Where It’s Going No One Knows (New Wave)

In 1976 Nick Lowe produced the first homegrown punk single released in the UK. Getting the jump on the Pistols & the Clash the Damned released “New Rose” in October 1976. Nick was the in-house producer for a new independent label. His “bash it out…we’ll tart it up later” approach matched the “if it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f*ck” shibboleth of Stiff Records. It was the first release by the label, Nick Lowe’s debut solo record, which had invented “New Wave” music.

I had seen the final tour by Brinsley Schwarz in 1975. Still playing small clubs at the end of a long road, Nick had had enough, the band were as good as they had always been but “Basher ” was openly dismissive of any over-enthusiasm on the part of the audience. Before co-founding Stiff Dave Robinson had managed the Brinsleys who’s final LP “New Favourites of…” had been produced by Dave Edmunds. Lowe & Edmunds  hooked up in Rockpile, so Nick was operating with a circle of friends. “So It Goes” is a crafty classic. Nick had written them before & would continue to do so up to right now. The band went along on the Live Stiffs tour in 1977. the single, “I Knew The Bride” , backing Larry Wallis on “Police Car”  & off to the bar, leaving the hard graft to Costello & Dury. He was having fun again & the music was the better for it.

“So It Goes” was how musicians who were too old to be punks reacted to an injection of energy in British music, (the part played by cheap amphetamine sulphate should not be overlooked). There were other writers of well-crafted songs who knew that catching the zeitgeist of 1976-7 required a bit of oomph. Nick Lowe was a busy man in 1976. (Well, 6 months before I used the Z-word. Pretentious, moi ?).

Two of Nick’s former band-mates had joined the backing band of a singer from London managed by Dave Robinson. (This is getting a little incestuous). Graham Parker & the Rumour’s first LP, “Howling Wind”, produced by Nick Lowe, was released in April 1976 & it was pretty good. The Dylanesque sneer of Parker’s cynical lyrics were boosted by some tough & assured backing with a touch of R&B from the Rumour Horns.  The Village Voice placed it at #4 in their 1976 best album list. It was not even the highest Graham Parker on the list.

At #2 was “Heat Treatment”, a 2nd LP from 1976. Lowe was too busy & Mutt Lange produced. It is a good record & “Pouring It All Out” must have been a single because it’s a terrific song. Was it a better LP than “Howling Wind” ? Answers at the bottom of this post please because I don’t know the answer to that. I got to see GP & the Rumour in 1977, the “Pink Parker” tour. The band tried a shot at the charts by covering the Trammps “Hold Back The Night”. It may have been that the band had been playing the same set for a year or it may have been that Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes absolutely rocked the house & stole the show. This was not just at the Birmingham Odeon but across the country. Parker hit a bump for a while, that early catalogue of songs could only take him so far. He & the Rumour would be back.

Joe Jackson was a classically trained musician who had worked as an arranger for cabaret bands. He saw the way the wind was blowing & his first 2 LPs, both from 1979, were stripped back & punchy. With the backing of a big label & a fine line in self-deprecation both “Look Sharp” & the single “Is She Really Going Out With Him ?” were successful in the USA. I saw Joe play in Manchester in 1979 when the first LP had just come around (Man, I got out & about in those days). He had a great trio behind him & put on a great show. There was a touch of artifice about the arrangements. That touch of reggae, those dynamics, but I mostly remember a really good night out.

“I’m The Man” is the title track of the 2nd LP. You can see that it’s a showpiece song. I was impressed by the lyrics in 1979, a lovely idea that  those crappy crazes, from the yo-yo to “Jaws” are all invented & manipulated by the same evil spiv. I’ll buy that.

Joe used to live round my way in south London, we would nod to each other in the local shop. He played around with reggae before whipping out his jiving jazz roots. Like Nick Lowe & Graham Parker there was more fine music to come. I think that I have not finished with these guys yet.

Judge A Song By It’s Cover (Michael Carpenter)

The feelgood hit of the summer round our house (we didn’t listen to a lot, there was a football tournament to watch) was a cover version of a 60s hit by the Hollies. “Look Through Any Window” (1965) was written by the precocious songwriter for hire, Graham Gouldman, then just 18 years old. It does exactly that thing that the Hollies do so well. It is a clean and crisp 12 string riff, the harmonies are damn near perfect, drummer, Bobby Elliott, gives it that driving beat and you feel better having heard it. Why then not just stick with the original ? Well, Michael Carpenter did this good a job on the song.

Carpenter, an Australian (but we will not hold that…you get me ), had been on my radar before. I had that song on some tape compilation but the cassettes are gathering dust and my memory is not what it used to be. Now I like a cover version if it is done well. I checked out Michael Carpenter & it seems that cover versions are what he does. There are 5 volumes of his S.O.O.P (Songs Of Other People) series. I don’t know how much of an impression these LPs have made but Carpenter does not have a Wikipedia page and, I’m sorry, my next-door neighbour’s dog has one of those. I’m guessing that they could be our little secret so keep this on the downlow. Further investigation shows that some of these cover songs are pretty good.

“Life Get’s Better” is a Graham Parker from the 1983 LP “The Real Macaw”, his first without his heavyweight backing band the Rumour. The LP suffered from what we doctors call “80s production values”. If you were around at the time then you will know the symptoms, terrible drum sound, redundant keyboards and the rest. G.P. wrote good strong songs like this and the dodgy violin on the original is a big mistake. Carpenter strips it back to the basics and the song is good enough without any frills. Apparently “Life Gets Better” was a bigger hit in Australia than anywhere else on the planet. A rare example of culture and taste from a nation of convicts and philistines. (I am sorry, this is a bad English joke. some of my best friends have Australian friends).

In 1967, at the height of Monkeemania, the kids I hung about on street corners of a weekend all bought “Monkees” shirts, the ones with a flap fastened by a double row of buttons. They expected me to do the same. Now I was not about to be a 13 year old follow fashion monkey, especially not for some created-for-TV fake band who stole other people’s songs and did  a very poor impression of the Marx Brothers. I am more mature now and can appreciate that the Monkees made some fine 60s pop records. I own a couple of Mike Nesmith’s solo LPs. However, this first experience of peer pressure has not made it easy for me to accept them as a “real” band. It scarred me man, scarred me. I would push you out of the way to get one of those shirts now.

“Tapioca Tundra” is a Nesmith song (the B-side of “Valleri”). A cynic would point to it’s debt to Gene Clark’s “Feel A Whole Lot Better” and that the Monkee’s psychedelic credentials, however “out there” the movie “Head” is, were never going to happen. Again Michael Carpenter has produced a fine jangle-pop version of a good song. This seems to be what he does and it’s alright by me. Of course not all good songs lend themselves to interpretation. There is a Carpenter version of the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” which I would not go near. However talented anyone is there will be no improvement or angle which will make any version as enjoyable as the original. It seems that Michael Carpenter has his own cover cottage industry going on and he’s doing a fine job putting some love into songs he likes. I will look forward to any subsequent additions to S.O.O.P.