Friday, 18 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #20

This might be the last post in the series. It might not. The future of the blog has been up in the air for some time now. I'm running very short of ideas and I'm feeling less and less inspired, less and less motivated and less and less excited about the whole thing. This series should have enthused me, but while it started out strong, it has frustrated me a few times and as it has gone on I've found it harder to continue. To be frank - it's all becoming a bit of a chore and, perhaps worse, a bit of a bore also. Yeah yeah, I know, I've said this all before. I'll probably find another second wind from somewhere and get back to business as usual...

So here's what's happening: after today, there's going to be a bit of a hiatus while MrsRobster and I enjoy a late summer break. The Reggae Wednesday series will continue as I have the last few instalments already written and prepared. In September I'll think again. I have loads of great things to share which would keep this series going up to Christmas at least, it's just whether I can be arsed to write about them. The blog needs a new focus if it's to continue, something that I enjoy doing. I don't really know what that is at the moment though, so we'll see.

In the meantime, to bring the series to a (maybe temporary, maybe permanent) close, we're going back to where we started - that very early Tyrone's gig from October 1980 that to date remains the earliest known recording of R.E.M. in circulation. Three songs all with very different futures ahead of them. Dangerous Times was a favourite of R.E.M.'s early live sets and may have been demoed once or twice, but it didn't survive long once the band's songwriting had moved on. As far as their earliest material goes, Dangerous Times isn't bad but it's hardly up there with Gardening At Night.

All The Right Friends did make it onto record. Although credited to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, it was actually written by Buck and Stipe before they'd even met Mills and Berry. The song was originally recorded for 'Murmur' but not used. That version later appeared on the European reissue of 'Dead Letter Office' a decade later. During the 'Reckoning' sessions, the band gave it another go but again it was discarded. A third attempt was made for 'Lifes Rich Pageant' and once more it was passed over. The 25th Anniversary reissue of 'LRP' contains that one. Finally, in 2001, one final attempt was made, more than 21 years after it was written. Having been asked at very short notice to provide a song for the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, the band recorded All The Right Friends (with new lyrics) and deemed it good enough to issue. What you're getting here though is possibly the earliest known version of the song.

To round off, a song that was not only recorded, but ended up on an album and released as a single. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville was penned by Mike Mills as a plea to his then girlfriend not to leave town. In fact it's Mills who often sang lead vocal in the band's late era, the song remaining in the live set right to the end. You can hear how fast the original was played, "kind of like how Buddy Holly would've played it" as Peter Buck once recalled. It enjoyed a country-style makeover for its eventual release on 'Reckoning' four years later, but very little else was done to it.

See you in a few weeks. Maybe.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

One of John Peel's favourite records of all time was 'Live At The Counter Eurovision', the debut album by Misty In Roots. The London collective became one of the most popular British reggae acts, spreading the word of Jah in their shamelessly Rastafarian-themed songs. Never terribly prolific in the studio, they nonetheless toured relentlessly, being the first reggae band to tour South Africa, Poland and Russia.

As a result of spending a lot of time in West Africa, the band integrated more and more African sounds and rhythms into their music, but that's no bad thing; it was something that set them apart from their peers.

Misty In Roots recorded no fewer than nine Peel Sessions between 1979 and 2002 and credit the legendary DJ for much of their success. A compilation of Peel highlights was released in 1995. It included many songs the band never released in any other form, including today's track True Rasta Man. This was from their second session in 1979 and features an impressive line-up of 11 singers and musicians.

I'll be taking a couple weeks off after Friday, but I've pre-written and scheduled Reggae Wednesday for the next fortnight to tide you over. No need to deprive you of some tasty irie vibes.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#25: From Her To Eternity [live]

This tale of the girl upstairs "wearin' them bloo stockin's", the title track of the first Bad Seeds album from 1984, remains a highlight of Nick's entire career. But in the live setting it becomes even more visceral. This particular performance at Belgium's Rock Werchter Festival in 1989 is probably the best I've seen. Nick gives an absolutely blistering rendition. The rest of the Bad Seeds aren't half bad either; Harvey, Powers, Bargeld, Wydler... the whole damn lot of 'em. This is why the Bad Seeds sell out every time they play, whatever the line-up. This is a real 'wow!' moment.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #19

It's back to the Green Tour this week and a boot I bought on vinyl which has subsequently been issued on CD and digital formats. There seems to be some kind of loophole which allows some bootlegs to be commercially issued kind of semi-officially without infringing any laws. That's the case with this one. You can buy it on Amazon if you like the sound of it.

