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>Buried Treasure (T – 13)

6 April, 2010 2 comments

>One of my monthly music magazines – Mojo, I think – has a regular feature which focuses on those albums that failed to achieve commercial success, despite being of the highest quality.  Occasionally it might be an album that did hit the heights, but that was never capitalised upon by the artist.  The overriding feature of the albums is that they have been quietly forgotten, but lie there, waiting to be discovered and appreciated by a new generation.  Hence the title of the feature, “Buried Treasure”.

I was reminded of this feature the other day when a long forgotten album came up on shuffle, and I thought I’d treat you to a few examples of buried treasure I’ve got lurking in the depths of my hard drive.

Follow me, and bring along your metal detector…

Mick Ronson – Slaughter on 10th Avenue

This is the album that kicked off the theme for this blog.  Mick Ronson was, of course, the guitarist in David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars, later working with Ian Hunter and producing Morrissey, before dying at a ridiculously young age.  He released (I think) two solo albums in the early ’70s, of which this was the first.  Heavily laced with the glam trimmings of the time, it showcased a great guitarist with a surprisingly gentle, wistful voice.  One track, Only After Dark, was picked up by the Human League, who covered it on their second album, Travelogue.  Re-listening after all these years, the quality (and, inevitably, the Bowie influence) shines through.

Red Guitars – Slow To Fade

Red Guitars came from Hull, and came to my attention when they supported The Smiths in Norwich back in the early ’80s.  I also got to see them later, headlining their own gig also in Norwich.  Why they got The Smiths gig is bayond me, as they had very little in common with the Charming Men from Manchester.  Guitar-driven and left-leaning (hence their name) they infused their music with African rhythms, decades before Vampire Weekend thought of it.  They released a few singles that tickled the top of the indie charts (Fact, Steeltown, the wonderful Good Technology) and this album, before imploding.  I think there was a second album but with a different lineup.  But as a legacy, Slow To Fade is a gem.

Cath Carroll – England Made Me

Cath Carroll was a music journalist who also played in an early ’80s indie band called Miaow.  She also released this solo album whilst signed up to Factory.  Sounding completely unlike anything else released on the label, the album sank without trace but, to these ears, is an absolute classic.  Breathy songs of love, infatuation and oppression, the album had an intelligence that, aligned with its pop sensibilities, could have made  her huge.  But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen.

Deaf School – 2nd Honeymoon

A Liverpool band, dabbling in any number of musical forms and a huge influence on many of the bands that came out of Liverpool in the post-punk era.  Ironically, despite their huge local influence, it was probably the rise of punk that ultimately did for the band.  Some band members went on to bigger and better things – Clive (“Cliff”) Langer as a major producer, Bette Bright as a solo artist before she married Suggs from Madness – others continued to operate on the fringes of fame.  They released three albums in the mid ’70s (2nd Honeymoon was their first), to mass market indifference – but to Merseysiders of a certain age, they were, for a time, our secret band.  And we loved them.

The Farmers’ Boys – Get Out and Walk

Baz, Mark, Frog and Stan were Norwich’s answer to Hull’s Housemartins, before the question had been asked.  Unashamedly catchy, impudently covering Cliff Richard songs (In the Country, from their follow-up album With These Hands) and signally failing to impress anyone outside of a hugely passionate but relatively small local following.  Oh, and I’ve just found out – Get Out and Walk is available on CD! And it’s in stock on Amazon!  Hurrah!

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees – Boat to Bolivia

The Daintees were on the Kitchenware label, along with Prefab Sprout, and the two bands shared a propensity for catchy tunes, delicate arrangements and intelligent lyrics.  Unfortunately whilst Paddy McAloon went on to great critical (and some commercial) success, Martin Stephenson remained very much a cult artist, ploughing a lone, idiosyncratic furrow in a countryish/folksy idiom.  Boat to Bolivia was their first album and contains some majestic songs, not least Crocodile Cryer, written in the aftermath of his grandmother’s funeral.

