The Clash. White Man In Hammersmith Palais. Forty Years Old.

 

I know every word. I’ve always known every word. Even before I heard it, I knew every word. It’s alienation. It’s envy. It’s rage. It’s having a dig at Weller. It’s about being cool. It’s about being gloriously uncool. It’s about being white but wishing you weren’t. It’s about being white but fearing you’re not doing it properly. It’s about pride. It’s about equality. It’s about fifteen minutes long. It may be the best song ever written. It’s reggae. It’s not reggae. It’s my past. It’s walking down Ridge Avenue one snow-covered February. It’s Strummer hoping and hurting. It’s me wishing I was Simonon. It’s built on our hopes: yours and mine. It’s what I want playing in the old people’s home as the carers throw balls at me.

Next time I meet you I’ll sing it to you. Every word.

Alex Harvey.

It would have been Alex Harvey’s 83rd birthday today.

It’s 1975 and I really want to stay in and watch Susan St James (and some bloke) in McMillan And Wife. But I’m thirteen and my mate Darren’s got us tickets to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band at the New Victoria Theatre and my Mum’s letting me go. Mainly because I haven’t quite told her we’re going.

We get the 29. It takes hours. I feel a bit scared. We go to the pub. I feel a bit more scared. I drink my first-ever whiskey, hear my first-ever rebel song. We cross the road, bustle our way in. I feel even more scared and, as we stand there, surrounded by Celtic scarves and pissed, proud Irishmen, I try so, so hard not to vomit. And then, finally…

A hatchet-sharp, thunder-heavy guitar riff leaps towards us from behind the stage. The lights in the place snap out. There’s blackness silence for a second. And then the riff strikes again, twice as loud: it starts pounding and cutting and sawing. I’m not feeling sick anymore. I’m pinned to the floor, free of thought and feeling. A weird, fear-white man, picked-out by a single spotlight, skips onto the stage, all clown make-up, camp-glammy clothes and leering grin. There’s a roar that I’ve only ever previously heard at Spurs — the roar of men united within a temporary community, a transient certainty of connection and loss of self, a near-sexual thrill of anticipation. The painted man plays one huge, building-collapsing chord, the spotlight disappears, it’s darkness again and then He’s there, suddenly, at the front of the stage: black-and-white striped shirt, a lined, knowing face, the smile of the Devil. The roar from inside me and out, from every man there, is deafening, inhuman. A drummer and a bassist and a keyboard-player magic onto the stage behind Satan and The Clown and they start to embrace and kiss and stroke the riff, engorging it, transforming it into a warped, sinewy soul-blues thing that twists and turns and makes me feel more alive than I ever remember feeling.

And then? And then Alex Harvey starts singing. Or, rather, Alex Harvey starts commanding and preaching and whispering and cajoling and seducing and threatening. This isn’t a pop singer. This isn’t like any singer I’ve ever heard. Or would ever hear again. This is an angry, amused, terrifying man who’s both deeply, theatrically *other* and tremblingly, disturbingly real. He’s telling us stories: he’s from Glasgow and Louisiana and Liverpool and Detroit and Berlin and Chicago; he’s a cowboy, he’s a warrior, he’s Vambo. And he’s utterly captivating. Despite the spice and leer and vitality of the guitarist, despite the muscular drive and vigour of the other three, I can’t take my eyes off Alex Harvey. I want to be him and I want to run away from him at the same time. The music his slaves are playing is sharp, strong, stabbing, subtle — whatever he needs it to be so he can beguile us and seduce us and Gorbal us into his shadowy Gothic pantomime, so he can pull the pin of the sweet, orgasmic, dark-camp, circus-caress grenade that sits beneath the stories and poverty, the meaninglessness and waste and glories of our lives.

The world has changed; the two-hour (probably) set lasts two years and two seconds and then we’re staggering out of the place, dripping with sweat, the chorus of Delilah echoing round the city and round our heads, a mesmeric thrum that will last for days…

…Forty-three years later, I’m sitting in front of the computer and listening — for the third time this evening — to Framed, the album Darren once said I should get if I was only going to buy one Alex Harvey album.

