Bring It Home To Me

On a Factory tip recently I dug out my double disc re-issue of A Certain Ratio’s Sextet, their second album, released in 1982 and their first without Hannett at the controls. Hannett was dumped as producer by New Order, Durutti Column and then ACR too which can’t have done much for his state of mind. Sextet- so called because they’d recently become a six piece band- is full of good songs, heavy noir vibes and that Mancunian funk. The song that leapt out me was Knife Slits Water, a single from the same year and on CD 2 it’s long B-side Kether Hot Knives. I’ll save the B-side for another time.

Knife Slits Water takes the group’s dark funk, particularly foregrounding Donald Johnson’s drumming, a large dollop of echo on the kick drum creating a very futuristic dance sound, some busy bass and the distant but tough vocals of Martha Tilson, lyrics she wrote about sex and sexual politics. Tony Wilson’s vision of ACR as white boys playing funk, clad in ex-army khaki with short back and sides and whistles, is perfectly realised here. In 1981 the group had done a Peel Session- Skipscada, Day One and Knife Slits Water- and that’s the version I’m posting here. They were years ahead in ’81 and still sound like that now.

Knife Slits Water (Peel Session)

The other Factory album that I was rediscovering was Section 25’s From The Hip album, a Bernard Sumner produced 1984 lost classic and it’s single Looking From A Hilltop, one of the greatest of all Factory’s releases. But again, let’s leave that for another day. The pictures above were taken in Section 25’s hometown Blackpool on Sunday afternoon, the modernist arches of the amusements centre in brilliant Fylde coast sunshine.

Double Double Good

2019 is going to be a year of 30th celebrations marking three decades since various albums and singles were released that shaped popular music and culture. By 1989 things were starting to happen for Happy Mondays. Bummed, their masterpiece, came out in November 1988 and sold slowly but steadily. From it’s Central Station Design cover to the nude on the inner sleeve, from Martin Hannett’s echo and delay drenched production to Shaun William Ryder’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Bummed looked and sounded like no other record (although plenty of other records would soon be released that were inspired by Bummed).

The penultimate song is Do It Better and at only two minutes twenty-nine seconds it’s the shortest song on the album. Musically it is miles from late 80s indie, Mark Day playing chords that other guitarists wouldn’t even consider and Paul Davis’ tinny keyboard swirling around over some drums that sound like they were recorded in a different room through an open door. Over this unholy stew Shaun chants ‘On one, in one, did one, do one, have one, in one, have one, come on’ before letting loose with…

‘Swapped the dog for a cold cold ride
It was deformed on the in but deformed on the outside
Stuck a piece of crack in a butcher’s hand
Demanded he give me my cat back
Don’t purchase me coz I won’t work
I gave away my oil and the seeds in my boots
There was a boom in the room as the papers marched in
He built himself together then sat down’

There’s a second equally surreal verse before he goes back to the ‘on one’ chant but this time extending it – ‘have one, have two, have three… good good good good, good good good good, good good good good, double double good, double double good’.┬áBefore being called Do It Better, the song’s working title was E.
Do It Better

Do It Better was a live favourite, a monstrous, circling stomp. Thirty years ago today the group went into Maida Vale studios to record a session for John Peel, putting down versions of Do It Better, Mad Cyril and Tart Tart (broadcast a week later, 28th February 1989). For some reason, despite buying every Mondays single during this period I never bought the Peel Session and don’t have an mp3 of it either. It’s thirty seconds longer with Shaun’s tambourine shaking away and the keyboards leading the groove. Double good.

A Double

In past years on music blogs October 25th was Keeping It Peel Day (October 25th being the day he died in 2004), a day to celebrate the life and music of the man. I remember this largely because October 25th is also my wife’s birthday.

This photograph/meme was doing the rounds a couple of weeks ago and I love it. In the spirit of the meme and for Keeping It Peel Day- Peel supported and loved both bands- I offer you a Joy Division song recorded by New Order in 1998 for a Peel Session.

Isolation

Isolation contains one of Ian Curtis’ most distressing lyrics. The second verse has for a long time seemed to me like where he knew he was moving towards the place he ended up in on 18th May 1980.

‘Mother I tried please believe me,
I’m doing the best that I can.
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through,
I’m ashamed of the person I am’

Musically Isolation is immense, Stephen’s urgent electronic drums, Hooky’s driving bass and Bernard’s keyboards which bring a bit of light into the shade. The second half of the song receives a real shot of adrenaline when the ‘real’ kit and hi-hat come in, propelling it onward. On Closer, Joy Division’s second album, it is a breath of fresh air, a few minutes of aural relief following the claustrophobic, intense and unsettling opener Atrocity Exhibition. If you can ignore the content of the lyrics. The New Order version above is well worth your time, an update and upgrade, a merged musical version of Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, both black and pink.

