Fifteen

There are two significant events today, June 14th 2018, one personal and one international. The first one, close to home, is the 15th birthday of number two child/number one daughter Eliza. Once, as the picture shows, she was young and cute and happily wore a Clash t-shirt. Now she is 15, growing up into a young woman and probably wouldn’t wear a Clash t-shirt.

Every summer in recent years we’ve driven to France with a stack of music. I get accused of hogging the car stereo. Not true obviously. Finding songs we can all agree on is a bit of an artform. Last summer we got there on this one- I’ve got to say, I think this is a tune. So you can have this one as your birthday song Eliza. Happy birthday.

One of Eliza’s presents is Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 on 7″ (which she should have opened by the time this is posted). So here’s your birthday bonus song…

We survived our first ‘proper’ teenage house party at the weekend, a mixed group of 15 of them in our garden, with music, dancing, shrieking and  ‘controlled’ drinking (you can control what they drink in your house- more difficult to control what some of them have drunk before they arrive). Apart from some minor damage to our already patchy lawn there was no harm done and much fun had. The party playlist was dominated by 80s pop, some disgraceful 80s soft-rock and some more contemporary stuff. Back in 1985, when I turned 15 this was the UK’s number one single…

19 is groundbreaking in its own way and genuinely memorable, and kept at the number one slot by regular releases of remixed versions. Vietnam was big in the mid-80s. A decade on from the end of the war people were getting to grips with it, what had happened and what it meant. I read somewhere recently that the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam wasn’t actually 19 but 22. But that doesn’t really change the message of the song or the fact that if you were poor, uneducated or black you were far more likely to end up in Vietnam than if you were wealthier, educated and white. Does it Mr. Trump? Coincidentally I played it to my Year 11 class recently as part of their depth study on The Vietnam War. They weren’t very impressed if truth be told, the sounds were too dated and quaint, the stuttering vocal too cliched and the female backing vox too cheesy. But they took the message and the visuals in.

The other event today is the start of the World Cup, Russia 2018. This is my 11th World Cup. I have some vague memories of Argentina ’78 aged 8, memories of the final at least, which I was allowed to stay up and watch some of. Spain ’82 is the first one I really  remember- in the picture above Bryan Robson celebrates after scoring against France in England’s opening game. Mexico ’86 was a blast, taking place during my O Levels, the magnificence of Diego Maradona in his prime, England out in controversial manner and an epic France v Brazil game. Italia 90 was ace, mixed up as it was with New Order’s World In Motion, No Alla Violenza, Toto Schillaci, Roger Milla and an England run to the semi-finals.

Twenty-eight years on, this is still the only world cup record that really matters.

‘Love’s got the world in motion and we can’t believe it’s true’.

World In Motion (No Alla Violenza Mix)

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Gravity

Trance Europe Express was a double cd or triple vinyl compilation of early 90s dance music that came with a 192 page booklet (or it was a 192 page booklet about early 90s dance music that came with a double cd). It was an offshoot of the Volume series of compilations which had a broader focus musically. Both series were excellent, high quality songs, often unreleased or different mixes/versions. Trance Europe Express wasn’t really trancey at all, more progressive house, ambient and techno. But none of them made sense in the title- Techno Europe Express ?

I think I’ve expressed this view before but it struck me again- at the time we took this music for granted, imagining it would always be this good, that the innovation and leaps forward taking place here would be sustained (for most of the artists the culmination of several years work, of getting the best out of new technology, of watching what was happening on the dancefloor in clubs and at raves). Across disc 1 there are easily 5 or 6 tracks that are as good as anything else released at that time in that area- Orbital’s Semi-Detached, Spooky and Billie Ray Martin’s Persuasion, Celestial Symphony by Scubadevils (a David Holmes project), a jaw dropping track by Xeper (The Black Dog) and Midnight In Europe by 030. Outstanding work from everyone involved but the one from disc 1 that has turned my head the most is this one from Bandulu.

Gravity Pull (Remix)

A different version from the one on their Guidance album (released on Creation offshoot Infonet). Oscillating synths. Clattering rhythms. Abstract but with a sense of forward motion. Mind popping stuff.

Here is their remix of The Times’ cover of Blue Monday, something I’ve posted before but which is ripe for a re-post. A remix that makes me feel like I’m gliding around underwater through bubbles and bliss.

Lundi Bleu (Bandulu ‘Smiling’ Remix)

Well Tempered

Fluke were a British acid house/techno group who put out a very good album on Creation (The Techno Rose Of Blighty, 1991) and went on to release several others and then went on to provide music for film soundtracks (The Matrix amongst others). But in some ways their best work was the remixes they did of other artists in the early 90s. They worked on several singles for Bjork’s Debut including the definitive version of Big Time Sensuality and this magnificent, shimmering, rushing, dancefloor reworking of Violently Happy.

Violently Happy (Fluke Well Tempered)

This remix of  Spooky was the fourth single from their 1993 Republic album (and there is a sign of how things had changed- New Order on Factory would never have done something as major label as releasing 4 singles off an album). One of the (few) highlights of the album and its related singles were the 3 remixes Fluke did of Spooky.

Spooky (Magimix)

I Was Standing By The Ocean When I Saw Your Face

Released the same year as yesterday’s Shark Vegas song New Order put out two non-album singles in 1987, True Faith and Touched By The Hand Of God. True Faith was the chart smash, the crossover hit with the award winning video but Touched… has long been its equal to these ears. The juddering synth bass intro was written by Hooky, waiting around for the others to arrive at their rehearsal studio, their timekeeping being a long standing gripe of Hooky’s. Tellingly in Substance Hooky notes that ‘Barney was happy with it’. From there on in the full band contributed to fleshing it out. Originally Touched… was recorded for the soundtrack of the film Salvation!, a parody of televangelism (a straight to VHS release). New Order recorded several other songs for the soundtrack and then had Arthur Baker remix Touched… for its release in December 1987 as a single. There’s an effortlessness about it, synth-pop disco brilliance, which makes it favourite of mine, Hooky’s bass well represented and Bernard’s lyrics seeming to carry the weight of personal experience.

Touched By The Hand Of God

Kathryn Bigelow’s video, shot at their Cheetham Hill studio and intercut with MTV video pisstake snippets, is a hoot- all the group dressed as a hair metal band (and Hooky in his normal clothes).

I’m sure if, like me, you were there at the time, you really don’t need me to tell you that this single is 30 years old and that, as people like to point out, in 1987 a single that was 30 years old then would have been released in 1957 and etc etc. Where did the last 3 decades go? When did we all get so old?

You’ve Got Style You’ve Got Class But Most Of All You’ve Got Love Technique

A New Order postscript- I meant to post this during last week’s extravaganza and forgot so it’s here as an extra. When Run 2 was released a buffed up version of Run (from Technique) was put out as a single in August 1989. The b-side was this, MTO (Made To Order apparently). The 12″ was limited to 20, 000 copies (’19, 000 in the Greater Manchester area and 1000 for everyone else’ was someone’s comment at the time but I don’t know if there is any truth in this). Peter Saville designed a very fetching sleeve inspired by washing powder packaging.

The band’s engineer throughout much of the 80s was Michael Johnson and according to Hooky he put together this track/medley from bits lying around in the studio, largely constructed around Bernard’s ‘you’ve got love technique’ vocal from Fine Time but also parts of  what sounds like Vanishing Point’s drum track. MTO was then remixed by Mike ‘Hitman’ Wilson. The 7″ version is the best- a kick drum, some acid squiggles, a rubbery synth bassline and that vocal line. The longer Minus Mix uses some different vocal parts but loses the nice acidic squiggles for some more clattering drums. Neither is going to be on your Best Of playlist or cd but for some reason I’m quite fond of MTO.

MTO

MTO (Minus Mix)

I Used To Think About You Night And Day

Technique is my favourite New Order album. Released in January 1989 I was 18 years old and I bought it the day it came out and then played it endlessly. I had a poster of the beautiful Peter Saville cover, fly-poster size, abut 6′ by 5′, on my wall for ages. Technique is the sound of summer, nine songs infused with the spirit of sunshine, warm seas, blue skies and summer holidays but shot through with a sense of sadness and loss.

The single that preceded it was Fine Time and it opens Technique. New Order had gone to record the album in Ibiza, at Hooky’s insistence, and spent three months there (‘an expensive way to have a holiday’ Tony Wilson). The story has it that they recorded a few drum tracks and a guitar solo and that most of the work recording it was done at Real World in Bath. This was down to two things- firstly, the studio was shit. Secondly the group and entourage were easily distracted by what Ibiza had to offer. So while the album wasn’t really recorded in Ibiza (‘about 20% done there’ according to Barney) it is inspired by the adventures the group had in Ibiza’s nightclubs, on Ibiza’s drugs, with Ibiza’s people (and the Happy Mondays who turned up to join in the fun). Fine Time is a full on electronic dance record, inspired by a tune Barney heard in Amnesia but couldn’t remember the day after. A throbbing sequenced bassline, bleeps and staccato stabs, and that ‘sexy’, slowed down vocal. This Top Of The Pops performance is legendary, as Barney introduced the viewers to the Bez dance. Playing live too.

