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’.

The End Of The Pier Show

For the best part of the past decade, Chris Waddell has been photographing all of the UK’s remaining pleasure piers, from Scotland right down to Cornwall. It hasn’t always been plain sailing but, this weekend, the labour of love culminates in the publication of a 140 page hardback book of the collection. We quizzed him about the project…


How did you start in photography?

It was part of my graphic design course, and I always enjoyed it as a hobby, but it became more serious 16 years ago when I became a self-employed designer. I’d spent years retouching other people’s work and felt it was time to take the shots myself.

Where did the “piers” concept come from?

I’d had a connection with pleasure piers from a young age. I was born near The Mumbles, grew up in Penarth and then lived near Brighton. All locations with surviving piers. Having bagged a great early morning shot of Bournemouth pier in 2008, I decided to do some research and discovered The Pier Society (founded by Sir John Betjeman) which has a great resource about surviving and lost piers. As an adult, I have come to love the idea that piers can give us a unique moment to fantasise about other times and places. The sea looks infinite from the end of many a pier — a place to stand and let your imagination run free… This defines my love of pleasure piers and the reason I then set about visiting all of them.

Bournemouth pier, June 2008

They’re undoubtedly romantic — but I’d imagine achieving the goal of photographing them all hasn’t been easy?

Inevitably, since starting the project, I have found other photographers have had the same idea. I have stubbornly avoided engaging with other collections to avoid their influence, whether positive or negative. If I had spent time watching too closely I’d have given up — and there have been times I have almost done just that for many reasons. During the process, I have had an unrelated nervous breakdown, gone deaf in one ear and developed tinnitus in both, which at times is louder than normal conversation. My family have remained supportive and I have bounced back from each setback with renewed determination. Lately, keeping busy with this project has proved to be a great distraction from the tinnitus; after all, there’s nothing like the lapping or crashing of the sea against a pier to mask the constant hiss…

You’ve said this project has made you feel like you’re starting from scratch with photography. Have you, willingly or otherwise, developed a personal style?

I am uncomfortable with the idea of having a photographic style although others may say, rightly or wrongly, I have developed one. I wonder if maintaining a style represents a kind of formulaic, personal cliché — an easy repetition of more of the same for one’s social media accounts? My approach to the book, I hope, is as eclectic as the piers themselves; hence the mix of monochrome and colour throughout. I prefer to shoot in response to conditions rather than wait for the conditions to suit an apparent style — and to shoot with immediacy rather than labour over a tripod and filter set up.

Aside from Piers Morgan (obviously), which are your favourite piers?

Some unexpected ones. I love Deal (Pier of the Year, 2008) for its simple, brutalist construction, and Walton-on-the-Naze, which sweeps round in a dramatic curve at the end toward the lifeboat mooring. I’m drawn to those with interesting histories too; many were breached during WWII to prevent them being used as landing stages by potential invading forces. Some have since been reconstructed, including Herne Bay — though that was later demolished again, leaving the landing stage and the pier head.

Herne Bay pier, September 2011

Now you’ve reached the end of the End of the Piers, do you have any other plans in the pipeline?

This project feels like a brief punctuation mark in my constant exploration of photography. A decade-long, first chapter of something bigger and better.


The End of the Pier Show” is available to buy through Chris’ web site: http://www.waddelldigital.co.uk/the-end-of-the-pier-show

The Fallen Leaves – What We’ve All Been Waiting For.

With summer over and but a few short months to Christmas, our attention turns to selecting the “Best Albums of 2017”. New guest writer, Mark, kicks us off with The Fallen Leaves’ What We’ve All Been Waiting For, released back in April.


As a callow yoof I started my musical journey as a Rude Boy, before moving into the more punky side of things with bands like Stiff Little Fingers. A fellow SLF fan introduced me to The Chords — a punky Mod band I immediately fell in love with. Their debut album, “So Far Away,” was always a favourite but I gradually lost touch with the band over the years. So, whilst listening recently to an interview with The Chords’ ex-drummer Brett “Buddy” Ascott on Gary Cowley’s Punk and New Wave show (Soho Radio) I was excited to hear what he and his new pals (including ex Subway Sect members) were now up to.

