mechanical royalties and paying Simon Cowell. The (ahem) artist is unlikely to see much if any of the money generated and will be back working in Tescos this time next year if she's lucky (there is a recession on you know).

More festive fun soon ! Sorry if I'm getting on my high horse a bit recently...I have a treat lined up from 25 years ago to lighten the mood next time. A true DIY Christmas musical extravaganza from the days when we made our own entertainment. Aye them were the days etc etc....

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tunes I Never Tire Of #4: The Roches - Hammond Song

There's singing, and there's SINGING. These three sisters from New Jersey captured my heart almost the minute I heard them. Actually, they did seem a bit strange at first. They were performing their own peculiar take on Dylan's `Clothes Line Saga' on the Whistle Test back in the day, and they lodged themselves in my mind, biding their time. I eventually succumbed to their charms a couple of years later when I could finally afford their third album `Keep On Doing' and was blown away, not least by an acapella arangement of the `Hallelujah Chorus' (not something one attempts lightly,but they carried it off with such aplomb)

This though is from the debut. A great pleading tale to one sister not to go off with a plainly unworthy chap. Those long, exquisite harmonies sung with such force that they pin you to the wall. A force to be reckoned with. The icing on this richest of cakes is the liquid gold of producer Robert Fripp's guitar which threads it's way carefully through the vocal layers and is almost too much bliss for one song.

Hear here: