Wednesday, 14 March 2018

“Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

Just going to leave these here. R.I.P. Stephen - you'll never know how excited your book made our sixth form Physics set. I still failed the S-level though.

And if you only read one thing about Hawking today, make it this.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Moz lives

Firstly, to all those who have had their fill of Morrissey ... well, you'll want to give the following a swerve. Why not read this recent Fantasy Cover Version suggestion instead?

Morrissey opening with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys

Still here? Then let's talk about Moz and, specifically, his gig at the Royal Albert Hall last night. It was my seventh time seeing the Mozfather live and, having needed a telescope to see him last time I went (at the O2), this time I had splashed out on a good seat. I treated myself, in other words, and I'm glad I did, because being up close really made the evening. And not just for the photos (click 'em to embiggen) and videos I took, but for the details ... the looks on his face, the hand gestures. All of that. You don't get it from the back of an enormodome, even with Jumbotrons to help. But anyway. After a quick perusal of the merchandise stall (offering scarves, fans, badges and pillowcases as well as the obligatory t-shirts, none of which featured contemporary photographs of Moz), I took my seat early and, if I'm honest, with a little trepidation. Reviews of earlier shows on the tour had been mixed, with The Guardian very much determined not to enjoy themselves. Also, I'm often a little unsure how gigs in all-seater venues will play out - often, the atmosphere is different, I think. Less of a spark. And I was concerned that, although my ticket clearly said "Morrissey plus special guests", I had read that the support act was a film show, not a band... At precisely 8.15pm the pre-show back-drop picture of the late Peter Wyngarde as Jason King disappeared, and the film show started.

Morrissey with beads

To be honest, "film show" is over stating it a bit. YouTube clips spliced together is more accurate. But it was an eclectic selection - with links to the clips used where possible, the montage included: early Ramones; Something Here In My Heart by 60s girl group The Paper Dolls; Tatu covering How Soon Is Now? on a German retread of TOTP; The Sound Of The Crowd by The Human League; Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud by James Brown; a spoken word Candy Darling clip (I think); Dionne Warwick singing Don't Make Me Over; a drag artist joking about nationality; The Sex Pistols singing God Save The Queen; a 60s-looking civil rights speech for racial equality that I couldn't ID; Sally's Song by Amy Lee; a Germaine Greer talking head spot; a clip from L'Insoumis of Alain Delon reclining into his Queen Is Dead sleeve art pose (which got a big cheer); It's The Same Old Song by The Four Tops; Jet Boy by The New York Dolls ... and probably more besides. Throughout this, the bloke sitting next to me kept looking up the songs on Shazam - when he couldn't get a match for the James Brown track, I had to lean over and help him out. He even Shazam'ed the Sex Pistols track, surely one of the least ambiguous tracks of the last fifty years. But I digress.

At precisely 8.50pm the screen that all this had been projected on was whipped down, and out strode Morrissey and his band. He cuts a substantial figure these days, does Moz - not fat but no longer the skinny, callow figure of yesteryear. Middle-aged spread comes to us all if you we eat too many pies, even vegetarian pies. And the fabled quiff is largely a thing of the past, a victim of a receding hairline. But he is still magnetic on stage, owning the space. Dressed top to toe in dark clothes, a string of beads and a dangling key fob completed Morrissey's look. The band, by contrast, were all in white shirts. The stage was lit with neon prefect badge shapes, a nod to the Low In High School theme.

Red Morrissey for Jack The Ripper

After opening strongly with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and I Wish You Lonely, the audience was treated to the first of many asides from a pleasantly chatty Moz: "So amazingly, I'm still alive. The question is, are you?" This was followed by Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage, which slowed things down a bit, before a stomping Suedehead, which sped them back up again. The crowd, predictably, went wild for this, even though many of them weren't alive when it was released.

After this, there was a bit of a pause whilst Moz dispensed with the line of security at the front of the stage who were spoiling the devoted's view, and complained to unseen crew member Max about a spotlight giving him a headache. When it was turned off, he remarked, "Now you can't see me, which is pretty perfect." This was followed by recent album track When You Open Your Legs, before another aside between tracks: a propos of nothing, Moz appeared to say something like, "Please believe me, I'm not. People are extremely ignorant. They can't be controlled, so don't control them." Was this a reference to Der Spiegel's recent portrayal of him? We may never know.

