Friday, 23 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #12

The noughties. Not exactly R.E.M.'s best decade. In fact, it sadly marked the end. In 2001, 'Reveal' was released. I remember MrsRobster being quite shocked at my reaction having played it for the first time. "Well, that was shit!" I remarked. I was disappointed and angry that my favourite band could make such a terrible record. Little did I realise it was going to get worse before it got better...

'Reveal' did have a couple of  decent tracks tucked away on it though, but they were swamped by average songs and a production so brightly polished you needed shades. I've Been High was a lovely tune, featuring one of Stipe's most delicate vocals. I'll Take The Rain wasn't half bad either, while The Lifting could have been one of the album's standouts had an earlier version (that featured on the b-side of the awful lead single Imitation Of Life) been used instead.

For some reason, someone had the idea that this should be the album that deserved the full remix treatment. A bunch of remixers were asked to contribute to the project and the best results were compiled by the band. The result, titled 'r.e.m.IX', was released as a free download from the band's website in 2002. Thank god it was free because had I paid for it, I might well have hunted Stipe, Buck and Mills down and put them out of their misery once and for all. A bunch of insipid and uninspired versions of songs from 'Reveal' did not make me feel any better about the band I once adored. In fact it convinced me to move on. The album wasn't particularly well-received by the critics either, so whatever the initial aims for the project were, it was clear they had failed.

'r.e.m.IX' was soon forgotten by fans, written off as something of a folly. However, just in case you were wondering what it sounded like, I'm presenting the two least-bad tracks here. In fact, Mark Bianchi (aka Her Space Holiday) actually came up with something quite nice. Not that 'nice' is necessarily a complimentary word, especially for music. But his instrumental mix of I've Been High is more than bearable. The version of The Lifting was done by Andy Lemaster of Athens, G.A. band Now It's Overhead and is just about passable. With interest in this series already on the wane, I hope I'm not killing it stone dead with this week's offering, I'm not exactly selling it to you, am I? Still, it's out of the way now. It does get better...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Reggae Wednesday #9

The Rhythmites formed in Bath (nr. Bristol) in the mid-80s and quickly forged themselves a reputation as a brilliant live band on the free festival circuit. I saw them a few times in various places around the west country during the early 90s. One gig in particular sticks with me as I got phenomenally drunk and had to be carried out. It was over a girl, of course.

After a couple of cassette-only releases, they released their debut album 'Integration' in 1989. No further records followed before the band split in 2000. However, they reformed in 2007 and, in 2010, put out the long-awaited (21 years!) follow-up 'Stand Strong'. That vinyl-only debut remained elusive however. That is until Bristol Archive Records re-released it on CD and digitally in 2015 with two bonus dubs.

Here's the opening kind-of title track ripped from the original vinyl. It still sounds good.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #6

The Wedding Present
O2 Academy, Bristol - 15 June 2017
Support: Young Romance

Not really sure what to write about this one. I know some of you have seen the Wedding Present on their 'George Best' 30th Anniversary Tour already, a couple of you have even written about your experiences. The sets have barely changed from date-to-date either. And even if you haven't caught them this time around, most of my readers will be more than familiar with Gedge and his cohorts.

So perhaps I'll start by mentioning the support band Young Romance. They're a boy/girl duo. He plays guitar, has very long hair and wore a shirt Bobby Gillespie would have been proud of circa 1986. She sings, plays drums standing up and wears glitter on her face. Sometimes they sounded like early Kills. I also thought there was a bit of mid-period Gossip in there too. The songs were OK, but the sound let them down a bit. Well worth checking out.

We've never been to Bristol's 02 Academy before, although I have a feeling it was at one point known as The Studio. I did see one gig at The Studio. It was in 1991 and it was... The Wedding Present. I may have remembered this incorrectly, but it was 26 years ago so cut me some slack...

It seems every time I see the Wedding Present nowadays, Gedge has decided to freshen things up once again. This time we get a new guitarist (from Australia) and another new female bass player who, rather brilliantly, also plays keyboards, sometimes while she's playing bass at the same time. She's from Devon though, so obviously naturally talented.

Another observation really came to light about half way through the set. There was a short set of new songs and lesser-known tracks from the band's back catalogue before they began playing 'George Best'. After What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?, Gedge noted: "We're into the 'George Best' part of the set. The songs sound quite similar now." And that's when I realised that, compared to their recent output, they do. No slow songs, lots of furiously strummed trebly semi-acoustic guitar and nothing longer than four minutes. Compare that to last year's ambitious 'Going, Going...' set and it's clear how Gedge has developed over the past 30 years. Yet he remains the inimitable David Gedge, indie legend.

A rousing rendition of Kennedy tacked on as a sort-of non-encore produced a massive mosh and singalong. There may not have been many people under the age of 45 present, but there were still plenty of exuberant voices hollering about apple pie and loving TV shows.

My seventh or eighth Wedding Present gig then (I forget exactly). So how was it? Well, I'll let MrsRobster sum it up with what is very probably the best one-line gig review you'll ever read: "I like seeing the Wedding Present. They're like a satisfying sex session after you haven't had it for a while. You're never disappointed." Quite...

Two of my fave songs from 'George Best' - one recorded during the original tour in 1987, the other captured this year:

Friday, 16 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #11

As I mentioned in a previous post, R.E.M.'s fan club releases were rather hit and miss affairs, but more than a few times they'd offer up something intriguing, worthy even. So this week I'm giving you three tracks from the mid-90s fan club singles. First up, 1995's single included a cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game which sounds even more laid back than the original. Stipe adopts a higher tone than Isaak did, but it somehow works. I reckon if they'd spent a bit more time on this they could have had a more than passable b-side on their hands.

