v/a “Three Day Week: When the Lights Went Out 1972-1975” (2019)

And this is another Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs compilation for Ace Records. Ostensibly similar to State of the Union, this one looks at Britain in the early 1970s, when the wheels were coming off the post-war economic model that had delivered a long period of unprecedented growth. Britain now found itself gripped by strikes, inflation, slowing growth, power cuts and emerging political extremists on the right and left. And in one corner of the United Kingdom British soldiers were killing and dying in a messy conflict (whose bloodiest year was 1972, with 497 people losing their lives).

And yet, these songs largely ignore the contemporary situation, with a couple of exceptions. The lyrics of Hawkwind’s ‘Urban Guerrilla’ evoke the activities of the Angry Brigade or pub bombing IRA units; unsurprisingly it was banned by the BBC. ‘Part of the Union’ by The Brothers (later a hit for The Strawbs, essentially the same band) refers to the union power that to some was bringing the country to ruin and to others empowering the country’s workers. The lyrics are ambiguous, sung from the point of view of a proud union activist but seen often as satirical with their depiction of a union man who is always keen to down tools and go out on strike. Nevertheless, the rousing nature of the chorus and lines like “And I always get my way / If I strike for higher pay” make the song seem like a clear advertisement for industrial organisation.
Much of the rest of the album consists of glam-inflected stompers. I particularly like ‘The Hertfordshire Rock’ by Ricky Wilde, Marty Wilde’s son and Kim Wilde’s brother. He was only teeny tiny when this was recorded and here in Panda Mansions the track has been described as bearing the taint of Little Jimmy Osmond, but such thoughts smack of right-deviationism. This track is an objectively great disco stomper with hand claps, fuzzy guitar, and, yes I admit, squeaky vocals. It is made all the more enjoyable by Hertfordshire being one of England’s lamer counties and it being hard to imagine anyone getting excited about Hertfordshire Rock.
Anyway there are loads of good tunes on this compilation and you owe it to yourself to track down a copy.

image sources:

British paratroopers arrest civil rights demonstrators (Guardian: How a protest about internment in Northern Ireland led to Bloody Sunday)

Three Day Week (Ace Records)

v/a “State Of The Union – The American Dream In Crisis 1967-1973” (2018)

This is one of those compilations put together for Ace Records by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of St. Etienne. As the title implies, the songs suggests an America losing faith in its own manifest destiny, with disturbing social change and failure in Vietnam undermining national self-confidence. These aren’t songs from a counterculture that wants to bring down the establishment, but rather from a middle America no longer at ease with itself.

I think it is notable that so many of the songs deal with marriage breakup, showing that social change is reaching directly into the previously settled homes of Joe Normal, notable also that these songs all seem to be about husbands whose wives have left them. Typically these are sadface tunes about fathers estranged from their children, but there is the curiously upbeat ‘Take a letter, Maria’ (by Mel Tormé), in which a businessman discovers that his neglected wife has been jazzing some other guy. Despite the jaunty vocals the song still feels a bit sad to me, because the businessman still doesn’t get it, as he is now taking for granted that he can transfer his affections to his hardworking secretary, without any thought that maybe she might have her own life to lead.

The most poignant tune is I think ‘Welfare Hero’ by Johnny Tillotson. This is sung from the point of view of a man who has suffered a disabling wound in Vietnam. He is unable to work but remains so wedded to the get-up-and-go narrative of America that he now hates himself for having to subsist on welfare.

image source (Ace Records)

Things I Have Not Been To

I am not one of those people who suffers from FOMO as such – i’m happy for other people to have fun without me (as so often they do). But what does make me sad is the sense that I am letting the side down by not going to something – the fear that by not going to things I am turning prematurely into a pipe-and-slippers person when I should have decades left of activity before I settle into staying home all the time. Or that something that people have put effort into organising will go unattended because I stayed at home sitting my arse instead of heading out. I know you do get people who stay at home all the time because allegedly they like staying at home, but for me it is often bound up with low-grade depression and/or a general sense of exhaustion from attempting to burn the candle at both ends. So like I say, missing things that sound good make me sad, and here are some interesting things that torpor led me to miss.

1. The Chromatics. They are a popular band. I do not really know anything about them but there was a track by them on one of those Rough Trade end of year compilations, a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My’, and it was amazing and played a big part in jollying me along to see Neil Young when he played here a couple of years ago with Crazy Horse (and he was great, proving that it is still possible to be edgy with stadium rock). Beyond that I am unfamiliar with their work but when a gig by them was announced here I thought I would go to it, but in the end I was too lethargic to get a ticket and did nothing whatsoever instead.

2. Tinariwen. They are the well-known band of Tuareg musicians from Mali or Algeria or somewhere (or perhaps Libya – some of them are reported to have served in a pro-Gadafi militia at one point). I have seen them before and they are great and on the basis that it is worth going to see things that are good I thought it would be good fun to see them again this time – but I was too *tired*.

3. Robert Forster. Not the actor who recently died but the guy from the Go-Betweens (not the dead one, the other one). I’ve never been a massive Go-Betweens fan, not through an active dislike of their music but more through never fully engaging with it. I mean I love ‘Cattle and Cane‘ (what kind of fucking weirdo doesn’t love ‘Cattle and Cane’?), for which Forster apparently did not write the lyrics, and I feel like I would love the Go-Betweens music if I properly listened to it, but I am a busy man. Nevertheless I thought it might be nice to go and see Mr Forster play. It’s nice to catch these musical legends and they won’t be round forever, so give them some props while they’re able to appreciate the respect, right? Only I was again too *tired* to go.

There are many more things I have not been to.

