Kissing The Cotton Clouds

Shari Denson, friend of mine I’ve never met but know on Facebook, is a photographer and has taken loads of great pictures of bands playing in and around Manchester. Last year she put on a one- off exhibition in a slate park under the Mancunian Way which I missed but looked really good. A week ago on Facebook she posted this picture, a shot taken at Cotton Clouds festival a couple of years ago. Shari asked ‘does anyone recognise either of these gorgeous folk?’

It is a stunning photograph, a moment in time caught. I don’t know which band the couple are watching, it looks like daytime so presumably a band lower down the bill. They’re a good looking couple, photogenic and sexy and they embody that freedom you have when you’re young. He is caught up in the performance happening to the left of the picture, she has noticed the camera and glanced at the shutter, looking straight at us. Both are in the moment, together but with a different focus. Some of Shari’s friends said the woman looks a bit like Madonna and the man like Jeff Buckley. Another suggested it could be from an 80s film, this one maybe…

Shari said that if she were her, she’d want the picture printed and on the wall, ready to show her grand-kids in several decades time. This generation have so many photographs of themselves, they document themselves and their lives constantly almost without thinking about it. I’ve got very few photos from my teens or twenties. We only really started taking photographs regularly when we had children. Selfies weren’t really a thing until phones and cameras became brought together in one object.

Since the original thread a week ago I think the man has been identified but on the night she posted it another friend Karen said that in some ways she hoped they wouldn’t be found, that she liked their anonymity, she didn’t want to know who they were- ‘Mystery is everything sometimes, right?’ In some ways I agree- without names they are a kind of every couple, young and unfettered.

Karen said that when the couple who were in the famous photo in Times Square at the end of World War II were named and their stories known it ruined the photo for her. Both lived into their nineties. The woman, Greta Friedman, said that the sailor, George Mendonsa, didn’t ask to kiss her, he just grabbed her. According to Greta it wasn’t romantic, more a drunken celebration, and today that strikes a very different tone.

Times Square: Sailor and nurse kissing in iconic WWII photograph ...

More happily, the couple from the sleeve of the Woodstock album were found forty years later and happily were still together.

It also made me think of this photo taken in New York in the mid- 1940s,a snapshot of Hal Chase, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs near Columbia University. One of the books I’ve read about the Beats, it might have been Carolyn Cassady’s autobiography, wrote about this picture and said that the only person who is in the moment is Jack, meeting the gaze of the lens. Hal is looking at Allen, Allen has his eyes closed, frozen slightly, Burroughs too. Jack is there, alive and looking back at us, tuned it. Shari’s photo is similar- a better photo too- him intensely looking elsewhere and her looking down the camera at us.

Cotton Clouds takes place, or took place, at Saddleworth near Oldham and has been played by The Coral, Sugarhill Gang and Nick Heywood in 2017, Sister Sledge, Starsailor and The Orielles the following year and Peter Hook, Alabama 3, The Wailers and Tim Burgess last August. I think the promoters have since gone into administration and it probably wouldn’t have happened this year anyway.

I’m assuming that Cotton Clouds was named after the line in Elephant Stone, a song that is one of The Stone Roses finest moments. I’d take Elephant Stone over the entire Second Coming album, it’s unaffected, weightless and heady-

‘Burst into heaven
Kissing the cotton clouds
Arctic sheets and fields of wheat
I can’t stop coming down’

Elepahnt Stone is a technicolour burst of northern psychedelic, the words and guitars in a rush to unfold and Reni’s drums driving everything on, the sound surfacing only for a breather with the ‘seems like there’s a hole/in my dreams’ before diving back in again.

Elephant Stone 12″ Mix

 

49

It’s my birthday today- the number above.

