Next Level Beats (Die Antwoord)

I have been waiting for Die Antwoord to make a false move. It’s easier to dismiss popular music in 2012 as vapid, formulaic nonsense. It allows us to snuggle up to the tried and trusted classics. New music ? Not as good as the old music. But this South African rave-rap crew are a trashy, provocative, funny cartoon of a band who’s tunes make you sit up and pay attention. Just like so much of my favourite pop music.

“Fatty Boom Boom” is not their best but the video is a zinger. The lyrics nail current American rap. “Now I do not wanna stop, collaborate & listen”. The Western view of South African streets, filled with garbage, gangsters and wild animals, is lampooned, as is the queen of cultural tourism, Lady Ga Ga (Mrs Brainwash as she is known round our house). That thing with the prawn ? Well you mess with things you don’t understand then weird stuff can happen.

Die Antwoord have not always been sure-footed. The look of self-disgust on Ninja’s face after the appearance on “Letterman” is priceless. Doing the things you don’t want to do. Live they do not fill the stage like they do the screen. However the videos are state of the art at the moment and Yo-Landi is the best female pop star since Blondie stepped out of CBGBs.

“I Fink U Freeky” has 18 million views on Y-tube. Check the extended “Baby’s On Fire” video while the 15 minute short film (on the tube)  made with Harmony Korine is essential if you want to know about cinema in 2012. I have heard none of this on the radio. I have no idea if they are gonna blow up or go away. The videos are not suitable for work and, probably, not suitable for children. However, this is what your children are watching on their computers. Music that shocks and divides opinion…now there’s an idea.

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One more night to remember

Well, I write about my past escapades on this thing because I live a quiet life now. Too quiet sometimes but I’m getting older & that’s my choice. You know that emotional pendulum gets into the high positives it’s gonna swing back a little too far for comfort. I am no manic depressive I just like to keep things steady thank you. I still, though, can recognise a good time when I see it and tonight was always going to be a good one.

https://loosehandlebars.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/you-shouldnt-call-the-doctor-if-you-cant-afford-the-bills/ will get you to how I got to know Dr Feelgood, the band who reminded us that straight ahead R&B was a lot more fun than some space-opera, triple synthesizer, prog nonsense. I saw the Feelgoods maybe 10 times. I loved their music and getting to hang out with them before and after gigs was a blast. My wife & I saw them go from playing small rock clubs to Top of the Pops. It was a fine, fun ride. Julian Temple’s film “Oil City Confidential”, mixing the story of Dr Feelgood with 1950s British crime movies is a fitting tribute to some good people. It tells the story of a generation born after World War 2, who discovered the Blues through the Stones first LP…my generation.

Tonight Wilko Johnson, their fine guitarist, played in my small Northern town. I heard about the gig within hours of  it being announced. I contacted my nephew Mike and, good soul that he is, he was already on the case. Tickets had  been sorted. Wilko, never a big drinker, was the guy we hung with most post-gig. In recent years there has been a lot of love around for him. Fathers play his music to their children and tell them of concerts they attended as teenagers. The film,an auto-biography and re-masters of their work helped. His appearance in “Game of Thrones” and being a noted astronomer raised his profile too. Dr Feelgood continue to gig with no original members. Wilko is the keeper of the Feelgood Flame because he still plays that sparky, machine-gun Telecaster like only he can.

So, we were front row and centre for the gig tonight. The trio is completed by Norman Watt Roy, a former Blockhead and a virtuoso bass player, and Dylan Howe, son of the Yes guitarist, Steve. The band would be better in a club rather than a theatre but hey, I am looking at 60, my days of dancing like a monkey are so over. A comfortable seat was no hardship believe me. The band were great. All the correct stops were made at the Feelgood stations  and they stretched out on some blues and some rock and roll. An encore of “Bye Bye Johnny” was a delight. I was grooving on the noise and the memories. Mike, who loves his Black Keys, so knows that raw and bluesy format, was amazed to be so close to a master bass player and to a unique player who carroms across the stage wielding his guitar like a weapon playing lead and rhythm.

It would be enough to just see Wilko play again. I am no star fucker I just love the music. I could not resist asking the merchandise guy if it would be possible to say hello but it was not gonna break my night out. The swag man took my name. After the gig I almost went straight home, it had been good enough. I nodded at the guy and he told me to wait. He introduced me to Ron, Wilko’s manager, who said he had heard the story (what story ?) and we were taken backstage.

Well, fuck me sideways ! Wilko was as pleased to see me as I was to meet him again. We shared some history. We had been together in Birmingham on the night of a terrible bombing incident when 21 people were killed. The club had been evacuated that night before we could say our goodbyes. His concern had always been touching. There were big hugs, shared memories, laughter and a clumsy catch up of almost 30 years of our lives. Man, I was so glad that Mike was in the room because it was a meeting of two old friends and, you know, sometimes I think he thinks his old uncle’s stories are a little embellished. He was just delighted to meet Wilko and the rest of the band as they passed through. He also, unlike myself, has some 21st century technology.

Photo: A crackin night seeing Wilko Johnson at Plowright. And look, Wilko even got to have his picture taken with an old friend

It’s late now. My ears are still ringing from some good loud music. The World Series is on the radio (for the last night ?), Denver is playing New Orleans in my TV. Mostly I am buzzing from meeting an old friend who has good memories of my company and just happens to be a National bloody Treasure because of the way he has done it right and made some memorable music. I have tried to live my life well but sometimes I think that those treasure chest nuggets are a collection which has been completed. It feels fine to add another one and here’s to some more in the future.

Yeah, I know, I need a haircut and I don’t look too much like Lee Marvin…nobody’s perfect.     Peace.

I knew what I knew now then. Well I’d probably do it again (Steve Earle: El Corazon)

After the relative unity of theme and style of “I Feel Alright” Steve Earle stretched out again on 1997’s “El Corazon”. There’s bluegrass, there’s country tinged hard rock and there’s the stuff in between. The glue that keeps it together is the attitude. The songs are about troubled lives or warnings of possible trouble ahead. There is not a resignation to this, more an acceptance that life is not always how you want it to be but it’s all we’ve got and the good stuff is the best.

To play this music Steve needed more than the rocking Dukes could provide. He recruited Buddy Miller, now a famed producer and accompanist to the stars but then still making his way. This is what it sounded like…

What Miller adds is texture and context. Steve’s songs had been a little constricted by their form. Here’s the rocking outlaw anthem, here’s the tender country ballad. On “El Corazon” the strength and maturity of the lyrics are supported by a wider musical palette. Here Buddy’s Rickenbacker is a perfect foil to “Somewhere Out There”.

If you’re sad or if you’re lonely
If you’re scared, if you’re only
Tired of fightin’
Seekin’ shelter
Just hold on I’m
Somewhere out there

I can do no better than use these lyrics. “If You Fall” is another song about the perils of affairs of the heart. The pay-off is “Well just this one time”. This pair, along with “Poison Lovers”, are mid-paced dynamic tunes that lift the spirit. The live clips, with Steve and Buddy have a confidence an an energy and Steve looks like he knows that he has got it going on. This, though, is about the record and there is confidence and energy to spare there too.

“Taneytown” is a dark story of getting away with murder. I keep wanting to use the word “maturity” as if it’s a good thing. I think that “moral ambiguity” is more suited to describe the appeal of the songs on this record. The rocking backing vocals are by Emmylou Harris. If there was a live clip of her doing this song you would have to prove you were over 18 to watch it.

