Prequels

I don’t know about prequels- the three Star Wars prequels are the biggest waste of celluloid time I can of. Clones. Tax dispute. Jar Jar Binks. Overactive and unconvincing CGI. Ewan McGregor’s accent. Yawn.

Rich Lane and his Cotton Dubs on the other hand are always worth keeping an eye on. In the middle of August he released a three track ep featuring Prequels and City of Culture. Prequels is a slow motion, chug affair with a robot voice. It is not a million miles from the Code 61 Belgian New Beat track I posted recently. City Of Culture is top quality electronic dub reggae. The current City of Culture is Hull- I don’t know if this is a tribute to Hull or not (Rich is from Wolverhampton which has never been City of Culture). The third track is a dub of the Prequels. You can buy all three for a measly £2.50 from Bandcamp.

Monday Archive Hour

Monday begins with an hour from Andrew Weatherall’s Rotter’s Golf Club Archive Hour, Volume 9 being sixty minutes of weird, wired and frazzled psyche-rock, kraut-rock, post-punk and jazz.  I don’t know if this is the ideal way to start of the working week but it’s all I’ve got right now.

Holy Mountain – Clouds Over Earthquake
World Of Rubber – Zero
Moebius & Plank – Pick The Rubber
The Gutter Twins – The Body
Baron Mordant – You Are A Door
Paul Haig & Billy Mackenzie – Listen To Me
The Bounty Hunters – Twining Park
The Tenderhooks – It Comes And Goes
Mighty Ballistic Hi-Power – Springheel Jack
Giant Paw – Flood
John Coltrane – My Favourite Things
Faron Young – Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young

Jesus Rides Beside Me

Live albums don’t tend to take up much of my time- often they’re the sort of record that get played once or twice and then filed and I don’t own very many. If it’s a recording of a gig you attended, I can see the point and I can happily spend time listening to, say, bootlegs of New Order in the 80s but too often they don’t do too much for me. I’m sure you can all make suggestions to counter that view (and I’m happy to be corrected). But there’s a release coming up of a gig The Replacements played at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey in April 1986 and the songs that have been posted on Soundcloud have got me interested. The studio versions of some of The Replacements songs didn’t always do the songs justice- I’ve posted the unreleased rougher Tim version of Can’t Hardly Wait before and it is miles better than the released one on Pleased To Meet Me. The outing Can’t hardly Wait got at Maxwell’s sounds close to definitive.
Pitchfork have a riotous sounding run through Bastards Of Young here. The Replacements For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986 is a double cd, out at the end of the month, making October looking like it’s going to be as expensive as September has been. The tracklist is a pretty perfect selection of songs with I Will Dare, Unsatisfied, Answering Machine, Takin’ A Ride, Color Me Impressed, Left Of The Dial, Kiss Me On The Bus, Black Diamond, Waitress In The Sky and Fuck School among the 28 songs.
In 1986 the band played Saturday Night Live. They were drunk and swore on live TV and got banned from ever playing on the show again. In a funny little coincidence they are introduced playing Bastards Of Young by the great Harry Dean Stanton who died yesterday aged 91. It has to be said, they sound better drunk than many bands sound sober.
By the time they played Kiss Me On The Bus Paul, Chris and Tommy had swapped clothes…
I don’t think Saturday Night Live went out at a funny angle- the Youtube uploader’s done it to avoid copyright issues.
Harry Dean Stanton, RIP.

Big Windows To Let In The Sun

Until yesterday I didn’t know that Grant Hart’s song 2541, his solo debut in 1989, was covered by Robert Forster (of The Go-Betweens). Forster put it out in 1994 on a four track e.p.

I like it, Forster’s voice is good but he sticks largely to Grant’s song, it’s a pretty straight cover. When I found it on Youtube and then played Grant’s own version afterwards, I found that in the trail of comments beneath Grant himself had logged in and left a commentsaying he preferred Forster’s version.