Madness were a lot of fun on Friday night. I won precisely nothing betting on the horses. Suggs and saxophonist Lee Thompson are a great pair of frontmen (Chas Smash left a few years ago). The set was as you’d expect heavy on the hits, a run of songs pretty much unparalleled in British popular music plus a couple from their more recent albums, a mass singalong for It Must be Love and an encore of Madness (the song) and Night Boat To Cairo which saw outbreaks of pandemonium in the crowd. I was going to post this on Friday but didn’t so here it is as a bonus, a deliciously skanking, dubby Andrew Weatherall remix of Madness from 2012. I’m sure that there was a second version of this, a dubbier one, that’s never been released that Weatherall played on one of his radio shows.

Death Of A Rude Boy (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

Looking for songs with 49 in the title I fond this one from The Jazz Butcher, released on Creation in 1988, a spiky, ramshackle, catchy indie guitar song from Pat Fish that rattles along breathlessly, surfacing for the ‘you make me want to carry on’ line. This sort of thing seemed ten a penny in 1988 but like genuine moments of mini- greatness now. I first heard it on the Creation compilation Doing It For The Kids, a brilliant example of the art of the compilation album (The Jasmine Minks, The House Of Love, My Bloody Valentine, Felt, Primal Scream, Pacific, The Times, Nikki Sudden and The Weather Prophets plus several others showing Creation had an embarrassment of riches at the time). The Jazz Butcher’s Lot 49 references a novel by Thomas Pynchon which I feel like I should have read but haven’t.

Lot 49

Madge

Madonna turns 60 today so here’s happy birthday to her. I’ve written before about Madonna, about the turn of the 90s Madonna where she took on board house music and sampling and bestrode the planet like a Galtier bra wearing colossus singing Justify My Love and Vogue, and also about the later 90s Madonna working with William Orbit making the superb Ray Of Light album, and before that about Into The Groove and Sonic Youth’s Ciccone Youth, and before that about her appearing on The Tube at The Hacienda and a story about Peter Hook (allegedly) or Rob Gretton (possibly) offering her £50 to dance for him and being told to fuck off.

Madonna’s songs from the 1980s, the pop stuff, sound better and better the further away from then we get- whenever I hear them on the radio or the TV I’m always struck by their dance-pop nous and the exuberance she put into them. La Isla Bonita, Live To Tell, Borderline, Like A Prayer, Live To Tell and a load of others too- top stuff. Here are two of them to remind you…

Borderline was her first US top ten hit and reached number 2 in the UK. Produced and then remixed by Jellybean Benitez, her boyfriend at the time, it is one of the building blocks of her career, four minutes of perfectly pitched pop music.

Borderline

Like A Prayer, from 1989, signals the end of her pure-pop phase and the start of the next part, but is really just pop. It is a blast, mixing sex and Catholicism, and guaranteed to cause controversy. The video where Madonna witnesses a murder by the Ku Klux Klan, takes refuge in a church and then dreams about kissing a black Jesus, was banned by The Vatican and led to an outcry by various ‘family and religious groups’ who also boycotted Pepsi who then dropped her and the song from an advert. A lot of fuss over a pop song- who’d have thought the religious right wing were so touchy?

Like A Prayer

She’s Got Herself A Universe

Madonna’s Ray Of Light single and album are 20 years old. The album is a modern pop showpiece, borrowing from all over the place, mainly but not only dance music and dance music production, to make something new and up-to-date. The single was a blast, a riot of acid-tinged electronics merged with a soaring chorus and a feeling of freedom, flying, re-birth. Madonna had been through several life changing experiences in the previous couple of years, not least the birth of her daughter, and a desire to capture this newness, ‘wonderment’ she called it, was uppermost in her mind. The person chosen to bring it to life was William Orbit and he brings the sound, the electronic and dance influences and the production techniques. Ray Of Light, the single, still sounds fresh today. Orbit deliberately pushed her vocals as far as he could, making her sing just beyond the top of her range, a semitone above where she’d usually peak, to get that reaching and slightly straining effect. I was deep into stuff in 1998 that was often quite a long way from Madonna but I loved this single- and still do.

The 12″ and cd single came with a range of remixes. William Orbit’s own 8 minute Liquid version of Ray Of Light was well worth the cost of a cd single (£3.99 probably), a stretched out, less hyper take on the pop version, with looped electric guitar parts for the intro and then burbling synths and bass, the vocal covered in reverb.