The two acoustic tracks are of note. The opening song “Christmas In Washington” evokes the spirit and memory of American radicalism from Joe Hill to Malcolm X. A sign of songs to come as Steve’s political consciousness became more evident in his lyrics. His farewell to Townes van Zandt, “Fort Worth Blues” closes the LP. It’s beauty and honesty is a fitting tribute for such a friend and mentor. My own taste is for when the music surprises.

Well alright. Steve and the Supersuckers are wearing their leather jackets for this one. Man, how much do I love this story of meeting your young self along the road ? A fresh, modern take on rocking it country style…aaah…”slipped the kid a 20, said Billy give em hell”…a song for grown ups. In season 1 of “The Wire” Omar Little, a walking moral ambiguity, has to leave Baltimore . McNulty asks him why he is running to New York. “Must be something happening there. It’s just too big a town”, he replies. Now I was not convinced that a cold-hearted black killer would be too familiar with the work of Steve Earle. I saw the hand of David Simon or George Pelecanos making a sly in-joke. It made me laugh to hear the song referenced. Steve was to become more involved in Simon’s work in the future.

This is my favourite record by Steve Earle. It is the deal that I had been waiting for since “Guitar Town” in 1986, maybe since that young boy had sung “Mercenary Blues” in “Heartworn Highways”. Steve had to live a lot of life to get to this but he rode his luck, learned some stuff and made the most of the chance he got. It does not always follow that an artist’s work will be improved by such experience. I think that in his case it was.

I like this LP so much that I have to break my rule of only 3 clips at one time. “Here I Am” is another balls-out rocker with an unapologetic description of the “blood on your hands” you can be left with when you live by your heart rather than your head. A song written by an adult for adults. Life affirming music.

 

Hard Core Troubadour (Steve Earle: I Feel Alright)

If “Train A Comin’ ” was a good old boy getting straight and dipping more than a toe into the water then “I Feel Alright” is a headlong dive back into the pool. There are 12 new songs and from the opening track Steve announced that he was back and ready for whatever Life threw at him.

Steve was back with the Dukes and rocking it up again. This is the opener to the record and to the TV special “To Hell and Back”, filmed at a Tennessee correctional facility. Live at Folsom Prison it is not but it’s good to see him on such assertive and confident form.

It’s always good to see anyone break an addiction but, in some cases, it was the drugs or the booze or the sex which showed that individual’s fallibility and made them of interest. There is little worse than a “celebrity” ex-junkie who has only his, or her, past screw-ups by which to measure his, or her, life. I have seen “Some Kind Of Monster” and that James What’s His Name off of Metallica, someone get that man a drink and a line. He is dull, scared and scary. There are songs of loss and penitence on “I Feel Alright” but there is a determination and a self-awareness to leave the past and get on with the future. Steve Earle was 40 years old and when you reach that age an appreciation of the fact that things are more complicated than you had thought when you were 20 can be of assistance in your life and your work. This LP is the strongest, most consistent material he had recorded.

“CCKMP”, cocaine cannot kill my pain, is the most direct of these songs. A dark, beautiful blues, there are no contemporary clips of Steve performing this song when he was promoting the album. I don’t know why. Maybe Steve needed to put a bit of distance between himself and such an honest song. Maybe he did not want to be that guy so in your face about his former addictions or it just did not fit the rocking set he and the Dukes were playing. Whatever, any look back at this record without the inclusion of this song would be guilty of avoidance.

“To Hell and Back” includes a rocking version of “The Unrepentant” from the LP. “You’re Still Standing There” is shared with Lucinda Williams and is one of those near-duets that I like so much. I’ve chosen “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” because Steve and the Dukes are rocking and because, even though we can’t see his eyes, he looks happy to be back on a stage with his band and playing to a captive audience (sorry). It’s what he does and what he almost lost. In 1996 my friends and I were listening to Steve Earle again and we were happy about that too.

