Vacancy

Neil Young’s new/old album Homegrown came out last month. It was recorded in 1974 and 1975 and then Neil shelved it, despite the quality of the songs and the presence of both Crazy Horse and his other rotating cast of musicians including the likes of Ben Keith, Emmylou Harris and Robbie Robertson. It was too personal for Neil, some of the songs dealing with his recent breakup with Carrie Snodgrass and the pain and anguish it caused him.

A handful of the songs recorded for Homegrown made it onto other albums- Star of Bethlehem, White Line, Little Wing and Love Is A Rose all turned up elsewhere throughout the next decade and a half- but seven of them sat in Neil’s house unheard and unshared, until Neil’s decision to release Homegrown as he intended it to be back in 1975 but in 2020. This one has been worth the wait. Vacancy sounds as fresh as it was the day it was recorded, the band crunching their way through a mid- paced, twin guitar, stomp with Neil’s voice floating over the top, ‘I look in your eyes/ and I don’t know what’s there…’. The way the guitars lock together after the verses and the ringing guitar solo at the end is wonderful, pure Neil Young in ’75.

The only moment on Homegrown that misfires is Florida, a two minute soundscape with Neil muttering over the top about cities and gliders but if you’re on the homegrown there’s a good chance some stoned ramblings will occur. Even so, it somehow works in the context of the album.

Homegrown should have been released after Harvest, when his acoustic guitar, singer- songwriter star was at its highest. Instead it lay in the vault for forty five years and he put out On The Beach (an album that deals with Charles Manson and has songs called Vampire Blues and Revolution Blues) and Tonight’s The Night (and album recorded in the direct aftermath of the deaths of roadie Bruce Berry and guitarist Danny Whitten, Neil shaken to the core by both). Having shelved Homegrown for being too raw, he released two of the bleakest albums he ever made. That’s where Neil was in 1975.

For The Turnstiles was on On The Beach, a sparse but sprightly banjo moan, Neil lamenting the price of fame and the artistic costs of arena rock via the metaphor of baseball.

For The Turnstiles

 

Audrey Witherspoon

I mentioned the remixes Andrew Weatherall made his name with yesterday. In the early 90s remix culture became the big thing, record companies throwing thousands of pounds at club DJs to stick dance beats underneath a song. Weatherall’s remixes never took the easy road, were never formulaic. In most cases the remixes were better than the source material and he was still producing superb remixes until recently.

Primal Scream have put out several Best Of/ Greatest Hits, one only last year. The one they haven’t released and would be the contender for the best Best Of would be the one that compiled Weatherall’s work for the group. The AW/PS compilation wold start with Loaded, a remix so groundbreaking and gigantic it created an entire scene and gave the Scream a career. Andrew’s remix of Come Together is monumental. I once said here that there are days when I think it is the single greatest record ever made and I don’t see any reason to argue with myself.

‘Today on this programme you will hear gospel and rhythm and blues and jazz. All these are just labels, we know that music is music’

The rest of Screamadelica that Andrew produced would be on this Primal Scream Best Of too- Inner Flight, Shine Like Stars, Don’t Fight It Feel It (and the amazing Scat Mix where Denise Johnson’s voice is chopped up and scattered over the track) and the Jah Wobble bass of Higher Than The Sun (A Dub Symphony In Two Parts). Then this, ten glorious minutes of slow groove, horn driven spaced out house, from the Dixie Narco e.p.

Screamadelica

His knob- twiddling on the other two songs on the Dixie Narco e.p. brought two other classics Stone My Soul and their cover of Dennis Wilson’s Carry Me Home, one of the very best things Bobby Gillespie and co ever did. Primal Scream’s follow up was their Rolling Stones record. Weatherall produced remixes of Jailbird. Trainspotting from Vanishing Point. The far out Two Lone Swordsmen remix of Stuka. The pair of productions he did on Evil Heat- the gliding shimmer of Autobahn 66 and the mutant funk of A Scanner Darkly. The fifteen minute remix of Uptown, a signpost in 2009 that Weatherall was back at the remix peak. The remix and dub version of 2013. That’s the Primal Scream Best Of.