The group play ‘Punk Rock for Gentlemen’ but have produced an album (their fourth, released earlier this year, recorded just before Buddy joined) in “What We’ve All Been Waiting For” that is far more 60s Mod than punk — but that’s not a bad thing…

An opening clang followed by dischords and a squeal of feedback leads us into the opening track Prodigal Son and transports us back to the days of The Chords and, rather surprisingly, Rob Green’s superb vocal phrasing brings to mind The Inspiral Carpets. Lazy comparisons aside, it really is an excellent, grab-you-by-the-throat start.

I played in a few bands myself, many years ago, and our French drummer (oh yes, we were very cosmopolitan) brought a cover by a band called The Celibate Rifles (I think) in for us to play. I’m a Man brings this track back to me like an old friend wrapped in nostalgia — a spirited garage punk romp of a song that also brings to mind Medway’s excellent Len Price 3 (whose new album’s coming in September).

Lavender Girl takes us back to the 60s and that mod sound you’d expect, along with a rather endearing reference to The Damned’s debut single New Rose thrown in: again, a long, long way from being a bad thing…

Funny Word then gives us a little switch in direction, its slower, more deliberate bass-led beat pulling us along before we dive back into the 60s garage punk feel — and a bit of Tenpole Tudor — for Taking a View.

Halfway through the album and you may feel I’m suggesting this is all a bit derivative. It really isn’t: while The Fallen Leaves are happy to wear their influences on their sleeves, you feel like you’re listening to a brand-new sound in the most comfortable of slippers.

Jumping into the second half of the album, All That Glitters gives us a military tattoo with a great guitar riff floating through and sustaining it. Promised Land sets off in great Chords style and shifts into a very enjoyable punky/mod tune with a great singalong chorus.

Next up we have Out in a Forest, another moddy track with an unexpected change of pace midway through: it had me nodding my head happily. This – this –  is really not a bad thing…

Motorcycle Girl has the obligatory bike-revving noises — obviously — and some ‘ooo’s and ‘yeah’s. But did I feel like I wanted to be with the Motorcycle Girl? Well, yes, drawn in by her seductiveness, those guitar chops working perfectly, I never wanted to leave her…

Up to now we have mostly had two/three-minute bursts of mod-driven garage punk. To finish with, though, Good Man gives us a six-minute space, space which allows the music to fill out and develop. Proud of its “great riff and great melody”, it’s Rob Green’s favourite and, in his view, sums up the group’s ethos: “that’s our speciality, a great sound with strong melodies and killer choruses”.  Again, I hear The Inspiral Carpets coming through, especially around the “Where’s the good man gone?” refrain. This is not a bad thing…

A thoroughly good album and I have no hesitation in recommending it. You can absolutely hear the influences throughout, but this is not a bad thing: the Fallen Leaves take the sparkle from vintage tracks and sprinkle their own magic to produce an album full of great tunes.

While we wait for the next album — which, we’re told, “is all written” and “will have Buddy on drums, so will be full of energy” — we can catch the group’s live show, next at The Hope & Anchor on Saturday 23rd September. As Rob says: “Come and see us play, you’ll be in for a treat. We are the best group in England.”


Let down by his parents from the start, Mark was only 9 when 1977 reared its angry head. Not to be held back, Two Tone showed the way from Jazz and the Bee Gees (thanks Dad), swiftly followed by an appreciation of punk and ska that has become a lifelong passion. Previously the proprietor of a (now long defunct) online record store, Mark was involved in the promotion and sale of Millwall’s FA Cup final song in 2003 (by the mighty fine Dead Pets) which, as a lifelong Leeds Utd fan, rather rankled.  An enthusiastic photographer, you can find out more at www.markseton.co.uk

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…

Death Or Glory: Thoughts On Joe Strummer’s Birthday.

One Story

1. The Clash version

He was passionate, kind, uniting, decent, restless, ruthless, funny, flawed, full of hope and rage. We bloody need him right now.

2. London Calling version.

White Riot scared me. I knew/know every word of White Man In Hammersmith Palais. That Rock Against Racism gig was one of the most energising of our young lives. I loved that second, evil-Yank-produced, hated-by-NME album. I loved doing my own falsetto version of Police And Thieves one snow-filled night, walking along Ridge Road with friends.

I loved Paul Simonon. But Strummer was my hero.

3. Sandinista (dub) version.

A couple of years ago I put one of those word cloud things on my website. Five words stood out as being used the most: ‘love’, ‘hero’, ‘clash’, ‘story’ and … um … ‘Enfield’. I realised at that moment that I’d spent a huge amount of energy writing and thinking about the past, trying to find meanings in it that might help bring me fully into the present. I’d written endlessly too, I realised, about the inevitable disappointments men’s search for heroes brings – and about the traps and freedoms stories and love offer us.

Johnny Rotten was never a hero, not for me. While I was trying to navigate my poorly-drawn, minor character through the unfolding stories and myths of 1970s Enfield, he was too scary, too different, too scratchily, sarcastically other. And I suspected he wouldn’t like me very much. Paul Weller, meanwhile, definitely was a hero, his malicious Woking a cracked mirror to my grey, messy-hard Enfield, but his sneer masked a confused idealism, his sheer Englishness could be narrow and dark and exclusive and seemed to offer solace without hope. As with Rotten, Weller dismissed America and the American. And – I suspect – vague, meandering grammar school kids.

Which brings us to Joe Strummer: the most English and, I’d suggest, the most American of the three, the one who best merged the individual with the collective. The one who – in one of my stories at least – would definitely have welcomed me as his mate.

He started by scaring us, by twisting our liberalism out of shape. Us wish-we-were-punks loved I’m So Bored With The USA

Yankee dollar talk
To the dictators of the world
In fact it’s giving orders
And they can’t afford to miss a word

– because it echoed the simplistic stories we were all writing about The Real Evil Empire. But the half-hour gob of that first album – as punk in places as anything by The Pistols – also hinted at the space and hope and expansiveness and freedom and nuance of everything The Clash subsequently did. Stuff that was America(n). Stuff that was Jamaica. Stuff that was The World and Mexico and LA as much as it was Notting Hill and Enfield and Woking. Stuff that channelled and shaped Mick Jones’ pop sensibility and Simonon’s immersion in reggae and dub. Stuff that rewrote our culture.

I’ve just been wondering where exactly I was in Strummer’s story, what part I played. In one version of my own, I’m a hippy. An angry, America-loving, contradictory hippy. And that’s what Strummer was too. He saw the price of everything and the value of everything. Watch him in The Future Is Unwritten. Listen to Coma Girl, to his version of Redemption Song. Humour. Trust. Suffering. Belief in a better society, in the individual and the group overcoming The Man. Belief in you and me. In one, shared, story.

4. The Clash (remastered) version

In most of my autobiographies, I’m me. I’m never, ever Weller or Rotten in any of them. In at least one, though, I’m Joe Strummer.

 

Happy birthday Joe.

Itchycoo Park

• The Small Faces classic, released 50 years ago today.

As it ended up overshadowing their “serious” work, the band may have grown to regret recording Itchycoo Park. Nevertheless, with the help of George Chkiantz and Glyn Johns, it all too beautifully melded pretty much every element of groovy 1967 psychedelia into something both unique and emblematic. Though the Beatles (with George Martin and Geoff Emerick) can claim the first high profile use of psychedelic flanging in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Itychooo Park was the first pop single to use the Summer of Love’s signature effect.

It’s hard to know whether the Small Faces were playing catch-up with the Beatles here, or, like Traffic’s Hole In My Shoe, just having a poke at John Lennon’s pretentiousness. The fact the band didn’t really want the single released at all, and regarded it as a bit of a joke, suggests the latter. In style, subject and structure, the song is a lightly camouflaged parody of Strawberry Fields Forever. Both concern wild, hidden locations within large cities where kids could escape the drudgery of school and have some illicit fun. But Marriott and Lane, although dreaming of touching the sky, bring things down to earth. The abstract “nothing to get hung about” in SFF becomes the commonplace “get hung up, feed the ducks with a bun” in IP.

In both cases, the imagery is surreal nonsense (in the Lewis Carroll non-sense) and so the “meanings” have been endlessly “interpreted”. A particularly nice over-analysis of Itchycoo has it that the “Bridge of Sighs” and the “dreaming spires” refer to the privilege of an Oxbridge education, which the writers eschew in favour of finding true beauty in an Ilford park. In truth, many of the ‘interpretations’ were conjured up by the band’s management in a (successful) effort to get the BBC’s initial “overt drug references” ban overturned. But, of course, not before the ‘censorship’ had provided valuable publicity.

In the end, whether the band liked it or not — and pastiche or otherwise — the song, so of its time and timeless, is a classic that subverts and transcends its genre. Have a listen and let it blow your mind.

All The Young Dudes: 45 Today.

I’ve wanted to do this for years.

A thousand times I’ve heard All The Young Dudes. A thousand times Mick Ralphs’ guitar at the start has made me smile. It always will: it’s utterly joyful, utterly sure of itself and burns way, way fiercer than 99.99999% of intros, than 99.99999% of anything. I love it: it’s life and laughter and hope and pretty much everything any of us ever needed. I want it played at my funeral: just that opening guitar riff. I’ll smile, I promise.

I’ve no idea what the real truth of the Bowie-saved-ailing-Mott-The-Hoople-by-generously-giving-them-and-producing-this-song story/myth/fairy tale is. And it doesn’t matter. ATYD tells us the quest for reality and neat narrative is dull, meaningless, avoidable; it tells us stories are always shifting, twisting, mostly wordless, chimeric. ATYD is, simply, one of the top four or five pop songs ever recorded. The organ is majestic, soulful, spiritual. The words and voices are mad and wry and thrilled. The guitars and drums and bass are the reason guitars and drums and the bass guitar were invented. The whole thing is glorious, silly, overreaching, sly, profound, shallow, poetic, plain, aristocratic, working-class, funny, serious, Seventies, timeless, Nietzschean, colourful, noiry. It’s as English as anything so American can be. It’s hopeful and regretful and celebratory. It’s lights and shades and disposable and forever. It’s wrapped itself around us and won’t ever let us go. It’s one of Bowie’s best songs and it’s utterly Ian Hunter’s.

All The Young Dudes is forty-five years old today and it’s ancient and wise and just-born and free. Happy birthday, old man.

 

 

Saint John Coltrane

It’s 50 years since the death of John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist.

John Coltrane is god. At least, according to the Yardbird Temple, he was for a while. He’s since been demoted to a mere saint to allow the Yardbirds to incorporate themselves into the African Orthodox Church (without upsetting the, you know, “other” god). You can visit the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco and hear live jazz mixed with some Christian liturgy. You can even get the greeting card.

How come this man is so revered? Surely it’s a bit silly, even crazy, to beatify a mere saxophonist? Perhaps not…

With my interest ignited by the passion radiating from Kerouac’s descriptions of be-bop in On The Road, I desperately wanted to like jazz. But, back in the ’80s, with no YouTube or Spotify to allow me to easily sample the vast range of styles, I had no idea which jazz. I knew the turophilic Kenny G wasn’t even real jazz, but the impenetrable stuff, like Mahavishnu Orchestra, also left me cold. Surely there was something in the middle? Something that had a spiritual dimension?

In desperation, I asked a jazzer friend what I should listen to to find a way into ‘proper’ jazz. Without hesitation, he said ‘Kind of Blue – it’s the best jazz album of all time’. Miles Davis I’d heard of, so I gave it a go. My friend was right. It was quite a revelation. An epiphany. Maybe even a theophany – I just don’t know. But, whatever it was, it certainly felt like what I’d imagine a religious experience would feel like.

Transcendent improvisations sit atop beautifully constructed and deceptively simple schemata. Notes sing in exultation, flowing freely between keys, scales and chords that are often subliminal rather than explicitly stated. But you don’t need those pseudo-intellectual analyses to appreciate it. Just listen. All the playing is exemplary, but I particularly loved the saxophone parts. So who’s the guy blowing that horn? Ah, John Coltrane…

And so I moved on to his Impressions album. Wow. He can play fast too. Really fast. I found out much later that the holy grail I had been searching for had been labelled ‘modal jazz’ by the be-bop taxonomists. Miles Davis popularised the form but Coltrane took it and went much, much deeper. Many cite A Love Supreme as his best but, for me, Giant Steps is his ultimate triumph.

Superb technical skill combined with a soul as deep as the blues, Coltrane’s personal journey away from heroin addiction towards deep spirituality, put him unquestionably on the road to sainthood. As he said himself “In order to play a truth, a musician has to live with as much truth as possible.” I can’t help thinking those founders of the Church of St John Coltrane knew the truth and were not as crazy as they may have seemed.

Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926 in North Carolina and died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40.