The M M & M 1000 – part 26

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Yet more I’s.

RED SNAPPER – Image of You / mixes (Warp 111 1998)
Red Snapper have always been red hot live. For me the instrumental stuff has always worked better in a gig setting than the tracks with guest vocalists. One of the group’s most powerful pieces, though, is “Image of You” from the Making Bones album. It’s uncharacteristic of the band but nevertheless a brilliant song. Alison David’s vocals are pleading and soulful, and the use of a string trio to augment the rhythm section give it a dark melancholy.

BIG COUNTRY – In a Big Country / All of Us (Mercury COUNT3 1983)
The Celtic rock thing has become deeply unfashionable, inevitably associated with tartan, plaid and boozy males belching out the choruses at the top of their voices. Maybe it sparks a buried psychological fear of the northern hoards among Anglo-Saxons. Who knows? Granted Big Country were a bit of a one trick pony, but that trick was never more ably performed than on this rousing song.

RUTS – In a Rut / H-Eyes (People Unite 795 1979)
“In a Rut” was one of the greatest singles to come out of punk. Its blend of ferocious rock and dub was blisteringly direct, with the tension racked up by the middle section (that always reminded me somehow of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”). Flipside “H-Eyes” was sadly prescient. Malcolm Owen would be dead of a heroin overdose within two years.

DOBIE GRAY – The In Crowd / Be a Man (Charger 105 1964)
This was pretty much the National Anthem of the Northern Soul scene. It had the tempo and the swing, but just as importantly, the lyrics could have been written about the kids who crammed the all-nighters nearly a decade later.

ROY ORBISON – In Dreams / Shadarosa (Monument 806 1963)
While the man himself has become something of an icon, with the image of the black clothes, dark glasses and trembling tenor that always seemed on the edge of heartbreak an integral part of the culture, his songwriting genius sometimes gets forgotten. “In Dreams” breaks all the rules as far as pop singles go. There’s no chorus, for a start. There are parts that sound like a chorus, but they’re never repeated. In fact no part of the melody is ever repeated. The song builds from a near-spoken intro to something operatic without ever reprising any previous section. Sure, lots of music does that, but to do it in such a way that it’s still catchy as the best pop should be is a remarkable feat.

CHAMELEONS – In Shreds / Nostalgia (Epic 2210 1982)
A ludicrously underrated band. Something that, alas, has always been so. Even though they’ve had a huge influence on bands from Kitchens of Distinction right through to Interpol and the Editors. Indeed, the latter are such carbon copyists, it’s particularly galling that they’re forever accused of ripping off Joy Division. Wrong band, you numpties. “In Shreds” was where it all began, the only product of a brief fling with Epic Records. It’s one of the band’s harshest and angriest missives. B side “Nostalgia” is more typical of their later material.

ELVIS PRESLEY – In the Ghetto / Any Day Now (RCA 9741 1969)
After spending most of the sixties becoming more and more of a joke figure, with ever more embarrassing movies seeming to be his main field of endeavour, Elvis came back with a bang in December 1968 with the legendary NBC TV special. It wasn’t much more than a fleeting Indian summer, but he made a couple of great records during 1969. One of these was “In the Ghetto”, a mournful Gospel influenced piece about the interlinked cycle of poverty and crime. It’s more melodrama than protest song, to be honest, but it’s still a mighty fine record. Nick Cave’s version is pretty good, too – typically wrecked and grim, but with the heart of the song intact.

WILSON PICKETT – In the Midnight Hour / I’m Not Tired (Atlantic 2289 1965)
Karaoke favourite, theme of political talk shows – in fact it’s become such a cliché on TV and radio to wheel this on when anything happens or starts at midnight. Over-familiarity, then, has dulled the song somewhat, but Pickett’s vocal strut and the Memphis horns still maintain their raw appeal.

TOM WAITS – In the Neighbourhood / Frank’s Wild Years (Island 141 1983)
This song marked the clear line in the sand between Tom Waits mark one, the bawdy barfly balladeer, and Tom Waits mark two, the junkyard eccentric with his menagerie of misfits. “In the Neighbourhood” , with its Salvation Army style trombones, is a slow march that celebrates the oddballs that populate the vicinity in a way that’s weirdly moving.