In the early 90s his remixes broke genres, chucking in the kitchen sink, its plumbing, the work surface and all the white goods too. His dub remix of Saint Etienne was a moment of clarity for me, the doorway to another world, the two halves glued together by the sample ‘the DJ, eases a spliff from his lyrical lips and smilingly orders ”cease!” ‘

Only Love Can Break Your Heart (A Mix Of Two Halves)

Andrew’s remixes from this period are full of little moments to raise a smile, samples from obscure places, huge basslines, sudden changes in pace or tempo, piano breakdowns and thumping rhythms. Almost every single one is worth seeking out and almost every single one has been posted here at some point. In no particular order- S’Express’ Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em, Forget ‘Em, The Drum by The Impossibles, a mad pair of remixes of Flowered Up’s Weekender, the magnificent The World According To… for Sly And Lovechild, his work for One Dove (that produced some career high remixes in the shape of Squire Black Dove Rides Out and the Guitar Paradise version of White Love and his production work on the most beautiful and most lost of the lost albums of the 1990s Morning Dove White), his remix of My Bloody Valentine’s Soon, on its own a justification of remix culture and two reworkings of The Orb’s Perpetual Dawn that take his and The Orb’s dub roots into pounding new places. Roots music.

Perpetual Dawn Ultrabass I

Perpetual Dawn Ultrabass II

Add to all these his remixes of Jah Wobble, three versions of Visions Of You, spread over twenty five minutes of vinyl and two remixes of Bomba that have to be heard to be believed. Decades after first hearing this one I found the source of the madcap intro (Miles Davis) when it had been there in the title all along.

Bomba (Miles Away)

His remixes of The Grid’s Floatation are also sublime. As a fan of The Stone Roses the moment when he drops John Squire’s guitar part from Waterfall into the ending of the track brought things together for me perfectly.

Floatation (Sonic Swing Mix)

There are so many more. The speaker shattering thump of Fini Tribe’s 101. His long tribal workout of Papua New Guinea. The sweet smell of didgeridoo on Galliano’s meandering Skunk Funk. Indie, ambient, house, dub, everything from the fringes of music’s past, ready to sample and plunder to make something new, with a sense of possibility and openness. This would all be mere nostalgia were it not for Weatherall’s continual left turns and about turns in the following years. His remixes from the last decade, again almost all posted here at some point, are of a similar high standard but he rarely if ever repeats himself. There are similarities in tone and palette but always with an eye looking forward and perpetual motion. The remix of MBV’s Soon and his remix of Fuck Buttons Sweet Love For Planet Earth seem somehow linked to me, the manipulation of noise and the intense melodies found within over crunching dance floor rhythms. I’ve not even begun to touch on his remixes with Sabres of Paradise, the treasure that lies within Sabres own records (Sabresonic, Haunted Dancehall, Theme, Wilmot, oh man, Wilmot- we were at Cream once waiting for ages for Weatherall to arrive and eventually word came through that he was delayed, wasn’t going to make it. Resident DJ and owner Darren Hughes played on and dropped Wilmot, unheard by us at that point, the whole back room skanking to those wandering horns).

Then there was Two Lone Swordsmen whose remixes were harder, purer somehow, more focused, less obvious. It took time sometimes for them to reveal themselves. The TLS albums from The Fifth Mission onward, the stoned hip hop grooves of A Virus With Shoes, the double album of juddering bass and London machine funk of Tiny Reminders, Swimming Not Skimming. My favourite of the TLS albums from this period has become Stay Down. Released on Warp from its cover art, a painting of a pair of deep sea divers, to its memorable song titles (try Hope We Never Surface, Light The Last Flare, Spine Bubbles, Mr Paris’ Monsters and As Worldly Pleasures Wave Goodbye for starters- that last one has just made me gulp) it is a self contained mini- masterpiece. Stay Down is an abstract album of short tracks, weird, rhythmic, minimal ambient music, sounding like it has been submerged and then recovered from the deep, humanised analogue IDM. Never standing still, always moving forward.

