100 Songs by Number

A few years ago I amused myself by creating some ‘themed’ playlists on Spotify (other streaming services are available). I created, for example, ‘A Week In Songs’ and ‘A Year In Songs’. My favourite was/is ‘A Rainbow of Songs’, using song titles with the colours from Infra-Red through to Ultra-Violet. It was a passing fancy, and one I’d forgotten about until a recent trip to Ireland with some buddies, during which we were trying to find music to play and I found, and played, the aforementioned ‘Rainbow’.

When I got home I decided to revisit these playlists and realised that in making them, I’d stumbled across some undiscovered gems.  This was because I didn’t have, in my head, a list of songs that matched the criteria: though simple (the songs needed to have the day/month/colour in the title, with no other day/month/colour mentioned in that title) I simply didn’t know a song which had ultra-violet in the title.

And so, while playing them again, I realised what a voyage of discovery they had been; lists framed by the familiar – like A Week In Songs – but peppered with the unearthed. Hearing again Friday In Paris by The Strange Boys was thoroughly enjoyable. I’d forgotten it altogether, so in effect I rediscovered it all over again, the thrill of discovery rediscovered. It sounds like the love child of Ronnie Lane and Bob Dylan, 2 minutes and 17 seconds of thinking ‘Why did I not know this?’ and ‘How could I have forgotten I knew this?’

So… Inspired, and in the words of those who envy my early retired status, having ‘too much time on my hands’, I decided to embark on another list.  This was going to be a real challenge though, not 7 days (7 songs), or 9 colours (9 songs) or 12 months (you’re ahead of me here aren’t you?). No, this was going to be songs by number, from 1-100. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

The criteria were simple again, but as I was to find, demandingly restrictive at times. The title, of course, needed to mention the number.  It had to be a cardinal, not ordinal number, and no other number could be in the title. If that sounds easy, you should try it, and see how many songs you have to put a dust cover over, to use perhaps in some other list. No 20th Century Boy’ by T-Rex, because that’s an ordinal number, and no Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by Bob Dylan, because that’s got two numbers in the title. Sigh.

Once again, there was something of a framework, some songs I wanted in there without having to give too much thought to it. I won’t list them all, but here’s a small selection:

36” High by Nick Lowe, was pretty much the first song I chose. I love Nick Lowe, a simply marvellous song writer.  This song, from the 1977 dually titled Jesus of Cool (or Pure Pop For Now People if you’re sensitive) just had to be in there.  There’s a whole other article to be written about that album, coming as it did, smack bang in the middle of the punk era, full of lush musicianship and erudite lyrics and yet highly acclaimed. Another time perhaps.

I put in 48 Hours by The Clash, simply because I had 100 songs to play with, and The Greatest Rock Band In The World Ever had to be in there somewhere. (Not 48 Crash by Suzi Quatro as Kev guessed, good guess though it was.)

There’s One by Mary J Blige. I’m not a fan of hers, having pitched my tent on the site marked ‘Indifferent’, nor (anymore) a fan of U2.  I do, however, think this is a terrific song about the destructive nature of a relationship in its death throes. It just needs a better singer than God’s Boss to sing it.*

Yes, I know, U2 make an appearance at 40. Let me explain. Once upon a moon, a friend of mine tried to endear me to U2 (and in those early days, he was successful). He also introduced me to a lad who became one of my dearest friends.  The new friend played in a band, and I used to go see them every Saturday night. Although a talented pianist, he actually drummed for the band. They wrote their own songs and were quite good, in an ’80s sort of way. However, for arcane reasons they always ended their shows with U2’s 40. The venue was a cellar under a pub, and it would be filled with the sound of the audience singing the refrain, long after the band had left the stage.

Sadly, the first of these two friends died last year, and the second, in his early 50s, has dementia. I visited him in New Zealand in July, and although he’s still the same old (very funny) guy, it’s sad to think that his immense talents are going from him. I can still picture him, looking at me over his tom-toms, with a sheepish grin and rolling eyes because he knew they were way better than a U2 covers/tribute band. 40 reminds me of them both. So there.

But… Making these lists is really about finding music you’ve not heard. It’s trawling through songs that meet the criteria, and finding, well, mostly dross to be honest. I would like to say it was a labour of love, but at times it was just labour. Labouriously laboursome.  (Spellchecker doesn’t like those two words. It can fuck off. In a fuckly way. It doesn’t like ‘fuckly’ either.)

The thing is though, making a list of this length means you get so far that you can’t stop, but boy, is it difficult to find a meritorious (oh, you like that, spellchecker?) song? There are, inevitably then, some ‘fillers’ because I couldn’t find a good song (number 84 for example). Yet there are those discoveries that ultimately made the challenge worthwhile. Four Women by Nina Simone, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of. That alone made the venture a satisfying one.  Then there’s a very interesting version of 7 Nation Army by someone called Zella Day (no, me neither).

So. There’s the DMA’s (at 37), The Pine Box Boys (56), Hans Olson (65), The National (90) and many others, all artists I’d never heard of. Not to mention the many other artists and songs I listened to and rejected. Once finished, I spent a couple of days playing it through, and I’m still enjoying it,  particularly hearing the unfamiliar; this is what loving music is about, the thrill of the new, planting songs in your memory, making them, well, familiar.

Have a listen.   Take your time though.  No one is suggesting you have to listen to it all in go, but let me share my voyage of discovery with you and maybe you’ll make some discoveries too.

Or make a list.  Go on…

*Yes, I’m well aware that Johnny Cash did an excellent version of One, but he already makes two appearances in the list.

Danny Jones

Sad Paradise Selection on Spotify

The Sad Paradise Management would like to thank everyone who followed, liked, commented, contributed articles, promoted and shared our stuff, particularly over the past month. With your help, September was the busiest month on the blog since records began.

To celebrate, we’ve put together a Spotify playlist, which includes many of the tunes and artists we’ve written about over the past year. Put it on shuffle and surprise yourself.

Kev & Steve

The Cravats – Dustbin of Sound

When I tell you that The Cravats were part of the Anarcho-Punk movement of the 1980s (they were formed in Redditch in 1977) please don’t dismiss them as one of those aggressive buzzsaw guitar bands like Crass, Dirt, Conflict and Flux of Pink Indians (fine as those bands were). One of the great things about that movement was the vast breadth of music contained within. Bear in mind that the Crass label released music by Captain Sensible, Honey Bane and Bjork’s first (pre Sugarcubes) band Kukl, as well as more melodic bands like Poison Girls, Zounds, Sleeping Dogs and The Mob.

With the 50th birthday of Radio One being celebrated this weekend, it seems appropriate to mention that The Cravats recorded no less than 4 sessions for John Peel’s show. Cravats front man, The Shend, comments (in Ian Glasper’s excellent The Day The Country Died book) that:

…knowing how important the PRS payments were to us small bands, he used to even play two or three tracks a night in order to help us out financially. He was responsible for most good music even being heard in the first place, and I’d actually say he was the most influential person ever in British music; he gave everybody a chance.

In allowing John Peel to work unfettered in this way, Radio One was an invaluable conduit for new music — even if it was only for a few hours in the middle of the night through the week. Here’s the band’s single Rub Me Out  recorded for their Peel session of 10th August 1981:

The band has always been led by The Shend (the only original member and occasional actor, who has appeared in EastEnders, Red Dwarf, The Bill, Men Behaving Badly, and Torchwood amongst others).  He’s now backed up, in proper punk naming style, by Svor Naan on Saxophone (who joined in 1978, so almost original), Rampton Garstang on Drums, Viscount Biscuits on Guitar and Joe 90 on Bass.

I’ve seen their music described as “Jazz punk” and whilst I can hear that, there is so much more here. The new album — their first since The Colossal Tunes Out album of 1986 (so that’s a 31 year gap) — kicks off with King of Walking Away. Some of The Shend’s lyrics can be rather oblique and some of the fun of listening to these tracks is trying to work out exactly what he is going on about. I could just fill this review with quotes from the tracks that I enjoy, such as:

But when you bathe that desire, I’m an electric fire
Balanced precariously on your porcelain rim
Soon I will fall, plugged into the wall,
And watch you thrash about as the lights flicker and dim
I’m the king of walking away.

Is this about “Camoron” and his ridiculous, and wholly selfish decision to hold the Leave Referendum, only to lose it and drop the country right in the mire, and then run away? Maybe.