Dalek I – Compass Kum’pas

Back in the day, one of the most graffiti’d bands around Birkenhead were the mysterious Radio Blank.  Their name was painted on loads of public spaces, most notably motorway flyovers.  Who were this mysterious band?  What did they sound like?  Had anyone ever seen them play?  Not me, certainly.  But then Radio Blank disbanded, and out of the remains came the Dalek I Love You group, or Dalek I for short.  Compass Kump’pas shared many similarities with other groups coming out of Birkenhead/Liverpool at the time, most notably early OMD – heavy on the drum machines and synths, cover of a famous oldie (in this case, The Kinks’ You Really Got Me).  However unlike the other Eric’s-founded bands, Dalek I faded away, with the original members drifting off into other Liverpool bands, including Big In Japan and the Teardrop Explodes.  However Compass Kum’pas remains as a very impressive legacy.

Jess Roden Band – Blowin’

Jess Roden was one of a number of great British blues singers who was active in the late ’60s and through the ’70s.  However unlike some of his contemporaries – Paul Rogers, Robert Palmer for instance – who went on to great fame, Jess Roden remained a bit of a cult.  That’s cult.  Blowin’ is a live album that showcases just what a great singer Roden was at his peak, playing bluesy R&B with a soulful tinge.  On my vinyl version of the album, Roden performs a version of Desperado that blows the original miles out of the water.  Sadly this track does not appear on subsequent versions of the album, although it is replaced by another cover, of the Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next To You that also swings like a bastard.  Jess Roden – one of the great lost British vocalists.

Thomas Lang – Scallywag Jaz

Another Liverpool crooner, Thomas Lang (born Jones – no wonder he changed his name) released a couple of albums in the early 80s showcasing his great voice.  Verging on easy listening, he perfected a style of light jazz (hence jaz) that was picked up by the likes of Black (of Wonderful Life and Sweetest Smile fame) and, on the face of it, was perfect for a world happy to have the likes of Sade and Harry Connick on their coffee tables.  Sadly, it was not to be for Thomas.  If he was around today, he’d be a shoo-in for the X-Factor as well.

Amsterdam – The Journey

Come on, you knew this was coming, didn’t you?  Treasure buried so deep only a few select people are aware of the band’s existence.  Yet if the world only knew…  The Journey was the band’s first ‘official’ release, gathering the strongest tracks from a series of internet-only albums.  The quality of the album is  sublime, the range of styles broad, the emotion and passion tangible in every note.  If anything, follow-up album Arm in Arm is the better album, but as a debut, an initial statement of intent, The Journey is untouchable.  It deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as The Clash’s debut, it is that good.

Oh, there’s so many more I could have written about, but this is a decent starter for ten.  Treasure, buried in the depths of my record collection.  What’s buried in yours?

>15 – 11: Mersey Paradise

6 March, 2010 Leave a comment

>A distinct North-West flavour to this batch of songs, for which I make no apology…how can you not be affected by the sounds you hear on your own doorstep?

15:  Feels Like Growin’ Up – Amsterdam

I have written on many occasions about the wonderful Amsterdam (and Pele, their predecessor band, about whom more later) and will no doubt continue to do so – how this band are not massive continues to amaze me.  Still, Ian Prowse continues to do what he has always done – which is to make music from the heart and from the soul.  Feels Like Growin’ Up is one of the band’s more affecting songs and a huge audience favourite from their early days.  I remember seeing them in Liverpool a while ago, down by the front with The Boy, as usual.  The group’s regular photographer was stood next to us, the other side of the barrier in the ‘pit’.  This bloke must have seen them hundreds of times – yet when I glanced over to him while the group were playing this song, he was stood there in floods of tears.  It gets you – every time.

