You Can’t Ring My Bell (My Bell Ding Dong Ding Dong)

When I was about six months old, my parents moved to the States.

Don’t worry, that’s not the start of a “I managed to find them” joke – they took me with them.

We lived there until I was about three. Consequently, my very formative years were spent in a country I remember very little about, and what I think I remember I’m not sure if, and as I suspect, by some weird process of osmosis, I remember because I’ve seen pictures and slides of us living in America and I’ve subconsciously assumed those as my own memories.

(At this point, if this were a documentary, there would be footage of me running around in a garden somewhere, or getting my head stuck in some railings (a popular past-time of mine, I’m reliably informed), or trying to run off with Mickey Mouse. And at this point, you, instead of thinking “Awww, what a cute kid!” would be thinking, as I always do when I see documentaries including such footage of the subject: “Rich fuckers, owning a video camera in 1972!”)

So there is no video footage of me as babe in arms (seems an appropriate term) in the US of A.

When I returned to the UK (with family in tow), as I had learned to talk in America, I had a Yankie-Doodle accent. This stayed with me, unchallenged, until I started junior school, when it was emphatically punched out of me. Several times. S’why I’m so pwetty.

Years later, when I left home, I found myself living in Wales for twenty years (I’ve made that sound like more of a penance than it actually was – for the record, I would not trade my time in Wales for anything), and nowadays, when I tell people I lived that side of the border for so long, they often comment, surprised that I don’t have a Welsh accent (conversely my Welsh friends tell me I cannot even do a Welsh accent). I suspect these two things are linked, and that my subconscious-self refused to let me pick up another accent, for fear of having seven bells of shit kicked out of me again. (It almost happened twice when I lived in Cardiff, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both occasions took place when football was involved. But, these are stories for another day)

Since I’ve lived back in the UK, I’ve noticed, as I’m sure most of you have, more and more American-isms creeping into our lives: McDonalds; Drive-throughs; Saying “Can I get…” instead of “Can I have…”; Refusing to take responsibility for our own clumsiness and suing someone you have a vague idea you may be able to pin the blame on; Clinical obesity; Warmongering (actually, we were pretty good at that before we got into bed with the Americans) et cetera, et cetera, in the midst of life we are in death et cetera.

I don’t think those early years living in America have had too adverse an effect on me. Although, now I think about it, it would explain my predilection for starting illegal wars over oil fields I have no ownership rights to, and how I love to spend a Tuesday morning gunning down innocent multiple school friends of mine whilst wearing a big heavy leather overcoat, like Keanu in The Matrix, whilst imploring that I have a right to bear arms, as laid down constitutionally in 1791, because nothing has changed in the world since then then, right?

Anyway, one of the things I think I remember from living in the States, is Halloween, another Americanism foisted upon us Brits.

I do have some vague memories of being dressed up as Spiderman (scary, right? I think my costume perhaps reflects well on my parents not wishing to get too immersed into this tradition) or something similar and being dragged round the houses in my block, a bucket shaped like a pumpkin on my arm, ready to take ownership of any sweets or chocolates kindly neighbours may decide to festoon upon me.

I say “think” because the sensible part of my head screams “You were only two, how can you remember this??”

Which means I probably have osmosed this scenario into my own time stream.

That’s right: for me, ET is at least one part documentary.

Anyway, I now have my own Halloween ritual. It goes like this:

  1. Go to local supermarket and buy loads of chocolates and sweets
  2. Return home, draw curtains and take the batteries out of the doorbell
  3. Spend the rest of the weekend eating said chocolate and sweets, ignoring the shouting from outside

Perfect!

Oh and:

4. Listening to the only Halloween record worth listening to. The only record that makes me feel about 8 years old and excited about Hallow-fucking-een.

This:

Monster_Mash_cover Bobby ”Boris” Picket & The Crypt Kickers – Monster Mash

More soon.

Friday Night Music Club

Week Three and we’re ticking along nicely and we’re segueing nicely into a little 80s and 80s-ish period.

dubbegood Beats International – Dub Be Good To Me

R-102690-1170019469_jpeg Freakpower – Turn On, Tune in, Cop Out

R-88784-1252781781_jpeg Moloko – Pure Pleasure Seeker

Intothegroovesinglecover Madonna – Into The Groove

c4d72c66 La Roux – Uptight Downtown

More next week!

Do Tell Him, Spike!

Elvis_Costello_Spike

Tomorrow night I’m going to see Elvis Costello.

Not to see him perform, mind, although I’ll be a little annoyed if he hasn’t brought his guitar along.

No, tomorrow night I’m going to see him “in conversation” with Nick Hornby, author of, amongst others, the excellent “31 Songs” (in which he attempts to provide a critique of – you guessed it – 31 Songs which he loves, making the very valid point that it’s harder to explain what you like about a song than what you don’t like (I feel his pain), and that it’s far too easy to just talk about what the record reminds you of (err…..mental note to self: must try harder….) and “High Fidelity”, which is itself named after a Costello song. You will know if you have ever read the introduction to this blog, Hornby is also inadvertently responsible for me writing it.

Anyway, the event is primarily to promote Elvis’ new memoir “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink” (Is a memoir different to an autobiography…? *shrugs* I dunno..).