Light The Last Flare

These Are Dark Days That We’re Living In

I suppose at the least one thing was made very clear yesterday, 28th August 2019, and that is that there can be no doubts now about where we all stand. The hard right wing of the Tory Party that have taken over government of the UK, an unelected government and Prime Minister, have no fear of getting rid of democracy to impose their will on us. The decision to prorogue parliament, no matter what they say about the Queen’s speech, normal process and preparing legislation for domestic policies, has been taken to enforce a No Deal Brexit. The trio who visited the Queen yesterday to tell her to sign the paperwork to approve suspending parliament, to prevent it from challenging the government and it’s No Deal fanaticism, have shown what Johnson and his government are. This is an undemocratic, right wing coup. If this was happening in another country, another Western liberal democracy, the media would be reporting it as such, and portraying it as a step on the road to dictatorship. Yet still we see vox pop interviews on the TV news with ordinary people saying that Brexit must be delivered whatever the cost. The cost is democracy.

The government and its advisers care for nothing else except delivering Brexit at the end of October. The constitution, democracy, the United Kingdom (Scotland will surely depart in the next five years), peace in Northern Ireland, everything else, is collateral damage. This also illustrates the weakness of the British political system and fragility of an unwritten constitution. Tradition and convention have been bent out of shape and there is no actual system of checks and balances to protect us from a power grab by the executive. We have a constitutional monarch who cannot interfere with politics. At least in a republic the head of state has legal powers to prevent executives from running out of control. From the palace’s point of view, I guess it has at least distracted everyone from that nasty business with Prince Andrew, the underage girls and the dead paedophile.

This is and always has been about the Tory party. In the 90s pro and anti- EU Tories split the Major government. They’ve been arguing about it ever since. One Tory Prime minister offered a referendum because the Tory party were frightened of the far right UKIP. Another attempted to appeal to both wings to get the UK out of the EU after the referendum. A third is now going to suspend parliament to drive No Deal through (partly in response to the battering the Tory party got from Farage at the elections in May). A few hundred thousand Tries chose the latest Prime Minister despite his history of lies and incompetence. We are all now paying the price of the Tory party and it’s problem with Europe.

The opposition are hopelessly split. Individual MPs speak sense but cannot collectively agree on a strategy. There is no precedent for a legal challenge and the media have been undermining the courts since the 2016 vote (Enemies Of The People anyone?). The Labour Party has spent three years fudging the issue. A vote of no confidence looks unlikely to succeed- the maths doesn’t add up; a government that doesn’t care about parliament would probably attempt to ride it out anyway; a date for a general election would be determined by the Prime Minister and my guess is he’d go for some time after 31st October.

Following the moment in May 1970 that the US army acted against it’s own people, shooting four students dead at an anti- Vietnam demonstration in Ohio, Neil Young sang ‘tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming/We’re finally on our own’. I think that is where we’re at, finally on our own. We have to take to the streets. Last night’s protests can only be the beginning.

At the start of this 1993 Sly and Lovechild remix the voice of the Reverend Jasper Williams speaks out over some piano- ‘these are dark days that we’re living in, bad situations, a world of tensions and frustrations, joys and sorrows, violences and upheavals, you don’t know hardly which way to turn… but you’ve got to have a determination that I’m going on anyhow’.

The World According To… Weatherall (Soul Of Europe Mix)

Joni’s In The Tall Grass

Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation turned 30 this year, a double album that was some kind of apex of US indie-punk. I tested it out this week, seeing how it sounded after not having heard it for years. It’s front loaded with Teenage Riot, their most essential song and the few that follow it are almost as good- Silver Rocket, The Sprawl, ‘Cross The Breeze and Eric’s Trip- but not quite as good. Lee Ranaldo’s Hey Joni was the one that stood out to me, a noisy, full throttle tribute to Joni Mitchell (possibly) or a girl from Lee’s past (possibly) that breaks down towards the end, twin overdriven  guitars feeding back, with Ranaldo saying ‘It’s 1963, it’s 1964, it’s 1957, it’s 1962…. put it all behind you, now it’s all behind you’. Lost youth.