Slightly unexpectedly, for me at least, Munich Air Disaster 1958 was next, complete with archive footage of Busby's Babes projected on the back screen. "We miss them," Moz concluded. This was swiftly followed by Home Is A Question Mark, for which Jesse Tobias unleashed an electric 12-string and I got a sudden bout of guitarist's envy. After My Love, I'd Do Anything For You, the stage lighting switched to red and yellow as a clue for what was coming next. "This song is delightful," said Moz. "About slavery and servitude in Espana." After which the band launched into The Bullfighter Dies, accompanied by fairly explicit video footage of bulls being stabbed by matadors (during the verses) and matadors being gored (during the "hooray, hooray" chorus). The point was well, if graphically, made.

A clean shirt for the encore. Also pictured: Boz Boorer, Mando Lopez, Jesse Tobias

The only real lull in the show followed, with a slightly flat run-through of If You Don't Like Me, Don't Look At Me. Quite a lot of people went for drinks. Not me though. So I was there to see the cover of Pretenders' track Back On The Chain Gang that followed (backdropped with Chrissie Hynde's yearbook photo), and Moz introducing World Peace Is None Of Your Business by saying, "We invented democracy. We invented free speech. I think it's time we got it back."

The next track was a personal favourite, Hold On To Your Friends, at the end of which (slightly bizarrely) Moz signed some vinyl for people in the front row, whilst the crowd chanted his name. Then pianist Gustavo Manzur teased an elongated version of the piano intro to In Your Lap before the band launched into Everyday Is Like Sunday and the crowd combusted. This was the first in a run of five blistering tracks: Jack The Ripper was next, with the stage bathed in red light and smoke; then came recent single Spent The Day In Bed, quite a singalong for the crowd; this was followed by live favourite Speedway, which has lost none of its power; and then, the only Smiths track of the night, How Soon Is Now?, ending with drummer Matthew Ira Walker letting loose on the gong and timpani.

This might have been the obvious point at which to end the main set, but no. Who Will Protect Us From The Police? and I'm Not Sorry followed, before the band lined up to take a bow. Then they slipped off-stage, only to return minutes later, for Morrissey to say goodnight with "As always, be good to yourself, be kind to animals and look after each other. And that's it really." Moz had changed his shirt, donning a plain white number that, predictably enough, was thrown into the crowd at the end of the sole encore track, a thumping Irish Blood, English heart. As the band scooted off-stage, Jesse launched a plectrum into the crowd too, but not many noticed - they were too busy forming a polite but determined scrum around the shirt.

And then the house lights came up and it was all over. I have to tell you, I felt ecstatic. As I've already said, sitting so close to the action made a real difference and changed, for me, what might have just been Morrissey singing into Morrissey performing. And although I'd taken my proper camera, rather than rely on my phone, I came away feeling I wanted an actual souvenir, a keepsake more substantial than digital photographs ... so I bought a set of Moz lapel badges from the merch stall on the way out. As I trudged through a dark Hyde Park to Lancaster Gate tube, I reflected that this was, if not the best I had seen Moz, certainly in the top three. All that was missing, for me at least, was the company of oldest friend and perennial gig-buddy The Man Of Cheese, with whom I had seen five of the previous six Moz gigs. I was still buzzing when I finally got home and crawled into bed, at ten to two this morning. And I'm very happy to report that, despite all the slings and arrows he's faced (and invited) in recent times, Moz lives ...

I'm no cameraman, and my camera is nothing special, but I shot a few videos. You may like them.

Morrissey Setlist Royal Albert Hall, London, England 2018, Low in High School

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Old Musical Express

So, the inevitable has happened: the NME has called time on its print edition. Whilst sad in many ways, this news, presumably, comes as a surprise to precisely no-one. Making it free didn't halt the decline. Attempts to broaden its raison-d'être, and hence its readership, by being less about music and more about, well, just about everything else, that didn't halt the decline either. In my view, it may even have accelerated it, because if you just want a music publication you don't really want to have to wade through all the other toss too, do you? Time Inc, the NME's owner, might do well to remember that as they seek to further develop its online offering.

Who's next, I wonder? I had two emails in one day yesterday from Uncut magazine, trying to get me to take out a subscription deal that equated to £2.50 per issue... that's for a magazine which, last time I bought one in a shop, cost me £5.25. Feels a little desperate to me.

Anyway, to mark the disappearance on an icon of the music press, here's a classic cover of theirs from 1988, a poster copy of which adorned my bedroom wall for years. Which, given that I'm off to see the cover star this very evening seems entirely appropriate.