Anyway, I played this one quite a bit back in the day as it was great-sounding, probably as a result of it being taken directly from an FM radio broadcast. The sleeve claims the show was recorded in Orlando, Florida on 30 April 1989, but the majority of the record seems to be taken from a show in Miami the previous night. Exactly what tracks are taken from which show is unclear, but it's hardly important. It's the most widely-booted R.E.M. performance but probably not one that those who are not R.E.M. collectors are likely to have heard. The boot has been released under various titles but there are many versions called 'Songs For A Green World' which happens to be what my vinyl copy is called.

I've chosen three tracks from it to share with you. Crazy is the Pylon song. Pylon supported R.E.M. during the final leg of the Green Tour from late October to mid-November across the southern US states. Up to then, Crazy featured in R.E.M.'s set and I reckon this is a more than decent rendition. Get Up was one of 'Green''s poppiest moments. It works well live as the calls to "Get up, get up" could be hollered by the crowd. Apparently, Stipe wrote it as a call to Mike Mills to get his lazy arse out of bed during the recording sessions. And the simultaneous musical boxes in the bridge were Bill Berry's idea after it came to him in a dream. OK, enough Get Up facts...

The final track is dedicated to MrsRobster. It's her birthday today and the title reflects all that she is and forever will be. "I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music." You Are The Everything was a surprise highlight on 'Green' and hinted strongly at the direction the band would take next. Live, Bill Berry played bass, Peter Buck played mandolin and Mike Mills played accordian. It's a phenomenal track and Stipe sings it so, so well.

Happy Birthday babe. "The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen / And they're there for you."

(Mind you, the first of these songs might relate to her too...)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

For the fourth week in a row, it's a cover version, although to be fair in this case it's the cover that is probably better known. In 1982, Rita Marley released her second solo album 'Harambé'. It included this fantastic version of a song originally by The Love Joys. And it is a joy. It's basically about getting stoned.

Now I know I usually write more than this, but you surely don't need me to tell you who Rita Marley is and her history, etc. If you do, you're definitely reading the wrong blog and are probably not into music. Try this instead. For everyone else, well one listen to the tune and you'll realise that, in all honesty, words are not necessary - this is all you need.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Feeling Feisty?

Leslie Feist has been rather busy just lately. As well as releasing her fifth solo album back in the spring, she also teamed back up with her old mates Broken Social Scene for their first record in seven years. Both albums have been played A LOT around here, so here's a track from each.

Century features Jarvis Cocker musing on how long a century is. His maths is wrong and he fails to account for leap years, but putting that aside, it's Jarvis so he can get away with it. The video features The Jarv and a brilliant face off between Feist and Maria Doyle Kennedy, formerly of the Hothouse Flowers but best known as an actress in Father Ted, Downton Abbey and, currently, Orphan Black. She kills it here, too! The only downside is the way the song ends. Yes, it's intentional, but I still find it bloody annoying...

Feist takes lead vocal on the title track of Broken Social Scene's 'Hug Of Thunder'. No video exists for this track, and she hasn't performed live with the band during the current round of pormotional duties, but the studio version still sounds wonderful on its own.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #18

OK, so I teased you a bit on Monday. I had every intention of posting the two exclusive R.E.M. tracks from 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' even though many of you probably have them. 'Lifes Rich Pageant' was the second R.E.M. album I ever heard. The same guy who tipped me off about 'Document' also lent me his cassette of its predecessor. I loved that too. I still think the first four tracks are flawless in their sequencing.