I’ve been thinking about how that 1975 night changed me, how I fell in love with music, fell in love with spectacle and with the catharsis of sound, how I fell in love with Alex Harvey and the blues and rock and soul, fell in love with the idea of falling in love and, somehow, recognised the possibilities we all have in us to change ourselves and others for the better as we keep one foot, one part of our heart, permanently in the shadows… I’ve been trying not to think too much about how I’ve let that recognition fade… and I’ve been thinking how genreless and timeless Harvey and the band were/are, how they trod on and tried on blues and pop and vaudeville and rock’n’roll and glam and clambered higher, reaching up to and beyond punk, merging black and white, linking the US and Scotland and all our desires with joy and humour and an acknowledgement of our shared darknesses. Tonight, I’ve been listening to the vast Isobel Goudie, proggy in its ambition, yet sensual, insidious, celebratory, doomed; to the Glaswegian gobbling, swallowing and spitting out of Leiber and Stoller’s title-track; to the Francis Bacon-inspired, oddly-never-quite-made-it-as-a-Yuletide-hit There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree, Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight; and to the Gothic/Catholic Southern-burnt rhythms and stabbing concerns of the thing as a whole — serious and winking and blistering and religious and secular and like nothing else and like everything else.

And… I’ve been thinking this evening about time and the ways in which a middle-aged man bewitched a young kid by taking from the past and handing the best bits on to him. I’ve been thinking about the gratitude I owe Darren for introducing me to SAHB (and to gigs and Bob Marley and politics and not accepting the obvious). I’ve been thinking about how sad I felt when Alex Harvey died in 1982 and no-one I knew seemed to care and just how proud I felt when my daughter went out one night wearing a Vambo tee-shirt with His picture on the front. Above all, I’ve spent the last couple of hours not thinking anything very much, just losing myself in the power and the joy and in the silly, redemptive possibilities of music. And, just a little, in memories of Susan St James.

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

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.

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.

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’.

Growing Up With Brian Wilson…

50 Years since Heroes & Villains

The Beach Boys: It’s there in the name isn’t it? Beach. Boys. Even if you didn’t know their music you would immediately conjure up an image of young lads spending carefree days in the surf and playing cheerfully on the sand… and singing about it. And, despite the fact that, as we all know, only one of them actually embraced surfing as a pastime, their songs have that veneer of bright breeziness, of untroubled blithe days of youth, sun and beach life.

You don’t need to look too far, though, to recognise that there was much more to the world they both created and the world in which they found they had to live. That there is complexity in the layered musical arrangements and harmonies is, of course, much recognised.  However, there is, I would argue, also complexity and maturity in the lyrics, a maturity that belies the youthfulness of the simple beach life that appears on the surface (or surf-face, if you will…)

I remember being fascinated by the multi-layered Good Vibrations, a song that combined the joys of adulation of the opposite sex, the rich warmth of summer and astonishing harmonies with non-linear yet mellifluous music.  But it was Heroes and Villains that really, truly astounded me. It’s sheer trickery — marvellous, wonderful musical trickery that leads the listener first here, and then there, twisting, stopping and re-starting.

Here there is not a hint of surf, of the beach, of hazy idleness: here is a tale of gun fights, culture clashes, small town rivalries and, ultimately, redemption. It is one of two songs that I am pleased to know – just because they are not easy to learn – all the words to, (the other being (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais). It is probably my favourite Beach Boys song (with the obvious exception of God Only Knows, which sits on a pedestal all of its own).

Elsewhere, there is a thread that persists in their lyrics, an already-yearning nostalgia for the time they were living in, a looking back even before it had passed. A fundamental anxiety about what life would be like once these responsibility-free, untroubled days were over and middle-age (as good — or bad — as old age to the youngsters they were then) had settled upon them.

Caroline, No, for example, has always struck me as incredibly poignant, a young man seeing the girl he once loved, now older and as lost to him as his youth, and wondering ‘Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know?’ The young writers (Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, 23 and 25 respectively) were recognising the passage of time and loss of innocence in a simple, yet telling couplet.  I remember hearing this as a 15-year-old and already dreading the girls I knew crossing the Rubicon into maturity, as evidenced by the cutting of their long hair, which itself seemed a metaphor for giving in to adulthood.

In Do It Again, there are similar nostalgic themes, written with prescience by Brian Wilson and, this time, Mike Love. ‘It’s automatic when I talk with old friends, the conversation turns girls we knew when their hair was soft and long…’ Again, the Beach Boys were turning the clock forward on themselves, and knowing, with wonderful sentimentality, that one day they’d be looking back on these times.

On a different but connected theme, In My Room, a melancholic, introverted ode to the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, of the inevitable angst that accompanies all the joyous liberation, gives us a scene most of us will recognise: the sanctuary of our room, where we put all our setbacks, our woes, our disappointments into perspective and lost ourselves within, well, ourselves. ‘In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears’. Which of us didn’t?

For every seemingly cheerfully hedonistic song, of the ‘right here, right now,’ fun filled and sun-warmed happiness type, there’s another which looks tentatively ahead and asks ‘where is this all leading?’ Take a look and listen (again) to When I Grow Up To Be A Man. That the future, with its responsibilities, its expectations and pressures, was even written about by a group famed for its surf sound, let alone done so with such tenderness and anxiety is a thing of wonder.  There’s an acceptance of the inevitability of growing up (old) that is both sad and yet optimistic, knowing it will be filled with other, new experiences.

I grew up by the sea, and spent a lot of my childhood and teens on the beach. I loved the Beach Boys sound; it really did form a soundtrack to those long days messing about with boards, girls, friends, of not really thinking beyond the next few hours. And yet..

And yet, it was the other songs, the thoughtful, ponderous, complicated, wistful songs that really struck me.  Even as I lived and loved those days, I was aware of how quickly they would be gone, how I would one day be remembering them with a warm fondness.  I lived them and remembered them at one and the same time. If that sounds depressingly sad, trust me, it wasn’t.  Without the Beach Boys telling me how, I would surely have enjoyed them less, rather than doubly so.

Go on, treat yourself, have a listen with fresh ears and be as nostalgic as you like.

30 Years of Rickrolling!

Rick Astley will forever be remembered for Never Gonna Give You Up. Despite its utterly formulaic and unspectacular Stock, Aitken and Waterman production, this otherwise banal throwaway was carried, by his rich baritone voice, to Number 1 in the UK, 30 years ago this week.

SAW have to have been the laziest production team in history. Notoriously, they just used DX7 synth factory presets and Linn 9000 drum patterns stolen from Italian disco records. Pete Waterman did absolutely nothing, while Mike Stock and Matt Aitken would hack together something passable but leave the hard work of completing a track to their “B Team”. In fact, more effort seems to have gone into Morris Minor and the Major’s parody of their process than any of SAW’s actual records. In the case of Never Gonna Give You Up, the lyrics weren’t even complete when S&A left the studio — an uncredited junior team member finished them off. And, with typical Hit Factory insouciance, there was no middle eight. The poor mix engineer was expected to come up with something to create a bit of interest half way through, and pad it out to a reasonable length. The usual solution was to paste in an extra instrumental verse and drop in a line or two from earlier in the song. In this case, Pete Hammond got the short straw and devised the sampled and syncopated “never gonna give, never gonna give” motif. In fact NGGYU runs out of ideas about a minute and a half in. It only has two verses. Evidently there was a third verse but it must have been so trite — even by SAW standards — that it was never used. Shamelessly, Pete Waterman later defended this approach to production by comparing it to the output of Motown in the 1960s. We have to assume that’s Coventry humour.

Rick must have quickly known he would never shake off the NGGYU albatross. He eventually parted with SAW and, for a decade, retired from the music business. But in 2004, free to follow a style of his own choosing, he started quietly touring again. Then something quite odd happened. In May 2007, a jolly prankster deliberately misdirected people who were looking for a trailer of the latest Grand Theft Auto to the NGGYU video. ‘Rickrolling’ was born — and exploded. For a time, every other clickbait link led to Rick. At the phenomenon’s peak, as an April Fool, all YouTube’s front page recommendations were Rickrolls. This all brought Astley back into public view and he “won” MTV Europe’s “Best Act Ever” award, after a surge of Boaty McBoatFace-style voting. Although the video has since had over 400,000,000 views, Rick has allegedly only ever received $12 royalties. Yet he isn’t embittered, regarding it as a somewhat humorous episode in his life. He’s still playing along with the joke to this day; earlier this week he was on stage with Foo Fighters, Rickrolling Smells Like Teen Spirit.

I rather like that he’s outlived the Stock, Aitken and Waterman fad and just goes and does what he likes doing – like drumming and singing Highway To Hell. You wouldn’t get this from any other guy…