Off somewhere or just too high (steve earle train a comin’)

So Steve Earle’s demons were winning for a while and it all got a bit messy. The 5 years between records must have been scary, getting back to making records and promoting them was probably scarier. After years of performing when you are high you have to learn how to do it straight. “Train A Comin’ ” is an acoustic album, contemporary folk as the Grammies would have it. Understandably there are not a lot of new songs. “Mercenary Blues” is the song he performed at Guy Clark’s house back in that 1970s movie. Others came from that time and there’s some covers too.

He eased himself back into the business by way of  his young self and the Opry. The players , Norman Blake, Peter Rowan and Roy Huskey Jr are established Nashville musicians . There is an accomplished and relaxed feel about the record. More than anything else it seems like a collection of songs that Steve wanted to make rather than a showcase of his varied talents that the early LPs could be. The two story songs, “Tom Ames’ Prayer” and “Ben McCulloch” benefit most from the restrained arrangements. The covers (including a surprising “I’m Looking Through You” by the Beatles) are not better than the originals. The record was made in 5 days and it sounds as if they enjoyed making it.

“Goodbye” was written while Steve was in a court-ordered rehab. He describes it as the first song he wrote sober. If there is any evidence of a new maturity in his music then it is here in this song.

In an uncertain world it is a fact that any country or folk song cannot help but be improved by the addition of Emmylou Harris. We have known this since the release of “G.P.” in 1973. Ms Harris has the most beautiful voice in the world. She is also a contender for being the most beautiful woman but I’m not gonna go there right now. Here she and Daniel Lanois join Steve for a definitive version of a sad and beautiful song of regret. The version on “Train”, sung just by Earle, is pretty damn good but I doubt that anyone could have anticipated the effectiveness of Emmylou’s spoken “most Novembers”.

At the 1996 Grammy Awards “Train A Comin’ ” was a runner-up in the Contemporary Folk category. The winner was Emmylou Harris for her LP “Wrecking Ball”, produced by Daniel Lanois.  A record which includes her own fine version of “Goodbye”. There is no shame in that, “Wrecking Ball” stands against most albums of any year. I just checked and the “Album of the Year” for 1996 was “Jagged Little Pill”, a piece of crap by Alanis Morrisette. The ” Best New Artist” was, I kid you not, Hootie and the Blowfish ! Now if they can squeeze Steve Earle into Contemporary Folk there must be a case for describing him as a “new artist” in 1995. Steve and Emmylou got robbed I think.

Nothing is something that there’s plenty of. (Steve earle: The hard way)

Steve Earle is the young, high & handsome kid in “Heartworn Highways”, a great movie  about Texas music. It was shot in 1975-76 but it was to be 10 years before Steve’s first LP, “Guitar Town” was released. Country Rock was more rock than country in the mid-80s . “Guitar Town” along with Dwight Yoakum’s “Guitar, Cadillacs Etc, Etc” meant there was a bit more country music around the house and I always felt that to be a good thing. Earle made 3 albums in 3 years and it was like…OK. Did this guy want to be Bruce Springsteen or Hank Williams ? There were good songs on all the records but where was the great LP ?  The record label, MCA, was trying to make Steve Earle a star and this did not sit well. In 1990 his 4th LP, “The Hard Way” came around. We did not know that time was running out for Steve and for the label.

There’s a video made for MTV of “The Other Kind”. Steve is singing in the desert, rodeo footage, epic cowboy stuff and it sucks. I much prefer this live version where he stumbles over the words and has that stoned, disconnected look in his eyes. This is a great song, an outlaw anthem, his “Born To Run”. I do find it to be a life-confirming song. I find it more effective when you realise that the alternative to breaking and bending can be hitting the rocks. When the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming in the other direction.

That look is in Steve’s eyes in all of the live clips around this time. His addictions were getting the better of him.”The Hard Way” was not a breakthrough album. I think his songwriting was getting stronger but there is still too much filler on the record. Earle was over 30 when he made his first record and maybe he was in too much of a hurry to record. The best half of this record and the best of the previous, “Copperhead Road”, may have been the 12 killer tracks he and his label needed and that a wider audience wanted.