Interestingly, 'LRP' contains two of the band's earliest songs that to that point they'd never recorded. These Days was being played as far back as 1980, the very year they formed, while What If We Give It Away dates from just a year or so later and was originally called Get On Their Way. I'm not sure why it took until 1986 for them both to be finally recorded, but there is a feeling the band may have been short of material. Surely not? Well, when you consider the original tracklist comprised just 10 songs with two more - a cover version and a cheesy bossa-nova filler track - flung on at the last minute, you can see where such an idea came from. The final 12-track version still weighed in at less than 40 minutes. Yet, listening to it even now is 40 minutes well spent.

In 1992, all the band's IRS albums were reissued in Europe with bonus tracks. I bought a few of them as imports. While some of the bonus tracks were previously released as b-sides, one or two exclusives did emerge. One such track was on the 'Lifes Rich Pageant' release. Tired Of Singing Trouble is a short pseudo-gospel pastiche which seems to act as a vehicle for Stipe's vocal experimentation. His voice was now venturing much higher into the mix on record and tracks like this might have helped him establish the vocal style he would adopt on subsequent albums. Tired Of Singing Trouble has never appeared on any other reissue so it remains something of a rarity.

Also on that European reissue were the tracks recorded for the 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' documentary. Swan Swan H. was on the original album but this live rendition is wonderful. As is its companion piece, a take on the Everly Brothers classic All I Have To Do Is Dream. This is even more wonderful. I love the way Stipe and Mills sing together. Mills' harmonies were rarely anything other than spot on, and his harmonic basslines served to compliment things further (as you can hear on Swan Swan H.). I've never understood why he has never made a solo record.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Another interesting cover version for you this week. The Voice Of Thunder, more commonly known as Prince Far I, was one very interesting character. Having deejayed around Jamaica for a number of years, Prince Far I became one of the country's most respected recording artists during the 1970s. While his vocal style has been dubbed 'toasting', he preferred to label himself a 'chanter' rather than a 'toaster'.

His first album, 'Psalms For I', in 1975 was a collection of psalms and prayers for illiterate people who could not read the Bible themselves. Far I's faith cropped up in numerous tracks throughout his career, but he wasn't shy of politics either. The title of his second album 'Under Heavy Manners' referred to the state of emergency rule imposed by the Jamaican government in 1976, many tenets of which he disagreed with.

Today's song is taken from that album. Deck Of Cards was written and originally performed in 1948 by country singer T. Texas Tyler, although the story told in the song dates back to 1762 as penned by British farmer's wife Mary Bacon. Since Tyler's version, there have been many takes on it. The one I remember is by Max Bygraves. No, really. He had a huge hit with it in the UK in 1973 and my mum and dad had one of his albums that contained it. It was played a lot when I was a wee nipper. The song's style is ripe for parody - and in fact there have been many of those. From the Soft Boys to Eric Idle; Penn and Teller to Bill Oddie; Mike Harding to Max Boyce (whose version was about the Welsh national rugby team).

Prince Far I turned the tale of a Christian soldier into a dub masterpiece. Produced by the Mighty Two and backed by Joe Gibbs' house band The Professionals, it is one heavy beast. Certainly, Max never did it this way...

Prince Far I was shot dead in 1983. Some accounts say it was a robbery, while others claim it was because of the political symbols he painted on the outside of his house. Either way it was a tragic end.

I need to post more dub in this series, though there aren't many chapters left. Hmmm, might squeeze one more in somewhere...

Monday, 31 July 2017

Compiled #5

(Problems with Pixeldrain again, so today's links come courtesy of Nippyshare...)

I had originally planned to write about some of my other favourite compilations like 'Ruby Trax' and 'Alvin Lives (In Leeds)' but I decided against it in the end. Why? Well JC did some in-depth pieces on the former a little while ago and I can't add much more to what he wrote, while the latter has been written about in some form or other by plenty of others over the years. I'm sure Brian must have done something about it at some point.