Matt Berry “Television Themes” (2018)

As the title suggests, this is a recording of various TV themes from the 1970s and 1980s, performed by Matt Berry and his buds. Berry is of course a comedian, so it’s easy to think of this as some kind of joke, but he is also a serious musician whose musical endeavours mysteriously tread a fine line between homage and pastiche. Here I think he is being serious about music that is often dismissed as throwaway trash. Not all of the music here is so maligned – one of his tunes is the Doctor Who theme, which everyone loves, and he does it full justice here with a version whose ominousness recalls the series’ dark turn in the early years of the Tom Baker. Likewise the World in Action theme recalls the weighty subjects covered by that serious programme. The real meat here though is with the themes to sitcoms and light entertainment programmes, surprisingly few of which were composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst. These are very entertaining, the Rainbow theme, featuring a whole middle eighth I do not remember from the broadcast programme. The Blankety Blank and Are You Being Served? themes are also delightful. But for me the stand-out is the theme to Sorry!, the grim Ronnie Corbett sitcom, revealed here as a musical triumph.

image source (Acid Jazz Records (@AcidJazzRecs), Twitter)

film: “A Dog Called Money” (2019)

This a documentary film about PJ Harvey recording an album, though it might be more accurately described as an art film hung around PJ Harvey recording an album (said album turning out to be The Hope Six Demolition Project from 2016, indicating how long it takes to put this kind of film together). The film intercuts PJ Harvey and her buds (people like John Parish, Mick Harvey, Flood, James Johnston, Terry Edwards etc.) recording with scenes showing Harvey travelling around the world, ostensibly to gain inspiration for her songwriting.

I found the recording scenes fascinating, as the recording process was itself set up as an art project, with people able to come in and gawp at the musicians doing their stuff through a one-way mirror. The globe-trotting scenes were a bit more hit and miss. These saw the Peej heading off to Washington DC (which from memory is pretty obvious from the album, which does a lot of name-checking that city), but also to Afghanistan and Syria. The Washington stuff, which saw Harvey going to a black gospel church and hanging out with the youth seemed a bit too much like that bit in Rattle and Hum where Bongo goes all gospel; all that was really missing was a gospel version of some PJ Harvey classic like ‘Down By The Water’. The stuff in more troubled parts of the world featured some genuinely funny moments (like the bit where a Kabul traffic cop loses it and starts kicking cars) and moments of fascinating musicality, notably Harvey attending what seems to be a Sufi mystical gathering where the music is oddly reminiscent of those chain-gang work-songs from the southern United States, but overall it felt like whitey holidaying in other people’s misery, with an added disturbing fear that Harvey was going to go all Paul Simon and absorb the music of her Afghan pals into her new record. The scene with refugees trying to cross the border between Greece and the Country Formerly Known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is genuinely depressing but as Harvey was not even present there you have to wonder what it is doing in the film.

On balance therefore I rank this film as an embarrassing failure but would still recommend it to everyone who loves the music of PJ Harvey.

image source (Guardian)

Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip ‘I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper’ (1978)

All the space stuff I was doing over the summer decided me that I wanted to download this amazing tune, which is one of very few instances in which a dance troupe released a record (joined of course by the charming Ms Brightman). Musical flourishes reference popular science fiction themes, while we are provided with lyrics to enjoy such as the following:

Tell me, Captain Strange, do you feel my devotion?
Or are you like a droid, devoid of emotion?
Encounters one and two are not enough for me –
What my body needs is close encounter three!

And then there is the chorus:

I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper!
Crashing light in hyperspace!
Fighting for the Federation!
Hand in hand we’ll conquer space!

This obviously is from before Blake’s 7 turned people against federations.

Don’t waste your time reading my words – play the video and appreciate the tune in all its fabulousness.

image source (Wikipedia)

Film: “A Star Is Born” (2018)

On a flight to Canada with my mother I watched this film, which is the one about Jack, an ageing alcoholic cock-rocker, played by Bradley Cooper (who also directs), who meets, discovers and falls in love with up-and-coming pop singer Ally, played by Lady Gaga. The film is a loose remake of two previous films and the plot is broadly formulaic (her trajectory is upward while his leads down into the bottom of a whisky glass, with tragedy ensuing) yet I nevertheless found it quite affecting and my hard heart was melted by the sad ending (curiously a slightly different sad ending to the one I expected, which may or may not be one similar to the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand previous versions).

One thing I found mildly amusing was that Jack meets Ally when she is performing in a bar most of whose performers are transvestites. To me this seemed like an ironic nod to how Lady Gaga was once dogged by strange rumours that she was secretly a man (or a transsexual, or a something (you know how it is with rumours)). I was also struck by how this was a film without villains. Ally acquires a manager who is set up to some extent in opposition to Jack, but while he is a bit smooth, to me he does not come across as a bad person or as someone exploiting Ally; when he vetoes a joint tour between Ally and an increasingly erratic Jack, he is clearly doing so to protect his client. That said, his actions do precipitate the final tragedy, but the real villain here is alcoholism and Jack’s inability to moderate his drinking.

To some extent Jack and Ally are presented as inhabiting briefly overlapping musical words, his one of blues-bore country rock and hers a more pop sound. Somewhat surprisingly I did find myself thinking that Jack’s music sounded a lot more appealing than the pop stuff (though I suppose the film’s director is going to give himself the good tunes). I may have to start investing in records by Stevie Ray Vaughan and similar.

Finally readers will be pleased to hear that this film features Sam Elliot (the cowboy from The Big Lebowski). He basically plays the same part as he does in The Big Lebowski.

image source (Guardian: A Star Is Born soundtrack review – instant classics full of Gaga’s emotional might)