“Billy Austin” is a bang on country folk ballad about a man on Death Row. “Have Mercy”, a classic semi-autobiographical stormer, almost made it onto here. It misses out though to “Promise You Anything”. There are a few of these upbeat songs with a female harmony (here it’s sister Stacey) which I find very appealing. The only Y-Tube clip around has been put there by a fan. What did the record company want ? Were they trying to sell him as an outlaw country rocker or a sensitive folk troubadour ? I have no idea and neither did they. To my ears “Promise You Anything” sounds like a song that makes you sit up, take notice, tap your feet and smile when you hear it on the radio.

Y’know that look in Steve’s eyes. Where he did not really want to be singing these songs. He wanted an authenticity in his work but by 1990 his reality was more than a little scary . Maybe the only way he could be authentic would have been to walk on stage, look ahead and say “Hey, I’m Steve Earle and I’m fucked”. Look at this.

There is a painful beauty in this clip but little pleasure. “Close Your Eyes” is a beautiful lament. This reluctant performance by a thin, dishevelled Earle has a strange intrigue but you would not want too much of it. The handsome boy had gone and Steve stopped performing in 1992. A couple of drug-related arrests and he ended up in jail. He did longer in rehab. It would be 5 years before there would be any new music from him.

I just want to say that I love some of the early music of Steve Earle. I have my own compilations I consider to be the highest quality. I took no pleasure from seeing and hearing of Steve’s troubles. If I seem over critical of what I perceive as the failings of the early records it is because I cared about this stuff and wanted people to hear it. Man, there are a thousand bands who have sold millions of records who I do not waste a moment’s thought on because they are, in my opinion, irrelevant. There were times when Steve Earle tried a little too hard to be a country outlaw rocker and Woody Guthrie in the same man when all we wanted was a guy who wrote and played some really good songs.

Ain’t no queue for the summertime booze

Adam Buxton and Garth Jennings’ 90 second film, shot on what seems like a very dangerous beach, always makes me laugh. Guitar Wolf are the self-styled “World’s Greatest Jet Rock & Roll band”. They take about 6 rock cliches and make it noisy. Too awesome to tune their instruments and happy to approximate  the English lyrics, their Y-Tube clip of “Summertime Blues” is as entertaining as the homage. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxlS919JTS8

Promo and film director Garth Jennings made a good fist of turning “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” into two hours of cinematic entertainment. I’m a  devotee from the radio show through the books to the TV adaptation. With increasing age there has come an unlikely maturity. I am less precious now when Hollywood raids my cultural treasure chest (see also “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” & “A Scanner Darkly”). To do the saga justice any director would need, at least. double the time and that is not going to play well at the provincial popcorn palaces. Inevitably the humour ended up somewhere in the mid-Atlantic but I do look favourably on the work of messrs Def and Rockwell. Of course, as is the way of the world, the new Marvin the paranoid android is not as good as the old Marvin but…life, don’t talk to me about life !

At his next turn at bat Jennings knocked it out of the park with a more modest but more successful movie.

“Son of Rambow” is better than that trailer. A coming-of-age film about friendship, family, imagination and the allure of Sylvester Stallone, set in 1980s England it uses broad emotional strokes which can be over-sentimental and nostalgic. However the creativity and energy of the story-telling allied to the charm of the two lead actors gives the whole a heart that is lacking from Michel Gondry’s contemporary take on guerilla film making ,”Be Kind Rewind”. To  compare “Son of Rambow” with “Kes” is a little unfair. Few films capture the unleashed potential of children and the poignancy of growing up as well as Ken Loach’s classic. It is more a “Gregory’s Girl” type of deal, an uncomplicated British story told with wit and verve which is entertaining and fun. In the 2010s we should take our fun where we find it.