Batterhouse is a fabulous, bass driven, Jive style song — think Dead Kennedy’s We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now, but so much better. Motorcycle Man starts off as a pretty standard ‘chugger chugger’ track, lifted by a great sax riff: “Overtake the undertaker in his black sedan”100 Percent is another song that benefits from a really interesting sax riff: “I reckon I’m at my best when I’m wading through shit”. And Blurred, which was released as a single earlier this year. For me, it’s about the complete collapse of intelligent thinking. We should never trust an expert, apparently:

Smoke too many cigarettes
I eat too many cigarettes
I drink and drive too many cigarettes
I don’t know what is good for me
I don’t know what is good for me…

Power Lines Up sounds like a track that could have been written in the 80s anarcho-punk heyday: “Power lines up, Power Lines down…Pylon”. Jingo Bells was the first single released from the album back in March 2016 — before the Brexit vote — but I think we can safely ramp up that jingoism quotient by 5 times now.

Bury The Wild has a great guitar riff and a pro-vegetarian theme whereas Bigband is a bit of a rockabilly track all about, well, a big band. Following that there’s Whooping Sirens. All about a nuclear disaster, possibly reminiscent of Fukushima, and then we’re straight into “Hang Them”, on the American alt-right’s rabid calls to legally dispose of all sorts of alleged undesirables, by whatever means — and watch the ensuing executions.

Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Hang them shoot them electrocute them
Die

Big Red Car is all about the driving experience: “Warm and safe in my cocoon, another big bunny in a shit cartoon“. And finally, the most surreal track of the album, apparently written (and I’m taking the lyrics sheet at face value — which may be a big mistake) about a damaged sign that says:

All
u bish
Dumpers
Will be
rosecut

Hugely reminiscent of The Stranglers’ Peasant in The Big Shitty — though that might just be me!

This is going to be the most underrated album of the year. I can feel “critically acclaimed” oozing out of the air all around me. This deserves much more. It’s an interesting album with interesting tunes, interesting song structures and interesting lyrics. Do you remember that concept in ‘popular’ music? You’ve got to step back to the halcyon days of John Peel and have a listen to what he used to play to recognise it. But Dustbin of Sound has it in the here and now.

Clearly 5/5

Marc Bolan

A couple of weeks ago saw the 40th anniversary of the death of Marc Bolan but I held off writing a piece then: it felt so much more fitting to celebrate his birthday than to mourn his departure. He would have been 70 years old today.

It was July 1971 when I first experienced T-Rex. Mum, dad and I used to go on a week-long summer holiday in Clacton-on-Sea pretty much every year. We’d have lunch in a cafe on the seafront every day, and the cafe had a jukebox. Though I’m sure it was well stocked with records, the only three discs it ever played were Dawn’s Knock Three Times, Double Barrel by Dave & Ansel Collins – and Hot Love, with it’s splendid, elongated Hey Jude-style coda.

It was a thrilling time to be a T-Rex fan. Get It On was already number one (though hadn’t yet made it to that Clacton jukebox) and, due to Bolan being on two record labels at once, a slew of great singles followed in quick succession: Jeepster in November, Telegram Sam in January and Metal Guru in May. Thursday night was Boys Brigade night, so I rarely saw Top Of The Pops. But, despite missing most of his TV performances, I was hooked. My parents forbade me from spending all my pocket money on vinyl, but I managed to build up my collection of T-Rex singles by surreptitiously scouring the boxes of ex-jukebox discs (with centres missing) that used to be sold off cheap in newsagents.

I also managed to blag a copy of a “Greatest Hits”-style album — Bolan Boogie — for Christmas, simply to complete my singles collection, but it exposed me to the earlier Tyranosaurus Rex material: Dove, By the Light of a Magical Moon, She Was Born to Be My Unicorn. All spellbinding, bewitching tunes, Straight Outta Mordor.

It was a great time to be a Bowie fan too, of course. He had a similar hippy/folky back catalogue to Bolan, and they both caught/caused the same sweetly made-up, androgynous zeitgeist: underpinned by that crunchy, fuzzy, riff-heavy guitar sound that we largely have their common denominator, producer Tony Visconti, to thank for. Each of them constantly shifted, shifted back, shifted sideways, shifted again. And nothing captures Bolan’s own transition from psychedelic pixie to full blown, sexual, glam rock giant (or echoes Bowie’s) more than Raw Ramp:

By the mid-’70’s, Bowie was already on his fifth, sixth or seventh persona, while Bolan had seemed to lose his way after 20th Century Boy. We’ll never know if we’d have seen a Bowie-like reinvention on the back of the Marc TV show. Nor how he’d have reacted as punk — a genre he had inspired and respected — played out. Or if he’d have gone back to his ‘mod’ roots and successfully explored a more Motown/Soul sound that he’d started to experiment with after becoming involved with Gloria Jones. But we can say that we’d not have had Bowie were it not for Bolan, nor Marc if not for David, at least not in the spectacular forms we now remember. Their ‘rivalry’ accelerated Glam Rock, and ultimately popular music/culture, way beyond what had seemed possible or reasonable. Which is why there are at least a thousand reasons to celebrate the undying Bolan’s birth. And why we’re all children of his revolution.

