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I AM TERRIBLY excited to tell you all that the Wellington Central Library is to stock vinyl again from next month. Yes, it fucking is!!!

I saw the music chaps a couple of months ago sizing up the area and couldn’t quite believe my eyes: vinyl being loaned out at libraries once again? After 15 years away?!

This truly shows that vinyl is now THE main form of listening to music.

I do harbour some doubts though: given the condition some oafsome oiks leave a CD in after hiring it, I’m feaful of what condition the records will be when they are returned. I am confident that most people who take the records out are considerate and will treat them as they would their own. But it only takes a few selfish eejits to spoil it for the majority.

Wellington Libraries’ music man, Monty Masseurs (stop it, he is not a porn star) has gone out to Slow Boat records to carefully chose a good few hundred items for sensible folk to borrow.

See some of them in this promo clip the library has done itself:

ALONG WITH Primal Scream, the Happy Mondays were the last gang in town. You could argue that The Libertines should be included but internal issues voids their claim. The Glaswegians and the Mancunians were bands that worked, and perhaps more importantly, partied very hard together. It was an example set by The Clash and The Damned: a tightly-formed unit that fought against the world.

It was with such thoughts that I listened to the Happy Mondays’ second album for the first time in a few years, and I have to admit, it was with high anticipation that it would sound horrendously outdated.

Bummed

An album recorded as Manchester hadn’t adopted the mad yet, at a time of the burgeoning rave-indie scene, surely would have been superseded fiftyfold by the immense technological wizardry available since 1988.

But it hasn’t, and that’s testament to Shaun Ryder’s jack-the-lad tales of larrikins, layabouts, lager louts and other assorted detritus that permeated his life around Manchester, to a backdrop of wah-wah effects, the new dance culture as well as traditional drums’n’guitars’n’bass.

Prior to Bummed, the Happy Mondays had been a jobbing band largely around the north-west of England. Even in 1987, they could be caught third on the bill behind the little-known Head and madcaps extraordinaire, Stump, at student gigs. They’d been around for about five years with a few ill-produced EPs and a middling debut album behind them.

For the recording session, the band was moved to a humdrum town in East Yorkshire, Driffield, partly in a bid to keep them away from unsavoury sorts that hung around the act and their resulting distractions. It didn’t work, as parcels of treats kept arriving, and the band partied like it was 1988. There would be days when nothing happened, and the producer Martin Hannett was said to be perpetually drunk. Nevertheless, somehow, the band completed the album, and, unlike later releases, appears unaffected by the wanton debauchery and irresponsibility.

Ecstasy was working its way into the systems (literally) and the music of the time. This may well have given Ryder new insights as he scribbled out the lyrics, with songs such as Moving In With sounding like a stream of (un)consciousness as he gets carried away.

“You got four muddy pigs in the flat downstairs below/ Stomping at the door he says “Why you so slow?”/ Got a schizophrenic acquaintance patient no place to go/ Stuck with his dick through my Afghani window.”

The subtly-titled Brain Dead was about an odious oaf, a waster of the highest order, loathed by everyone, except for his mother, a “Grass sliding, slasher Brain dead fuckup.” You get the picture.

I have to say that this is my favourite track of the ten. Kicking off with a curious shout of “You’re rendering that scaffolding dangerous” it mutates and mangles its way through a sad story of an utter half-wit, a screw-up with awareness issues to a gloriously driven backbeat of delicious whoops and bleeps.

And yes, that does mean it tops Wrote For Luck, but only by the musical equivalent of a hundredth of a second in a 100 metre race. The longest track at 6:02 it ticks along perfectly, building to a crescendo midway. There isn’t a great deal to WFF as it was dubbed and called in its reissued, remixed form a year later, but its simplicity is its success. It was a trailblazer for bands like the Primals, Flowered Up ad nauseum.

Bummed 2

The full set of images that awaited the purchasers of the vinyl edition.

