Monday, December 31, 2007

Hootenanny Malarkey

So what are you doing New Year's Eve?

After too many years of high-expectation evenings that ended in disappointment, rows, vomit, physical violence (once) and excessively-priced cab journeys home (always), me and Mrs H decided quite some time ago that Staying In might be the New Going Out for this night. So we loaded up on the champers and the Guinness and the logs and the coal for the fire and shoved on a bit of Jools and - it was lovely. Then we had the babies and staying in seemed kind of necessary anyhow. Then the babies got bigger and we went out in the pre-mad early part of the evening to a local restaurant we could walk to, and then home and put them to bed and champers and Guinness and Jools and...and so it stayed.

I would quite like to go out - but only if it could be to one of those New Year parties they have in old movies where it's New York City in 1961 and everyone's dressed for dinner and wearing pointy hats and there's a big clock on the wall that rings the chimes and ticker tape comes down at 12 and a swing band plays 'Auld Lang Syne' and we dance through the night (before getting an excessively-priced cab home, probably).

It's a funny old night.

From experience I'd say if it makes you sad, have a bath, go to bed early, wake up without a hangover, go for a walk and be glad you're alive. If it makes you happy, make someone else happy and know that I envy you.

This is my favourite version of my favourite New Year's Eve song ever, no contest - Frank Loesser, whaddaguy.

Nancy Wilson - 'What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?' (1963)

Happy 2008 lovely people x

Sunday, December 30, 2007

(Old) Song For The Departing Year

God I loved this band; and I changed my life when this record came out you know...

I vow that it's goodbye
To the old ways

See you tomorra for a NYE postie...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

It Is Christmas Eve Babe

And so...we tell stories.

And in the stories are all our hopes and fears - all the things we want to be and all the things we try to flee.

But at this time our hopes most of all; that there can be a place where we default to goodwill, that everyone is loved, that the lowly are as important as the rich - and that there shall be peace, for ever and ever amen.

And we bring our gifts, which are nothing special, but are all we can afford.

And we want it so hard to be true, this time..


'My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?'

- Bob Hope

Merry Christmas everyone and thanks so much for being here throughout the year.

This blog is now closed for the season.


Jeff Buckley - 'Corpus Christi Carol' (1994)
John Lennon - 'Imagine (Take 1)' (1971)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Let Me Feel Happy Just One More Time

It's the last Friday before Christmas and I think we deserve a little dance tonight don't you? And here's the weirdest thing; something made me want to post Kim Weston and I went to look her up and I found it was her birthday yesterday too. Shpooky.

Is she the best least-famous Motown diva ever and is 'Take Me In Your Arms' the greatest Motown single Joe Public has never heard?

Yes, very possibly! Now turn these up loud, get off your harris and get out on that floor!

Kim Weston - 'Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)' (1965)

Kim Weston - 'Helpless' (1966)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Old Bragg Fan's Fight Song

Stone me but the Bard Of Barking is 50 of your English years old today.

He's the artist I've seen 'live' most over the past 20-odd years, through all the benefits and the protests and the campaigns and the celebrations and yes, through all those Prime Ministers too: the last time was on the England, Half English tour where we soberly had to conclude that the new songs were not exactly brilliant; the best times probably the nights at the Town & Country Club Camden, The Thatch on the Holloway Road and the back room at The Half Moon Putney where we said hello to him at the bar before he went on.

He was always funny and modest and righteously angry and true, and he often made us cry.

So Happy Birthday Stephen William Bragg, electric busker, one-man Clash, songwriter, author, pundit, protester and Dad.

You don't need our Christmas Cards, you already have our hearts...

Billy Bragg - 'Days Like These' (1985)
Billy Bragg - 'Ontario, Quebec And Me' (1991)
Billy Bragg - 'Brickbat' (1996)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Christmas Yer Arse

I work alone dahlink, so I do not get an 'office party'. Instead I usually get together with a couple of old muckers who also now work for themselves for 'the office Christmas party for people without offices'. This is much better than those 'team' lunches used to be, mostly because the jollity is genuine rather than forced, no-one makes you go back to work afterwards and you don't have to spend two hours in the not-so-thrilling company of Philip from Bought Ledger (bless him).

I'm off to this 'event' today: it'll start in a swanky West End restaurant and end up in a boozer and that's just how it should be. Then tonight I'm trolling down to Brixton to see The Pogues. Ha! Sweet sherries all round then - and Nurofen and Lemsip tomorrow I shouldn't wonder.

So the obvious thing to post at this point would be that song, but I'm not going to because I figure a) most of you will already have it b) those of you who haven't but want it should go buy it because apparently it may prevent the thoroughly rubbish Leon Jackson (who unlike some previous winners of the X Factor cannot even sing in tune) from becoming the UK Christmas Number One. It was riding high on downloads alone, has just been reissued and is probably more likely to do the 'block' job than Malcolm Middleton; and at least it's a proper Christmas record.