So, the final episode in this mini-series is a bit of a cheat, really. You see, I never actually owned a physical copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack so it can't really be considered influential in my life. But it's a really good, varied record that deserves revisiting. And it's not even a proper compilation album, more a soundtrack; most of the songs included were recorded live specially. So maybe it doesn't belong in this series at all. Regardless...

If you didn't know, 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' was a documentary released in 1986 about the music scene in the town of Athens, Georgia. I only ever wanted the soundtrack to 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' for the R.E.M. tracks. For some reason it seemed practically impossible to track down. Not sure why, but I just never saw it anywhere and my local record shops were unable to order it in. I finally got hold of the R.E.M. songs as bonus tracks on a European reissue of 'Lifes Rich Pageant' on CD, so never pursued it any further.

I did, however, buy the video of the film at some point and found it intriguing. I'd never heard of most of the bands who featured. Of course, R.E.M. and the B-52s were by far the most successful of the lot, and I'd heard of Pylon purely because of R.E.M.'s cover of Crazy. But some of the other bands went on to have quite lengthy careers. Take the Flat Duo Jets, for instance. Not only did they release eight albums before they broke up in 1998, but they were a massive influence on the raucous two-piece blues rock bands who followed in their wake. No less than Jack White name-checked them often.

Love Tractor were another lot who had staying power, releasing four albums before they split (and a further three post-reforming). Pretty originally appeared on their second record 'Around The Bend', but this live version was captured at the legendary 40 Watt Club.

Most of the songs on the soundtrack were recorded live as a way of capturing 'the scene'. There were one or two studio tracks though. The mighty Pylon contributed a song from their debut album, 1980's 'Gyrate'. Stop It remains one of Vanessa Briscoe Hay's best vocals.

Dreams So Real is a band I still know almost nothing about. They did release four albums before breaking up in 1990. Golden, the track that appears on the Athens, GA. soundtrack curiously didn't feature in the film itself. Nor did it appear on any of their albums, though it was included on the 1992 compilation 'Nocturnal Omissions'.

Of course, the R.E.M. tracks will feature at some point in my ongoing Friday series. Maybe. Perhaps if the B-52s had a track on the album I might have included that, but strangely there wasn't one. In the film all we got from them was some very unsatisfactory archive clips and a couple of interviews. So instead, I'll sign off with the opening track on the soundtrack which also found itself being put out as a single. The Squalls released just two albums that very few people bought. This track, however, is incredibly hummable. Well, the chorus is. It's made it onto a few compilations I've done over the years.

Eventually, I finally managed to get hold of a copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack, albeit digitally. Not the same, I know, but better than nothing.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #17

The 1999 fan club single was the first to be issued on CD. My guess is any plans to make it a 7" were scuppered by the running times. Both songs were recorded live in October 1998 at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit concert in California. Young, in fact, features on both tracks. On one side was Young backed by R.E.M. (minus Stipe) performing Ambulance Blues, originally the closing track on Young's 1974 album 'On The Beach'. However, you're getting the other side.

As you probably know, Country Feedback is my favourite R.E.M. song. It's also Michael Stipe's. This epic nine-minute acoustic version features the then-touring line-up of the band with Young guesting on guitar. He plays a particularly long solo, but that's not wholly surprising I suppose. It sounds very different to the album version, mainly because of the piano and acoustic guitars-a-plenty. The album version will never be beaten, but this one is hardly inferior.

1999 was the year of Man On The Moon, the movie about US comedian Andy Kaufman. R.E.M. wrote and scored the mainly orchestral soundtrack which also included a couple of new songs along with the established title track. Kaufman was played in the movie by Jim Carrey who performed one of those new songs with the band. This Friendly World is a disposable pop song that Stipe sings nicely while Jim Carrey larks around supposedly in character in his annoying over-acting kind of way. No, I'm not a fan.