FIVE SATINS – In the Still of the Night / The Jones Girl (Ember 1005 1956)
The Five Satins hailed from New Haven, CT – not a town really known for its rhythm and blues legacy. In many ways they were old fashioned and out of step with the times, their balladry more in tune with older acts like the Orioles and even the Ink Spots rather than the more beat-oriented doowop groups that were springing up in the mid fifties. “In the Still of the Night” is their best known song, a charming slow ballad.

MARVIN GAYE – Inner City Blues / Wholy Holy (Tamla 54209 1971)
GOLDIE PRESENTS METALHEADZ – Inner City Life / Jah (Ffrr 251 1994)

One of the centrepieces of What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues” is more infused with despair than rage. Like the title track, Marvin seems bewildered by the inequalities and social breakdown he sees around him. “Crime is increasing / Trigger happy policing / Panic is spreading / God know where we’re heading” when he says it “makes me wanna holler / And throw up both my hands” it’s more in frustration and resignation that there seems no way to change things. Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century, and the plight of the inner city seems little changed. For singer Diane Charlemagne, the place of refuge is in her lover’s arms. “Inner City Life” was the record, more than any other, that took drum and bass away from the dancefloor and into the mainstream, proving that the music had more to it than just high tempo breakbeats and dark bass, but could be the soul music of the 21st century. It didn’t quite happen, but the record remains a monumental achievement.

More soon


Review of the Year Part 2 – Gigs

First up, I’ve been asked whether I would consider publishing readers’ top tens / twenties of the year. It sounded like an interesting idea, so if you’re interested in contributing, then the address is up there in the top left corner. If you have a blog / website / MySpace page and want it mentioned, then I’d be happy to. Get listing!

OK, 2008. Gig wise it was a bit of a damp squib, more due, I think, to my lack of pennies than a lack of things going on. Having said that, I’d be hard pressed to think of much that happened in Glasgow that I was really narked at missing. A few things here and there that it would have been nice to been at, but nothing to get me crouched in a corner wailing.

My top ten includes four sets from ATP (the Explosions one) which was the nearest thing I had to a holiday this year. :(

Here goes:

10. A HAWK AND A HACKSAW (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)
9. SILVER JEWS (ATP, Minehead, 18th May)
8. WORLD’S END GIRLFRIEND (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)

Of these, I’d only seen World’s End Girlfriend before. On that occasion he was on his own with just a laptop and guitar. This time, with drummer in tow, it was a much more muscular experience. A mixture of self-sampling, laptop clicking and noise-rock. A Hawk and A Hacksaw’s Balkan folk was thoroughly enjoyable – so much so that I missed Saul Williams because I was having so much fun. The Silver Jews are a band I’ve never really got on record. Live, they made much more sense, even though it’s something they don’t do that often (play live that is).

7.MICHIYO YAGI (Stereo, Glasgow, 15th Feb)
Michiyo Yagi’s solo koto performance at the Instal after-hours do at Stereo was one of the unexpected highlights of this year’s event. Partly atonal and droney, partly imbued with a classical beauty, it was a revelation.

6.THE BLUE NILE (Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 9th Jul)
Despite the lack of new material (one as yet unreleased song) and the fact that the set list was almost identical to the Paul Buchanan solo-billed shows of a couple of years ago, a Blue Nile gig is still a Blue Nile gig. They still do melancholy, heartbreak and rain-swept loneliness like no other band. They seem to exist in their own unhurried time bubble, untouched by trends, changes or innovation. The music evolves, but without any perceptible outside influence.

5.RED SNAPPER (Oran Mor, Glasgow, 29th Nov)
Stripped down to basics, this was Red Snapper at their extrovert best. Eschewing vocals, and downtempo moments, it was a set of blistering jazz-funk aimed as much at the feet as it was the head. The new songs aired indicated that the time away has left them reinvigorated and at the very peak of their powers.

4.BRUCE McCLURE (CCA, Glasgow, 7th Dec)
Still fresh in my mind, although my ears have stopped ringing, Bruce McClure’s set at Kill Your Timid Notion was a brutal audio-visual treat. Flickering and morphing shapes provided by three trashed projectors was accompanied by a soundtrack of extreme noise, through which heard or imagined melodies emerged and were gobbled up in an ocean of intense drone.