So, for the craic instead..

The Pogues - 'Sally MacLennane' (1985)

Sigh. Wish me luck companeros and I'll (hopefully) meet you here tomorrow, but please, nothing too loud then.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


They really don't make 'em like this anymore...

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Ronco Christmas

'From Ronco....the Perfect Christmas Gift....' - ah, how that phrase brings back the memories.

You know, for a small-town English household I think we had quite a lot of Ronco stuff - the Veg-O-Matic, the Buttoneer ('leave the sewing to grandma!') the thing you could brush the sofa with then flip round and the dust would come off again (what was that called?) and of course, the Christmas LPs - most notably 'Ronco Presents - A Christmas Present' (co-ordinates 9, 3 on the grid display above - blue snowscene cover just level with that bloke's shoulder).

Johnny Cash singing 'Peace On Earth', Tony Bennett doing 'Chestnuts Roasting', Doris Day's lip quivering take on 'Toyland' and a tremendously euphoric orchestral 'Carol Of The Bells' - they were all here. Big stars, yes, but there must have been contractual tussles a-plenty because no-one was singing the Christmas songs they actually made famous (Johnny Mathis did 'White Christmas' if I recall...not right that is it?).

Anyway easily the best thing about the record was the gatefold sleeve that opened into an ingeniously crafted cardboard pop-up of Santa's workshop at the North Pole; we used to put this proudly on top of the telly every year it was so good! Yes! You can keep your Radiohead box sets!

I've been after this track in particular from 'A Christmas Present' for years and finally tracked down a digital version last week from what I suspect is the internet equivalent of a dodgy bloke in the pub car park.

So here it is in all its glory for your Yuletide delectation. It'll make you happy! It'll make you want to sip 70s cocktails! It'll make you wish you kept your Record-o-Vac-o-Matic to give that vinyl a right good hoovering!

Aretha Franklin - 'Kissin' By The Mistletoe' (date unknown - timeless)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

These Moments Given

This isn't 'a Christmas song' in the usual sense but I associate it with the time of year because of the lyrics (of which more in a bit) and because I got the album it is from for Christmas the year it came out.

It most certainly falls into the category of Songs That Frequently Make Me Cry (Especially After A Few Mulled Wines); a moment when an artist's vision seems to crystallise into a single piece. It's about nothing less than the fragility of this life *gulp*- and it's all the more poignant when you learn that Kate Bush lost her mother while working on the record.

The song is full of images of precarious beauty

On a balcony in New York
It's just started to snow
He meets us at the lift
Like Douglas Fairbanks waving his walking stick.

But he isn't well at all...

I seem not to be alone in loving this track. It's nominated by a reader in The Word's website thread on The Greatest Bits Ever in songs ....'the last 2 minutes are all gorgeous, but when she sings 'Hey there Michael, d'you really love me?' in THAT voice. Michael's not about to say no'


I have to say I find Kate's 'official' Christmas song (from the Lionheart/Never For Ever era) a tad over-trilling - but this one does it for me every time.

Kate Bush - 'Moments Of Pleasure' (1993)

Hey! Some party music tomorrow. Maybe.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nadolig Llawen

You can read on the internet that this song 'is based on the short story by Dylan Thomas' but I can't see a connection beyond the use of the title, and perhaps a similar stream-of-seasonal-consciousness in the rhythm of its words; in fact, the Cale song doesn't mention Christmas at all, but does Halloween - which with the mistletoe and 'candle green' and 'murdered oranges' seems to evoke a kind of impressionistic paganism, if anything. Anyway, I've absolutely loved it ever since Stevie my small Welsh friend slapped in on a tape for me twentysomething years ago, and I hope you will too.

John Cale - 'A Child's Christmas In Wales' (1973)

Cale's work outside of the VU is always interesting, sometimes very strange and frequently glorious and I'd heartily recommend more to you; this song's album is a good place to start.

These Northern hemisphere dark nights and short days, these firelit evenings, make me long for a good bedtime story. Perhaps like me you'll tuck up with this tonight. As my (honorary) Auntie Haulwen would have said - 'Nos da'.

'A Child's Christmas In Wales' (part 1) - read by Dylan Thomas (1952)
'A Child's Christmas In Wales' (part 2) - read by Dylan Thomas (1952)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Post For Blue Saturday

The rain falls, the whisky pours...bring on the Amy.