And happy birthday to Mrs Swiss (Lou), a fan of The Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwald’s dancing.

Watch Out Below

Back in 1983 Echo And The Bunnymen were stung by some of the reviews of their third album Porcupine. In response they started writing again and used a Peel Session to try out some new songs, broadcasting Nocturnal Me, Ocean Rain, My Kingdom and Watch Out Below. Not a bad night’s work I think.

Watch Out Below (Peel Session)

Watch Out Below shimmers and glowers, acoustic guitars to the fore. Over time it would gain new words and a new title- The Yo Yo Man. This version with the refrain Watch Out Below fits in with the maritime theme Ocean Rain was developing and the line Mac wails from the title track of ‘The Greatest Album Ever Made’, ‘screaming from beneath the waves’.

Porcupine, for what it’s worth, is a funny album and the criticism of it is partly justified. Out of the first four ‘classic’ lps they made, it comes fourth for me. Despite opening with two of their very best songs (and singles) The Back Of Love and The Cutter it fades after that, too similar in tone, too dour, not enough drama and variation. It’s not a bad album but the one before it (Heaven Up Here) and the one after it (Ocean Rain) are better.

Oh My Darling Who Wants To Be Free?

Valentine’s Day is approaching. In 1977 The Slits turned the punk boys club upside down a little and lyrically turned listeners upside down a lot. Love and Romance is about male possession of women and how relationships can lead to loss of freedom with some killer lines- ‘I’m so glad that you belong to me, oh my darling who wants to be free?’ and ‘loves a feeling and so is stealing’ among them. Not traditionally how song writers approached the subject of love.

Love And Romance (Peel Session)

 

A Given End To Your Dreams

More early New Order. Movement was released in December 1981 and was by all accounts a difficult album to make. The group were unbalanced and their way of working was broken (during the Joy Division days the group would jam and Ian Curtis would spot the good bits which would then be worked into songs). No one especially wanted to sing and none of them could play and sing at the same time (this would become part of their sound in the 80s- Barney’s guitar playing filling the bits where he’s not singing and Hooky frequently carrying the melodies. Weaknesses become strengths). Movement was produced by Martin Hannett but the relationship between the group and the producer had broken down. According to Hooky ‘Hannett would lock himself in the control room, saying ‘Start playing, I’ll come out if I hear anything I like’. He never came out’. Hannett was also suing Factory at the time which can’t have helped.

Out of this came an album which sounds a bit like Joy Division but without Curtis, trying to move forward but not really managing it. The real movement would come with the singles- Everything’s Gone Green, Procession, Temptation and the second album. Having said that time has left some highlights- Doubts Even Here, The Him and ICB all have glimmers of the future and the sounds are becoming more varied. The peak is the opener, the only song on the album which is just guitar, bass and drums and the one that Hooky sings. Dreams Never End is a properly exciting song, from the intro of driving bass and guitar lines playing around each other onwards.

Dreams Never End

Peter Saville’s cover art, Italian futurism again, is beautiful.

As a bonus here’s a lost child of the New Order story. In 1982 New Order recorded a second Peel Session. Two of the songs would later appear on Power, Corruption And Lies, an album which redefined them and their music. The two other songs were a cover of Keith Hudson’s dub reggae song Turn The Heater On (an Ian Curtis favourite and recorded for him, I’ve posted it before) and Too Late.

Too Late is a moody song, synth drums, beautifully distorted bass and glacial pace, haunting and the equal of most other songs from around this time. According to Hooky when they were having a go at recording it Bernard had nipped out of the studio. The other three put some backing vocals down. When Barney returned he showed his disgust at this and walked out. It was never finished. And in Hooky’s view this was one of the starting points for Bernard grappling for control of the band. As a result of this Too Late would only ever appear as the Peel Session version.

Velouria

The new Pixies album Head Carrier doesn’t do too much for me, it’s alright but that’s about it. Plus, Pixies without Kim Deal is a bit of a deal breaker for me. Mind you I wasn’t too fussed about the new album they put out in 1990. After the brain melting shock of Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, Bossanova seemed a little humdrum, a bit ordinary. In the years since I’ve learned to love some of the songs off it, Velouria and Digging For Fire and some others, but nothing meets the standards they set in 1988 and 1989. And while some bands have persuaded me to keep buying their records I’ve never felt the same urge with Pixies. The compiled Peel Sessions and B-sides albums are well worth your time and money as companions to those two late 80s masterpieces..

Velouria (Peel Session)