Not many people bought the soundtrack other than devoted R.E.M. fans, even though the single released from it - The Great Beyond - was the band's highest-charting hit in the UK. This Friendly World is a silly, non-essential piece, but a fairly unknown curio which is why I'm including here.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

OK, so this is an interesting one. Now, you probably know that Delroy Wilson (aka The Cool Operator) was a pioneer of reggae music, starting out in 1962 aged just 13. He saw the birth of ska, rocksteady and reggae and became the first superstar of the genre. He's namechecked in the Clash's (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (what higher accolade is there?) and has worked with more massive names in Jamaican music than I can be bothered to list here.

You'll know many of his songs, but this one - well, you'll know the tune but perhaps not the lyrics. I've had a real hard time finding anything out about this track. I can tell you it came out as a single in 1974 in both the UK and Jamaica, but it never seems to have made it onto an album or, indeed, any of the many compilations of Delroy's work. It did, however, make it onto a Trojan Records boxset called 'Motor City Reggae' in 2006. There are no writer's credits on the original records, but the box set names the legendary Holland, Dozier, Holland. As I implied just now however, the words are different to the ones you'll be familiar with, so I'm not sure who contributed what to this version.

I'm certain this isn't rated as among Delroy's best work, but I'm posting it because if nothing else it's intriguing.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Out The Way!

The new Nadine Shah record could well prove to be the album of the year. She's put out three tracks so far and all are startlingly good, but this one in particular is absolutely mindlblowing. It's powerful, both musically and lyrically. Nadine's delivery is sparky and passionate, and the video is utterly stunning. Combined, it's all rather uncomfortable, but life really is for many people at the moment, particularly those who find themselves unwelcome in their own country (like this one) purely because of their ethnic origin. Or those fleeing from war and finding themselves not welcome by those who should be helping them. That's what Out The Way is all about.

Nadine's new songs sound confrontational and fiery, but that's proving to be a fine thing. The new album 'Holiday Destination' is out on 25th August. That's, like, a whole MONTH away. I don't think I can wait...

Friday, 21 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #16

It's time for the infamous Bingohandjob show! There really can't be anyone who was ever a fan of R.E.M. who isn't aware of this, but here goes anyway. In 1991, the band embarked on a low-key tour to support the release of 'Out Of Time'. The shows they played were almost exclusively small, acoustic performances featuring Peter Holsapple of the dB's and a special guest or two. In March, they descended on London's tiny Borderline to play two nights to fans, friends and record company acquaintances. They have become the stuff of legend.

Bootlegs of the shows have been in wide circulation over the years, and a few songs were even officially issued as b-sides. I actually have two bootlegs - one on vinyl, the other on CD. The vinyl one came first and featured 21 tracks. I picked up the CD a couple years later. It contained more songs but with one or two tracks that were on the vinyl strangely missing. Even then, combined, they don't contain everything.

The sets contained most of the songs from Out Of Time, plus arrangements of fave songs from the back catalogue. But weaved in amongst them were cover versions, jams, lots of banter and general drunken silliness. Not only did the band play under the aforementioned moniker Bingohandjob, but each band member had an assumed name also; Stipe was 'Stinky', Mills was 'Ophelia', Buck was 'Raoul', Berry was 'The Doc' and Holsapple was 'Spanish Charlie'. They were joined by Billy Bragg ('Conrad') and Robyn Hitchcock ('Violet').

Both Bragg and Hitchcock played short solo sets during the show, but aside from a couple of songs where Stipe sang with Bragg, neither seem to have made it onto any of the boots. Also, the vinyl version contains a full band rendition of Hitchcock's song Listening To The Higsons, but this was omitted from the CD. Sadly, I don't have a copy of my vinyl ripped to be able to share that song, but I am going to post a few other gems from the show. Yes, you may already know them - you probably have a copy of the shows in some form or other - but no series covering R.E.M. bootlegs and rarities could ever be considered complete without including a Bingohandjob episode.

First up, another abandoned version of Jackson, but this time it leads into Stipe and Bragg duetting on Dallas with, erm, spontaneous lyrics... Later on, Michael entertains us with a little solo organ song introduced by his tale about his brilliant organ part in an upcoming song. That song is a cover of Bob Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, featuring the entire cast led by Robyn Hitchcock.