I’d Rather Be Out On My Bike: Fifty Years Of Radio One

Radio 1 may be, for the most part, a helium balloon, and it is the sheer weight of what John Peel gave us that holds it in place. (Danny Jones)

Heart pounding… fingers poised over the pause and record buttons… trying to record the good stuff without the DJ’s bloody voice at the beginning and end. Sunday nights were Radio One nights – a time to hear new stuff and to find out what was Number One. And to decide I didn’t really get 10cc. The DJ was Tom Brown. Or Tom Browne. (I don’t want to look him up: he was a Godlike character who held The Knowledge, I don’t want to find out he was human.)

It turns out those Sunday nights were the second most-mentioned aspect of Radio One in Sad Paradise’s recent utterly-scientific, peer-reviewed, completely-representative Facebook research thing. The first? I’m sure you can guess.

“It was insincere, shallow and ginger. I only listened to Capital Radio.”

The Story Of Radio One: Version One.

For our generation (those born in the Sixties), Radio One’s emergence as a revolutionaryish, piratey, establishment/not-establishment voice of moany, disenfranchised, edgy youth was a quaint – and disputed – relic of the dim and distant past (anyone else hate Flowers In The Rain? Just me??) By the time we started listening – by the pre-punk early- and mid-Seventies –  what had started as a kind of rebellion had, as everything always does in popular music, become swallowed up by the money men and started clinging desperately onto the Status Quo. So we had no choice but to listen to a bunch of strange, iffy-haired, achingly uncool old men, each of whom had a compulsory official nickname, in a vain attempt to make them appeal to The Kids: Gary ‘Diddy’ Davies, Dave Lee ‘The Stewpot’ Travis, Peter ‘Creepy Smile’ Powell, Simon ‘Our Bloody Tune’ Bates, Jimmy ‘I Don’t Have To Come Up With One For Him, Surely?’ Savile etc etc.

For a few years, Radio One was utterly dominant musicwise, it and its dodgy older brother Top Of The Pops trying to (and often succeeding in) dictating what we heard and what we liked: until the arrival of Capital, we had little choice but to listen to it or ignore the radio completely and seek our edge and our succour in other ways. The old, old story – and the way I’d always seen it until the last week or so – is one of a double-headed monster. The uncool, middle-aged head: The Nicknames, Arnold the dog, rigid playlists, a superglued adherence to the safe, the squeaky-clean, the almost-Eurovision, the sexist, the edgeless, the cornerless, the vapid, the facile. The cool, young, questing head: John Peel, who was given carte blanche to play whatever he wanted – on Top Gear, then on his own show, where we willingly sat with him and waded through obscure Reading-based Einsturzende Neubauten wannabes to find the inevitable life-affirming gold. The Man tried to interfere, of course, particularly when punk came along, but Peel always got away with it. His passion and open-hearted/mindedness and wit and generosity led us, led our culture down whole new paths. No Peel = no Ramones, no Undertones, no Fall, no Kindergarten. Billy Bragg travelled up to the BBC and gave him a mushroom biryani when Peel mentioned on air he was hungry – and got his new record played in return… JP was Good to DLT’s Evil.

But:

The Story Of Radio One. Version Two.

All the above, plus… as well as Peel, there was Alan Freeman and there was Tommy Vance and Paul Gambaccini and the wonderful Tony Blackburn and Anne Nightingale and Johnnie Walker: lovers of music (and lovers of the unfashionable AND the unpop) who balanced precariously on the tightrope between JP and DLT and who pushed so many of us in so many new directions. As ever, truth is more nuanced than story.

And:

The Story Of Radio One. Version Three.

All of the above, plus… apparently, Radio One continued after 1982! Playing music! Having competitions! With DJs and stuff! And with Steve Wright, some new-fangled punky youngster! Who knew? By the time the New Romantics arrived, we’d given up caring, as long as Peel was still there. It doesn’t really matter what happened next…

 

With thanks to Carol Eccleston, Tim Giles, Elaine Collis, Karen Ertsaas, Miriam Dunn, Neil Hatswell, Andy Moore, Mark Seton, Delia Parker, Misha Mansoor, Ian Matthews, Miriam Bindman, Sam Burnett, Mary Dearth, Chris Waddell, Alasdair Blain, Ian Macmillan, Helen Balchin, Mitch Johnson. Only three of whom ever went to a Radio One Roadshow willingly. 