That's more than can be said for the following year's rendition of I Will Survive. The band I used to be in played this song for a while, and - dare I say it - our version was better than this. Marginally. Stipe doesn't know the words and gives up twice, Mills plays a rather gloomy organ part and Buck's acoustic guitar just tries to keep things going. Like I said, they could be hit and miss affairs...

In 1998, the band teamed up with Radiohead for the fan club single. Two live tracks, side one featured Stipe fronting The 'Head for Lucky, and side two had Thom Yorke singing Patti Smith's part on E-Bow The Letter. I've opted for the latter today. It's not the best performance or recording on the planet, but it is what it is and it's one for the 'intriguing' category. The best bit, surprisingly, is Thom letting rip towards the end.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Judy Mowatt, along with two other teenage girls formed the Gaylettes in 1967. They released a number of soul-infused rocksteady singles before she joined the I-Three, Bob Marley's backing singers who also included Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths in 1974. The following year her debut solo album hit the shelves.

But it was the follow-up that propelled Judy Mowatt into the annuls of reggae history. 'Black Woman' from 1979 is regarded as not only one of the best reggae albums by a female artist, but one of the best reggae albums period. It was groundbreaking in many ways, not least because it was the first self-produced reggae album by a female artist.

Judy loved soul voices like Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers and she proudly wore her influences on her sleeve on 'Black Woman'. In the late 90s, she converted from Rastafari to Christianity and started recording gospel music. However, even in her early records you could hear the strains of gospel breaking through. Today's track, Down In The Valley from that seminal album, is a good example of that.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #5

Public Service Broadcasting
Ebbw Vale Institute, Ebbw Vale - 9 June 2017

When Public Service Broadcasting first came to my attention, I thought they were a neat idea. A neat idea with some good songs, in fact. But maybe they were a bit of a novelty. How far could they take this concept and remain interesting? They seem to be answering that question with relish.

This was our fourth time seeing PSB, and it was a rather special show. The band is about to release its third album 'Every Valley'. Its theme is the rise and fall of British industry and its effects on our communities. It takes coal mining in South Wales as its main reference point so they based themselves in the valley town of Ebbw Vale to record it, kitting out the main hall of the Ebbw Vale Institute to use as a studio. As the album nears its release next month, PSB returned to that very space to play two exclusive preview gigs. Only 200 tickets were on sale for each night with a proportion reserved only for locals. They were difficult to get hold of but luck was on our side and we nabbed a couple for the second night.

The EVI used to be a working man's club for the mining community. Now it's a community centre whose main hall is ideal as a music venue. The stage is nice and high at one end and it has a bar at the back. It's small and it looked rather cramped onstage - especially when the three-piece brass section stepped up to join in - but that seemed to add to the special, intimate nature of the show. And it was hot. Very hot!

Now, MrsRobster loves Public Service Broadcasting. Like really REALLY loves them. The only other band I've known her have this much love for was R.E.M. So this is a pretty big love we're talking about. That said, what could they do keep her adoration? Well, like previous outings, PSB tried some new things. The biggest surprises of all involved reluctant frontman J. Wilgoose Esq. Not only does he actually speak to the audience now (as opposed to playing pre-programmed computerised messages), but he sings. Yes, sings! His English vocals duet with the beautiful Welsh words of Lisa Jên Brown of 9Bach who joined the band onstage for You + Me.

This was one of a number of new songs played for the first time. Singles Progress and They Gave Me A Lamp will undoubtedly be among the highlights of their autumn tour alongside more established tracks. The thing with these new songs, particularly in this area of the country, is that they will resonate with a lot of people affected by the issues they raise. The South Wales Valleys, along with other big industrial areas of the UK, continue to suffer the effects of successive Conservative governments' attempts to kill British industry, selling it off to the highest bidder and screwing all those left behind. It's still happening now with steel just down the road in Port Talbot.

But it wasn't all about the new stuff; established favourites were also given a fresh airing. Spitfire, Everest, The Other Side, Gagarin and Go! all sounded spectacular, the latter prompting the now familiar crowd sort-of-singalong during the chorus.

So is it safe to say Public Service Broadcasting are no longer a novelty? You could argue they never were. They seem to pull a new rabbit out of the hat whenever they make an appearance and this was no exception. And MrsRobster? Well, she gets a little over-excited sometimes and starts babbling like she's on drugs. She reckons she had a moment of clarity during the show and thinks all of PSB (including their brass section) should be the next Dr Who. Like all of them together. Yeah, it was probably the heat.

"I've never seen them and not loved them," she told me after she had calmed down. She was clutching an unopened bottle of Every Valley ale (on sale at the show) as a souvenir. Stone-cold sober and drug-free yet still on a high. A cold shower and a lie down should sort her out...

Here's a piece about the new album which also includes the video for Progress.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #10

It's back to the early years this week and two really interesting versions of songs that would end up on R.E.M.'s debut album. On 2nd July 1982, the band played the Strand Cabaret in Marietta, a city just to the north west of Atlanta. 'Chronic Town' wasn't due for release for another seven weeks, yet R.E.M. were gigging furiously, mainly around the southern States but occasionally further afield.