Fine Time came out on 7″, 12″ and a remix 12″ with this version by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley complete with sheep noises and the full Barry White vocal ‘You got style, you got class, but most of all… you got love technique’.

Fine Time (Steve Silk Hurley Mix)

Fine Time is a blast, a proper dance record. The rest of the album is eight slices of perfect Mancunian dance pop, effortlessly combining acoustic guitars, real drums, drum machines, some of Hooky’s most melodic bass runs, gorgeous synth lines, frazzled guitar solos and Barney’s best vocals. Lyrically the songs were all Bernard’s work and most seem to reflect on love and life gone wrong and the lessons learned. To pick four examples from four different songs relatively randomly…

‘My life ain’t no holiday
I’ve been to the point of no return’

‘It takes years to find the nerve
To be apart from what you’ve done
To find the truth inside yourself
And not depend on anyone’

‘I spent a lifetime working on you
And you won’t even talk to me’

‘I’m not some kind of foolish lover
I couldn’t take this from no other
You’re not being cool with me
Cause I always know that you’ll come back to me’

Run (which was also a single, released in a slightly remixed form by Scott Litt as Run 2) is allegedly about Factory and Tony Wilson and the Hacienda’s financial problems. John Denver sued the band because of similarities between Run and his Leaving On A Jet Plane. I struggle to hear the similarities but I wasn’t the judge and Denver was awarded a writing credit for the song.

I can’t choose between any of the songs on Technique- some are more guitar based, some more singalong, some more dancey, some all out pop, but all hit that sweet spot musically, vocally, lyrically and spiritually. Recently Vanishing Point and Mr Disco have been the ones really doing it for me. Mr Disco has a stuttering keyboard part and then guitar/bass backing. The drum machine sends this squarely to the open air dancefloors of Ibiza’s clubs. Bernard sings of ‘the holiday we spent together, lives with me now and forever’ and the gorgeous hook ‘I can’t find my piece of mind, because I think about you all of the time’. After the chorus there are crashing synth stabs and instrumental breaks, a synth clarinet maybe, and then verse and chorus again. The dropout at 2.39 with synth bass and drum machine is heart-stopping. Then there are more wonderful synths before the chorus comes back a minute later and a whispered bit leading towards the pile up at the end and the sound of hitting all the keys on the synth at once. One of their very best.

Mr Disco

As a bonus, here’s the sublime Vanishing Point played live on Channel 4’s Big World Cafe

and Round And Round from the same show…

So there you have it, a magnificent album containing none of the songs they’re best known for, a number one hit on the UK album charts, a record that is getting on for thirty years old and, I’m afraid, the last time they were truly great. After this they splintered into the various side projects, came back together for the World In Motion single, splintered again, re-united to make an album in a doomed attempt to save Factory from bankrupcy and then split again and then there’s all of that leading up to the very bitter position they’re in today. I’ve read all three of Hooky’s books and very entertaining they are too. I’ve read Bernard’s book. I’ve read other books about Factory and New Order. I’ve read countless articles about them and interviews with them. And what have I learned? That they made some my favourite records and that in the end, despite the fact that the story of New Order, the mythology, is hugely important, what really matters is the tunes.

Oh I Don’t Know Why People Lie

Day 4 of New Order week and I’ve got two live performances for you and some discussion of related recorded work. First up is this, sometimes described as one of the two Holy Grails of NO live bootlegs (the other is the debut performance at The Beach Club in Shudehill, Manchester, 1980).

On June 30th 1983 New Order played a gig at Cabaret Metro in Chicago. It was a blisteringly hot day, temperatures in the club reaching the high 90s. New order were famously hit and miss during this period, partly due to their own approach to playing and partly due to having equipment that was totally unsuited to live performance, sequencers and synths and drum machines. In Chicago the crowd were already a bit irate and not just due to the heat. The support act had finished over two hours before New Order took the stage. The gear makes it through the first four songs and then during Truth the sequencer starts to misbehave. The y make it through Leave Me Alone with no problems but the long gap between the end of that song and the start of Your Silent Face is punctuated by bleeps and bursts from the sequencer and audience members and bass players complaining about the heat. From here on in it’s a kind of NO unplugged gig. The tape of this gig recently found its way into the hands of blogger and New order enthusiast The Power Of Independent Trucking and he has presented it for our enjoyment here with a FLAC download. These are his words about the rest of the gig…

Eventually, “Your Silent Face” starts.  It devolves into a unique and fascinating exposition on what a sequencer-using band does when the sequencers are failing mid song – Steve Morris jumps behind the drum kit far earlier than usual, and essentially drives the song to its skittering end as the sequencers never recover.  I think this take is spectacular and I think you’ll agree.