The Len Price 3: Kentish Longtails

We’re all a bit cross

The Len Price 3 deliver a cracking mix of punky power pop, mod and a fair amount of anger on this, their fifth, long player, bringing the sound of the Medway to your home. Kicking off with a diatribe against Billy Childish and writers of reviews generally (not the last time music reviewers cop for some anger) Childish Words gets the album off to a cracking start,. The fact that the tune is well and truly wedged in my brain after only a couple of listens is a good sign!

Sucking the Life Out of Me retains the anger quotient but the pace eases off a little, and we then get a jangling beauty of a song — You Can’t Say Goodbye — replacing the bile with a good measure of pathos. The impressive backing vocals from Neil Fromow are highlighted here, and feature throughout the album. Things in the lyric department look up for the gentler love song Telegraph Hill and we get some enjoyable reminiscing on Saturday Morning Film Show . Whatever did happen to the Children’s Film Foundation?

Then back to the anger with Nothing I Want

I’d like to take your stuff, ram it down your throat,
With your plasma screen telly and your UKIP vote.

Yep. We all know one of those.

Then we’re hit with a brief moment of surrealism on Pocketful of Watches. This gentle sixties-styled track, with it’s ba, ba, ba’s, lulls you into a false sense of security before we launch into the very angry, Ride On Coattails. ”I’ve had enough of it” spits singer and guitarist Glenn Page.

Meaningless Mouth takes issue with the “art” of lip synching and fake, manufactured, X-Factor style “pop stars” and I have no idea what Lisa Baker did to piss them off, but she’s apparently their “Poundland Valentine”. Stop Start Lilly really reminds me of early Who and this is followed by the sing-a-long Paint Your Picture Well. If You See What I See demonstrates the great drumming of Neil Fromow, and we then reach the end of the listed tracks with Man In The Woods. Definitely a good track to showcase for the album and the band have released this video for it;

After a short break we have the obligatory “hidden” track; a rather splendid punky pub-rock style tune all about things we don’t need, apparently titled, after a root around the internet, Sally Ann.

This is a great album. If you enjoy The Who, The Jam and The Kinks, you’ll be very happy. I’m conscious I’ll get a slap from the band for that very lazy comparison…

You dribble words on the printed page,
You kiss me off with the faintest of praise,
I’ve had enough of it.

Redemption hopefully comes with a 5/5

CIRCU5

CIRCU5 is the project of multi-instrumentalist, Steve Tilling. Fairly accurately self-described as “like the errant offspring of Foo Fighters and King Crimson,” it certainly has a ‘prog’ feel, but this is artfully mixed-up with songs with strong melodies and some definite hooks. The album traces the life of a child raised as a psychopath in a secret government organisation. Obviously. We caught up with Steve and, with some relief, can confirm that this isn’t autobiographical; he’s actually a very convivial chap…


Sad Paradise: For the benefit of those new to your work, could you give us a brief résumé?

Steve Tilling: In the Swindon area, some know me from being in Bardiche – a metal band from the late 80s and early 90s. Music’s just in me, I suppose. I started playing classical guitar when I was 7. My parents panicked and steered me towards that when I said I fancied playing the trumpet. So, I learned classical for a few years – sheet music, grades, music stands, precociousness, the works.

Then aged 11, in 1982, my brother brought a cassette by Saxon home. I remember him sitting in a toy tepee in the garden, playing it on a cassette player. I heard it from my bedroom and liked it. Soon after, I gave up the classical lessons, forced out a collar-length mullet, and grew partial to stuff like Ozzy Osborne and Iron Maiden. I got into some prog bands, like Yes and Rush. I was also a bit of a space cadet, and loved bands like Hawkwind. And a Canadian band called Max Webster, who sported a natty line in yellow jump suits and frocks.

So, I see CIRCU5 as edgy alternative rock with a progressive twist. That all came from my childhood. I picked up more influences along the way, such as Jellyfish, who were master musicians and vocalists. If you’re interested, you should check out the Spilt Milk album, which is a classic.