Hey Joni

Their 1989 cover of Neil Young’s Computer Age is a blast and a joy, pretty much my favourite Sonic Youth track (and somehow typical of them to cover a song from Neil’s most misunderstood record, his 1982 vocoder and synths album Trans, an album that baffled his fans and record company alike). Sonic Youth rewire it for guitar and burn it up.

Computer Age

Cowgirl In The Sand

I was in a record shop the other day- I know, fancy that, a record shop- and this song was playing over the shop’s speakers and it sounded super. I love hearing a song I’ve not heard or played for years unexpectedly, in a different context. At that point Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 1969 playing on and on around a couple of chords and coming together for the verses every couple of minutes… let’s just say it sounded like the best thing I’d heard that day.

Neil and Danny Whitten both play solos throughout this song but it never feels like those kind of virtuoso guitar solos (that on the whole I really can’t stand). It is looser and less planned, less flashy than that. And even though it goes on for ten minutes it never really feels like it. Neil apparently wrote Cowgirl along with Cinnamon Girl and Down By The River in a single day when he was ill with a high temperature.

Cowgirl In The Sand

Eighteen

At 7.37 am on the morning of November 23rd 1998 our eldest Isaac forced his way into the world, two weeks early. Today he turns eighteen. Some of you know his background. He was born with an incredibly rare genetic disease, Hurler’s Disease (MPS1), which saw him taken off to intensive care immediately and he didn’t come out for a week. Hurler’s disease is caused by a missing enzyme which leads to all kind of difficulties- deafness, learning difficulties, physical disabilities and gradual loss of functions to an early death. There is no cure. Aged eighteen months he went through two bone marrow transplants that have put some of the missing enzyme into his body, a treatment that has given him the life he has now. He’s had numerous operations for skeletal problems. One unforeseen consequence of the bone marrow transplant was that the chemotherapy used to enable his body to accept the donor material also destroyed his immune system which then failed to grow back. Aged ten with a weak immune system he got flu which turned into meningitis, which floored him. Back into intensive care and not expected to survive the night. Coma and eventual recovery but with his hearing completely wiped out. It’s been a long road.

But that’s only some of the story. He is in good health currently, goes to special needs 6th form college, has trips out with friends, knows more people than I do and is having a party on Saturday where we are expecting roughly 150 guests to show up. We are transitioning into adult services from children’s, both hospitals and social care, which for us daunting. He just gets on with it. The remarkable thing isn’t his continued determination to carry on against the odds or his resilience in the face of disability (though they are pretty remarkable). The remarkable thing is the connections he makes with people, the impact he has on them and the joy he gets from them.

Eighteen years ago I was totally unprepared for this- having a child is change enough. Having a disabled child is another world. Looking back now I’m not sure how we coped with some of the things he and we went through. But here we are. One of the things he wants the most on becoming an adult is to have a pint poured for him (which he won’t drink but it’ll be poured and sat with). So if you’re raising a glass of anything tonight, have one with us.

When I drove Mrs Swiss to hospital eighteen years ago the last song that played on the car stereo cassette player was this, Cinnamon Girl- still I think my favourite Neil Young song (which I don’t have on the hard drive right now).

‘A dreamer of pictures
I run in the night
You see us together
Chasing the moonlight
My cinnamon girl’

Like An Inca

From the late 90s through to the mid 2000s I listened to a lot of Neil Young. I’d got Harvest and After The Goldrush around 1987/88 and then went through most of his albums a few years later. I still love some of them but don’t play him that often anymore. Trans, from 1982, is one of his more bizarre records (from a man who it is fair to say, had a bad 80s). Trans was mainly recorded using synthesizers and keyboards and most of the album uses a vocoder on the vocals too. Young was exploring electronic music at the time, especially Kraftwerk. The thing is, many of the songs sound like guitar songs but played on synths- rather than songs written specifically on and for synths. Young later said he was putting into place a therapy programme with his son Ben (born with cerebral palsy and unable to speak). The vocoder was an attempt to find a new way to communicate with him. Apparently Crazy Horse had recorded some of the album using their usual guitar, bass and drums and turned up for a session to find Neil had stripped all their parts off and replaced them with the new electronic sounds. Crazy Horse scratched their long haired heads. Critics and fans couldn’t get their heads around it and neither could Geffen who later sued him for making work that was ‘deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative work’. This isn’t my favourite Neil Young song, it isn’t even in my top 50 Neil Young songs, but it’ probably the best off Trans.