Jennings and his partner, Nick Goldsmith, are currently taking a break. Unlike Gondry (who I do like) they have not been offered the super hero movies or to get to direct Audrey Tautou. Since “Rambow” they have made commercials and music videos. I hope that they do get the opportunity to make more movies because it’s in them and it’s got to come out.

Here is a Garth Jennings video from 2005 for “Hell Yes” by Beck with more charm and more robots.

“Hey Kay-hole, keep it MENCAP you f**kaneer!” (Nathan Barley)

This is the beginning of the funniest series on UK TV since “Fawlty Towers”. It is likely to keep the belt for a very long time. The 7 episodes were a collision between two very bright, angry and individual writers who had something to say about the increasingly moronic young scenesters of  new media in the Shoreditch/Hoxton enclave of East London. Having brilliantly satirised these bastards Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker have moved on to other projects. It is fortuitous that the series rewards repeated viewing as this comedy was never going to be the British  “Friends”.

Truman Capote possessed an acute and accurate sense of social milieu. In New York he identified the “talented untalented”, drawn magnetically to the city and “neurotically feeding on the fringes”  as they attempt to “make a dream”. They clustered together, reassured by a constant chatter about their creativity while creating precisely nothing. More than 40 years after Capote, Morris and Brooker saw a dumbed-down 21st century London where this emptiness was endemic and celebrated. As the tag-line for the series said, “the idiots are winning”.

Nathan Barley had originated as a “self-facilitating media node” in Brooker’s innovative website http://www.tvgohome.com/ . The transfer to the small screen changed Barley from a trustafarian former public schoolboy to a younger, less assured figure. He drinks smoked salmon coffee, adopts the ridiculous “geek pie” hairstyle in imitation of his reluctant role model of cool, Dan Ashcroft. The lack of awareness, the sense of entitlement the size of David Cameron’s (coincimental !) remain. Barley is a twat but a dark, dangerous twat.

Dan Ashcroft is played by Julian Barrett off of the Mighty Boosh who, in 2005, were rock and roll comedy as good as anyone. Ashcroft, a journalist for “Sugar Ape” (say it quickly), is our disdainful guide through this parade of grotesques. He is not just an observer and commentator. His own lack of conviction can lead him into an investigation of the “stray” scene, straight-on-straight gay sex, humiliation and hilarity ensues. There are times when he makes the scene with the worst of them. This clip concerns the “artist” 15Peter20 who photographs urinating celebrities.

Having lived for 20 years in London with a wide range of cultural interests I had encountered my fair share of idiots. The guy behind me at the Institute of Contemporary Arts loudly discussing “his” film before admitting no-one would ever see it…I should have punched him in the cock. The person who “knew” that I enjoyed my job because I was surrounded by the good vibrations from the self-help psychobabble New Age books my employer distributed…she had no cock but …why I oughta ! I always kept Capote in mind. These people were just predictable and to be avoided. I worked on the conversion of Victorian warehouses into offices for the new industries lampooned in “Nathan Barley”. One night we surreptitiously entered a new art gallery and hung the paint encrusted sweater of one of the labourers on the wall…funny.

I am not going to analyse or explain “Nathan Barley”. In Biology you dissect something and the only sure thing is that you end up with a dead thing. The Net friendly text-speak of the series is so, so funny. You do not have to know the London of these arty with a capital F fools because they are proliferating. Like much of the comedy of Chris Morris  “Nathan Barley” can be seen as dark, provocative and ahead of its time.I can only say that Chris Morris (of whom more later) has already a place at the High Table of  British comedy whatever he creates in the future. He is up there with the Goons, Cook & Moore & the Pythons. Believe.

The night we watched the whole series on DVD was a genuinely exciting occasion. “Nathan Barley” is around on your computer. You are not one of the idiots, you know what to do. Go to the Y-Tube & type in the title.