SP: The sound is very much guitar based, which I’d characterise as post-punk-prog – it has a definite harder edge. There’s some piano but, overall, very few keyboards. Is this a conscious attempt to distance yourself from first generation prog (Yes/Genesis) where synth/Mellotron may have made the sound too ‘dated’? Or do you just really like lots of guitar?

ST: I like a lot of bands with keyboards. But the CIRCU5 story, and some of the music, is quite dark and wouldn’t suit florid keyboard solos. However, there are some vintage synth effects on the album. I like bands that rock and shock musically – such as Cardiacs, who were very punky and proggy. That said, I also love songs with rousing choruses, which are on the album in tracks like Stars, Blame It On Me, and The Amazing Monstrous Grady.

SP: ‘Concept’ prog got a bit of a bad name towards the end of the ’70’s, when albums got too long and tediously cryptic. And these days, streaming encourages a pick’n’mix approach to listening, risking the derailment of any narrative. Your songs definitely work standalone, but having a story-line is still a bit of a brave move. What are your thoughts on the story itself and the desire to have a connecting theme through the album?

ST: I think CIRCU5 has a story more than a concept, as there’s a definite narrative rather than a general mood or idea. I’ve always fancied writing a book, but never found the time or the right idea. But after writing a few songs for this, a psychopathic character started to emerge. I started thinking, what if this character was unknowingly shaped to be that way from birth in a secret government organisation? And he discovered the truth as an adult? Before long, I had a four-page plot. The CD packaging is very lavish with a 28-page booklet featuring lyrics, images and clues to the story, and a ‘secret document’ explaining the background. (All this is available digitally too, with a high-quality album download.)

I hope those that stream on sites like Spotify are intrigued enough to get the full package. But I’m happy if they just want to enjoy the music. As you say, the songs stand up separately too, and we all like different things. I’m just traditional in that I like something I can hold and read.

SP: Looks like you have an array of Swindon’s finest musicians guesting on the album. How was the recording process?

ST: Strenuously pleasurable, matron. It took five years because life and bills got in the way. It started as a challenge: could I write, record and release an album all by myself? Halfway through, I felt quite lonely and wanted to connect with others. So I called on guest musicians for support and a different flavour, such as Dave Gregory from XTC and Big Big Train, and Phil Spalding from Mike Oldfield’s band. And I approached Stu Rowe, a top mixer and musician, to mix and master it. They plopped a fat juicy cherry on an already tasty cake.

SP: Apart from the guest musicians, most of the playing is you. Does that mean you’ll not be playing any of this ‘live’?

ST: I’d love to do CIRCU5 live. It will just take time to get it together. I’d like to do an audio-visual event with videos telling the story while the band’s playing. I think it will take some rehearsing too. But if Mike Oldfield could launch Tubular Bells live while being on the edge of a breakdown, why can’t I?

SP: You’re obviously into the promotion phase of this project for the immediate future but any thoughts on what’s next?

ST: I see this debut CIRCU5 album as the first chapter in the story. If enough people like the album and want another, I’ll do it. That’s why I’m so grateful to those listening and supporting me. It means everything, really.


For more information on the CIRCU5 project, go to www.circu5.com and facebook.com/circu5

U-Roy – Happy 75th Birthday

Around 1979, I was clumsily attempting to cultivate an interest in reggae but – with only brief snatches of John Peel and David Rodigan to guide me – was becoming more and more frustrated. Fortunately, that summer I got a job in a factory in Tottenham. The vast majority of the shop-floor workers were of West Indian origin and, as well as being the best workmates anyone could hope for, they were more than happy to help me develop my taste. One particularly accommodating colleague, Ken (no doubt greatly amused by a white boy’s interest in Jamaican culture) suggested I get the big tune of the moment, Horace Andy’s Natty Dread a Weh She Want. I had no idea where to buy it, but Ken drove us (in his rumbling 1972 Ford Capri) down to Third World Records in Stoke Newington, and out I came with a splendid 12″ Disco 45.

The tune was great, but better still was Tappa Zukie’s toasting over the version. My work colleagues thought I was crazy to like all the dub stuff over the mainstream “lovers rock” (“A party is nothing without girls and the girls check for lovers”) but that’s what I liked. For me, Tappa Zukie was my king for a while, though It soon dawned on me that he wasn’t exactly original. In fact, the whole of Natty Dread a Weh She Want was based on an earlier tune, Soldering by The Starlights, with some guy called “Big Youth” toasting over it.