By now they had an established set featuring the songs on 'Chronic Town' and many from the following year's 'Murmur'. There was still room for new songs and some experimentation though. Sitting Still was the b-side of the debut single from 1981 and would also feature, almost unchanged, on 'Murmur'. However, it seems the band were playing around with it during this interim period, slowing down the first half of the song before kicking into it at full speed.

This show also marked the very first live performance of Perfect Circle. It was clearly at a very embryonic stage. It's guitar-driven, Stipe doesn't appear to have had any proper lyrics at this point, and they use a drum machine! Not sure what Bill was doing, though he might have been playing bass as it sounds like a keyboard or violin might be being played and I'd assume that was Mike Mills doing the honours. The following year, Perfect Circle would close side one of 'Murmur' and it would be a very different animal. One of the sweetest songs of the band's career, in fact. You'd never guess that from hearing this though...

More from this show another time.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #4

Saint Etienne
Tramshed, Cardiff - 5 June 2017

This show was supposed to have taken place on Saturday evening, but there was some little football match going on in town apparently and this presented some logistical issues which forced a postponement. Of course, in any sane world the football should have moved to accommodate Saint Etienne, but I understand one or two people were quite interested in the game and one of the players was a local fella...

Anyway, come Monday evening and I wasn't in a good place. I'd had a shit day at work and got home in a foul mood. Add to that the god-awful weather, I just didn't feel like going out. I actually came very close to staying in and moping, in fact. In the end, I saw sense.

Since purchasing the 12" of Only Love Can Break Your Heart waaaay back in 1990, I'd never actually caught Saint Etienne live, though there was a near-miss at Glastonbury Festival in 1994. I'd decided I was going to make it over to the main stage to watch their set. But after a few hours of traipsing around the site in close to 30-degree heat whilst drinking cold beer and warm cider, I dozed off in the sunshine just outside my tent. I only came-to when my mate Higgz returned, gave me a friendly kick and told me Saint Etienne were on. He subsequently collapsed with laughter as he observed my face, now as red as a lobster except for where my sunglasses had been. I was too embarrased to leave the tent for the rest of the afternoon...

So a rather warm Tramshed was going to be my first time. MrsRobster has been suffering for a few weeks with sciatica and back pain so was understandably in some discomfort for much of the night. She took her mind of it by engaging in one of her favourite pasttimes - people watching. One key observation was how the average height of male Saint Etienne fans is generally short. True enough, there was a considerable lack of tall people there. No bad thing of course - they usually stand directly in front of me at gigs.

In the live setting, Saint Etienne field a much-expanded line-up. In addition to the trio of Sarah Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, they were joined by a drummer, keyboardist, the obligatory multi-instrumentalist and, of course, trusty co-singer Debsy. And then there was Cardiff boy Carwyn Ellis (aka Colorama) who guested on guitar for a few tracks. (As Carwyn left the stage, Sarah noted: "So we're back down to a 1-2-3-4-5-6... 7 piece. Oh I can't count tonight, I'm too hot." To which a lone male voice uttered from the crowd: "Yes, you are." Nearly every straight guy in the audience chuckled in secret agreement. Sarah giggled; MrsRobster rolled her eyes...)

The set took a little while to get going. In fact, MrsRobster reckons they could have dumped the first quarter of the set and it would have been an improvement. Things got going for me with the double-whammy of new album highlight Take It All In and the wonderful Sarah-Debsy duet Who Do You Think You Are? which was, quite frankly, gorgeous.

A number of songs from the new record 'Home Counties' were aired. Aside from Take It All In, highlights included Magpie Eyes, Train Drivers In Eyeliner and Dive. But it was the oldies, of course, that delighted the crowd most. You're In A Bad Way, She's On The Phone and Tonight were among those that shone brightest. Perhaps predictably, the biggest cheer was reserved for Only Love Can Break Your Heart which prompted a mass singlaong, rightly described by Sarah as "rousing".

So after a shitty day in shitty weather, Saint Etienne ultimately triumphed in making me warm and happy, and with the state of the world right now, we could all do with feeling like that as often as we can. I'm off to play 'So Tough' loudly...

Monday, 5 June 2017

Send Them Kids To War

Last Wednesday's post featured Glasgow singer Soom T. She was a member of the collective of Scottish-Canadian musicians called The Burns Unit who released the really bleddy good album 'Side Show' in 2010. Soom T co-wrote and sang lead vocal on Send Them Kids To War. The title speaks for itself, but the song was a highlight of the year for me.

Here's a live performance on Jools Holland's show from 2011. Can you spot the former Soup Dragon in the line-up?

Friday, 2 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #9

After a massive world tour that took a lot out of them, R.E.M. made the conscious decision not to tour their next album 'Out Of Time'. Instead, they made numerous appearances on radio stations and TV shows, as well as the occasional secret gig under an assumed name (more of that at a later date).

Los Angeles college radio station KCRW FM is one of the best radio stations in the world. End of. It plays host to all kinds of artists of various renown and standing, giving each a chance to shine. In 1991, R.E.M. (augmented by dB's guitarist Peter Holsapple) entered the studio, enjoying the biggest hit of their career, their biggest selling album to date and a whole new audience just waiting to take them to their hearts. Instead of a standard run-through some new album tracks and a couple of old favourites, R.E.M. ran riot, showing everyone that they were just a bunch of guys who had a lot of fun.

The set did include a few new album tracks and some old faves, but it also included some hilarious attempts at covers, a couple of absolute gems - and a lot of laughter. I've picked a bit of everything today. I may revisit this 'show' at a later point, but for now, I'm giving you a file containing three of those attempted covers and another of two originals.