Then there’s Fat Lady Wrestlers, a title that would find itself subject to a barrage of abuse on social media if written in 2016. It’s a more restrained track, but excellent nevertheless, reminiscent of something from the third album, Pills’n’Thrills’n’Bellyaches.

Why the humdrum Lazyitis was ever included is a mystery as it sounds out of place, but you can’t have the icing with the cake. Bummed is an album that remains a proud part of the elite group of collections I possess; it wouldn’t ever be surpassed, even if Pills’n”Thrills was the radio-friendly unit shifter. But then we kinda know why such albums sell so much.

 

 

 

 

 

THIS IS A SITE that tends to stick to music, but today I digress given the momentous events over the past week.

As the entire world now knows the vote was 52-48 percent in favour of leaving the European Union, with working class areas most virulent in voting to get out. It’s being regarded by some as a swing to the right, as a victory for the right-wing UK Independence Party, for Little Englanders and racists and fascists. To an extent it is a victory for the odious likes of Nigel Farage, the right-wing elements of the Conservative Party, and those who want to live in a land called 1957.

But that only tells part of the story. People voted to leave for all sorts of reasons: immigration, to hurt the establishment, disgust in the way the EU imposed horrendous austerity measures on Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and decades of being let down by neoliberal politics.Brexit

This was England and Wales’s chance to hold two-fingers up to the establishment in the way the Scots had enjoyed doing in the 2014 independence referendum. When you have no money how on earth can you support a system that rewards the rich and the middle class and punishes those cruelly sidelined by unemployment or forced to work two jobs just to pay the electricity bill?

Neoliberalism is the system that wants rid of unions, church-based communities, laws that stand in the way of ‘competition’, human rights, privacy, and that pesky thing called the environment. They are all obstacles to growth and individual wealth.

It’s a battle being fought around the world: from Cuba which is gainfully trying to maintain its socialist system in a sea of capitalism, to New Zealand, where the “quarter acre dream” – home ownership – is rooted in the entire fabric of a once near-egalitarian society, but is now a distant pipedream for many.Brexit 2

Multinationals are in every suburban shopping parade, and tinned tuna is but an aisle away.

But neoliberalism is creaking at the seams. It isn’t in any way sustainable as the resources are not never-ending. The rising temperatures will mean the mass loss of land and farmland. Ad nauseum ad nauseum. A system that benefits the few at the detriment of the many is clearly limited in its ambition, and lifespan.

The village idiots rise up

And so back to the island group that stretches from the Shetlands to the Scilly Isles. The referendum campaign descended into propaganda and lies, and the Labour MP, Jo Cox, was murdered in the street.

When the result was revealed all hell broke loose. Xenophobic and racist attacks multiplied, a second Scottish independence referendum is a strong possibility, David Cameron resigned, Nigel Farage looked smug, the markets dived and there was even ruminations about a unified Ireland.

The resignation of Dodgy Dave was no shock: he who lives by the sword etc etc. But the turmoil that enveloped within the Labour Party has been. Here was a chance to hold the divided Tories to account; instead it turned on itself.

The venom from self-important Labour MPs who are clearly detached from the ambitions of their membership towards the democratically-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn (on a bigger mandate than Tony Blair achieved) was overboard and vindictive.

The bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party comprises people parachuted into safe or marginal seats by Blair and his ilk, and they generally lean to the right. They have never viewed Margaret Thatcher as the destroyer of communities, rather as someone who did what she needed to at the time.

They know nothing of poverty, injustice or working so hard you can’t spend time with the kids and are worried shitless about the loan repayment. Blair’s governments did little to reverse the destructive laws introduced by Thatcher or to create a more equal and just society.

Corbyn, and his loyal lieutenant John McDonnell, are cut from a different cloth: they attend rallies and demonstrations while their fellow MPs talk to property management companies about renting out the second house. No wonder they are hated in the Westminster Labour bubble: they actually stand for something. And goodness, it’s called things like justice, peace, unionism and a decent living standard. Gosh, Tarquin, isn’t that a bit like … socialism. Oh, I don’t think I like the sound of that, it lets children have fruit for free.