3.TINDERSTICKS (City Halls, Glasgow, 5th Oct)
Their set may have concentrated largely on the latest album which is a very good record, but not their best, but that didn’t matter. I’ve never seen the band so at ease with themselves, their music and the audience. The loss of three founding members seems to have given them a new togetherness, and the result was a stunning performance.

2.THE NATIONAL (ATP, Minehead, 17th May)
The National are a band who aren’t particularly innovative, but through an unbeatable combination of great musicianship and memorable songs, never disappoint live. They are everything that so many groups aspire to be but aren’t. They just have an instinctive knack of getting everything right. Much is down to singer Matt Berninger whose awkward, anti-charisma is coupled with a fantastic baritone that brings the songs alive.

1.MARGINAL CONSORT (Arches, Glasgow, 17th Feb)
This was one of the most remarkable live experiences of my life, not just of this year. Marginal Consort are four unassuming, middle aged Japanese guys who sit behind tables situated in the four corners of the room with the audience wandering around in the middle. With a bewildering array of household objects, modified instruments, blocks of wood and all sorts of other ephemera, they go on an improvised musical journey that can last for hours. At Instal, it was a three hour trip. Each responding to what his (unseen) colleagues are up to, the music evolves in all sorts of directions through the performance. Sometimes settling into trance-like grooves, sometimes descending into atonal dissonance, but never staying in any place for longer than is necessary, the music changes not just through time, but through space as the audience wander around and get a different mix of  sound. The last few seconds consisted of an aquarium water pump bubbling away into silence. And then there was an eruption from the audience quite unlike anything you usually get from the reserved intelligentsia that inhabit these events. It showed the possibilities of improvised music that I’ve seen no other musicians reach – creating new sounds that were, for all their strangeness, unquestionably musical. An amazing experience.

Gig: RED SNAPPER / CINEPHILE (Oran Mor, Glasgow, 29/11/08)

Red Snapper took a five year break at the end of 2002 to pursue other projects. At the time it was perceived as the end of the band, but this has proved not to be the case. On the back of a new mini album, the trio of guitarist David Ayers, bassist Ali Friend and drummer Richard Thair are back with new boy Tom Challenger on sax and clarinet. In the mid to late nineties, it looked as if they could cross over to a mainstream audience. They even had a hit single, of sorts, with the lush ballad “Image of You”. Despite that, the overuse of guest vocalists seemed to water down their muse, and they lost a bit of edge.

I was surprised that they were playing a venue as large as Oran Mor. With a pretty steep ticket price, an icy fog, the Christmas party season in full swing and the recession, I feared that the audience might be rattling around like peas in a whistle. Although far from full, there was a healthy sized and vociferously supportive crowd, and the atmosphere, despite the chill, was electric.

Red Snapper 2008 is a stripped down mean machine. Gone are the vocals. Also jettisoned tonight was nearly all of the more reflective, introspective material. What was left was a rock hard jazz quartet that swung like a funk band and rocked like a punk band. Ali Friend and Richard Thair have always been one of the best rhythm sections in the business. Tonight, they were mixed right up, so the rhythm dominated proceedings. Friend’s monstrous string bass pounded out licks that were quite phenomenally, well, bassy. (Is it me, or is his bass about twice the size of anyone else’s? The head was practically scraping the ceiling). David Ayers’ guitar licks were economical when they needed to be, but broke out every now and then into a frenzied slide assault. New lad Tom split his time between sketching out the basic melody lines, and going off in wild abandon.

They kicked up a hell of a groove. Old songs like “Space Sickness” were turned into punishing free jazz workouts. The new material showed that they may yet to have reached their peak. “Wanga Doll” was superb – a blitz of guitar noise over a crunching rhythm; and “Lagos Creepers” was a fanatastic feet-friendly funkster. On occasion, they reminded me of Rune Grammofon’s Shining. There are definitely a lot of shared characteristics between the two. Indeed, if they hailed from Trondheim or Bergen, they would probably have a lot more coverage from the press. In any event, it’s good to have them back. Even better that they seem to be in the form of their lives.

Support act Cinephile suffered from the early curfew (due to the venue being used for a club night later in the evening – a bugbear of mine that I’ve moaned about frequently in the past). There were probably only twenty people in the room when they came on. So starting with what turned out to be their best song was probably not the smartest move. I liked them, though. They are a trio of keyboards/samplers, guitar and vocals, and sound roughly like a cross between Curve and early Goldfrapp in a suitably cinematic way.