Ray Of Light (William Orbit Liquid Mix)

I may come back to the Ray Of Light album at a later date- I haven’t listened to it for a long time but it’s got a lot of songs worth re-investigating. While putting this post together I cam across this semi-ambient, floaty remix of Drowned World with a great backwards guitar part, again by Orbit himself- Drowned World- A Reverie Remix. Rather beautiful.

Punk bonus- Mark Vidler, as Go Home Productions, was a master of the 00s mash-up/bootleg scene. He spliced Ray Of Light with Pretty Vacant, added the filth and fury of the Pistols on Bill Grundy and some gig chatter of Lydon complaining about being spat upon.

Ray Of Gob

American Girl

The news, big and small, is just a mess at the moment, one crushing item after another- Catalonia, Las Vegas, the Tories in Manchester and the whole Boris Johnson circus, the continued existence of Donald Trump, Morrissey’s dullard pronouncements about Ukip- that’s just scratching the surface.  Yesterday brought news of the death of Tom Petty at the age of 66. I can’t claim to be a massive fan but I’m aware of his role and status. I’m fond of Free Fallin’ which struck me as a good tune back in 1989 (and still does) and this is a fucking monster of a song/riff/chorus/sentiment.

American Girl

Julian Casablancas might have been listening to this one in the early 2000s. At the weekend I happened upon the picture of Madonna (at Keith Haring’s birthday party in 1984) and it seemed too good not to use for a post about an American girl.

Beauty’s Where You Find It

There are plenty of Madonna singles I’ll make a case for, from Into The Groove to Ray Of Light and several in between. I even like American Pie. In 1990 she released two singles that are as good as anything she did, splicing pop with house to stay a step ahead of the rest, and pushing pop music into new places. Vogue is a smart pop song, a dance, a homage to 1920s and 1930s style and Hollywood legend, a light shining on the gay club scene, and a celebration of the dancefloor. The rap section is totally memorable and the rhythm can only have come from producer Shep Pettibone’s exposure to house music in Europe.

Vogue

Justify My Love was a step further, calculated to cause offence and controversy. Co-written by Lenny Kravitz, drums borrowed from Public Enemy (and Clyde Stubblefield originally), it sets off like a train and Madonna’s breathy vocals make it clear there’s only one thing on her mind. The video features the full range of button pushers for the TV censors- scenes of a sexual nature, cross-dressing, BDSM and nudity, all par for the course for Madonna in 1990. The Sex book (with Vanilla Ice of all people) was just around the corner. Justify My Love is a great single in its own right though, a chuggy dance pop monster. The video was banned by MTV (obvs) and to watch it you’d have to buy it on VHS. Until Youtube was invented.

Justify My Love

 

Ciccone

In 1988 Sonic Youth put out The Whitey Album, not very well disguised as Ciccone Youth and in tribute to Madonna Louise Ciccone. Most of the attention was on the record’s cover versions. These had been put out as a single on New Alliance in 1986 and were expanded out for the album. Coming at a time when Sonic Youth were being praised to the heavens for Daydream Nation this was possibly an effective way of defusing some of the hype- some noise, contributions from Mike Watt, jokey covers plus a hip reference to krautrock with the song Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu! The cover of the album was a photocopied close up of Madonna’s face. Madonna apparently gave her blessing to it, remembering the band from her clubbing and Danceteria days. Ciccone Youth did their Madonna thing on Into The Groove(y) and Burnin’ Up. Someone on Youtube has done the decent thing and set the music to clips of Desperately Seeking Susan (the only Madonna film that is actually watchable).

Better still though was their version of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love. The video and vocal were recorded in a karaoke booth for $25- D.I.Y. punk rock in attitude, style and cost. It was also a very effective way of sending up Palmer’s video with Kim Gordon singing the song deadpan and dancing with images from the Vietnam War flashing over the top.

This is the standard setter and last word in ironic cover versions. And still sounds great.