To round off, Stipe and Mills say goodnight with a spine-tingling acapella take on Moon River. The respect the audience gives the pair of them, listening in near silence, is something you simply don't get at gigs any more. You can just make out a voice at the very end of the recording saying "Perfect. Unbelievable." You can't help but agree.

And as a bonus, here's a song that never made it onto any of the bootlegs. Someone in the crowd appears to have filmed one of the shows and uploaded it years later onto YouTube. Not everything is there, but I was delighted to find this. It's just Stipe and Mills performing Syd Barrett's Dark Globe. Stipe is on top form, proving what a great frontman he was, particularly during this period.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Yet another legend this week. Little Roy first recorded in 1965 aged just 12 years old and had his first Jamaican number one aged 16 with what is believed to be the first song about the Rastafari movement. He was the first artist to record a song using the word 'reggae' and is considered one of roots reggae's founding fathers. Over the years he has worked with such luminaries as Prince Buster, Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Dennis Brown.

In 2011, he became what must be the first reggae artist to release an album of Nirvana cover versions. 'Battle For Seattle' was recorded with Prince Fatty and includes versions of songs that spanned Nirvana's short career. For the most part it holds together pretty well, although I could live without his take on Sliver.

The highlights for me are Dive, Polly and today's track Lithium, all of which sound like they could have been written as upbeat reggae numbers rather than angst-ridden grunge anthems. Stick this on your summer party mixtape and watch the place light up.

(There seem to be problems with Pixeldrain so today's link is with a different host. Let me now if you have any issues.)

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#24: Where The Wild Roses Grow

Nick's biggest UK hit came from an unlikely source - 1996's 'Murder Ballads' album, a record all about killing and death. As ever though, it was laced with trademark Cave humour and beauty. Probably the thing that sold this song to most is the presence of another famous Aussie, Kylie Minogue. The video is brilliant, some wonderful cinematography and it fits the song perfectly. And doesn't Kylie look absolutely delectable? Yep, MrsRobster's not going to be happy with me, but it really has to be said.

In 2013, while making the '20,000 Days on Earth' movie, Nick and the Bad Seeds played a stripped-down set at an intimate show in London. Since Kylie was in town, they asked her along to perform Where The Wild Roses Grow with them for the first time in 15 years...

Friday, 14 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #15

I've been holding this week's bootleg back for a little while. It was deliberate. I wanted to reward those of you who have endured this series up to this point. There has been some sludge, and while there have been some undoubtedly wonderful selections up to now, I think today's tracks really are the best so far.

Demos for debut album 'Murmur' took place in late 1982/early 1983 with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. Even early in the sessions it was clear that not only were most of the songs complete, but they were already sounding exquisite. Listening to some of those demos - which have never been officially released - you can't help but think Dixon and Easter must have been beaming from ear to ear throughout. These versions I'm posting today were not the final versions - far from it - but my god do they sound wonderful.

Well, OK, Romance never made the final album and it wasn't released in any form until some years later when a re-recorded version appeared on a movie soundtrack. But it had been a regular in the live set and no surprise it was trialled for the record. This version is not a million miles away from that much later version, but clearly isn't as polished. Even so, it's a delight to hear it.

Shaking Through was a highlight on 'Murmur'. This version sounds lovely and bright. Stipe's vocal was later redone but here it is pretty close to perfection. But the best has been saved 'til last. The version of Sitting Still on the album is very close in sound to the original that appeared on the debut single in 1981. But this demo version is... well, just listen to it. Those backing vocals - are they simply MAGNIFICENT or what? They were buried in the mix on the album cut, but here - oh how they sparkle. Sitting Still remains one of R.E.M.'s best early songs, but if this was the version on the album, it would be head and shoulders above everything else they put out. I beam like a loony every time I hear this track.

I'm not overdoing it, am I?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

The Wailing Souls formed in 1964 as The Renegades, changing their name a few years later. In their 50-plus years together, they have become one of reggae's best known and loved acts. Two of their founding members - Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd "Bread" McDonald - are still going strong, recording and performing. A new album is reportedly in the works with Sly & Robbie at the controls.