Though gutted to discover my hero was a bit of a thief, it was becoming clear that reggae’s genealogy is complex and incestuous — and, importantly, everyone seemed OK with that. The more I looked, the more “borrowing” I found. A particularly extreme example is Up Town Top Ranking, very familiar to UK listeners since it reached number one in the main UK charts in 1978. It’s actually a copy of Three Piece Suit by Trinity, both cuts using the backing track of Marcia Aitken’s I’m Still In Love With You Boy.

And that’s a cover of Alton Ellis’s I’m Still In Love from 1967. But it doesn’t stop there: Althea and Donna’s hit has been covered several times, including once, magnificently, in German.

The point was that these “answer” records were intended to be ephemeral, never the lasting contribution to cultural history that my European background had conditioned me to expect. Many were cut direct to fragile acetate disks that weren’t intended to last. I was gradually understanding all of this — and tracing the roots of each track became an obsession. The trail that took me from Tappa Zukie to Big Youth inevitably lead to The Originator of toasting, U-Roy.

Born Ewart Beckford, 75 years ago today, in Kingston, Jamaica, U-Roy began as a deejay in 1961. He worked his way around the Kingston sound systems through the ’60’s and, spotted by Duke Reid, started releasing singles in 1970. Of the earlier stuff, it’s hard to imagine anything more joyful than Rock with I. By the mid-1970s, Beckford was internationally known — and  that’s when I caught up with his back catalogue. The 1976 release, Natty Rebel, shows a move away from good-time fun and a greater emphasis on a more serious roots feel. For me, the high point in his output was the work he did on versions of many Linval Thompson tracks, such as Joyful Locks from the middle of the decade.

As the great dub poet Oscar Wilde said, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and U-Roy has been flattered more than most. It’s all out of utter respect — I-Roy even named himself in U-Roy’s honour — and from the certainty that he was, and remains, one of the greats of reggae. One of just a handful of artists, producers and deejays who made the genre so enthralling throughout the ’70’s: like the looping and warping echoes of a King Tubby dub, the beauty of the recycling and cross-breeding of ideas and sounds is both the essence and the paradox of true reggae.

Always the same but always different. Never permanent but always there.

Happy Birthday, Ewart — and thank you, Ken, for starting me off on the right track.

The Waterboys: Out Of All This Blue

Once upon a long ago, I travelled from Swansea to Birmingham to see a much talked-about, but as yet not-really-broken-through band by the name of U2. (Before I go on, I feel I must metaphorically snap my fingers and get you back in the room, because I’m sure you may be are stuck on several things in that opening sentence. None are relevant. Stop it. Stopped? Good. Can I continue?)

Over time and many gigs, I’ve learned to pay attention to the support act, ever since I saw an unknown Squeeze play bottom of the bill behind Radio Stars and Eddie and the Hot Rods back in ’77.  This particular night was another when the magic was spun again, the unknown hopefuls this time an outfit called The Waterboys, and they utterly owned the stage.  They were big, soulful, mellifluous, shouty and captivating. In fairness, U2, who had yet to invent the Blues and for whom Bono was yet to declare himself, if only tacitly, as bigger than Jesus, were actually hugely entertaining. But it was the raggedly ragamuffin bunch of openers that left me restless and wanting more. Shortly thereafter, they found themselves elevated, or demoted depending on how you view these things, to being mentioned in the same breath as U2, as well as Big Country and Simple Minds. It was the era of the 80s’ ‘Big Music’, a label which itself came from an album track (and single release) from The Waterboys’ 1984 album A Pagan Place.

The Waterboys were/are, in essence, Mike Scott and whichever musicians he has around him at any given time.  However, while he is naturally the greatest influence on the band’s sound and direction, he has never been fool enough to ignore the strengths of those he chooses to have as companions. The majestic keyboard sound of Karl Wallinger (who was to write and record She’s The One with his band World Party, later a hit for Robbie Williams) and the subtler saxophone of Anthony Thistlethwaite (long since a journeyman with The Saw Doctors) created a far more interesting framework for Scott’s literary and Celtic songwriting than was evident in the other ‘Big Music’ groups. And perhaps the greatest influence was the addition of Steve Wickham in 1985: a folk-orientated fiddle player, his contribution led to the ‘second era’ of The Waterboys sound, bringing a sweeping folk feel to the rock’n’roll that lasted for several years.

A brief return to a more rock-driven sound was followed by the dissolution of the band and a solo career from Scott. Rekindling the Waterboys’ brand, and with Wickham rejoining, a more experimental sound – more informed by ‘alternative music’ – laid the foundation for the most recent incarnation of the band, as heard on the 2015 album ‘Modern Blues’ and now on this, the magnum opus of ‘Out of All This Blue’.