The covers? A quickly aborted take on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, an even more quickly aborted attempt at Johnny Cash & June Carter's Jackson, and Spooky, a song oft covered, but most notably by Dusty Springfield. In case you're wondering - the 'Microwave' who requested Spooky was Mark Mytrowitz, the band's long-time guitar tech.

Bandwagon was a silly song the band wrote and recorded during the 'Fables...' sessions, and can be heard on the 'Dead Letter Office' b-sides comp. They don't make it past the first chorus on this attempt though... Fretless, by contrast, is very possibly R.E.M.'s best ever non-album track. To this day I cannot understand why it didn't make 'Out Of Time' but Shiny fucking Happy fucking People did! One of the biggest mistakes of the band's career. Even this rough live take beats most of what's on that record hands down.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Fancy some Scottish reggae this week? Yes indeed, for Glasgow is the home of Mungo's Hi-Fi, one of the world's most in-demand sound systems. They are regulars at many of the major UK and European festivals, have their own record label Scotch Bonnet, and are firm faves of the BBC with the likes of Steve Lamacq, Mary Anne Hobbs and Don Letts featuring them on numerous occasions.

Mungo's have worked with the likes of Sugar Minot, Tippa Irie and Daddy Freddy, as well as exposing some of the best up-and-coming UK reggae talent. In 2013 they released the 'Boom Boom' EP with fellow Glaswegian Soom T. The title track is so infectious, it's guaranteed to get your summer beach parties/barbeques going. At the very least, it'll get you skanking in your living room while the Glasgow rain pisses down...

More reggae in a fortnight...

Monday, 29 May 2017

Compiled #4

There was a trend in the 80s for compilation albums to be issued in two volumes - two separate records sold together as a kind of 'buy one get one free' offer, though some unscrupulous retailers would inevitably sell each record separately at full price. I bought a few of these back in the day, usually chart compilations. They pre-dated the Now That's What I Call Music dynasty and were often rather diverse.

Chartbusters '82 was one such pairing I owned. I was 11 at the time and was still finding my feet in the world of pop music. The quality obviously undulated, but there were some gems among the guff, and in a few cases it led to me finding out about artists I subsequently went on to love or admire. Looking back at the tracklisting now, I really can't remember some of the songs or even the artists. Anyone recall Panama? Paul Lorenzo? Oxgen? Or most obscure of all, the Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup Final Squad? (Sorry Jez...)

To be honest, you could easily take the best bits of both volumes and make a pretty decent single record. Sandwiched between Dollar and Aneka at the start of Volume One was Haircut One Hundred, a diamond between two turds. I still have a fondness for Love Plus One, even though it sounds soooooo 1982. There's no way you could get away with sounding like this now.

Head Over Heels by Abba also featured, which got a thumbs up from me. Also, there was I Could Be Happy by Altered Images, and XTC's Ball And Chain (which I'm not going to post purely because JC will get round to it as part of his excellent Saturday series very soon). And then there was this one, one of the first reggae songs I remember that wasn't Bob Marley. 'Tis a real ear worm, too.

But it's Volume Two where the real fun lies. It opened with a song that actually pre-dated 1982 by a few years and had been rather obscure, buried away on a soundtrack album. It had, however, been re-issued owing to the enormous success of the band over the previous 12 months. Of course, this was a very different Adam & The Ants to the line-up who became huge, but it mattered not. Ant fever was in full swing so any cynical marketing ploy was welcome, especially for an 11-year-old Ant fan like me.

Volume 2 also gave us Party Fears Two by the Associates (which I posted back here), Bow Wow Wow's Wild In The Country, Gary Numan with Music For Chameleons, and surprisingly (mainly because it wasn't a big hit), this utterly superb tune:

I actually forgot this track completely for years until I discovered SLF properly during the 90s through my older punk friends. I couldn't place where I'd heard it before, and it's only when I researched this series that I found it was on this compilation. I still don't remember it being on there, if I'm being honest, so clearly it wasn't a big influence on me at the time, but hell - I was 11. It makes this post because it remains one of my fave SLF tracks.

I should also mention that Listen was followed by Kick In The Eye by Bauhaus which I actually do remember from back in the day. But, again perhaps because of my age, I never investigated Bauhaus any further, despite learning of their huge influence on the later indie and goth scenes. Good track though.

Finally, we'll brush aside the inclusion of Tight Fit, Starsound and Huey Lewis to mention a band who went on to become one of the biggest in the world. Depeche Mode were still a plinkity-plonkity synth-pop band in 1982, yet to properly discover their dark side. In a few years they would be making brilliant songs like Blasphemous Rumours, Stripped and Strangelove, but when you consider some of the dross on Chartbusters '82, See You would easily make the single highlights album without a second thought. I'm not posting the song though - that's a sure-fire way to get the site taken down by "The Man". Dave Gahan would never be able to afford those leather jackets if we all gave away low-quality digital rips of 35-year-old Depeche Mode songs now, would he? So here they are, with Dave looking like he's only 11-years-old himself, on Top Of The Pops.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #8

This series isn't all about the never-before-released tracks. Both of today's picks have been officially put out, but are either rare or not particularly well-known.