The early 70s saw the rise of a band known as The Wailers, led by some young upstart calling himself Bob Marley. You may have heard of them. Anyway, fearing confusion with this other lot, the Wailing Souls recorded under various different names for a while, including The Little Roys, Attamas and Pipe & The Pipers. A couple of singles were also released under the name of The Classics. One of these was Mr. Fire Coal Man.

The first time I heard this song was actually the cover released by Stiff Little Fingers as the b-side to Back To Front, but I've become more familiar with The Wailing Souls version in the intervening years. Well, I say version - the truth is they recorded the song several times and it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint the actual version you're listening to. The one I'm posting today is, I'm pretty certain, the version released under the Classics moniker. It came out in 1971 on the Banana label in the UK and Supreme Records in Jamaica. It's a great example of the new emerging reggae sound that still has something of a ska and rocksteady sound to it.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Weaver fever

Electronic music doesn't generally grab me like the sound of squalling guitars, but every now and then I get teased, tantalised and tempted by something synth-based. Jane Weaver's latest album 'Modern Kosmology' is a great example of such electronica making me all hot under the collar. In a largely unfulfilling year so far, this is one record that's been getting quite a bit of play time in TheRobster family car. I enjoyed her last album, but this one really is the ticket.

Slow Motion is one of my singles of the year; a pristine piece of psyche-pop.

Follow-up single Did You See Butterflies? is altogether more dreamy and spacey, but no less engaging.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #14

The Monster Tour was R.E.M.'s first tour in more than five years. It saw them playing enormous venues, moving on from the large arenas they played during the Green Tour to stadiums. MrsRobster and I hooked up during the UK leg when we saw them at Cardiff Arms Park. You can see why I have such fondness for this era...

Another concert movie was made to mark the significance of the Monster Tour. While Roadmovie may not have as high acclaim as Tourfilm did, it was still quite brilliant as far as concert movies go. In order to make more of a show within the vast spaces they were playing in, the band incorporated more of a visual aspect than they had before with large-scale projections used as backdrops. They also augmented their line-up with additional musicians (Scott McCaughey and Nathan December) something they had never done before in a concert setting.

Roadmovie is a worthwhile document of a much feted tour. I love most of the songs on 'Monster' and they sound amazing live. I might have to post I Took Your Name from this in a future post because it just sounds incredible. But for now...

This tour resulted in R.E.M.'s next album. All the songs for 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' were written during the Monster Tour, and most of them recorded live during shows and soundchecks. One of those new songs, Revolution, didn't make the subsequent record. By the time they came to compile it, the political references and themes in the lyrics had dated to the point where it was deemed out of step with the rest of the album. A studio version was recorded and given over to the Batman & Robin soundtrack, but the live version on Roadmovie is deemed to be far superior. I don't disagree.

Let Me In was Michael Stipe's tribute to his late friend Kurt Cobain. It is the outstanding highlight on 'Monster' and to this day remains one of my all-time top 5 R.E.M. tracks. Live, Mike Mills plays a guitar owned by Cobain, while Peter Buck plays keyboards. The flashing visuals flicker relentlessly as the sprawling guitar reverberates around the vast space, filling the air with the most unusual and unique sounds ever heard at an R.E.M. show. It is an intensely personal and emotional song for Stipe, and rather uncomfortable for the listener. Typically, this is probably why I adore it so much and always have. During the Cardiff date, I remember experiencing a real jawdropping 'wow' moment when they played Let Me In. Watching it in Roadmovie again takes me right back there.

I can't not post the clip now, can I...? Instructions: turn off the lights, close the curtains. Listen through a decent pair of headphones at high volume and watch full screen. Be blown away.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Bunny Wailer - roots reggae pioneer, original member of the Wailers, Bob Marley's stepbrother... yeah yeah yeah, we all know who he is and his standing in reggae circles. I'm not going to write any more about that. Instead, let's just have a tune.