14:  Raid The Palace – Pele

Ok, it’s the same singer/songwriter, but it’s a different band so I’m having it in here.  They are my rules anyway so I can tweak them if I want!  Pele were the band that so nearly made it in the ’80s.  Again, led by Ian Prowse and cut from similar cloth to Amsterdam – and just as good.  This was their ‘hit record’ – number one in South Africa, I’ll have you know (and at the time probably the last country Ian would have wanted it to be number one in).  Unlike Feels Like Growin’ Up above, this is a song of defiance, almost a manifesto if you like.  Ian was asked the other year if he would like to perform in front of The Queen as part of the ‘Capital of Culture’ celebrations – this is the song he should have sung if he could have brought himself to do it!

13:  Heart As Big As Liverpool – The Mighty Wah!

Unashamedly sentimental, and unfortunately claimed by the ‘other’ club, this is another one that gets me every time.  The Mighty Wah! is of course one of the monikers used by Pete Wylie, one of the original ‘Crucial Three’ (along with Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope) who came out of  the ‘Eric’s’ scene in the early eighties but who, for whatever reason, remained a local cult (that’s cult) rather than really breaking through into the big league.  He still produced a good handful of classics though (including Story of the Blues, with its defiant coda and Sinful) but this is the one that encapsulates the image of the sentimental scouser.  Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.  You are not alone…

12:  She Loves You – The Beatles

You didn’t honestly think that The Fabs wouldn’t be in here somewhere, did you?  Of course not.  She Loves You is probably my first musical memory (yes, I’m that old) and will forever be inextricably linked with home.  Released when The Beatles were still very much ‘our’ band, and the sense of pride in a group of scousers making it in the outside world was palpable.  And how could I not identify strongly with a left-hander called Paul?  But leaving all that to one side, She Loves You is a fantastic pop song that has probably never been bettered.  From the opening drum role to the final ‘Yeahs’, it’s come and gone inside two and a half minutes, encapsulating everything good about Beatlemania on the way.  Harmonies?  Check.  ‘Oooooohs’?  Check.  ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’?  Oh yeah.

11.  Only The Lonely – Roy Orbison

Ok, The Big O didn’t come from Liverpool, but he was a huge influence on the original Merseybeat artists – in fact, Please Please Me was originally written with Orbison in mind (and was originally played slowly, in an Orbison style).  Roy was an influence on everyone though, Bruce Springsteen (as I mentioned in my earlier album blog), Elvis Costello, Tom Waits to name just three.  But although he influenced loads of people, no-one ever sounded like Roy Orbison…because no-one else could sound like Roy Orbison.  Roy was not the most attractive of gentlemen, and maybe this was reflected in his material – often downbeat, often written from the viewpoint of the loser.  Even when Roy got the girl (Oh Pretty Woman, Running Scared) it was always a surprise to him, counter to his expectations.  Great songs, but Roy was at his best when singing about loss, and never better than here – it’s the contrast between his vocal and the ‘dum dum dum dummy doo wah’ backing that I love.  We all know the way Roy is feeling tonight, because we’ve all been lonely at some point.

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>Day 61: Cash and Costello

15 May, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel

Out early this morning to do Big Shop, picking up all the ingredients for the weekend’s culinary adventures. It’s (almost) a pleasure doing the shopping early in the morning – very few customers and freshly stocked shelves, and ladies on the till with time to chat and to help you pack your bags.

Tonight we’re having a Beef Stroganoff, a really simple dish that’s very difficult to get wrong. Although I have managed to get it wrong in the past, my enthusiasm for black pepper sometimes getting the better of me. Mrs W has warned me that she does not expect a repeat performance tonight…

The quality of your Stroganoff really depends on the quality of your beef. So don’t skimp. Fillet is best, but any decent frying steak should also be ok. Cut your beef into thin strips and dust with flour that has been seasoned with salt and ground black pepper (but go easy on the pepper…). The easy way to do this is to stick your flour and seasoning in a plastic freezer bag, chuck your meaty strips in as well, twist the bag to seal and shake everything about until the individual bits of meat are coated and not sticking to each other.