In 2008, R.E.M. released 'Accelerate'. It was a breath of fresh air. After two woeful records of mid-tempo, middle-of-the-road schmaltz, 'Accelerate' sounded like R.E.M. had found a new lease of life. A band rejuvenated, they actually sounded like they were having fun again. Its opening track Living Well Is The Best Revenge was without a doubt the band's best song in 10 years. In contrast to recent offerings, 'Accelerate' was short, but the quality was undoubtedly high.

The album's second single - the rip-roaring Man-Sized Wreath - included a version of Living Well that was renamed based on a studio discussion immediately prior in which Peter Buck poses the question "Did Jesus have a dog?" that reduces all present into hysterics. The subsequent take on the song is utterly superb - loud, fast and far more energetic than any recording by a bunch of middle-aged blokes has any right to be - and even beats the album version hands down.

R.E.M. had been issuing special fan-club only releases since 1988. Some were rubbish, some just had some standard live tracks on them, but there were quite a few that contained some real gems and surprises. The 2009 single was one of the latter. The cover of Lenny Kaye's Crazy Like A Fox was pretty decent in itself, but most notable was the line-up of the band: just a duo consisting of Mike Mills and Bill Berry. Yes, THE Bill Berry - R.E.M.'s legendary former drummer whose departure in 1996 many link to the band's subsequent decline. He and Mills sing and play everything on this track (with producer John Keane joining in the backing vox)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Here's one of my all-time favourite reggae tunes. Once it gets in my head, it refuses to leave. The oddly-named Clint Eastwood (not the actor) was already an established deejay in Jamaica when he teamed up with British deejay General Saint in the early 80s. They went on to release a few albums together and enjoyed moderate commercial success.

Stop That Train, the title track of their second album, may be one of their best known songs, but you might be surprised how many others of theirs you recognise. You're getting the original 12" version today because you deserve it.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Future 40's

Friday's post referenced this song. I used to have both the 7" single and its parent album 'Surprise' based solely on its R.E.M. association. It's a great song though, even now some 28 years later. Eek - 28 years? Where the heck did that time go?

Syd Straw was never particularly prolific, only making two more albums in the next two decades. I never heard much else by her, but seeing as I've been reminded of her (and as her stuff is all up on Bandcamp), I think I'll explore a little more.

The single version of Future 40's emphasises Michael Stipe's contribution a touch more than the album mix. No doubt the record company thought they'd take advantage of the presence of rock's most enigmatic frontman who was on the cusp of superstardom. Whatever, as a feminist rallying cry, it may sound somewhat dated nowadays. On the other hand, with a moron with such disrespect for women in the White House, maybe it's become sadly relevant once more. Maybe 28 years isn't such a long time after all...

Stipe can be seen loitering in the video while Ms. Straw wears lots of costumes and drives around the desert. How very 80s...

Friday, 19 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #7

'Green' was R.E.M.'s first album for a *shock-horror* major label. It remains one of their best records, but also marked the beginning of a massive uplift in the band's career. The album spawned Orange Crush, the band's first Top 40 single in the UK (they even did Top Of The Pops - see this clip and the ignorant comment by the clueless presenter at the end...), another Top 40 single in the States (Stand) and was by far their biggest selling album to date. It continued - and indeed heightened - the band's political interest, this time bringing environmental concerns to the fore (hence the title). But perhaps most notably, the inclusion of three mandolin-led acoustic songs hinted strongly at a new direction R.E.M. would go on to explore much more deeply in the near future.

The Green Tour was massive. I saw them at Wembley Arena in London in July 1989, only my second ever gig. The shows on this tour are much vaunted, described as R.E.M. at their zenith. Visually, they were the most ambitious the band had put together with Stipe, always the focal-point, outdoing himself with stage props and acapella ad-libs. Some of the US shows were filmed and the concert movie 'Tourfilm' was made. That too has been hailed as one of the all-time greatest live concert films. Essentially, R.E.M. couldn't put a foot wrong at this point in their career - everything they touched turned to gold.

The now sadly defunct blog The Power Of Independent Trucking once posted a remastered audio of 'Tourfilm'. The guy behind the blog was known for his remastering work and he did a fine job of this. I've chosen a couple of things I think represent this era of live R.E.M. rather well. World Leader Pretend will probably forever remain in my personal R.E.M. top 10. It stood out the first time I listened to 'Green'. It's augmented here by an acapella intro from Stipe singing a snippet of Gang Of Four's We Live As We Dream Alone.

Similarly, I Believe (originally from 'Lifes Rich Pageant') was preceded by more Stipe improv. No one's quite sure where the spoken word bit comes from. In fact, in a 2008 Q&A, a fan quoted the whole piece and asked Stipe: "What is this?" His response was: "I don’t know but I recognize it. Did I write this? Where did it come from, it feels very very familiar and sounds like me." There's no doubt about the next bit though. Future 40's was a song by Vermont singer/songwriter Syd Straw. Stipe produced her debut album 'Surprise' and sang backing vocals on this song. Weaving it into the set no doubt helped to raise Straw's profile a little...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Sophia George was a teacher of deaf children when she had a global hit in 1986 with Girlie Girlie. It made the top 10 in the UK, but she never charted here again. I've never been a big fan of the electronic reggae sound of the 80s, but always thought Girlie Girlie was such a great song. Perhaps too good, in that nothing else I've heard by her comes close to it.

Girlie Girlie is not a song about an effeminate man, but rather about one who has a girlie in every street in every town:

  "Him have one up here, one down there / One in Hannover, one down a Vere
  One she's a lawyer, one she's a doctor / One wey dey work with a little contractor
  One down a east, one down a west / Him have one up north, and two down south
  One a sell cigarettes pon de roll-about cart."

Ten years later, after five albums, George and her husband moved to the States and she retired from music. Trivia fans may like to know that her son, Patrick Chung, plays for NFL side New England Patriots.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Genius Of Nick Cave

#22: Jubilee Street

Today's pick is truly special. Even with a career so advanced as his, Nick Cave can still make my jaw drop. 2013's 'Push The Sky Away' is rightly regarded as one of his very best albums, and in the middle of it is a song that is, quite simply, genius. One of the best examples of Nick's work of any period. The album version is the one to have, of course, but although the video is soundtracked by an edit that fades out way too soon, it's worth posting here for the appearance of Ray Winstone who UK readers will know as the mandatory hard man in nearly every British drama of the past 30 years. Probably not suitable to watch at work though...

For the full effect, here's an amazing live version recorded in Hollywood during the 'Push The Sky Away' tour. This is just fucking phenomenal; it knocks me for six every single time I watch it.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #6

The Work Tour of 1987 was the R.E.M.'s biggest to date. They had a breakthrough hit single in the States which no doubt bolstered ticket sales, and were within a whisker of the Top 40 in the UK. 'Document' was (and still is) one hell of a record, loaded with political content and proof, if any were needed, that R.E.M. were going to be a major force in the not-too-distant future.

On the day 'Document' was released in the UK, the band played a show in Utrecht, Holland which has been widely bootlegged. It's probably one of the best live recordings out there and the boot I have - entitled 'A Bucketful of Worksongs' - remains a favourite of mine. The 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of 'Document' included a disc featuring this very show, though typically of such things it is incomplete. Four songs are missing - all cover versions.

Superman was released as the second single from 'Lifes Rich Pageant' the previous year. It was the first track on any R.E.M. album to feature Mike Mills on lead vocal. The original by The Clique is much loved my many, but (and maybe I'm biased) I much prefer R.E.M.'s take. Harpers, meanwhile, is a cover-of-sorts. Michael Stipe actually co-wrote it and produced the original by avant-garde band Hugo Largo. Stipe sings it accapella and struggles with the high notes, but it was a regular during encores for a few years.

I'll bring you the other two "missing" songs in a later episode...

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Ripton Joseph Hylton used to back a horse regularly. He lost quite often. After a few singles released under his own name in the mid-to-late 70s, Hylton adopted the name of that horse - Eek-A-Mouse - and unlike the old nag, he found some success.

Perhaps his most famous song is Wa-Do-Dem, a version of his earlier song Virgin Girl. Eek's style is unique. His nasal tone sings a kind of scat, lots of "biddly-bongs" and that kind of thing. Some people - everyone else in chez Robster, for instance - find him rather irritating. I get that. But he's made the Reggae Wednesday series because I like him. Some A Holla, Some A Bawl was the closing track on Eek-A-Mouse's third album 'Assassinator' from 1983.

Monday, 8 May 2017

New things

Awful title for a post (I'm completely devoid of any better ideas), but it does aptly sum it up.

One of my favourite albums of the year thus far is the new one from ex-Pavement and Preston School Of Industry guitarist Spiral Stairs. Entitled 'Doris & the Daggers', it's his second solo record and the first in eight years.

One of the standout tracks is Emoshuns for which this very silly video was made...

Taffy first featured here as the subject of my first post in my It Came From Japan series. Not afraid to wear their (mainly British) influences on their sleeves, their new album 'Nyctophilia' has just been released and it is very dreampop oriented. Last year they supported The Charlatans on tour and by way of tribute, they've covered the Charlies' Come Home Baby which features on the album. Not afraid of a good cover this lot, and here they've really made a decent stab at making the song their own.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #5

After the positive reaction to their debut EP, R.E.M. were keen to repeat the chemistry they had with producer Mitch Easter for their first album. The record label however had other ideas. They wanted an up-and-coming producer called Stephen Hague to do the job. And so it was that, in December 1982, the band went into the studio with Hague and cut the first track of the session - Catapult. It was to be the only track of the session. The band were unhappy with Hague's techniques, particularly Bill Berry who hated having to record his drum track over and over. Hague also took the tapes away and added synths. Synths!

The band expressed their dissatisfaction to the label who then agreed to allow a session with Easter and his partner Don Dixon. Whichever session the label felt yielded the best results would be the course of the album. Pilgrimage was chosen as the track to record. Easter and Dixon's hands-off approach allowed the band to record more organically. The resulting demo was, wisely, chosen as the better of the two by the label and so work on what would become 'Murmur' continued with Easter and Dixon.

When you hear the two tracks together, it's really not difficult to understand why that decision was made. Hague's Catapult is, quite simply, terrible. If this had been the R.E.M. sound, it is unlikely they would have made it out of the 80s. Instead, 'Murmur' has become a classic of epic proportions, a record revered by fans and critics alike. It's in my top 3 R.E.M. albums, without a doubt.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Reggae Wednesday

This week, London is calling. The Skints hail from England's capital but if you didn't know any better you'd swear they were from Kingston, Jamaica. They describe themselves as "When you're a punk band, but reggae is life." The spirit of '77 lives on, then.

Where the Skints succeed is not only that authentic roots sound, but having three members who sing vocals, they can mix the styles up a bit. On today's track, they also rope in two London-based legends - Tippa Irie and MC/drummer Horseman. Five vocalists on one song paying homage to their hometown. This Town is taken from The Skints' third album, 2015's 'FM'.