Bunny's fourth solo album, 'In I Father's House', was a six-track effort released in 1980 in Jamaica only. A couple of years later it was given a worldwide release, though with a rearranged track order, two additional songs and a new title. Both versions of the record opened with the same track. On the original it was called Roots Raddics; on the reissue, it was dubbed Roots Radics Rockers Reggae and became the title track.

Bunny is still performing. Last year he toured performing his solo debut album 'Blackheart Man' to mark its 40th anniversary. He is one of only two surviving original Wailers. Anyone know who the other is?

Monday, 3 July 2017


Here's a tune for your summer playlists. The Tambo Rays are from Oakland, CA. They have been kicking around for a few years, releasing singles here and there and they're just about to release a new EP titled 'Recharge'. The lead single is called Yes And No and while it's poppier than the sort of thing I usually go for, it's undeniably catchy, unashamedly summery and unapologetically fun.

'Recharge' is released on 17th July on CD and cassette (yes, cassette!) as well as digitally from the band's Bandcamp site. Check out some of their other tunes there too.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #13

I know that R.E.M. had a torrid time making 'Fables Of The Reconstruction', and many fans rate it quite low among the band's IRS material, but I've always loved it. I'm particularly taken by Stipe's lyrics which take on a real southern storytelling theme. Some of the harmonies on the record rate among the finest they ever recorded too.

The band undertook a massive touring schedule broken down into four segments known as Preconstruction, Reconstruction I, Reconstruction II and Reconstruction III. The first of these included summer festivals in Europe, which were among the biggest they'd ever played. For instance, in June 1985, they were on the bill for The Longest Day, a one-day festival headlined by U2. Billy Bragg, Spear of Destiny and The Ramones were also present. Sadly, R.E.M. failed to get the crowd going. As Tony Fletcher wrote in Remarks - The Story of R.E.M.:  "The 50,000-strong crowd was in no mood for a band opening a set with as downbeat a song as Feeling Gravity's Pull, and the group spent the entire set dodging missiles, the most common of which were plastic bottles full of urine."

A couple of weeks later, however, they were at Belgium's famous Rock Werchter festival where they were much better received. Half of their 12-song set featured tracks from 'Fables...', including Can't Get There From Here. They also threw in a decent cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen The Rain? Some of the set was broadcast on Belgian radio and I believe this is the source of the recordings I have.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Reggae Wednesday

I'm not going to apologise for posting so many classics in this series. It's fine being all clever and obscure, but I'll never fail to acknowledge the brilliance of some of the best known reggae tunes out there. Today's pick is one of the best known of all - one of the great reggae songs of all time.

Night Nurse catapulted Gregory Isaacs headlong into worldwide stardom in 1982. The fame led to him developing a serious cocaine and crack habit which in turn resulted in the loss of his teeth, a deterioration of his voice and a spell in prison. However, he never stopped writing, recording and performing. More than 60 studio albums bear his name and he remains a legend of his genre. Isaacs died of lung cancer in London in 2010. The Jamaican government posthumously awarded him the Order Of Distinction (Officer Class) in 2016. But his lasting legacy will be his music.

I love Night Nurse so much, I'm giving it to you twice! The first is the original 12" mix which combines the album version with the obligatory dub version. The other is a fantastic live version from 1987's 'Encore', recorded at Brixton Academy in London. The (mainly female) crowd is exuberant throughout, singing loudly and chanting "We want Greg'ry" as he leaves the stage at the end.

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#23: No Pussy Blues

One thing Nick Cave has long been renowned for is his lyrics. His knack for storytelling rates him among the greats like Dylan and Cash. He's a folk singer, first and foremost. Often, beneath the surface text there are deeper, underlying meanings, all kinds of connotations and contexts; metaphors and subtexts. So, what are we to make of No Pussy Blues from the first Grinderman album? What wisdom lies behind the words? Well, according to Nick himself: "It's just about not getting any pussy when I grew my moustache." I'm guessing cats are not involved here... So there we are then. Sometimes we shouldn't think to hard about these things...

Here's an explosive live version from Jools Holland. I feel sorry for whoever had to follow this...

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...