In his brief time in charge Corbyn has:

  • Fought back against vicious Tory policies and forced them into significant reverses, such as converting schools into academies and cuts to tax credits.
  • Boosted the party membership by tens of thousands.
  • Won four by-elections, three of them with increased majorities.
  • Won the May council, mayoral and assembly elections.
  • Proved that being honest and upfront can win people over.

A coup d’etat

As I write Corbyn is “holding on” apparently. 172 MPs voting in a no-confidence vote against him, with 40 in favour, isn’t, it has to be said, massively encouraging. The largely unknown Angela Eagle is expected to face off against him in a leadership spill her wing of the party hopes to institute. Another nonentity Owen Smith is also intending to do so.

And all because they say Corbyn didn’t push the case for Remain hard enough. Unlike another anti-Corbynite, Gisela Stuart, a hardline Brexiter who devised the misguided slogan about diverting 350 million dollars per week from going to Brussels into the National Health Service, and who shared a battle bus with Leave leader Boris Johnson and UKIP’s Douglas Carswell. She even appeared on a national television debate stating her case. That’s what I call party loyalty.

Bastards

Gisela Stuart, Douglas Carswell and Boris Johnson on the campaign trail

 

But the European battleground is merely a ruse: This is a coup planned well in advance. They wanted Corbyn out, and have waited for their opportunity; and thankfully for them it came days before the Chilcott Report into Blair’s unnecessary war in Iraq is finally released.

Ah, so here we are again, the spectre of Mr Blair hovering over the party like a father in prison for murder. This is a contest for the soul of the party, and of neoliberalism itself. Lose the leadership election and the Blairites will claim Labour is consigned to “electoral liability” for decades.

The reality is the legacy of the 1997-2005 Labour governments will be eternally tainted by the Iraq war, and those MPs who supported the war and were involved in the government of the time have some explaining to do when the report is out.

But it’s also a little more. Those 172 MPs want a party with limited membership, a party controlled by MPs, a party ruled by a clique of those at Westminster, a party where the union backers are largely silent and a party that’s pro-business and for “the aspirational classes”.

A leadership contest won’t settle this ideological warfare; this is going to keep on going for years, if not decades. Someone needs to bang some heads together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJj0qBQez2Q

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A FLURRY OF Associates reissues keeps the Porky sty happy.

The remastered releases include the first three albums, The Affectionate Punch, Fourth Drawer Down and Sulk, all with an extra disk of splendiferous outtakes and B-sides and the now-obligatory booklets.Associates 1.png

However, and somewhat insanely, I will bypass these three (I have previously reviewed the classic Sulk), at least for now, and focus on what would appear to be a tiresome cash-in with a title that keeps to the tradition of simplicity for such anthologies, The Very Best Of. This may seem contradictory given the cover art is of an old photograph, the liner notes are sparse and it omits a big chunk of the act’s history. But it has its merits.

Naturally, it includes the three hits which propelled them to playful and glamorous appearances on Top of the Pops – Party Fears Two, Club Country and 18 Carat Love Affair, along with the former’s AA-sided partner, Love Hangover. These complete the singles disk; the compiler has opted to ignore everything after Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine went their separate ways promptly following the final hit, with MacKenzie thereafter keeping the banner with moderate success (two excellent singles, Those First Impressions and Waiting For The Love Boat).

The hit parade includes their very first effort, a now very obscure but very ropey cover of Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging – frankly there’s no getting around criticising this under-produced barely listenable take, but it did get them noticed, which was its purpose.