Bye, NME.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #11 - if Lana Del Rey covered "She's Got You"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...(please)...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

In the continued absence of any new suggestions from readers, the eleventh contributor to this series is me, again. Sorry.

I've been looking for the right way to feature Alma Cogan on this blog for a long time, partly because without her I wouldn't exist (not as long a story as it sounds) but mostly because her music was often on in our house when I was small. And when I say "on", I don't necessary mean spinning on the record player - often her songs were just being sung, by my parents. And those songs stick in the mind, and heart. My favourite from the girl with a giggle in her voice (yes, that really is how she was known) was itself a cover of Patsy Cline's She's Got You, released in 1962. I loved the harmonica intro, the despairing lyrics, the literal highs and lows of the chorus... I don't know about a giggle, I heard heartbreak in Alma's vocal performance. Here it is, and it's bloody great.

Whose voice from now has the right tonal quality to do this justice, can reach the highs and lows, can emote in the same way? Possibly no-one, but I'd like to make the case for Lana Del Rey. Take a listen to breakout hit Videogames, and see if you agree:

Or Born To Die?

I think Lana could carry it off, more than passably. And she has a recent track record for doing good cover versions too - here she is, covering Radiohead:

I have to add, as a post-script, that however good it might be, this fantasy cover by Lana could not measure up to Alma's version. Just as Cline fans would argue that Alma's cover doesn't measure to Patsy. But I'm right and they're wrong, of course. Also, I know that technically what I'm suggesting above is Lana covering Patsy but I've said it before and I'll doubtless say it again: my gaff, my rules...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Clandestine Classic LVI - One Night Stand

The fifty-sixth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I've been thinking a bit about Pete Tong and his Heritage Orchestra, who've been all over my radio lately. You know - Pete has taken another load of old house and Ibiza tunes and got a proper orchestra to play them, the idea being (presumably) to take some "classic" club tunes and give them an actual classical music style makeover. Seems this kind of cultural pretence has been very popular indeed with middle-aged ex-clubbers, with sell-out shows at large venues and not one but two albums of this kind of stuff. That new version of Killer by Seal that you've been hearing? This is where it comes from. You knew all that already, right?

But it's hardly a new idea. Today's classic comes from 90s band The Aloof, which Wikipedia tells me were "a British electronica group, mixing electronic and dance elements with dub influences." So there you go. I know nothing else about them, and today's track, One Night Stand, is the only thing by them in my collection, courtesy of a compilation album. And although it's not my usual cup of tea, I think this is excellent.

Firstly, there are the world-weary vocals, sounding not dissimilar in some respects to David McAlmont but actually belonging to one Ricky Barrow. Then there are the lyrics which, if I can borrow from a series over at The (New) Vinyl Villain, would make an excellent short story:

What am I doing here? your face is a mess.
You walk back in the room and you put on your dress.
I say, I'll see you soon and I, I'll give you a call.
I hear the door slam and feel nothing at all.

What am I doing here? I've been here for weeks.
Gotta get outta of this room and go, go clean these sheets.
Why am I lying here and with what was her name?
I feel nothing at all; I feel no shame.

It's another one night stand
'cause it makes me feel like a real man.

Lyrically melancholic, and with those minor keys throughout, this is a real come-down track, filled with unhappiness and a touch of self-loathing. And then there's that orchestral arrangement, that's probably been smouldering in the back of Pete Tong's mind for twenty years.

One Night Stand was The Aloof's commercial highpoint, peaking at #30 in 1996. There were other singles, but none like this. And interestingly, fact fans, Radio 1 playing an extended instrumental version of this every thirty minutes for several hours on the day Princess Diana died. I didn't remember that, by the way, it's another Wikipedia fact, so caveat emptor when you throw that little nugget into pub conversation.

You can scoop up One Night Stand on The Aloof's second album, Sinking, or (like me) on none-more-90s compilation The Dogs...! Anyway, here's the track - great video too, isn't it?

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

White tornado

Only one song for today. When the wind whips up, as it is starting to more and more as I write, I can barely see the far end of the garden.

Get out there and have a snowball fight with someone you love to laugh with. Make snowangels. Shake trees until laden boughs unburden themselves. Pat snowmen into shape. If there are little ones around, make some memories for them. With climate change going the way it is, who knows when we will next see snow like this?