Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now That Mermaid's Dressed In Tears

Seth Lakeman. Sings. Plays violin (and viola and guitar). Is from Yelverton, Devon (not the home of many 'rock' stars previously) Has taken traditional English music and given it a right good kick up the arse. Love him.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

London In The Rain

It's been raining big time in London this afternoon, the sky doing that evil-bruiseblack-in-places-and-cracked/shot-through-with-lurid-gold thing.

Which makes me think of rain songs, and how many great ones there are.

Something about this weather phenomenon that's desolate and melancholy and/or crazy to walk through/listen to the pitter patter of as you lie with The One You Love (etc) seems to bring out the best in songwriters.

So...here are three rain songs for you from The Ghost: one happy, one sad and one contrasting a happy rainy day past (with him) with a lonely rainy day present (without him).

(Ah yes dear reader, there was so much more to Minnie Ripperton than just 'Lovin' You'....).

Blossom Dearie - 'I Like London In The Rain' (from 'For Cafe Apres Midi' - buy)
Frank Sinatra - 'Here's That Rainy Day' (from 'No-One Cares' - buy)
Minnie Ripperton - 'Rainy Day In Centerville' (from 'Come Into My Garden' - buy)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

24 Years Gathering Dust

News Flash: to commemorate what I understand is the 25th anniversary of their pioneering label, the groovy people at 4AD have exclusively licensed 5 rare tracks from their archive to the iTunes Music Store.

Most excitement - not least in this quarter - has been generated by the inclusion amongst these tracks of the anthemic 9 minute 'Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust' by This Mortal Coil (1983).

This originally occupied a whole side of the 12" vinyl 'Song To The Siren' EP (not to mention the beginning of Side 2 of a seminal mix tape I compiled in 1986 and am attempting to replicate on CD, but let's not go there right now) and has, rather shamefully, never been available digitally before.

The new 4AD/iTunes 'compilation' is called 'Full Of Dust And Guitars' and also features tracks by The Wolfgang Press, Rachel Goswell (ex-Slowdive - aaah! Slowdive!), His Name Is Alive and MARRS (yes, that one).

Remember, as they used to say on TV ads for dodgy Richard Clayderman box sets, This Item Is Not Available In The Shops.

It would seem to me therefore that acquiring 'Sixteen Days', should you not already possess it and a USB turntable to upload it, would be an excellent use of 79p (Digital Rights Management fascist bloody 'protection' software notwithstanding).
This has been a public service announcement.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I Know There's No Way I Can Hasten The Buds To Bloom

Something's got me thinking about Heidi Berry.

I don't know what it is, but I suspect that the other day when I walked with one of my little girls to the playpark and we spied some small, tightly-clasped-shut fluffy green magnolia buds on a tree in a London garden I may have thought of the imminence of spring and I may have hummed to myself my favourite song on the subject - Ms Berry's 'Hasten The Buds To Bloom' from her album 'Firefly' (1987).

Heidi was born in Boston, Mass, but grew up in London, England. She signed to Alan McGee's Creation Records when it was the home of bands like My Bloody Valentine, The Pastels, House Of Love, Felt and a pre-Screamadelica Primal Scream, but her music owed more to the English folk tradition as developed by Sandy Denny & Fairport Convention than it did to the late 80s indie scene.

I first heard her on a Creation compilation called 'Doing It For The Kids' , side 2 of which opens with her long, lovely, lyrical 'Northshore Train'. It's easily the best (though least typical) track on the album; certainly the most timeless.

She signed to 4AD in the early 90s and sang on the third 4AD 'collective' This Mortal Coil album 'Blood' before going on to record three solo abums for the label.

According to Heidi's website, she now teaches Songwriting and Live Performance at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music having last year

'.....enrolled on the songwriting course run by Ray Davies at The Arvon Foundation. She found this experience, “renewing, inspiring and the hardest work I’ve ever done”. The result is, Heidi is currently recording a collection of new songs. She says, “I’ve got about 40 songs now. How and when they will be released, I haven’t the faintest idea. I just know I need to do this with all my heart.” '

Here are three Heidi tracks - two we've mentioned and that you can buy on the CD issue of 'Beneath The Waves' which contains both the original album of that title and her debut; the third a superb cover of a Husker Du song from her 1991 album 'Love'.