The song is a beauty, full of great lines and hard won wisdom. It tells the story of a couple getting together, moving into a new home and then the break up and the leaving. Grant builds in small details that root it in personal experience- Jerry and Jimmy in the first verse who find the place and the phone number, moving in and having to keep the stove on all night long ‘so the mice wouldn’t freeze’, putting their names on the mailbox. The dream turns sour in the second verse though as Grant admits ‘it was the first place we had to ourselves, I didn’t know it would be the last’. From there the only way is down but all the while through the chorus we get the reminder of the attraction of the home, the big windows to let in the sun. The final verse sees the couple apart and moving out…

‘Well things are so much different now
I’d say the situation’s reversed
And it’ll probably not be the last time
I’ll have to be out by the first’

Story telling, moving and real, painting pictures with words, Grant had the full package as a song writer. He recorded the song twice himself, once for an ep 2541, a largely acoustic version (the one I posted yesterday) and then a fuller, band version that came out on his 1989 album Intolerance (which is my favourite). So here’s that version too…

Twenty-Five Forty-One

Grant Hart

I was deeply saddened yesterday by the news that Grant Hart had died aged 56. It seems a bit silly to be actually saddened by the death of a musician you’ve never even met but there you go. Husker Du are a band whose songs and albums hold a place close to heart. Someone once said that Bob Mould’s songs in Husker Du were more consistently excellent but Grant’s peaks were peakier and it’s easy to roll off a list of Grant Hart songs that completely hit the spot- The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill, Books About UFOs, Green Eyes, Keep Hanging On, Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely, Pink Turns To Blue, Turn On The News, She’s A Woman (And Now He Is A Man), Sorry Somehow, Never Talking To You Again, Flexible Flyer, She Floated Away…

Grant Hart was the hippie in a hardcore band- long hair, love beads, drumming with bare feet- who realised early on that drumming in a hardcore band could end up being pretty boring if that was all he did. So they became much more than a hardcore band, spearheading indie-punk through the 80s, paving the way for others to follow. Grant Hart was a drummer who knew how to write melodies and a songwriter who mainly dealt with the heavy stuff, but could cover it with shards of light. He took much of the blame for the break up of the band but he seemed to be the easy one to blame- he didn’t hide his problems with drugs. His first solo album Intolerance is open about it. His post-Husker Du albums are full of great songs too- 2541, You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water, She Can See The Angels Coming, The Main, My Regrets, Admiral Of The Sea- all come close to his Husker songs and pack an emotional punch. Grant and Bob were estranged for much of the rest of Grant’s life, appearing together only once to play two Du songs. They seem to have become more reconciled recently, communication opening up with a band agreed website to sell merchandise and a box set of their early works coming out in November. Their SST recordings still belong to SST who don’t seem to want to sell. And they should, so something right and proper can be done with the back catalogue.

Last year I wrote a Husker Du ICA for The Vinyl Villain- you can read it here. I named my 10 track compilation after one of Grant’s songs, Keep Hanging On (a song from Flip Your Wig) and used it to close my imaginary record. This is what I said about Keep Hanging On and I stand by every word even more now…

Keep Hanging On- there are so many songs I could or maybe should have closed this album with but this one always hits me right there. From Flip You Wig, buried away towards the end of side 2, the guitars are deliciously distorted, Greg’s bass builds, the drums thump and Grant sings his heart out. His voice sounds like he is just about hanging on but ultimately this is uplifting, life affirming stuff.

Only angels have wings, girl
And poets have all the words
The earth belongs to the two of us
And the sky belongs to the birds

You’ve given me so much happiness
That I’ll wrap up and give you this song
You gotta grab it with both hands
You gotta keep hanging on’

Thank you for all the songs Grant. They mean so much.

Bob Mould put this tribute on his Facebook page yesterday morning-

‘It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.

The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.

We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. We stayed in contact over the next 29 years — sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.
The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world.
Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.’

Run Run

A friend posted this tune on social media yesterday. I could place the title but not how it went. A lot of Bandulu’s mid 90s techno worked very well at the time but does sound, two decades later, very thump-thump-thump techno. Bandulu were also capable of moments of ambient magic and Run Run is one of them, a righteous piece of ambient dub from their 1994 ep Presence (and 1994 album Antimatters) with a vocal from John O’Connell. The dub swirls and storm clouds gather. A piano fades in and out. Smoke bubbles. Half time, off beat rhythm. Seven minutes where all is good.

Run Run

The picture was taken on a visit the other weekend to Mellor, in the hills above Stockport. I read a reference to an iron age hill fort and burial mound up there, out beyond Marple Bridge but before you get to New Mills (Half Man Half Biscuit once told us ‘No frills, handy for the hills, that’s the way you spell New Mills’ and this caused some excitement when we detoured through it, as you can imagine). The photo was taken within the boundary of the hill fort, partially excavated, looking back towards Manchester. You can see for miles, way beyond the city and out to Cheshire and Merseyside. A 5 minute drive away, down the dip and up again, is the field where the barrow is (sadly on private land so not accessible but visible). We stood on the hillside looking at the same landscape, give or take a large city, that local people 10, 000 years ago would have been looking at.