Then fry off your seasoned meat very quickly on a very hot flame, in some olive oil. You want your meat to fry, not boil, so make sure it is as dry as possible before seasoning. You should also fry in batches if necessary – don’t overload your frying pan.

Take the cooked meat out of the pan and put to one side. They fry some chopped onion – at least one medium onion, more if you want. Then add loads of mushrooms – whole button mushrooms for preference, but sliced if too big. Most recipes would pass on the garlic, but you won’t go far wrong adding a sliced clove or two at this stage.

Fry it all up, then return the meat and juices to the pan. If you’re flash, add some brandy and set fire to it. If you’re not, don’t bother! Finally stir in some cream – sour for authenticity but regular will be fine, creme fraiche if you’re on a diet – and serve with rice. You could sprinkle a touch of paprika on top as well (or better still, add the paprika to the ‘dusting’ flour).

That’ll be us tonight, with a nice healthy bottle of red and a crappy film. Tasty!

Bit of admin today – bought the car and was pleased to get a tax disc in the post which I’m not expecting to pay for. Also pleased to see that my final monthly lease payment was a month earlier than I thought, saving me a few bob too.

The agency I spoke to on Monday continues to pull out the stops as well – firstly contacting my ex-boss for a reference (‘glowing’, I’m assured) and then calling me about a potential project role. Got a good feeling about this bunch…

Having finished Human Traces, I needed to start a new book and at the top of the unread pile was a biography of Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. I’m not a great country fan, but have a lot of time for Johnny Cash’s work – there are three key phases of his career that I really enjoy; his initial recordings for Sun (I Walk The Line, Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues (“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”)), his ‘Prison’ albums at San Quentin and Folsom (the audience reaction to the song ‘San Quentin’ at that prison is absolutely chilling) and finally the ‘American Recordings’ he did with Rick Rubin at the end of his career, particularly his reading of Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Hurt’.

Here’s San Quentin and Hurt. If Hurt doesn’t make your eyes itch, you’ve got no soul….

More Costello on the soundtrack today – it’s probably fair to say that over the years, Elvis has given me more pleasure than any other artist and, although When I Was Cruel is not one of my favourite Costello albums, an ‘average’ Costello album is generally still miles better than most other peoples’ best. When I Was Cruel is a ‘rockier’ album than most of his recent stuff, harking back to his Attractions days. If I could find it, I’d post it, but there is a great clip (from Jonathan Ross I think) of two of my favourite bands together – Elvis performing ‘Tear Off Your Own Head’ from this album, backed by Liverpool’s mighty Amsterdam. I’ve got it on an Amsterdam DVD, but can’t find it on YouTube, which is playing silly buggers at the moment…

Found it!

>Day 18: New career paths beckon…

2 April, 2009 1 comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

Well, maybe new career paths beckon. Wish they would.

Firstly, off to Tesco this morning to stock up on flour, yeast etc so I could try out the new toy. All seems very easy – get your measurements right, chuck everything in the bowl, sort out your settings and stand back for four hours. And four hours later, open up and out pops a loaf of bread. So take a look at this bad boy…

Still cooling, so I can’t tell you what it tastes like, but it looks and smells divine. Feels like a winner to me!

While the bread was cooking, I needed some lunch and was under orders to use up the smoked salmon that had reached its ‘eat by’ date. Normally, we eat our smoked salmon on top of scrambled eggs on toast, but I couldn’t be bothered doing scrambled eggs for one. So I tried something different – a smoked salmon and mushroom omelette. And I was glad I did!

So for future reference – slice a handful of mushrooms and fry in some butter until they turn colour and soften. Beat three eggs in a jug with some salt and black pepper, and add to the pan with the mushrooms and cook gently to set the bottom of the omelette. Slice your smoked salmon into long, thin strips and add to the pan. Continue to cook gently until the egg sets and the salmon begins to turn colour. If necessary, put the pan under a hot grill to set the top. Fold, turn out onto a warm plate and serve. Easy. I toyed with putting some cheese in but it really didn’t need it – it would have distracted from the subtle taste of the salmon. A touch of lemon juice might have been nice but I decided against – you might want to experiment though! No pictures I’m afraid – it didn’t last long enough!

Oh, the loaf just cooled enough for me to cut, so had a quick sample with some strawberry jam. Oh yes. Oooooh yes.

Best stop eating now, steak and chips tonight so need to leave some room.

So career path one – celebrity chef? Hmmmm…

Or I could follow in the footsteps of my son, and become a music journalist. Well, I got my name in print today, so why not? Follow this link for the evidence – but be aware it’s only up there for a week. I’ve blogged once or twice already about Amsterdam, but they remain one of my favourite bands – and are criminally underrated (and overlooked) by the mainstream music media. They are a great live band – and a great bunch of people as well. This is Matt and me with Ian Prowse, the band’s lead singer, at Glastonbury last year. Who looks the most starstruck do you think? And no, I hadn’t shaved for six days. And the beads? Because I can, folks.

One of my favourite albums of the past few years is ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ by Elbow. The album has just been released in a live version, re-recorded at Abbey Road with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Just watched the DVD of the performance that comes with the album – and they’ve made a great album even better. Elbow have been operating for a number of years just below the radar, but in the last twelve months they’ve really started to hit the bigtime, with some big festival performances, winning the Mercury and also being voted Best British Band at the Brits. Again, a great bunch of blokes who deserve all the success they get.

I’d be delighted if Amsterdam could break through in the same way – Elbow demonstrate that perseverence (and a stonking set of songs) can find you a way through the hype and bullshit that surrounds the music business. Sometimes the good guys do win!

Nice to listen to the Manics while I’m typing this. ‘Everything Must Go’ was their ‘breakthrough’ album, the first released after the dark and harrowing ‘Holy Bible’, and their first as a trio following the ‘disappearance’ of Richey Edwards. Everything Must Go is a fine album, although lacking the rough edges that made The Holy Bible a classic. A Design For Life is, by any standards, a great song, with one of the best opening lines (“Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free”) a hit single could have. After a short spell in the mainstream, the Manics seem to have retreated back into a less accessible place but sound none the worse for it.

Finally thanks to all of you who have sent messages – either on the blog, or directly – about Katy Teabag. We appreciate your thoughts and kind words, it really does help to know that people care – that they do ‘get it’ as I put it yesterday.

>Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?

12 September, 2007 1 comment

>The best song written about Liverpool since Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever.

I can bore the arse off anyone talking about Amsterdam but I don’t care. Ian Prowse is one of the best, most genuine musicians ever to come out of Merseyside and is a truly lovely, nice guy to boot. It is a crime that he is not embraced by the world when gimps like Blunt, Martin and Chaplin are treated like rock aristocracy – none of them are fit to tune his guitar.

A live Amsterdam CD is out imminently – buy it now. The new studio album will be out in the New Year – seek it out and cherish it. (Feels Like) Growin’ Up will melt your heart. But ‘Does This Train…’ will break it.

McKenzie’s soul lies above the ground in that
pyramid near Maryland (Street)

Easyjet is hanging in the air
takin’ everyone to everywhere

See the slave ships sailing into port
the blood of Africa is on every wall

Now there’s a ley line runs down Mathew Street
it’s giving energy to all it meets

Hey does this train stop
does this train stop on Merseyside?

Alan Williams in the Marlboro’ Arms
giving his story out to everyone

Famine boats are anchored in the bay
bringing in the poor and desperate

Hey does this train stop
does this train stop on Merseyside?

Boston babies bouncing on the ground
The Riggers beamin’ out to every town

Can’t conceive what those children done
guess there’s a meanness in the soul of man

Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms
while people try and save their fellow fans

Why don’t you remember?

Why indeed. Remember. Remember the 96. Remember little Jamie. Remember Rhys and Madeline. Remember.

Categories: amsterdam