Heidi Berry - 'Northshore Train'
Heidi Berry - 'Hasten The Buds To Bloom'
Heidi Berry - 'Up In The Air' (Husker Du cover)

Creation Records were long ago sold (out) to The Man, but there's a decent site for them here.

Hope the buds bloom wherever you are soon...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Return Of The Smalltown Girl

Has there been a female singer in the last twenty years with a voice as sad, distinctive, unaffected and English as Tracey Thorn's?

I've listened to it and loved it for more than a quarter of a century now - from the wilfully artless student days of The Marine Girls through the beautifully simple acoustic sketches of her solo debut 'A Distant Shore' along Everything But The Girl's melodic trail through indie jazz to torch balladry and House and onto her collaborations with Massive Attack, Deep Dish and German electro duo Tiefschwarz (the excellent dance track 'Damage', her last release).

Terrific news then that, 25 years after that first solo album, Tracey has recorded a follow up 'Out Of The Woods' which is released on March 5th.

We are promised "bed-sit disco torch songs"- so no change there then - recorded with a veritable who's who of dance music producers. As Tracey writes...

'....my main collaborator/producer is Ewan Pearson, and we've done seven tracks together. A cover of Arthur Russell's Get Around To It, featuring some wonky freakout sax from Gabe of The Rapture. A new song called It's All True, co-written with Sasse and Darshan Jesrani (Metro Area), which is pure early 80's New York dance pop. A piano ballad which Ewan says sounds like "The Carpenters on acid". Also a cover of King's Cross by the Pet Shop Boys, which isn't on the actual album (had too many songs!), but will be available as a bonus track somewhere, and downloadable from iTunes'

Can't wait.

Here's a sample to tide you over

Tracey Thorn - 'Grand Canyon'
There's a great interview with Tracey in this month's The Word magazine - website here.

Tracey's Myspace page? Here.
Pre-order the album here.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sometimes I Feel So Lonely (1977 cont.)

Reading all those 1977 retrospectives – and maybe even Monday’s Ghost post - you could be forgiven for thinking that the year was all Sod The Jubilee (UK) and CBGB heaven (US), but the fact is that, for the most part, the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic were dominated by The Eagles’ Hotel California (released in late 76), Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the live double Wings Over America and Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life.

Singing cop David Soul was HUGE in Britain - and the 12 year old me was very much enjoying ABBA’s Arrival, thank you very much.

But ask me thirty years on for two albums I’d take from 1977 and I’d pick a perilous path through the burgeoning punk/new wave releases (debuts this year from The Clash, Pistols, Elvis Costello, Wire, The Jam and The Damned) and the mass market mega sellers (look out! It’s ELO’s Out Of The Blue!) to David Bowie’s Low and Steely Dan’s Aja.

We’ll return to the Dan in future posts if we may, because they seem to me to be one of the most widely misunderstood and criminally under appreciated acts of the era and I’m engaged in a sort of haphazard campaign to get 2007 people listening to them, but for now - to Mr Bowie (and Mr Eno…)…

Phew! Does this album INVENT the bloody 1980s or what?! In a really good way I mean – doom laden synth, existential angst, coke-wasted emptiness, urban alienation...would Ultravox, Japan, Gary Numan, JOY DIVISION!!! have had careers without it???

A masterpiece. As I expect you know.

Sadly (and perversely) the 90s CD reissue with its excellent bonus tracks is no longer available, but fear not, The Ghost is here to help.

Buy the original track-listed version here and sample a couple of those extras on us...

David Bowie - 'All Saints'
David Bowie - 'Some Are'

As they said at the time - 'There's new wave, there's old wave - and there's David Bowie' (thanks Alex).

Monday, February 05, 2007

I Recall Lightning Struck Itself (1977)

'No Elvis, Beatles and the Rolling Stones' sang The Clash memorably in the patently Year Zero, nostalgia-rejecting '1977' - but 30 years later, that Jubilee summer itself is an occasion for the inevitable photospread retrospectives, archive interview reprints and glossy souvenir supplements that sell backward-looking monthly music magazines here in the UK.