Like An Inca

Yes, Like A Hurricane is a million times better and should be here instead- I saw him and Crazy Horse do it at Sheffield Arena and the amps may still be feeding back for all I know- but I thought it was a tad too predictable to post.

Numbers Add Up To Nothing

Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions album was one of those records that came out of nowhere and obsessed people for a while. A friend of mine and myself listened to little else for what seemed like ages. The follow up, The Caution Horses, wasn’t too bad either but it missed the church that the previous album was recorded in. This accordion led version of Neil Young’s Powderfinger is good in all the right places.

In 2004/5ish my brother-in-law’s band (then called Bocca) played above a bar in Leicester (The Lamplighters I think). Long after the evening and gig had finished three of the band and myself were standing at the bar talking and we decided, seeing as the gear was still set up, to play an impromptu version of Powderfinger there and then to an audience of the barman and three bikers who’d surely ended up in the wrong bar. Emboldened by alcohol and a very small and indifferent audience we staggered/swaggered through it. I managed to remember most of the words. At the end the barman told us that was it, he was closing. As we walked past the bikers one of them said ‘That was shit lads. Enjoyed it though’.

Powderfinger

Cool And Deadly

I heard this while in London this week and it sounded as good as the day I first heard it twenty one years ago. If not better. In my mind St Etienne are one of the sounds of London. Here, with original vocalist Moira Lambert (above, the only picture I could find of her), they get remixed by Bagging Area patron Andrew Weatherall. Dub splendour. Cool and deadly.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Dub Mix In Two Halves by Andrew Weatherall)

Thirteen Today


Our son Isaac is thirteen today. He was born at 7.37 am on November the 23rd 1998, changing our lives forever. Isaac spent the first two weeks of life in an incubator with unspecified breathing difficulties. At eight months, already wearing two hearing aids and having had several minor operations, he was rushed to Manchester Childrens’ Hospital with hydrocephalus, had his head punctured and drained and a shunt fitted. A few days later he was diagnosed with Hurlers’ Disease (MPS 1), a degenerative condition leading to death by the age of ten. The only partial treatment available was bone marrow transplant, which at that point had a fifty per cent success rate and a twenty per cent mortality rate. BMT has made major advances since then, in both success and mortality. Two bone marrow transplants followed in 2000, the second one successfully restoring the missing enzyme but leaving him with a host of issues and needs, and frequent hospitalisation. Since then he has had major spinal surgery, knee surgery, shunt removal and replacement, continuing bi-weekly infusions to replace his still absent immune system and a cochlear implant. In 2008 he contracted pneumonia, then meningitis (causing him to have a mini-stroke), which very nearly did for him. So turning teenage is a big deal for us and him not least because there have been times when he wasn’t expected to survive the night, never mind reach teenage years.

Today he is a walking, talking, somewhat hyperactive, short statured bundle of energy who brings joy to those who meet him, and Isaac meets many people. He just approaches them and starts asking them questions. He is currently full of teenage hormones- his main interests are breasts, Manchester United, breasts, crisps (prawn cocktail flavour), Lego, breasts, ladies wearing make up and high heels, chips, chocolate and breasts. Not so different from the rest of us maybe, although he says exactly what he thinks whereas the rest of us can internalise some of our thoughts about these topics.
Happy 13th birthday sunshine. May you continue to beat the odds.
This was the last song the compilation tape played in my old dark green Ford Escort on the way to hospital just before he was born, sometime in the early hours of the morning thirteen years ago.
‘A dreamer of pictures
I run in the night
You see us together
Chasing the moonlight
My cinnamon girl’
Still, I think, Neil Young’s best song.