Monday, 1 May 2017


The so-called Haymarket Affair, that occurred on 1st May 1886, kickstarted a growing resistance aganst the elite and the fight for workers' rights in America. In the ensuing 130 years, Mayday has become an international day of protest against the rich and powerful.

It is worth noting the hysteria over migrant workers that surrounded the Haymarket Affair seems to mirror that perpetuated by today's media and politicians. Has anything really changed? Sadly, it seems not. It doesnt matter who you vote for, the government will always get in. As the UK gets ready to go to the polls in Theresa May's folly election next month, we'd do well to remember that as we place our X on our ballot papers.

To mark this day of uprising, here are a few protest songs I've dug up. To start with, Manchester's Cabbage, rising stars on the indie circuit. One of only a few young bands who are using their voices to ACTUALLY SAY SOMETHING!

The marvellous Barrington Levy released 'Robin Hood' in 1980. The title track compares one of England's most notorious characters - who stole from the rich to give to the poor - with modern day society, which works on a completely opposite philosophy. When Friday Come, from the same album, is a plea from a downtrodden construction worker to his "Mr Boss Man" to let him go home on Friday to see his family.

The much-missed Sharon Jones, meanwhile, poses an interesting question: at a time when schools and other vital public services are deprived of funding, why are our taxes being spent on weapons no one wants? What if we decided not to pay our taxes? Who would fund mass destruction then?

To finish, an undisputed classic. Grandmaster Flash's timeless rap about inner city life sums up what was wrong about politics and society in 1980, and to an extent, what continues to this day.

Does protest work? Without it, it's easy to just succumb to the inevitable and make it easy for "them" to exert their control. After 130 years you could argue little has changed, but that doesn't mean we should keep quiet. Silence just makes things worse.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #4

R.E.M. undertook a mammoth world tour in 1999 in support of 'Up', their first record without drummer Bill Berry. 'Up' remains a difficult record. It's undeniably too long and a few songs wouldn't be missed. On the other hand, it catches the band in experimental mode and some of the songs are right up there among the finest of their post-80s material. MrsRobster and I caught them at Earls Court in London on that tour, but shortly after the album was released in 1998, Jools Holland dedicated an entire episode of 'Later...' to the band. Some of the songs from that set made it onto b-sides of subsequent singles but the full performance - including today's selection - has never been officially released.

One of the highlights on 'Up' was The Apologist. Stipe sounds genuinely emotive on this song, to the point where I can even forgive him for using the awfully hackneyed lyric "I get down on my knees and pray". New Test Leper featured on the previous album 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi' and is, to this day, one of my favourite R.E.M. songs. A wonderful track whose lyrics remain poignant.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Pablo Moses burst onto the reggae scene in 1975 with his single I Man A Grasshopper, a song influenced by the TV series 'Kung Fu'. Despite the initial acclaim, he struggled to attain the fame and recognition many of his fellow countrymen did around this time. It wasn't until the early 80s that he found himself receiving major plaudits once more with the albums 'A Song' and 'Pave The Way'.

Today's track, however, is taken from 1983's 'In The Future' and is the one I normally turn to when it comes to mixtape/playlist compiling. Pablo is due to release a new album next month. 'The Itinuation' will be his first record in seven years.

Monday, 24 April 2017

RSD: Sweet as Sugar

I've resisted Record Store Day before now owing to the whole idea of fighting swarms of people (who will probably just put their purchases on eBay) only to find whatever I'm after has sold out. Plus, most of the items are overpriced and not particularly exciting. However, Saturday saw me casting my cynicism aside and queuing outside of Spillers in Cardiff (the oldest record shop in the world). I'm in the slow process of collecting as many of my 50 albums to take to my grave on vinyl as I possibly can. Some I still have from when I first bought them, some I replaced with CDs and some I never bought on vinyl in the first place. In this latter category was Sugar's 1992 masterpiece 'Copper Blue'.

Record Store Day saw a very special release of 'Copper Blue' - a triple LP on three different colour platters. The original album is on silvery-grey. The other two discs contain a great live show from the time and are on gold and blue vinyl respectively. It was simply too lovely-a-thing to miss. Worth getting up early on a (frankly gorgeous) Saturday morning for.

I stood in the queue with a lady I know through work and a young Mancunian guy who is a student nurse. We talked music, gigs, a teeny bit of work, and more music. After an hour we finally crossed the Spillers threshold and managed to get what we wanted. Yes, I bagged a 'Copper Blue', and believe me it's even more beautiful in real life.

The experience was far nicer than I thought it would be. Friendly, relaxed and, dare I say it, fun. Quite looking forward to next year now...

Here's a couple of live tracks from that Sugar set. The version of JC Auto is particularly brutal.

I also managed to grab Spillers' last copy of 'The Home Internationals' EP by the Wedding Present. Many of you will know the track Wales from last year's brilliant 'Going, Going...' album. As well as that song, Gedge and gang recorded three more post-rock instrumentals for the EP, each one named after a UK nation. England contains a poem written and narrated by Simon Armitage, while Northern Ireland is a paen to a certain legendary footballer called George Best, who I seem to remember a previous record was named after...

A video of the band in the studio has been released for Scotland and includes some sounds from a Scottish pub, no doubt something more than a few readers will be familiar with.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #3

While promoting their second album 'Reckoning' in 1984, R.E.M. gave a live performance for the fledgling MTV. It was broadcast on a show called Rock Influences. The majority of the set consisted of songs from the first two albums, plus two from 'Chronic Town' and a couple of b-sides. But there was also room for three brand new songs.