Yesterday's rebel music, today's Golden Oldies - ah, 'twas ever thus.

Of course the past music that punk was rejecting was really the rather more recent Emerson Lake & PalmerYes proggy stadium stuff, and not the rock 'n' roll of the 50s and 60s. As it's often noted, no-one was more 'in love with the rock 'n' roll world' than Messrs Strummer & Jones (pre-Clash, Strummer had fronted The 101ers, a band firmly rooted in sharp-sounding R&B) and even those 'can't play' Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Glen Matlock were fairly competent Eddie Cochran-loving rock 'n' rollers on the quiet.

UK punk's attitude, energy and catalystic ETHIC aside ('Woodstock coming at you - get off your arse!' - J. Lydon), perhaps the most important and durable musical legacy of 1977 came from bands like Television, whose taut, wiry, rhythmic, spare and spacey sound and unabashed artiness (very New York, that) pretty much kick-started the whole Post-Punk/New Wave thing. Hard to imagine Gang Of Four, Wire, New Order, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, and, God knows, The Futureheads or The Klaxons without them.

Hats off to NME legend Nick Kent, who saw it all even then...

'They are one band in a million; the songs are some of the greatest ever. The album is Marquee Moon.'

Enjoy an un-punk like ten (!) minutes of radicalism on us....

Television - 'Marquee Moon'

...then celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of '1977 and all that' the right way - by buying the whole thing, remastered & expanded, here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Saturday Night's Drunken Dreams

No, of course he's not 'the Top Shop Mike Skinner'(and variants) you lazy broadsheet music journos.

He may be 2007's Daniel 'Television Personalities' Treacey (younger readers, Google now); autre main, he may be 2007's Jilted John.

Still - wise, topical words (Wotcha Jade Goody!) funky retro backing track, good to sing along to in the car.

No wonder Va Kidz are buying it by the cartload.

We like!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sometimes Less Is More

A recent conversation with a friend who got one of those USB turntables for Christmas and is busy uploading all his old LPs and singles set me to thinking about the music I have on vinyl that I haven't bought again on CD.

Aside from stuff I don't play anymore (I feel no compulsion nowadays to listen to The Housemartins, for example) and stuff you can't get anymore (old jazz LPs I bought second hand from Ray's Jazz when it was a real shop next to a greasy spoon in Shaftesbury Avenue, not a 'concession' in Foyles bookstore) there is some stuff here I absolutely love, that I have had for 20 years or more, that I continue to play - and of which the CD version just seems....wrong.

One such album is 'Songs For DistinguƩ Lovers' by Billie Holiday.

On the original LP there are six tracks of around 5-6 mins each (three per side).

The songs, which were already iconic standards when Ms Holiday recorded them with a small group of jazz legends (including Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Jimmy Rowles) and no strings in three days in January 1957 (two years before her death at the age of 44) are

Side 1

Day In, Day Out
A Foggy Day
Stars Fell On Alabama

Side 2

One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
Just One Of Those Things
I Didn't Know What Time It Was

You could add nothing, and you could take nothing away.

In little more than thirty minutes the LP tells a story with economy, artistry and restraint.

It's as perfect a selection of songs and performances as you could imagine.

And the warm, full sound that comes out of that black plastic is a cruel reminder of all we have flattened out of music in our pursuit of the 'perfect' digital sound.

So when I was rummaging in a music store lately and I came across the CD version -remastered, perfectly packaged with a cardboard facsimile of the original record cover, additional sleeve notes and WHAT! Another six tracks from the original sessions! BOLTED ON THE END???!!!! I sniffed sadly at it, and put it back.

Would you sellotape some extra characters into an original Da Vinci cartoon because you found some other sketches he did at the same sitting?

You would not.

For me this album will always end

I didn't know what year it was
Life was no prize
I wanted love and here it was
Shining out of your eyes.

I'm wise
And I know what time it is now.

(Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart).