Twenty One

Today is our eldest’s 21st birthday. Isaac was born on 23rd November 1998 and, as some of you will know, from that point on has had a complicated and difficult time. Diagnosed with a serious, life limiting condition at eight months, multiple operations, deafness, physical and learning disabilities, all compounded by meningitis at ten years old (a result of the refusal of his immune system to grow back following two bone marrow transplants in 2000). Along the way he has refused to stop or slow down and brought joy and laughter to almost everyone he meets- questioning them about the motorways they use, the day their bins go out, the tram or train stations they use and the supermarkets they shop at. He is now in his second year at college and loves it (his college in Salford integrate the young adults with additional needs with the mainstream students on one campus). He goes out with his adult social services group, a service that has somehow survived repeated cuts by the Tory government and council over the last ten years. Things have been on a fairly even keel in recent years but you can’t ever really take things for granted with him (his immune system is still shot to pieces) so twenty one is an achievement, a marker, especially for a young man who more than once while in hospital wasn’t expected to survive the night. Happy birthday Isaac.

I only twigged recently that this event was also on the 23rd November, nine years earlier. The legendary night in 1989 when Top Of The Pops was gatecrashed by Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. At the time in ’89 I remember sitting in my student house, finger poised over the record button on the rented VHS machine. Happy Mondays came on first, miming Hallelujah, the lead song off the Madchester Rave On e.p. Hallelujah on the 12″ is a colossal, six minute piece of grinding Mancunian funk, produced by Martin Hannett pumped full of pills the Mondays gave him, not the kind of song to make the nation’s favourite chart show. The 7″ featured a Steve Lillywhite mix (The MacColl Mix) slightly smoothed out with Kirsty on backing vox. It still sounds like a groovy, out of sync, unholy racket, Shaun William Ryder wanting to ‘lie down beside yer, fill yer full of junk’.

Kirsty joined the band for the TV appearance, dressed down in double denim and trainers. The Mondays had been to Amsterdam before the show for some ‘shopping’ and were all Armani-d up. As the cameras began to roll Shaun asked the nearby cameraman ‘does me knob look massive in these strides?’ Bez apparently remembers nothing of the day at all.

The Stone Roses appeared shortly after having ridden into the top ten with a double A-side, Fool’s Gold and What the World Is Waiting For. The forty date spring tour and debut album saw them grow and grow, bringing more  and more fans on board, hair was lengthening and trousers widening. Fool’s Gold was a step on completely from the album, nine minutes fifty three seconds of liquid, ominous funk, John Squire’s guitar circling round and round, helicopter noises and wah wah bedlam, Reni and Mani were locked in tight. Over the top Ian Brown whispers about greed, the hills and the Marquis de Sade.

Thirty years ago today and still sharper than the rest.

All At Once

I passed up the opportunity recently to push my thumb on on a piece of clickbait I saw on my phone entitled ‘are Oasis the best ever band from Manchester?’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ I thought, ‘of course they aren’t. In fact Oasis aren’t even the best band Burnage’.

The honour ‘best ever band from Burnage’ lies with Stockholm Monsters, a little known band who formed in 1980, signed to Factory and released several wonderful records before splitting up in 1987. Their debut, 1981’s Fairy Tales single, was produced by Martin Hannett. Wilson loved them for a while before the Happy Mondays replaced them in his affections. Peter Hook took them under his wing and produced their 1984 album Alma Mater. Their sound is very mid 80s indie- jagged, trebly guitars, cheap keyboards, the occasional trumpet and a non- singer on vocals (I mean this as a compliment. Non- singers on vocals are often my favourite singers).  In 1984 they put this single out (and in typical Factory/ 80s indie style the B-side called National Pastime is just as good- I posted it in January 2018).

All At Once

Later on they worked drum machines and New Order’s Emulator into their sound and in the face of press and record buying public indifference bid farewell with a single called Partyline, a song that starts off wonky and unsure of itself, sparse bassline and swells of one fingered keyboards before it explodes into melody in the chorus. This performance on Granada TV is low key but entrancing, a glimpse of band who should be far better known than they are.

Partyline was their parting shot, a 1987 single on Factory (FAC 146 fact fans). It was produced by Hooky under the Be Music guise that members of New Order used for production work. There’s plenty of reverb on the drums, too much probably heard now in 2019, and the instruments seem to be in competition with each other, overloaded and fighting for space, it’s all very busy and singer Tony France is straining at the top of his register. But I love it, it’s flawed but somehow perfect, and it’s got a spark, a spirit and a heart that you can look for in any of the Oasis albums from [insert date here] onward and won’t find.

Partyline (Partylive Mix)

Burnage, for those who don’t know, is a suburb of south Manchester, bisected by a dual carriageway called Kingsway. I grew up in Withington, its neighbouring suburb a short walk west. As well as Stockholm Monsters and the Gallaghers Burnage was/is home to loads of people I went to school with, former Manchester United captain and Busby Babe Roger Byrne (who died in the muinich air disaster in 1958), actor David Threlfall and Dave Rowbotham, a former member of Durutti Column and The Invisible Girls (sadly murdered in 1991).