You take care now Ms W x

Friday, December 07, 2007

We Are The Mods

I wish this was a picture of my copy of this issue of Smash Hits but I'm afraid the whole ring-bound lot of them got shoved in the Aged Ps recycling sometime last year. Yes! That recently! Until then they'd been preserved in the bedside table of my childhood room, the table on top of which the red digital Bush clock-radio sat, radio dial lit up tungsten yellow at night as I listened to the Radio Luxembourg chart rundown till eleven, then the news and the 'powerplay', with the volume down low so's not to wake them in the room next door.

I can't be objective about this record because every time I hear it, I hear it that first time - it felt like ours, a statement from the side of the school disco who'd take a Tamla Motown tune over any other and had started turning up at proper grown up night clubs wearing our Dads' discarded thin, navy, 60s ties and v-neck pullovers and pointy shoes and officially not giving a shit.

The Jam were our Beatles and Secret Affair looked for a glorious, brief moment like they might be our Small Faces - tight and soul-flecked and sharp and purple-hearted up - and Ian Page was young, so young and cool.

They weren't our Faces. We bought or taped and danced to their singles but we didn't invest in their albums. The Jam kept movin' on up and even they were gone in a few years. We hit the Upper Sixth and a few of us started bringing jazz records in. Noodly huh? End of an era.

Secret Affair - 'Time For Action' (1979)

Thursday, December 06, 2007


It's raining like bejasus here this morning and doesn't look like stopping anytime soon. I really can't get my head round the Christmas thing just yet (too early), but I have been enjoying some winter-themed songs instead.

This lovely little thing from Bob Dylan's rather neglected New Morning album, which he sings in his warm ol' Nashville Skyline voice, has cheered me very much, and against all odds, on this dull December day.

Bob Dylan - 'Winterlude' (1970)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Lost In The Nineties

Why do some great records go unsung? Lots of reasons I suppose [insert yours here], but sometimes I reckon bands are just unlucky - they get signed - fine; they get the album done - lovely; it's released to good reviews in serious papers - excellent; and then....then nothing much.

They fail to capture the zeitgeist, whatever that is, don't get played much on the radio, don't build that groundswell of support through gigging we all hear so much about, get drowned out by noisier others - maybe just aren't brassy enough to tart their wares as required. And, let's face it, a fair bit of tarting is required. What's more, ten years ago there weren't even bloggers to come on to...

And so, this. A good record! That's been around for 11 years! But I am the only person I know that owns it and I've never seen it in one of those 'critical lists' - not even one of the smarter ones.

It's witty, melodic, original, urban - and charts in down-at-heel poetry a (Jarvis) Cockeresque world of garden sheds, laundrettes, corner shops, KitKats, Giros and getting drunk on cheap sherry. With trumpet bits!

The magnificent 'Faded Glamour' (the single) is very easily the best thing on it - so if you play that first, do please take care that your expectations are not impossibly highly-raised - yet rest assured, many delights follow.

I'll spare you the biographical mallarkey because you can work the Wiki as well as I can, although you may find there is more grit in the oyster, and love for your traffic, here.

Animals That Swim - 'Faded Glamour' (1996)
Animals That Swim - 'A Good Xmas' * (1996)
Animals That Swim - 'The Longest Road' (1996)
Animals That Swim - 'Despatches From Lula' (1996)

[* See how I smuggled this blog's first Christmas song post in there? I know. I impress myself sometimes, I really do]

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cunning Stunts

I can't let the passing of an icon of our 70s childhoods go uncommemorated. It was because of Evel Knievel and his increasingly daring (aka 'cracked') vehicle and canyon leaping motorcycle stunts that we tried to pull wheelies on our Raleigh Choppers and Tomahawks and assembled odd bits of plank and plywood in the back lane into perilous 'jumps' (the plywood always snapped).

My best friend Steve had the Evel Knievel action figure and stunt bike that you charged by winding a big plastic wheel then released at speed to careen across the living room carpet and crash spectacularly into stunt props or, possibly, the horribly exposed ankle of a passing sibling. You could even get a toy version of the rocket he used to not-quite-cross Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, Idaho.

It was Evel Knievel this, Evel Knievel that. For a while only Starsky & Hutch loomed larger in our canon of boyhood saints. There were even Evel Knievel jokes, as Mrs H reminded me the other night, viz:

Q: 'Why was Evel Knievel late home?'
A: 'Because he missed the last bus'

(This very British joke must date from 1975 and Knievel's Wembley Stadium attempt to jump 13 single-decker buses. He crashed - and announced his retirement - but was back jumping five months later).

Knievel died on Friday having suffered from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis for many years, the climactic ailments in a long chain that began with blood transfusion-contracted Hepatitis C.

I suppose we really should be playing something contemporaneous in tribute, like Chris Spedding's 'Motorbiking' from 1975 - which I don't have; this, however, seems equally apt...

Aztec Camera - 'Jump' (1984)