Monday, 29 December 2008

Any friend of Jo-Jo is a friend of mine!

On the basis that any fan of Jonathan Richman had to be alright with me, I went and bought The Rockingbirds' first single, 'Jonathan, Jonathan', on no more than a good review in the NME, whose opinion I had already been wary of since 1978 when I bought an album by The Pop Group (or it might have been The Birthday Party) on the strength of a glowing write-up by someone who I assume was either profoundly deaf or doing it as a joke.

Returning the album to the shop within the time it would have taken to listen to it in its entirety, I was allowed to exchange it for The Fall's 'Totales Turns', which - while not without its challenging aspects - remains a favourite today.

The Rockingbirds single didn't disappoint, and the album which followed was an absolute belter. I went to see them play their last gig, and heard about the death of Kurt Cobain on the way there.

When Nirvana's 'Nevermind' came out, I borrowed it from the local library on CD, and remarked to the chaps I was lodging with at the time that if the band came over to the UK I wouldn't mind seeing them. They pointed out that we'd all seen them a few weeks before at the Reading Festival, but try as I might I could remember nothing about them, unlike most other bands there they had made no impression whatsoever. The next year they headlined, I lost interest after a couple of songs and went to see Tindersticks in the little tent instead, and have no regrets about doing so. Unlike, say, The Rockingbirds, or Tindersticks, they just didn't do it for me live.

The Rockingbirds gig was fantastic, it's a real shame that nobody bought their records, which seemed to be the main reason they split - they certainly appeared to have no problems with each others company during that last hoedown. I was wandering around the stone circle on the sunday of Glastonbury this year, and heard Rockingbirds songs blasting across the field between the circle and the Park Stage, and realised that it was Alan Tyler (the band's singer) playing in one of the guest spots. In good voice, too.

Doubting my stamina would allow me to get there and back and still remain upright for the rest of the day's anticipated fun, I sat and listened in the sunshine, grooving to the ideal summer soundtrack.

I still dust this first album off regularly, and - having checked its availability (zilch, apparently) - thought that I'd put it up here.

Hope you like it!

The Rockingbirds

Tracks are:
Gradually Learning
Further Down The Line
Standing At The Doorstep of Love
Jonathan, Jonathan
The Day My Life Begins
Time Drives The Truck
Halfway to Comatose
In Tall Buildings
Only One Flower

It's on Mediafire, here.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

I mow a lot of grass, o Lord, I pop a lot of pills (Lem-Sip mainly)

We've all been feeling under the weather recently, in various states of 'flu, colds, and winter run-down-ness, so felt that a bit of medical gubbins was called for.

Here is my prescription for feeling slightly better if you're tucked up with something unpleasant, and hopefully not as unpleasant as the half-eaten bananas our smallest has taken to leaving in our bed when we're not looking.

I think I've mentioned before that while becoming increasingly grumpy heading towards the prime of life, I find myself thinking of records I would sooner have scraped out my eardrums with knitting needles than heard just one more time in my youth, and find that they seem to have not only lost their emotional charge, but are actually quite hummable and some actually bear re-acquaintance.

Hence the inclusion of a rather clunky disco number, and another by the Jackson Five - which I remember mainly because I had it on one of those 'Top of the Pops' compilations covered by sounding-slightly-alikes in the early seventies, back in the days when I couldn't afford real records.

When I was about twelve, the boys from our street all gathered around one of our houses to listen to records on his big sister's record player, and I recall being subjected to a Queen album and 'Argus' by Wishbone Ash.

I commented at the time that I'd sooner be listening to T Rex or Slade, and was slapped down fairly harshly by the older boys, who told me in no uncertain terms that I'd soon grow out that kids' stuff and listen to proper grown-up music. I remember thinking at the time that this was highly unlikely to happen, and now I'm old enough almost to be a grandfather to any of those boys I would still rather listen to T Rex or Slade than Wishbone Ash or Queen. 'Seven Seas of Rye' was a pretty ace single, but even after Live Aid I remained steadfastly allergic to Fred and the gang. I downloaded 'Argus' again recently just to see if it had improved with age. To anyone considering doing the same, I would strongly recommend thinking long and hard before doing so.

While on the subject of records not being entirely accessible to all tastes, the last track on here is a gem I first heard on the late John Walters' show about twenty years ago, 'Tableau of a Lithotomy', and now - thanks to the wonderful wobbly winterweb - it's possible to enjoy it all over again.

Very few people I played a tape of it to at the time shared my enthusiasm for it, but it's worth listening to once just to see - or even imagine seeing - the expression on the face of anyone in the room with you while it's playing.

A lithotomy, by the way, is a bladder operation.

Have a happy new year, see you in 2009.

Get well soon!

1 Julie Andrews - A Spoonful of Sugar
2 Dr Feelgood - Down at the Doctor's
3 Miami Sound Machine - Doctor Beat
4 Jackson 5 - Doctor My Eyes
5 Beatles - Dr Robert
6 Electric Prunes - Doctor Do-Good
7 BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Dr Who
8 5000 Volts - Doctor Kiss Kiss
9 The Adverts - Gary Gilmore's Eyes
10 The Other Half - Mr Pharmacist
11 Modern Lovers - Hospital
12 Johnny Rivers - Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu
13 Eddie Cochran - Nervous Breakdown
14 Anthony Newley - If I Could Talk To The Animals
15 Bachman Turner Overdrive - You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
16 Lovin' Spoonful - Jugband Music
17 Medicine Head - Rising Sun
18 Carter Family - Keep on the Sunny Side
19 Marin Marais - Tableau of a Lithotomy

It's on Mediafire here.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

But Emily (and everybody else) loved him

One of my most treasured possessions comes from my time working in a now-closed bookshop. I asked if I could take it home and no-one else wanted it so I did just that.

It is a self-published pamphlet, containing an A4 piece of paper from the company Teleordering, who deal - or dealt, it was a long time ago and things may have changed since then - with individual book orders to publishers from bookshops.

When a lady came in and asked to order a copy of a pamphlet from Pogle Press we were not hopeful that we would ever see it, but it arrived quickly - indeed, the publisher, in this case also the author, had written a little note on the form.

In green ink, a jaunty exclamation mark was placed by the printed 'Order Processing Department', and in the space below was written, in the same green ink:

'ere y'are then.
2 copies, one a present for (the name of our customer), the other for yourselves.
No charge.

The title of the pamphlet is "The Emperor's New Clothes: hopes for a future for the world", and the author, Oliver Postgate.

One of the very first programmes I remember watching as a small child was The Pogles, and having recently seen it again on video it is just as good as I remembered it being. It was made by Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin - and chronologically fell, as far as I can remember, between Noggin the Nog and The Clangers.

Our little girl still won't watch it, as the witch in it gave her nightmares as a small child, which may have something to do with why the BBC never saw fit to revive it in the way that they regularly do with the Clangers and Bagpuss.

All through my childhood - and had the films not stopped being made it would have been through adulthood as well - I can remember the excitement of hearing Oliver Postgate's wonderful voice coming out of the telly while all sorts of strange things were happening visually. Just three weeks ago I showed our smallest a video of The Clangers, and it is the first time I have seen him fully engrossed in any programme, although I've been told that In The Night Garden works also, sitting quietly in front of it mostly, occasionally acting little bits out in the way which only two-year-olds can.

For many years he seemed to disappear completely, and then a few years ago published his wonderful autobiography, "Seeing Things".

When he died a couple of weeks ago I felt extremely sad, and when I mentioned him in the office everyone else admitted to the same emotion.

I found a very poor recording which I had made a couple of years back when he appeared on Desert Island Discs on Radio 4. The sound is not good, to the point of being pretty terrible. It overloaded a lot, and is distorted, but I thought I would share it should anyone else have missed it and would like to hear it.

Hopefully Radio 4 will repeat it, but since the BBC now appear to consider notable deaths something almost entirely lacking in newsworthiness it doesn't seem very likely.

There is a lovely article about him on the BBC website, written by Peter Firmin's daughter Emily - here.

Oliver Postgate on Desert Island Discs

As I've already said, the sound quality is not good, but just about listenable.

It's on Mediafire, here.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Have been trying to get into the spirit of Christmas by listening to a lot of seasonal music, most of which I haven't heard before - and having listened it's quite clear why most of it is not on a loop in supermarkets. I've been impressed this year by just how jolly the staff are managing to appear - I worked in shops for years, and at this time of year it isn't easy to keep a smile on your face for very long days, often seven days a week.

I can't help thinking, though, that the smiles might be thinner if they were made to listen to some of the ones which got away. Of the hours of cheery novelty songs I've listened to, only "Christmas Time With The Three Stooges" - and even as a Three Stooges fan I approached that with some trepidation - really merits being brought to wider attention, in my opinion, and has passed the 'keeping kids quiet in cars' test not once but twice already.

Inevitably, it's over at Dr Forrest's Cheeze Factory, here, along with all sorts of other artefacts crawling out from under the decorations.

I'm hoping to get time to do a 'Best of weird Christmas records I've listened to so that you don't have to plough through them all yourself compilation' in time for Christmas, but it depends on how many Dad's Taxi runs are required between now and then as to whether or not that will happen.

At the risk of returning to one of my favourite soap-box subjects, I can't help thinking how tricky the compilation form is.

It is so rare, for instance, to find a cover-mounted CD with anything that hasn't got enough thumping great clunkers on to detract from the rest of the golden grooves therein.

It was hearing a documentary on the tribulations of EMI on Radio Four yesterday morning which reminded me of this particular compilation, from the November 1997 issue of Vox magazine, celebrating 100 years of EMI. It was on heavy rotation in my shop-keeping days, as there is enough variety to keep everybody happy, and there's not a duff track on it. Even bands I can't usually stand (Dexy's, Deep Purple) are represented by good, solid tracks.

Hope you enjoy it, thanks for stopping by!

chEMIstry: A Hundred Years of EMI

Tracks are:

Gene Vincent - Bluejean Bop
Fats Domino - I'm Walkin'
Cliff Richard - Dynamite
Billy May - Mission Impossible
The Beach Boys - Dance Dance Dance
The Ventures - Hawaii Five-O
The Trashmen - Surfin' Bird
The Animals - We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place
Manfred Mann - Tired of Trying, Bored With Lying
Inez & Charlie Foxx - Mockingbird
Syd Barrett - Octopus
The Band - King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
Canned Heat - Let's Work Together
Deep Purple - Hush
Dr Feelgood - Down At The Doctors
Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)
Dexy's Midnight Runners - Plan B
Blondie - Union City Blue
Morrissey - Suedehead
Blur (featuring Francoise Hardy) - To The End
Supergrass - Nothing More's Gonna Get In My Way
Sparklehorse with Thom Yorke - Wish You Were Here
Meredith Brooks - Somedays
Murray Lachlan Young - I'm Being Followed By The Rolling Stones

In response to comments last week, (for which thanks!) I'm reluctant to use Megaupload because (a) I can do without all that Flash rubbish slowing down my PC, (b) I get really annoyed by the pop-ups it throws up left, right and centre, and (c) as this is a sunday teatime family show, some of their advertising is a bit past the watershed for my taste.

This week I'm trying Mediafire. It's also on Rapidshare, but I wish they would make their minds up how they want the thing to work...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Original Modern Lovers posted here!

The Modern Lovers original early 1970s demos have just been posted here.

It's worth checking out for the original of 'Don't Let Our Love Go To Waste', which was later covered by Galaxie 500.

Great blog, too!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Our time is right now - here in the morning of our lives...

As the days get shorter I'm finding it harder to get stuff done, and am looking forward to the turning of the year and longing for the return of spring.

More and more at the moment I'm turning to the music of optimism. For me, Leonard Cohen's 'Songs of Love and Hate' is the ideal summer album, because after mulling it over during the short dark night one can then run outside just a few short hours later and feel the warmth of the sun again. Stepping into an avalanche is something more easily enjoyed, I find, when one has the freedom to climb out again without having to chip through centuries of permafrost.

During the grey old winter, I yearn for something to put a spring in my step, and find that a bit of Kevin Ayers (long avoided after being made to listen to a Soft Machine album once, but now a firm favourite having discovered that Joy of a Toy is mercifully lacking in freeform jazz!), Robyn Hitchcock (preferably with the Egyptians), The Frank and Walters, or pre-disco Bee Gees does the trick.

Someone I can enjoy at any time of the year, though, is Jonathan Richman, and this live album from 1977 is another album which I adore, and would challenge anyone not to fall in love with on a first listen. He's too ethereal to be summed up by any single one of his many albums, but - even though this is one of his more preposterous efforts - for me it sums up most of the reasons that I fell in love with the man and his music - and what a night out that gig must have been!

Even though they charted within a couple of months of one another, several years passed between the recording of Jonathan Richman's first and second (and only) hit singles, which immediately raised questions about what anyone trying to investigate his ouevre having heard only these should expect.