Associates 2.jpg

Michael Dempsey, John Murphy, Alan Rankine, Billy MacKenzie

 

It’s followed by a string of tracks released in 1980 and 1981, some relentlessly grinding as they attempted to develop their electro-art cabaret style. But there is the supremely garish pop of A where Oor Billy rattles off all 26 letters with dazzling aplomb and the haunting mystique of White Car In Germany with its encephalonuous lyrics: “Anonymous as bathrooms/ Androgynous as Dachshunds” and keeping faith with his north-east Scotland roots by noting that “Aberdeen’s an old place”.

The carrot to this anthology is an entire disk of hitherto largely unheard tracks, all but three of them having appeared some years ago on Double Hipness, a lavish array of demo-stage recordings, including the paen, as it were, to Morrissey, Stephen, You’re Really Something. This album is only in the homes of true diehards.

The trio of songs that haven’t featured anywhere before are a surprisingly engaging version of the 1960’s standard Eloise, Jukebox Bucharest, which was recorded around 1978 or 79, and a fuller version of Double Hipness.

As I furrowed through this collection I came to realise it was less of a thrill than I first anticipated, other than the discovery of the noted unreleased tracks. I didn’t especially need to again hear International Loner nor a live version of Gloomy Sunday. I can only assume its compiler, the former band member during this period, Michael Dempsey, had trawled the vaults for what was available.

It’s clear that, with MacKenzie’s star still high and interest in the act failing to fade, a box set is required, capturing everything that was recorded up to and beyond the point at which the two main protagonists split. With all the bells and whistles.

 

DAVID BOWIE’S death in January triggered a frenzy of obituaries, programme specials and lists of what critics regarded as the Englishman’s finest works.

The universal feeling was that his albums from the 1970s were the standouts. I agree to this to an extent – the Berlin trilogy was Bowie at his pioneering peak and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is his magnus opus, despite all its flaws. Earthling.png

But I was piqued at the neglect from virtually anything post Let’s Dance. One self-confessed fan’s list of top ten albums stopped at 1980’s Scary Monsters, Scary Creeps. I found this incredible given early works like Hunky Dory show Bowie still in his formative stage as a serious artist.

One album I have included in my own top 10 (see below) is 1997’s Earthling. It arrived two years after 1.Outside, the industrial, edgy, album that was another 360 degree turn in Bowie’s output, dramatic turns that he so comfortably did during his career.

And, yet, it is also close to the aforementioned Scary Monsters, which was a more aggressive work that the three previous Eno-tinged masterpieces.

At the time of Earthling’s release I was initially put off by the suggestions it was Bowie’s “jungle” or drum’n’bass album. My first listen didn’t dispel those opinions but I was soon hooked on the electrifying basslines and Bowie’s most passionate writing for a few years.

It kicks off with Little Wonder, which is massively bombastic, borderline radio friendly – its overt use of drum’n’bass laying down a challenge to breakfast DJs to even listen to it. As for the lyrics … well … “sneeky Bhutan” mingles with “Mars happy nation” and “Big screen dolls, tits and explosions,” in what seems almost a stream of consciousness.

If that’s what I was anticipating as those initial third party impressions seeped through my mind, Dead Man Walking pounded them like a hammer on the anvil. If Bowie had listened to The Prodigy in the mid-90s this is how it came out. All that’s lacking is some misogynistic controversy.

Battle for Britain (The Letter) contains a tumultuous opening riff that sounds not unlike a Nine Inch Nails B-side (clearly an influence). It’s a colossal song that veers fantastically in all directions, with a surprising jazz piano break at about three minutes in and intermittent warped vocals.

Then there’s a song almost beyond comprehension, The Last Thing You Should Do, which begins as a possible outtake from 1993’s White Tie, Black Noise before a minute and a half in comes some ear-splitting guitars (Reznor-ish again) that pummel onwards before those deft melodies cooked in grease come to the fore.

I’m Afraid of Americans, is, meanwhile, one of the more straightforward tracks, boom then bang, and repeat ad nauseum in a diatribe on the failed American Dream.