I Just Want To See Your Face

Section 25, from Poulton- le- Fylde near Blackpool, formed in 1977, enthused by punk and its possibilities. In 1979 they shared a stage with Joy Division at Blackpool’s Imperial Hotel and from there were invited by Rob Gretton to play at the Russell Club in Hulme and then on to signing to Factory. By 1983 an expanded line up were heading towards the future, away from post punk guitars and into electronic dance music. Their 1984 single Looking From A Hilltop, produced by Bernard Sumner and ACR’s Donald Johnson under their Be Music name, is one of the best records Factory released, a proto- techno/electro masterpiece, dark synth- pop, Moroder on the Golden Mile, with whip crack backwards drums, low slung bass and an icy vocal from Jenny Ross.

The album From The Hip, has one of Peter Saville’s most beautiful sleeves- the poles on the front cover use the same colour wheel code he’d used on the Power, Corruption And Lies and Blue Monday sleeves. The Megamix version of Looking From A Hilltop on the 12″ made it’s way to New York’s clubs and to the early Chicago house scene. Along with Marcel King’s Reach For Love and 52nd Street’s Cool As Ice, Looking From A Hilltop proves that it wasn’t all just about New Order at Palatine Road in 1984. The version I’m posting here is from a session Section 25 did for David Kid Jenson at the BBC, 10th May 1984.

Looking From A Hilltop (BBC session)

On A Thousand Islands In The Sea

Thurston Moore is going to release three 7″ singles in November and each one will have the same B-side, a cover of New Order’s Leave Me Alone. I’ve said before that I’m not a massive fan of covers of New Order songs. Lonelady’s recent cover of Cries And Whispers and Galaxie 500’s slow burning take on Ceremony are two of the few exceptions. Thurston’s cover will join those ranks, a rather lovely and chilled out take on the song, starting out quite Byrsdy and ending with a restrained squall of acoustic guitars and feedback. Thurston recorded in his version in Salford, Sumner and Hook’s hometown, dipping his scuffed Converse into the River Irwell and coming up trumps.

New Order recorded the original at Britannia Row in Islington in 1983 and it closed their Power, Corruption And Lies album, a quantum leap forward from 1981’s Movement. Hooky’s divine bassline and Bernard’s acidic guitar spiralling around each other for ages before Bernard starts singing his plea for solitude. People often cite Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face as the singles that Factory should have released from Power, Corruption And Lies if Factory and New Order had been in the business of something as mundane as releasing songs as singles that had already appeared on albums. Leave Me Alone is right up there with those two songs, a gem surrounded by jewels.

Leave Me Alone

I Like Walking In The Park

New Order’s Lowlife album of 985 remains a career highpoint, as a full studio album only really matched by 1989’s Technique. Lowlife is a perfect synthesis of rock and dance, Hooky’s metallic bass and the synths and Stephen’s metronomic drums all vying for space, matched by Barney’s growing confidence as a singer. The nervy early steps, getting to grips with technology, finding a way out after Ian’s death, the experimentalism of Power, Corruption And Lies, and then the increasing boldness of Temptation, Thieves Like Us and Blue Monday led to Lowlife.

The penultimate song is Subculture, a peak on an album that features several other peaks, songs like Love Vigilantes, The Perfect Kiss and Elegia. In October 1985 the group released a single version of Subculture, a version remixed by John Robie. Robie was a fixture on the 80s New York electro club scene and turned in a version of Subculture which it is fair to say splits opinion. His remix is aimed squarely at clubland, the shonky vocal of the album version replaced by a new one (for the record I love the shonky, all over the place vocal of the album version, the ways it works against and with the synth riff, massive sound and glittering production). Robie’s version is much more electronic, added some female backing vocals and then layering more and more sounds. Some people hate it. Peter Saville refused to design a sleeve for it.

In 1986 a new mix of Sub-culture appeared, one song on a four track 7″ single given away with Record Mirror magazine (a now long defunct British music magazine). As well as the new exclusive mix of Sub-culture were songs by Raymonde, Hipsway and The Adventures. Robie got the credit, mistakenly or otherwise, but this new remix was by Joseph Watt, a member of the Razormaid! a remix service who worked out of San Francisco in the 80s to produce exclusive versions and edits of songs for subscribers (usually DJs). I’m guessing that the Watt remix came via Robie. It leans back to the Lowlife version with the synth riff and bassline, adding harder drums and percussion. Hooky’s bass runs are centre stage before the vocals come in, alternating with extra keyboard parts, building for several minutes before we even hear Barney. When he does come in his voice is harking back to the album cut, detached and human, a bit exposed, singing the words apparently inspired by the groups visits to Skin Two, a London fetish club- tied up in chains so tight, being unable to shaft without someone else, having to submit, it having to hurt you a little bit. A dissonant pumping synth sound comes in and the sound toughens up again, pitched somewhere between the Lowlife song and Robie’s single remix.