Barney then makes reference on stage to equipment and power problems, mentions the band’s just going to jam, and Steve then pounds out the drum riff for “Denial”.  Instead of jamming, the band then finishes the set with four straight sequencer-free tracks, ending on the majestic “In A Lonely Place” well into the wee hours of the morning.

There is no jamming, no acoustic “Blue Monday” despite the venue owner’s misremembered statements made over the years since.  It’s possible of course at some point these did exist and were edited out from this tape upstream, but I doubt it and all other recollections of this gig fail to mention any acoustic “Blue Monday” performances.

While listening to this on Youtube the other night a link in the sidebar caught my eye which was this one, a gig from 1986 at the Spectrum Arena in Birchwood, Warrington. The venue no longer exists but there is a large Ikea near where it was. There’s progress for you. This is a soundboard recording opening with stand alone single State Of The Nation and then taking in songs from the previous six years.

State of the Nation
The Village
Broken Promise
As It Is When It Was
Your Silent Face
Confusion
Age of Consent
Temptation
Sunrise (cut short)
Blue Monday
Shellshock

Sunrise is cut short due to the tape running out and according to some of those that were there the group did return for an encore, long after the lights had gone up and half the audience had left, running through Love Will Tear Us Apart but this hasn’t been recorded. This is a good quality recording and the band sound on fire, a slightly misfiring Confusion aside.

The Warrington gig was a few months before the release of Brotherhood. Brotherhood is a funny record. I listened to it the other day. It doesn’t have the great leap forward of Power, Corruption And Lies nor the newly found confidence of Lowlife and lacks the skyscraping quality of Technique’s songs. It’s a bunch of songs plus Bizarre Love Triangle. It’s is divided into side 1 (rockier songs) and side 2 (dancier songs) and side 2 is the clear winner. Bizarre Love Triangle is arguably their greatest song and the three that follow are all top notch (All Day Long, Angel Dust, Every Second Counts). Side 1 is five songs that are all good album tracks but together they seem to lose something. Maybe it is the division into two separate sides that doesn’t work and sequenced differently they’d stand out more. The five are Paradise, Weirdo, As It Is When It Was, Broken Promise and Way Of Life. Broken Promise is reminiscent of early NO, powerful, stacked full of guitars and churning lyrics.  As It Is When It Was is a hidden beauty, starting slow and sparse but gaining in pace and urgency, the Love Will Tear Us Apart bass riff reappearing, a song that would make a top ten of New Order non-single songs. As would Way Of Life which burns and fizzes with some great guitar-bass interaction, Hooky reversing the Age Of Consent bassline. Paradise and Weirdo are decent songs but definitely album tracks- Paradise a bit lightweight and an odd opener to these ears. Weirdo is stronger, pumping bass and drums but a bit tinny maybe. If you go to Youtube you’ll find people saying that these two are their favourite NO songs. I wouldn’t go that far but I’ve been re-listening to side 1 this week and found a lot in these songs to enjoy. Maybe it’s just that I don’t listen to them that often and the novelty gives them freshness. It’s hard to get away from the feeling though that overall as an album, in some ways, it hasn’t got the same magic that Power, Corruption And Lies, Lowlife or Technique have.

Barney blames the overdubbing, too much of it, too many instruments layered on top of each other. Brotherhood was surrounded by some of New Order’s best singles too- True Faith and Touched By The Hand Of God both came out within the following year and Shellshock and State Of The Nation preceded it (Ok, maybe neither of the 1986 pair is quite as good as the 1987 pair).  It just goes to show that, despite all the tensions within the group (and according to both Hook and Sumner there were many by this point), they were still capable of making truly great songs but their insistence on dividing songs into singles and albums (which I applaud on the whole) meant that the album got shortchanged a bit. Stephen Morris has said that dividing Brotherhood into rock and dance sides didn’t quite work and I think I’d agree. On the other hand Hooky likes the five rockier songs together, showing, as he sees it, ‘what the band was all about’. So it goes.

Broken Promise