There’s a couple of fillers and the final track, Law (Earthlings On Fire) should’ve been left off but this is more than compensated by the flurry of gloriously in-yer-face tracks that once more put Bowie on a track of his own liking. Alas, he followed this up with the moribund …. Hours and the train was derailed.

And for it’s worth, here’s my own top 10 of Bowie albums:

  1. Heroes
  2. Lodger
  3. Low
  4. The Next Day
  5. Earthling
  6. Station To Station
  7. Diamond Dogs
  8. Heathen
  9. Ziggy Stardust
  10. Reality

NAMING YOURSELF after The Associates’ finest hour will undoubtedly attract Porky’s attention.

Now, I don’t actually know if Sulk are fans of the electric, eclectic Dundee act, but if it isn’t the case we’ll pass it off as a magnificent coincidence. Sulk

Sulk are part of a new wave of revivalist bands, their ears attuned to shoegazing, Madchester and Britpop; the music their dads or elder brothers may have been played to them.

Welcome to No Illusions (Perfect Sound Forever records) their second album following the under-the-radar Graceless of three years go.

From the first minute of Black Infinity (Upside Down) I’m detecting the shimmering guitars and slide effects of Slowdive, which these days is actually a compliment.

The silky vocals of Jon Sutcliffe and the reverb-drenched bass remind me also of Towns, who’s debut album has been reviewed on this site, as well as an act of about five-six years ago, S.C.U.M.

But enough of such spurious comparisons, Sulk are clearly meritorious of their own categorisation. While they take from the above scenes, and beyond, this is less a nostalgia trip but a hand-in-hand jaunt alongside the new psychedelia, or a pioneering mini-genre that, quite frankly, is too esoteric to even have its own label.

One Day takes me back to 1990; Stone Roses had inspired a legion of flares-adorning teens, The Charlatans and their Hammond-esque delights were ubiquitous and The Sundays were breaking out from rotation play on the John Peel radio show. A time where anything seemed possible and an escape from the neoliberal shop of horrors was just a cheap cassingle away.

Rather that focus on individual tracks, I found myself steeped in the overall package, of turning on and delving deep, using it as background harmony while I wrote my shopping list. It would be pointless to dissect the lyrics, they aren’t intended to grab you, it’s the soundscape that matters, dummy.

And while this inevitably leads to accusations of “samieness”, there’s a new pleasure around each corner. Listen down suckers.

Associates

The Associates’ Sulk (1982)

I HOPE YOU had a look at the review of the third Mouse Eat Mouse album, Toxic Tails – just a wee scroll down and you’ll be there or look o your right. They are one of the more obscure acts around, which makes it, in a cultish way, all the more satisfying to hear any new works.

Toxic Tails is an album of beauty, anger and passion, traits often missing in today’s sanitised music industry.

I decided, therefore, to get in touch with CD Shade the bald-headed, smooth-singing wordsmith who is the backbone of the act for an interview.

MEM 1.jpg

It turned out to be a fascinating exchange, Shade firing off passionate and defensive answers. Admittedly, one of my questions was vague and possibly Paxman-esque in its assumptions, but Shade responded with a clearly-thought out argument as you’ll see.

That question was about his support for Scottish independence which was put so eloquently on the album.

“Independence or dependency. Being a syndicalist I believe in self-determination,” he told me.

“Is Scotland the only country in the world genetically programmed to be incapable of running its own affairs? Would you ask your neighbour who is deep in doo-doo debt to look after your finances? Why are the unionists so in love with the anachronistic absurdity of Westminster? It is the mother of all neo-liberal politics. Anything that will help to break up the decaying post Imperialist UK state is fine by me.

An historical fact: Scotland entered the Union (in 1707) with no debt whilst England had massive debts part of which was accrued to pay off the Scots so-called nobility… parcel of rogues and all that.”

And from this we delved into Britain’s membership of the European Union, of which a UK-wide referendum next month will determine if that still is in existence. Given the Scots generally are more in favour of membership of the EU, the result could drive another wedge in the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster.