Aura

Bicep’s new album, Bicep, is getting a lot of my listening time right now. Bicep, a duo from Belfast but now in London, began as a blog, became a dj pair and then moved into production, inspired by artists like Aphex Twin and Laurent Garnier. This track, out back in June, is a perfect introduction to their sound- starting out sparse and becoming a heady trip, synths buzzing and blipping. The second half takes things down and then back up. If you’ve got any interest in electronic music or dance music and believe in the possibility of techno/house/electro still having somewhere new to go, give it a spin. Out now on Ninja Tune.

Aura (12″ Mix)

Help Me Lift You Up

Thunder is a good way to start a song. I was thinking this on Sunday night as thunder rumbled away outside our window, the odd flash of lightning and rain fell like stair rods. And while scrolling through a folder of songs, looking for something else, I found this song and clicked play. It started with thunder and I don’t ignore those kind of coincidences. It’s a gorgeous song too, a cover of a Mary Margaret O’Hara song, by Ivo Watt Russell’s 4AD dreampop collective This Mortal Coil. (off their final album Blood, from 1991). The thunder is followed by a slow heart beat pulse bassline and then we’re into dark night of the soul territory- and we come out feeling better.

Help Me Lift You Up

Tragically, the beautiful voice of this song, Caroline Crawley (whose main band was Shelleyan Orphan, a psychedelic, folk-pop group) died in October 2016 after a long illness. Which makes this sad sounding song all the sadder.

Absolute

On Friday night I got in from an hour in the pub and watched/fast forwarded through a few backed up episodes of Top Of The Pops, currently repeating episodes from the summer of 1984 (but only those ones without any convicted sex offenders presenting). Apart from The Smiths (Heaven Knows…, my least favourite Smiths song), Frankie (Two Tribes, number one, frighteningly 2017 thematically) and Bananarama (Rough Justice, a good song, the three girls dancing like real people actually dance rather than robo-dancers), the thing that jumped out at me- almost actually leapt from the screen on top of me, honest- was Absolute by Scritti Politti.

It’s a long way from Skank Bloc Bologna to Cupid And Psyche ’85. Absolute, a song I’d largely missed before, is a beauty, full of mid 80s pop and r’n’b flourishes, drum pads and synths and Green gamely strumming a guitar that I can’t hear anywhere in the mix. The tune sounds simple but is pretty complex. Little musical parts appear and disappear, subtly different from ones that have gone before. There’s some mid 80s funk in there too and some changes and skips that make the song move about and almost cause you have to pause to catch your breath. On top of it all sits Green’s vocal, a falsetto that floats away dreamily but somehow holds the whole thing together. I read the description ‘avant-pop’ somewhere (which seems like a typically serious way to intellectualise something so joyful- and I’ve no doubt Green and others did intellectualise it) but 33 years later this just sounds like a fucking great, open minded, inventive pop song. What a way to start my weekend and what a way to start your Monday

Also, Princess Diana hair with Nike Windrunner jacket. Sick.

Absolute

The two Top Of the Pops performances can’t be played on Youtube because they are ‘blocked in [my] country on copyright grounds’. Top Of The Pops is blocked in the UK. Nope, me either. Here’s the video instead.

Various Artists

This 1988 compilation was the first to attempt to pull together on one piece of 33rpm vinyl what had been going on in Ibiza in the summers of ’87 and ’88 and which was then transplanted back to the UK. From its eye-catching front cover on in it is a pretty essential purchase, showing the broad church that acid house was at the start. The tracks range from Eurodance (Electra’s Jibaro) to sympathetic indie (The Woodentops and Thrashing Doves) to industrial sounds that worked on the dancefloor under the stars (Finitribe, Nitzer Ebb) to the random (Mandy Smith, The Residents). This track, Drop The Deal, was from Belgium’s New Beat scene, young Belgian crowds dancing to slow-mo dance music in dark nightclubs. Somehow it made its way to the Mediterranean. Code 61 sampled Jean-Michel Jarre and Harry Belafonte for Drop The Deal. To these ears, the slightly wheezy drum machine aside, this sounds surprisingly fresh.

Drop The Deal