OK I’m out of here.     Peace and Fucking.   Oh, I must stop saying that.

http://www.lbi.com/uk/

Stand up naked and grin (XTC)

By 1982 XTC had 12 singles ( from 5 LPs) compiled as ” Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982″. The band did not call it a Greatest Hits, only one of the releases had reached the U.K. Top 10. It is a fine collection, from the abrasive electro pop punk of the “3D EP”  through the hook-laden, wry, radio-friendly 45s which served as effective ads to albums which were becoming more successful. Unfortunately in 1982, while touring to promote the LP “English Settlement”, singer, guitarist & composer of two-thirds of the songs, Andy Partridge collapsed. His subsequent breakdown & major aversion to performing live interrupted this momentum. The biggest band to come out of Swindon were never to regain their visibility and acceptance as creators of considered, intelligent, polished British pop music.

We played that “Waxworks” collection regularly. It was a toe-tapper, “Making Plans For Nigel” a guaranteed ear-worm for the rest of the day and a high quality throughout. I had friends who were still buying their subsequent 5 records. A couple of psychedelic LPs released as the “Dukes of the Stratosphear” caused interest. In 1996 Virgin released “Fossil Fuel: The XTC Singles 1977-1992”. It is a 2 CD set and it was the second CD, post Waxworks, which has become a big favourite over the years.

It is understandable that Andy Partridge’s music became more introspective in this later stage. There is an acoustic, pastoral atmosphere to the later LPs. There had always been a craft to the writing but now, being studio bound, the production became more immaculate, the lyrics more mature. The music had always been touched with the brush of the Beatles. Now Partridge’s songs could be tagged McCartneyesque and I mean that in an “Abbey Road” way not in a Wings way.

“Mayor of Simpleton” is a lovely, self-deprecating love song. “The Disappointed” is a great 30-something anthem. For a while then it did seem that they did “congregate at my house” It’s a very funny song…really, people don’t come around to tell you how happy they are but if they have something to beef about…well…try keeping them away. The hits just kept on coming only they were not hits.

I do not want to ignore the contribution of Colin Moulding, bassist & composer, to XTC. It’s just that my own preference is for Partridge’s work. This final song, placed at the end of “Fossil Fuel”, was withdrawn as a single and marked the end of the band’s relationship with a major label. Andy has continued to record music for his “Fuzzy Warbles” series. Even for someone like myself who still keeps an eye out for interesting music they seem to have been released in secret.

“Wrapped In Grey” is  a song to be put on repeat. It needs to be folded into “Carry That Weight” or “Mean Mr Mustard”. “Nonesuch”, the final XTC LP is perhaps the most consistent of all the later records. OK the band were not sticking themselves in front of your face begging you to buy it but surely music of this quality should be able to make an impression on it’s merit. Apparently not. Lyrically the song is the best advice possible to the youth to ignore those who have allowed the world to wear them down. Just because it has happened to them does not mean you have to follow. I don’t think I have pasted lyrics into any of these things I write. This is an exception because I do think it is a great and important verse.

Awaken you dreamers
Asleep at your desks
Parrots and lemurs
Populate your unconscious grotesques
Please let some out
Do it today
Don’t let the loveless ones sell you
A world wrapped in grey

Man, that’s some good advice.

Happy To Be Just Like I Am (Taj Mahal)

In the mid-80s a good friend of ours, I shall call him Dave because…that was his name, made the reckless decision to ditch his music collection and build a new one from the technology of the future, the CD. I did not, like others in our gang, take advantage of his temporary madness and help myself to his vinyl. I thought he would want them back in less than 6 months. We did though buy his reel to reel tape deck for a stupidly low price. The deck came with a collection of  around 35 tapes each with 6 albums of good music. That’s what ? About 82 new LPs in the house !

Dave had been meticulous in his compilation and there were 7″ boxes with collections of John Martyn, Tim Buckley, Bob Marley and others. We loved our old/new toy. A musical choice could be made early in the evening and, apart from a spot of old school spool threading at the half way point, a consistent atmosphere would drift through the house as we went about our business. Our preferred choice became, because it just lifted our spirits, the Taj Mahal tape, it was a treasury of rhythm and good vibes. A “why have I not heard this music before ?” thing.

