They Say That Country Life Is Hard To Beat

It would be a strange trip to Brittany without taking in some prehistoric sites. These three menhir stand in the very quiet village of Plomelin not far from Quimper. I like a bit of a challenge with standing stones and dolmen, a field to trek through or a bit of a search but no such luck with these stones- they stand in a very well cared for spot at the centre of Plomelin with a space to park the car, a distillery across the road and a stream running through them with a small bridge.

Writing about prehistoric stones leads to going on to write about Julian Cope. Looking back at his rebirth in 1990 he was way ahead of the curve with all sorts of things- opposition to the Poll Tax was a very current concern shared by hundreds of thousands and then there’s his environmentalism, distrust of government, interest in women’s rights, opposition to mass car ownership and car culture, hatred of organised religion (on the sleeve notes to Peggy Suicide he writes at length about the replacement of Communism by radical Islam in the eyes of the military, governments, media etc).  Copey was in there with all of these and more. His book on prehistoric sites The Modern Antiquarian then placed him as a serious chronicler and authority with actual historians calling his book ‘the best popular guide to Neolithic and Bronze Age sites for half a century’.

In 1994 Cope released a CD single, four versions of his song/album track Paranormal In The West Country. To get it you had to buy his Queen Elizabeth album. This would come with a sticker which you had to return on a used envelope. On receipt of that Cope would send you the Paranormal CD. The best of three new versions was this one recorded with The Leone Quartet.

Paranormal In The West Country (With The Leone Quartet)

Julian has a new album for sale at his Head Heritage site, a five track mainly instrumental tribute to John Balance of Coil called John Balance Enters Valhalla, ‘five mesmerising rhythm- laden tracks… hefty grooves that shimmer and shake’ according to the man himself. It’s difficult to keep up with Cope and his output but this one is worth your time and money. Buy here.

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’

Lost Heads

We’re back. A day’s drive from southern Brittany yesterday with a three hour pause while the ferry captain took over saw us get through the door at just before midnight. The coastline and beaches with their clusters of pine trees and beautiful, golden-to-deep-blue dusks seem a long way away now. The Atlantic coast near Royan is wonderful, packed full of coves and beaches and forests, lots of places to stop and wile away the hours. South Brittany, particularly round the estuary of the river Odet and the town of Benodet is also a lovely place with miles of rocky coastline, some sandy beaches, the undulating Breton countryside and cheap wine and food.

While we were gone Britain seems to have been overtaken by a right wing coup, led by an English, No Deal fanatic and his cronies. Keeping in touch at a distance was pretty depressing and after a few days I tried to ignore political events in the UK as far as possible. Meanwhile a dam not too far from here threatened to collapse and destroy the town of Whaley Bridge. Local roads here were flooded, the Mersey was at an all time high, routes to the airport closed.

Here’s a new hit of summer psych- disco from Moon Duo, Ripley’s guitar falling in sun dappled waves and droplets over the beat with some very laid back twin vocals. The album is out at the end of September but the songs released so far seem perfect for August.

 

A Bientot

There will now be a break in transmissions for a fortnight while we head south to France for our summer holiday, the Atlantic coast for a week (near Royan, south of La Rochelle) and then a week in southern Brittany near Quimper. Static caravans this year, an upgrade from tents. I’m looking forward to the wine, the cheese, the sun and the heat, the sea, the sunsets, the slower pace of life. I’ll also be less well connected to events back here so I’ll miss Boris Johnson’s ascension to the Tory throne and installation as Prime Minister. Since 2016 I keep thinking we’ve hit the bottom of the barrel but someone or something always comes along to keep scraping lower- Trump’s outright racism recently a new low. I’m sure Johnson will provide us some further depths to tunnel. According to reports Jarvis Cocker finished his set at Blue Dot last weekend with his 2006 song Running The World, a song that keeps giving. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, David Cameron, everyone in the European Research Group, the Conservative Party generally, the Murdoch press and anyone I’ve forgotten- this one is for you…

Running The World

Ever since The Cure played Glastonbury I’ve been immersing myself in their back catalogue and this song has been a real earworm for me over the last few weeks. In 1990 The Cure released an album of remixes and extended mixes called Mixed Up, a double album and one that stands up very well still today. Lullaby was a big hit in 1989, fuelled by a claustrophobic Tim Pope video. The extended mix (done by Robert Smith and producer Chris Parry) fades in gently, a funky guitar part and a shuffly rhythm guiding us. Once the bassline hits the whole thing shimmies along, Smith’s tale of dread and spidermen, taken to an outdoor disco, dancing under Mediterranean skies.

Lullaby (Extended Mix) 

Anyway, that’s yer lot for the moment, hope the weather holds up while we’re away, play nicely, look after yourselves and each other and I’ll see you in August.

Light At The Edge of The World

There’s a good part of me that thinks that I could live in a caravan out in the west of France with the Atlantic Ocean close by and pine trees overhead. The problem of storing several thousand pieces of vinyl would have to be solved- maybe a small house rather than a caravan would be best.