Two of these newies were to appear the following year on the band's third album 'Fables Of The Reconstruction'. Both Old Man Kensey and Driver 8 sound almost finished in this performance (although Stipe seems to forget the words at the end of the second verse of Driver 8). It shows how prolific the band was. No sooner had one album come out than they already had songs for the next one ready.

The other new song didn't feature on 'Fables...'. Instead it was held over for 1986's 'Lifes Rich Pageant'. Hyena sounds about 75% of the way there in this performance, but would undergo a bit of tweaking before its eventual release.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the pic at the top is not from this MTV show. It was taken at the Marquee Club in London during the 'Reckoning' tour the same year.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Reggae Wednesday

A new weekly series for the summer sees me delving back into my reggae collection. I thought I'd get us off and running with a classic that you probably all know and love but is more than worth posting anyway.

Dillinger (real name Lester Bullock) rose to fame in the mid-70s working with renowned producers such as Lee Perry, Yabby You and Augustus Pablo. His success earned him a name check on the Clash's White Man (In Hammersmith Palais). Cokane In My Brain became his biggest hit in 1976 and remains his best known song. Even MrsRobster - not a big reggae fan - can be heard 'singing' this one from time to time.

Dillinger struggled to emulate the success of this song for the rest of his career. Nowadays he still performs and produces work for others, but records only occasionally. His last album came out more than 10 years ago. Still, Cokane is a great track to get us started.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Compiled #3: Now That's Disgusting Music

Back in 1990, it seemed as though the British were basking in the blissed out E'd up vibes of Madchester while the Americans were the angry, noisy voices of the disillusioned. In truth, there was plenty of noise in the UK, you just had to dig a bit deeper to find it. In northwest London, a tiny venue called The White Horse hosted The Sausage Machine every Saturday night. Very loud bands would play and make a fantastic racket. Two such nights were recorded and out of it came a landmark record.

'Now That's Disgusting Music - Live At The Sausage Machine' was the first ever release on Too Pure Records, a label that would very quickly become one of the most noted and highly respected indie labels in the country. It contained 12 songs by 8 bands, including the very first recording ever released by Peel favourites Th' Faith Healers.

They would become Too Pure's first signings with their debut single released shortly after. I can't believe this is also the first time I've ever posted a Th' Faith Healers track here. Must try harder. I have, however, waxed lyrical about Silverfish a couple of times before. They had two songs on this record, the double-whammy of Weird Shit/Don't Fuck, the originals of which featured on their debut EP the previous year.

The Heart Throbs were the first live band I ever saw, being as they were the support to The Wedding Present in 1988. By now they were about to release their debut album which featured studio takes of the two songs on 'Now That's Disgusting Music', I See Danger, and this one:

l-r: Th' Faith Healers; Silverfish; The Heart Throbs; Snuff; Mega City 4
The headline acts on the nights captured were both relative veterans compared to the other bands on the bills in that they had already released albums. Snuff's debut album came out the previous year and to this date boasts the best title for any record released ever. EVER! 'Snuffsaidbutgorblimeyguvstonemeifhedidn'tthrowawobblerchachachachachachachachachachachayou'regoinghomeinacosmicambience'. It included a version of this Specials cover:

Mega City Four probably went on to become the biggest band on this comp. They had, like, Top 40 hits and everything. At this point however they were still establishing themselves, their second album would be released within six months, but it wouldn't be until their third that they would trouble the charts. So this blast through their second single is a fine document of a fine band at a relatively early stage in their existence.

I still love this record. It's a snarling beast, yet loveable and comforting at the same time. It's a piece of vinyl I've kept since the day I bought it some 27 years ago. I don't intend to part with it any time soon.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #2

Eleven years after their formation, R.E.M. found themselves on the cusp of world domination. 1991's 'Out Of Time' would not only yield their eternal hit single, but would also prove to be their worldwide mainstream breakthrough album. Last year, the obligatory 25th Anniversary deluxe reissue featured 19 previously unreleased demos from the 'Out Of Time' sessions. However, it was by no means a complete set.

This was a particularly productive time for the band. They never seemed short of material, but this period was especially fruitful. The album marked a departure from previous efforts as the use of electric guitars was dramatically scaled back in favour of acoustic instruments. 'Out Of Time' was a record of upbeat songs in contrast to its far more melancholy follow-up.

For these reasons, it's quite easy to see why the three songs I'm featuring today didn't make it onto 'Out Of Time'. Strangely, none of them were to feature in last year's deluxe package either. It's A Free World Baby did get a full production but, for whatever reason - maybe its lyrical theme which doesn't quite fit that of the rest of the album - it was cast aside. Instead it was issued as a b-side to Drive and appeared on a couple of soundtracks. I always preferred this earlier demo take though.

Here I Am Again (also sometimes known with a bracketed sub-title of Kerouac #4) was a very early song in the 'Out Of Time' story and ended up becoming two songs. Some of its lyrics were used in the brilliant Fretless - a song that was inexplicably left off the album - while the instrumental part turned up on a later b-side as Organ Song.

Finally, it's quite obvious why Speed Metal didn't get onto OOT, though it wouldn't have surprised me if it had been held over for 'Monster' or 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' given its far more rocky nature. It's not 'metal' by any means, but it is a bit of fun and it's kind of a shame that it never materialised in any form other than this demo.