I knew Taj as an electric blues player from his first LP but was unaware of the range of his music.I had seen him when he closed the Glastonbury festival in 1981. I remember the set as being solidly blues-based. This discovery of Taj’s range, of his lovely fluid rhythm and his vivacity was a surprising delight. We were indeed “Satisfied and Tickled Too” as he sings in this interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt’s song. I was exposed to country blues at an early age and had always been somewhat of a purist but Taj’s wonderful tone, in his playing and in his voice, brings a modernity and a humour to the music that  I really liked.

In 1987 he played the festival again. All 3 of our household attended and we met up, after a typically inspirational performance by Van Morrison, to watch Taj together. This time he did play the acoustic blues and Caribbean rhythms we knew. Taj is a big man with an assured stage presence and a natural, delightful rhythm to his music over which his harmonic flourishes and nuances make a perfect sense. It was a fine ending to a weekend of live music. We still had a few hours in the Dread Broadcasting sound system tent to go.

This clip of Robert Johnson’s “Come On Into My Kitchen” is from 1985. The music says it better than my attempt to.

So, 5 days later I am in the pub with my workmates planning the weekend ahead. That Glastonbury feeling is still around but needs a little top up. Taj Mahal is playing in London on the coming Sunday evening. I decide this is just what I need and have a good idea who I would like to enjoy it with. Benedicte, a woman as lovely as her name, was a new friend and  new to London. I called her, invited her to the gig and she said yes. We both knew it was a “date” not just a friend thing. Well alright…the weekend is sorted.

This time Taj was playing to his people, every song cheered from the intro. He could rock out as well as play those knowing acoustic blues. The Town and Country Club is an old Irish dance hall, there were plenty of bars around the large dance floor so it was easy to re-fill your glass without missing the music. I have had a lot of good nights there and liked the place a lot. Taj was just fantastic, playing requests and conducting a tour of his long career. The music, the venue, the very happy crowd. Do I know how to show a woman a good time ? Hell yeah.

Here is Taj when he was young from the LP “Happy To Be Like I Am”. He leaves the guitar to the excellent Jesse Ed Davis and just rocks “Tomorrow May Not Be Your Day” and he rocks that hat too.

It was past midnight when we left the Town and Country. We were flying but still a long way from home. A taxi from Kentish Town to Camberwell was just going to be exorbitant so we were at the bus stop. Even if our timing and luck was right we were still over an hour from home. If we were unlucky with both the night buses we needed then it could be three hours. Now the night had been as fine as fivepence but half the night on a bus or waiting for a bus yeah that’s a romantic way to end the proceedings. Still, what can a poor boy do ?

A car stopped in front of us, From the open near side window I heard “Mal ! Get in”. Now that’s my name and I did as I was told. It was Dave’s car. the very same Dave who had put me onto Taj Mahal with his tape collection. Of course he was going to be at the gig. Well, London is a village, innit !  I settled into the back seat , Dave knew where I lived. I had a comfortable drive through the West End night to my doorstep…result. We raved about the music but Dave’s lovely wife Carol was much more interested in meeting my, by now slightly bemused, companion. Benny was totally impressed that such friendly people had appeared, from apparently nowhere, with both the attitude and means of transport to assist a fine night out. It would have been rude to refuse an invitation for coffee  with the 3 of us around my cosy hearth.

Good memories of seeing Taj Mahal twice in a week. His music has incorporated cross-continental influences and styles. He has played with many fine musicians and always found his own individual way into the rhythms. It is always good to hear. It’s unlikely that I will ever spend another lazy Sunday listening to 6 consecutive LPs of his music. It was a fine accompaniment to a relaxed, enjoyable time.