“The EU is not inherently vindictive but it is like all bureaucracies they look after themselves. A right-wing Westminster Parliament is vindictive.

We are about to feel the full force of Westminster’s retribution for having had the audacity to almost vote for independence – shipbuilding on the Clyde for starters.

Two of the most important reasons to be in the imperfect EU: one, keeps the bellicose European nation states from going to war with each other; two, the European Convention of Human Rights.

Without the ECHR we would have no right to fair trials, privacy, freedom from slavery, domestic violence, torture and degrading treatment. The Good Friday Agreement is ratified by the ECHR and would fall apart without it.

The Hillsborough conspiracy wouldn’t have reached court without the backing of the children’s charter which is part of ECHR. The UK would have to write a new charter. Would you trust a neoliberal government that is more idealistically right-wing than Thatcher’s mob. I certainly wouldn’t allow a bunch of miseducated private school buffoons at Westminster anywhere near a UK Human Rights charter.”

Fighting stuff.

Part of the charm of Mouse Eat Mouse is the poetical manner in which they convey their music. They are a punk Ivor Cutler, a demented Sir John Betjeman. It is almost spoken word, but Shade’s timbre is theatrical, cutting, edgy.

When I first came across the track Mair Licht on an Uncut or Mojo compilation a decade ago I was struck by how unusual it sounded among all the other standard favourites of that magazine. It wasn’t pop it wasn’t anti-pop, it was certainly something …. out there.

In an era of plastic soul, punk-by-numbers and the once-maligned middle of the road now being on both sides of the highway, what is the role of those that choose not to talk of lost love and fast cars?

“I see MEM as a conduit for debunking the self-elected elite. Ours is a small voice and if we were nakedly angry we would have called ourselves Dog Eat Mucking Dog.

I’m from a theatre background and understand the power of the platform – you have to put a bit of colour and emotion into your work. Not angry, but frustrated about the level of miseducation and misinformation in our society.

In our sectarian school system I was taught a fabled history of Picts, Romans and Kate Barlass. We got a bit of Shelley but it was hygienically cleansed of his polemics. Nothing about the Scots medieval makars Dunbar, Douglas or Henryson. No mention of John Maclean and the Red Clydesiders.

I had to go to France to hear about Hugh MacDiarmid and Hamish Henderson. It was the American, George Whitman, who ran the Shakespeare and Co bookshop in Paris who quoted the MacDiarmid’s Little White Rose of Scotland to me… do you get my gist? Not angry; frustrated and sad.

“Fluffy singers have their place. What annoys is the way these kids are manipulated by apologies for human beings. I’m a non theist which basically means I am against all hierarchies. Hierarchical systems are sociopathic by nature. I’ll help anyone across the road but I’m damned if I’ll lead them up the garden path.”

 

MEM 2

It took seven years for Woof to arise in 2013 – a self-released sombre, acoustic collection. But, as Shade explains, illness, record company problems and the loss of band members made recording and releasing material somewhat problematic.

“In the gap between our first two albums I had a heart operation. When I was recovering I had other projects to fulfil.

Nevertheless, Woof was written and ready to go with Matt (Lehane) in charge of the recordings, but our record company (Hackpen) had gone out of business. To compound our problems our management company failed.

By this time we only had remnants of the original band.

 “I don’t know the music business and not having the support of a label or management behind Woof it made things difficult. We talked with various people to find replacements but didn’t find anyone suitable. This was to be a blessing in disguise as it has allowed us the freedom to do things at our own pace. Matt suggested that we rework Woof which we did.

Our first joint venture resulted in Toxic Tails.

Look out for our next album that tackles how the arts are used as propaganda to protect the status quo – MACMYTH.”

We look forward to it.

ps, probably best not to go on YouTube to search for them, you might see something that will out you off your dinner. All their music is on Bandcamp of course.

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