This Richard Norris dub (and remix) of Liverpool’s latest psychedelic-pop purveyors The Vryll Society is sounding very good. Richard Norris has been at it for over 3 decades, one of the first people in the UK to get acid house (recording Jack the Tab with Genesis P Orridge in 1987), then The Grid and in recent years in his The Time And Space Machine guise and under his own name. It’s a long trip that keeps on giving.

Way Behind Me

This is the view out of the ferry port at Portsmouth, setting sail for St. Malo and the rest of France. By the time this posts I shall be close to the French coast and then a relatively short drive with the family to the Vendee region for our summer holiday. The heatwave we’ve had in the UK means we aren’t as desperate for some sun as we sometimes are by this time of year but I am ready for a holiday and a change of pace. See you all in August.

This single was released in August 1988, a cracking piece of jangle pop from The Primitives that reached number 36 in the proper charts (when that kind of thing mattered).

Way Behind Me

Sunsets And Glue

Down on the Atlantic coast at the south west of France the sunsets are, to put it mildly, pretty spectacular and beautiful. Gathering on the beach each night to watch the sun sink into the sea was a ritual for a lot of the holiday makers down there and the locals too. The light that the sun threw out as it descended into the distance was stunning too.

While queuing at Portsmouth trying to get out of the ferry port on Wednesday night I stuck Radio One on, not something I do very often. We got the last twenty minutes of Annie Mac’s show where she mainly talked about the recent Radio One Ibiza weekender and played a few tracks, one of which sounded brilliant, a real sundowner (or sun-upper) of a track. And while going through four hundred plus emails yesterday I got one promoting the track in question- Bicep’s Glue. Bicep area an Irish duo, bloggers and djs and now makers of music too. Glue has a breakbeat with some reverb on it and then some lovely synths. All warm and blissful. Out now digitally with an album in September.

Bonjour

Bonjour mes amis- we got back from France late last night following a Dean Cassidy style drive across France and England. You’ll be pleased to know that Bayonne, deep into the south west of France, Basque country, is proudly anti-fascist. While I was away news came through of a new Andrew Weatherall solo album, Qualia, due in September on Hoga Nord and a two track dub 12″ at the end of August. This song is a trailer for the album- twinkling synths, krauty beats, and a voice saying ‘hello’.

And also while I was enjoying the sun, the moules, the frites, the vin, another Music’s Not For Everyone appeared. Plenty of catching up to do.

Celebration

I’m off on my summer holiday today, hitting the road to Portsmouth, an overnight ferry to St. Malo and then one night in Bordeaux. From there we are heading to a campsite north of Bayonne, on the Atlantic coast of south west France. A bit over a week later we are heading north and having four nights in the Vendee near Saint-Jean-de-Monts. So it will be two weeks before there’s any action here.

I bought Peter Hook’s latest book Substance, which focuses on his time in New Order, for one of my holiday reads. Over the last few days curiosity has got the better of me and I’m already a hundred pages in. Which led me to looking for this clip, a fledgling New Order playing a short set (half an hour, six songs) at Granada Studios in 1981 for a programme called Celebration. According to Hooky there had been a disagreement with the TV crew. Union regulations meant that only a union member could touch the sound desk- words and opinions had been exchanged. The tension is clearly present. However this is also a fascinating document of a band crawling out of tragedy and feeling their way towards a new sound. Dreams Never End (the best song off Movement), sung by Hooky, is driving and aggressive. ICB, Chosen Time, Denial and Truth show the band still playing Joy Division riffs but with the synths and electronic drums finding their way in. Just listen to the opening of Truth, Steven’s synth pads hissing, then Hooky’s bass and Barney’s melodica. Ceremony is played four songs in, guitars rawer and brighter than the studio version. The twenty seven minutes captured here are a treat all these years later but no one there at the time, audience included, seems to be having very much fun.

No doubt once I get back, having got through all 700 plus pages in Substance, there will be further New Order posts to come. See you all in a fortnight.

Home Again (Again)

Back home again- I’ve barely been at home for the last three weeks have I? I’m sure those of you who don’t have long summer holidays don’t want to hear about the beautiful rolling hills of the Dordogne, the sandy coloured French villages, the point at which the Dordogne and Vezere rivers converge, engravings made on cave walls by our ancestors 25, 000 years ago that take the breath away, the fine wines of the Bergerac and Saumur, long sun drenched evenings, the daily sunshine and 34 degree heat. So I won’t go on about it. If it’s any consolation I can offer this advice- don’t  get a ferry back across the Channel from Caen to Portsmouth that lands at 10 pm and then leaves you having to drive up to Manchester round not one, not two but three sets of roadwork diversions and gets you back in at 3 am.

Long summer drives through France on the other hand are a joy. The roads are great, traffic is minimal, the scenery wonderful. We have occasional differences about what should soundtrack the journeys. This year’s tune that all of us agreed on was this recent smash from Beyonce, full of ire and anger, led by calypso strings and some intense drums. It borrows liberally from Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs too.

Hold Up

If you haven’t heard it the album Lemonade is full of great tracks. Genuinely.