Sub-culture (Exclusive Remix Record Mirror)

In 2017 New order played a series of shows at the old Granada TV Studios on Quay Street as part of the Manchester International Festival, organised by Dave Haslam. They went back through their catalogue to play songs they’d not played for years and to make it more interesting/difficult for themselves recruited some young musicians from the Royal Northern to form a synth orchestra. The famous synth riff on Sub-culture was played originally slowed down and then sped up for the recording. The group, minus Hooky of course, marvelled at these young geniuses who could not only play the riff but at the correct speed too. Taking from both the Lowlife and Robie versions it’s pretty magnificent, despite the absence of the most distinctive bass player of the 1980s, and the wall of synth players is visually and sonically great. The video won’t embed but you can find it here.

Boom

Boom! Two booms today- I can’t remember exactly why either of these songs came into my head recently or if one sparked the other but I thought it seemed like a decent idea for a post.

Happy Mondays released Wrote For Luck in October 1988, a record around which an entire scene could be/was built, a riot of guitars and dance beats with Shaun Ryder’s surrealist swirl of words reaching a peak. The first 12″ release of Wrote For Luck with the famous Central Station sleeve had a B-side called Boom, a three minute extra that didn’t make the cut for Bummed. Boom opens with heavily reverbed drums and then that queasy musical stew the Mondays created in 1988, keyboards and guitars and bass all fighting over the same ground, the instruments all over each other searching for space. Shaun delivers more wisdom from the microphone, tales of cabbies and drugs and living in a box with cardboard socks. I don’t know if Martin Hannett produced Boom. He produced Bummed and this song sounds like it comes from the same place (a studio in Driffield, East Yorkshire with mixing done at Strawberry in Stockport).

Boom

In 1991 The Grid released a 12″ called Boom, progressive house, pianos, synth stabs and bleeps, thunderous bass and chunky drums heading for deep space. The single came with several mixes. The one here is the 707 mix, presumably named after the drum machine which powers it. Not much to say about this slice of Richard Norris and Dave Ball music other than it is very good indeed.

Boom (707 Mix)

As a postscript- and this only occurred to me while writing this post- in the same year the two came together, Happy Mondays remixed by The Grid, two tracks from their Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches album. It was a 12″ I didn’t get at the time- you couldn’t buy everything could you? I don’t own either of the remixes on CD or mp3 either so it’s Youtube only. One of The Grid remixes was of Bob’s Yer Uncle, Shaun’s dirty talking sex song (a song incidentally that Tony Wilson selected to be played at his funeral which must have caused a few sniggers). The other remix was of Loose Fit, a low slung, smokey vibe of a song with a snakey guitar line and Shaun muttering and growling about a loose fit being his way of life. The Gulf War features too- ‘gonna buy an air force base, gonna wipe out your race’. The Grid’s Loose Fix remix isn’t hugely different for the first few minutes, reworking the drumbeat and stretching everything out, gradually departing at the half way mark and going off into the distance slowly and hazily.

 

I’ve Never Met Anyone Quite Like You Before

On visiting the above building, phare de la Coubre (a lighthouse on the Atlantic coast of France near Royan) I walked along a path looking at the floor and was stuck by these adjoining pieces of gravel.

They reminded me of Peter Saville’s sleeve for New Order’s 1981 masterpiece Temptation.

You may say, as a friend has suggested on social media, that my interest in New Order ‘may have spilled into less than healthy territory’ but in response I say ‘yeah but it does look a bit like the Temptation sleeve’.
Temptation was the moment New Order escaped the shadow of Joy Division- previous single Everything’s Gone Green was a quantum leap into dance music with some dub production techniques (learnt from Hannett, now abandoned as they produced themselves) but it still had Joy Division’s DNA running through it. Temptation was brighter, the synths right at the fore, Hooky’s bassline and Bernard’s choppy disco guitar leading the charge along with the ‘ooh ooh ooh ooh’ vocal intro. It is also the first New Order song that is distinctly New Order lyrically, a step away from the portentous, Ian Curtis indebted lyrics of the band’s songs up to that point. It’s fair to say that Temptation’s lyrics Curtis couldn’t have written anything like Temptation- it’s got a lightness, an optimism and a simplicity he wouldn’t have come up with.
Hooky talks about the famous ‘eyes drop’ in his autobiography, a moment guaranteed to stop hearts and turn gigs. In some ways it could be their greatest song and their greatest single- I know some people think it is. It certainly pointed to the road ahead and the way out of the abyss. They’ve recorded and released it in various versions. The original 12″ from 1981 is still the go to version for me, miles better than the 1987 re-recording for Substance (which has its merits but feels smoothed out).
They re-did it in 1998, flushed by getting back together. The ’98 version came out on the extra disc on the Retro box set. It’s a decent updating of the song, modernised without losing the ramshackle charm of the original, with Bernard’s guitar’s well up in the mix and his voice clearly more used to singing than he was in the early 80s. By this point the song had found a new life in the scene in Trainspotting where Renton withdrawals and Kelly McDonald sings to him in a cold turkey dream at the end of his bed. ‘Oh you’ve got green eyes, oh you’ve blue eyes, oh you’ve got grey eyes’