The first hit - Roadrunner - burst out of the radio sounding like the last great undiscovered riff, although radio dj's also played the b-side - a quieter, acoustic recording which if it hadn't been for the adenoids could have been by someone else entirely.

The second - Egyptian Reggae - sounded like it had been made up on the spot in a miked-up dustbin, though in the context of the parent album, 'Rock and Roll With The Modern Lovers', its production values sound higher than most of the other tracks on there.

By this time he'd already travelled as far musically as many bands would in a lifetime, from ragged keyboard-driven Velvets-influenced riffage to almost the quietest live act anywhere, past or present, and going on to eschew almost any form of amplification regardless of the size of the hall.

On one particularly memorable night at the Town and Country Club in London, with an incarnation of the Modern Lovers consisting of himself on vocals and saxophone and Brennan Totten on guitar and drum (sic), he asked the soundman over and over to turn it down - until eventually only the first few rows could hear, and the T&C felt more than usually cavernous that evening as the sound continued to fade almost to a murmur in the corner.

I first saw the Modern Lovers live at Dingwalls in London in 1983. I stood down the front, transfixed, and it was only afterwards that a couple of strangers pointed out that I'd been standing next to David Bowie - and hadn't noticed. Apparently I also stood next to John Peel at a Fall gig in Cambridge in the 90s. Of both missed opportunities to have said hello to a couple of heroes of mine, it is the latter which I regret most.

For a few years I travelled wherever practical to see him and whichever incarnation of his Modern Lovers were by his side at the time. I even met him briefly outside the Electric Ballroom as we were queueing outside and he wandered past down the road carrying his guitar. I shook his hand and he signed the piece of paper I proffered with the air of someone who wasn't used to being asked for autographs. That was July 4th, American Independence Day, 1985, where he and the Modern Lovers - Asa Brebner and Andy Paley on that tour - were billed to play a twenty-minute set supporting Green on Red. To say that they blew the roof off is an understatement.

It was just astonishing, of the many, many occasions I saw him live I don't think he was ever better than on that night.

In those days I used to smuggle a little cassette recorder into gigs, and have recorded evidence that the shouting of 'Jonathan! Jonathan!' and stamping for an encore lasted not only for the interval between the sets, but through the entirety of Green on Red's performance.

Several years later he played the Acoustic Tent at Glastonbury, and a portion of the audience attempted to dismantle the venue in protest at his being denied the opportunity to play another encore. Someone I was speaking to afterwards described it as being almost as hairy as Reading the year before, when the second stage was practically destroyed because Edwyn Collins had not been allowed to come back on.

People like Eno and David Bowie had reputations for being musical chameleons, but Jojo (as he is known to the initiated), really lived the part, and while until the late 1980s no two of his records sounded very much like the last in terms of their production, just about anything with his name on between 1974's 'Modern Lovers' (released in 1976) and 'Jonathan Goes Country' (1990) are consistently life-affirming and will make anyone with a pulse grin from ear-to-ear regardless of where you're coming from.

Since the early '90s his music has not, in my opinion, been as consistent, although I still buy his albums and would not pass an opportunity to see him live again if it arose.

While his talent is idiosyncratic and erratic, for the last thirty years I've found myself going back to him, and wanting more, and I can't think of any other artists whose body of work offers so much joy yet remain so widely undiscovered.

This album appears to be out of print, selling for ridiculous money at the moment. If you're already a fan then grab it and enjoy. If you've never heard of him then prepare to be blown away - then look out for 'The Modern Lovers', 'It's Time for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers', 'Jonathan Goes Country', and - from 1996, his last truly consistent album, a complete return to form - 'Surrender to Jonathan'.

Unlike this one most seem to be available, so buy 'em while they're still out there!

The Modern Lovers Live (1977)

Tracks are:

1. I'm a Little Airplane
2. Hey There Little Insect
3. Egyptian Reggae
4. Ice Cream Man
5. I'm a Little Dinosaur
6. My Little Kookenhaken
7. South American Folk Song
8. New England
9. Morning of Our Lives

Since Rapidshare, have re-introduced their waiting times between downloads, I'm putting this up on Badongo as well - so take your pick.

I'd be interested to know which, if any, file sharing thingy people prefer to use, and why - so why not let me know in the comments? Thanks!