The DNA here is recognisable, but evolution has helped build a fitter, stronger animal altogether. This work doesn’t ever sit neatly in a category, it’s not ‘Big Music’, it’s not ‘Celtic-folk’ and it’s not ‘alternative music’. Nor is it all of these somehow melded together: it’s something quite different, something that could come only from the building blocks of the past. There is the same literary lyricism, the same heart-baring soulful words from Scott, that as usual reward close listening, but they are wrapped in an eclectic, fuzzy, hip-hop (yes, hip-hop), funky blanket that will have you hypnotised, melting into it’s warm loveliness, and before you know it, wanting to get up and snake and sway your hips. (Dancing? To a Waterboys album? Whatever next?)

Out Of All This Blue is an album that works as a whole, as a throbbing, bopping, hopeful, exposing piece of art that embraces and provokes. I have my favourite tracks: you’ll have yours. Give it a try, maybe sinking first into If The Answer Is Yeah. But if that doesn’t warm you, just immerse yourself in New York I Love You, or Girl In A Kayak: and then float away…

Gary Crowley’s Punk and New Wave Box Set

Released Tomorrow – a selection of 77 Punk gems and New Wave nuggets.

Coming from the Soho Radio show of the same name and compiled by Gary Crowley and Jim Lahat, this compilation is a bit of fresh air where Punk and New Wave compilations are concerned.

I’m sure somewhere in your collection you’ll have one of those flaccid compilations like “The Sound of the Suburbs” or “Teenage Kicks” or “Greatest Ever Punk and New Wave, The Definitive Collection”; they all contain great tracks, the problem is, they all contain the same great tracks. The Sex Pistols Marketing Team would have been proud…Flogging a Dead Horse anyone? (The Sex Pistols do not appear on this compilation).

So, what makes this compilation worth 20 of your hard-earned pound notes? Well, first off, you get 77 tracks, no more than one track per band – that’s 77 bands. You can argue all you like whether all the bands are punk or new wave – there’s certainly a smattering of mod stuff and post-punk and power-pop here, but it’s the attitude, the DIY ethos, the spirit and youthful bravado that powers through the whole compilation like the breath of fresh air that punk was back in the mid to late 70s. As Captain Sensible said: “…punk rock, like most intangibles, can mean whatever you want it to” and who am I to argue with the Captain (The Damned do not appear on this compilation).

These bands were the life-blood of Punk, these were the kids living their idols words, inspired by The Pistols and The Clash (The Clash do not appear on this compilation). This was real street punk, before street punk became a thing. There are bands included here who really did release only 500 copies of just 1 single; singles for which they lovingly glued the sleeves together in bedrooms and garages across the UK.  You could become quite misty eyed.

Alex Ogg covered 341 such bands in his definitive book “No More Heroes, A Complete History of UK Punk from 1976 to 1980” (No More Heroes does not appear on this compilation) so you are getting an excellent sample size of the sound of that period here. Of course, this compilation contains tracks from overseas as well as the UK, but you get the idea.

“Is the music any good though?” I hear you ask, well, of course it is, Crowley and Lahat have done a fine job of finding the great sounds from the period and including them here. Standouts include The Doubt (from Northern Ireland) with Time Out, The Automatics, When The Tanks Roll (Over Poland Again), The Suburban Studs with I Hate School and New Hearts’ Just Another Teenage Anthem to highlight  just 4 of the great tracks available here.

If you want something a bit more familiar to hang your hat on, then there is the excellent debut single Charles from The Skids; Spizzenergi appear with Soldier Soldier; there’s The Vibrators, The Saints, 999, The Boys and Generation X; along with bands that would subsequently move into other areas of music (and fame) like Ultravox, The Fall, The Nips and Altered Images.

The CDs come with a 40 page book including an introduction and track by track notes by Gary Crowley and Jim Lahat, plus punk memories from Richard Jobson (The Skids), Clare Grogan (Altered Images), Duncan Reid (The Boys), Jane Perry Woodgate (The Mo-Dettes) and Spizz.

If you want to step back and hear how ‘alternative’ music in the late 70s really sounded, this is the compilation for you. More The Roxy and The Vortex than the Hammersmith Palais (White Man in Hammersmith Palais does not appear on this compilation), in many respects more real and visceral than all those major label ‘sell outs’.