This is what his website says about the book:

“This memoir, written entirely by Costello, offers his unique view of his unlikely and sometimes comical rise to international success, with diversions through the previously undocumented emotional foundations of some of his best-known songs and the hits of tomorrow. It features many stories and observations about his renowned cowriters and co-conspirators, though Costello also pauses along the way for considerations of the less appealing side of fame.

Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink provides readers with a master’s catalogue of a lifetime of great music. Costello reveals the process behind writing and recording legendary albums like My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom, and King of America. He tells the detailed stories, experiences, and emotions behind such beloved songs as “Alison,” “Accidents Will Happen,” “Watching the Detectives,” “Oliver’s Army,” “Welcome to the Working Week,” “Radio Radio,” “Shipbuilding,” and “Veronica,” the last of which is one of a number of songs revealed to connect to the lives of the previous generations of his family.

Costello recounts his collaborations with George Jones, Chet Baker, and T Bone Burnett, and writes about Allen Toussaint’s inspiring return to work after the disasters following Hurricane Katrina. He describes writing songs with Paul McCartney, the Brodsky Quartet, Burt Bacharach, and The Roots during moments of intense personal crisis and profound sorrow. He shares curious experiences in the company of The Clash, Tony Bennett, The Specials, Van Morrison, and Aretha Franklin; writing songs for Solomon Burke and Johnny Cash; and touring with Bob Dylan; along with his appreciation of the records of Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, David Ackles, and almost everything on the Tamla Motown label.

Costello chronicles his musical apprenticeship, a child’s view of his father Ross MacManus’ career on radio and in the dancehall; his own initial almost comical steps in folk clubs and cellar dive before his first sessions for Stiff Record, the formation of the Attractions, and his frenetic and ultimately notorious third U.S. tour. He takes readers behind the scenes of Top of the Pops and Saturday Night Live, and his own show, Spectacle, on which he hosted artists such as Lou Reed, Elton John, Levon Helm, Jesse Winchester, Bruce Springsteen, and President Bill Clinton.”

Astonishingly, for an artiste with such a rich and plentiful back catalogue stretching back to 1977, he has only ever had three top ten singles in the UK, and two of those (“I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”, and “Good Year For The Roses”) were cover versions.

Of his 30 albums, on the other hand, 11 have made the UK Top Ten.

As you will probably have guessed by now, I’m more of a singles kinda guy than an albums one, so it’s perhaps less astonishing that I own more kind of bits and bobs by the non-jumpsuited Elvis than full albums.

One album I do own, however, is “Spike”, and there will be more about this at a later date.

For now though, something a little different for round these parts. Here’s the interview the BBC did with him at the time of “Spike”‘s release in 1989, a Late Show special if memory serves.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Spike

It’s rare for me to be drawn in by what is essentially a promotional interview to such an extent that I actually go and buy whatever is being plugged, but this did it for me. As soon as I heard Elvis speak, as soon as I heard him perform some songs from the album, I knew I had to own it.

The next day I went to Rainbow Records in Pontypridd to get a copy, left swiftly as they didn’t have it, and then ventured into Cardiff to pick a copy up from the wonderful Spillers Records. Yes, Mum & Dad, sorry but that’s what my student grant went on in my first year: Elvis Costello CDs and train fares. (And booze and fags, if I’m honest).

Obviously, I’m hoping he is on equally good form tomorrow night. If he is, then I’ll be coming to a reputable bookshop near me soon.

More soon.

Keeping it Peel

As you get older, and it will come to all of you young fuckers (by which I mean fuckers who are young, not…) time seems to speed up. What seems to have been a mere blip on the radar turns out to be a week, a month, six months, a year, more, longer.

Sometimes these anniversaries pass you by, and it’s only as they’re disappearing in the rear view mirror that you go “Whoa! Wait a minute! How did that happen???”

Let me give you an example. Every now and then, I meet up with people from my past. I like to do it, to renew those old friendships, to catch up, break some bread, or, as is more likely, drink some cider and have a curry. And without fail the first thing that is discussed is how long it is since we’ve last seen each other. And once that’s happened, we all stand, scratching our heads, looking baffled and, no matter how long it is, wondering where the time went.

Let me give you another example. Today, it is a year since I posted some stuff about John Peel on here (and frankly, blew my only two Peel-based anecdotes; I wasn’t exactly anticipating that I would still be writing this blog a year later or I would have kept at least one of them back).

More importantly, it also means that today it is eleven years since John Peel died.

Read that sentence again. It is eleven years since John Peel died.

Whoa! Wait a minute!! How did that happen???

How have we managed to live for eleven years without John’s guiding hand at the tiller??

Some might argue that we haven’t, and that it’s noticeable that since he passed the likes of Simon Cowell and his (e)X(crement) Factor have risen to prominence. Which is a fair point.

But let me let you into a little secret: much as I would like to blame the world’s ills on Cowell, there’s something else. We have the internet now. We can trawl for whatever music we want to hear without recourse to some Radio 1 DJ.

Back in 2004, the internet was not what it is now. We still needed John back then, to tell us what was worth listening to, and often playing us something that really wasn’t.

But fear not, I come here not to damn the man but to praise him.

Because that’s not to say that were he still here now we wouldn’t listen to him, because we would. And that’s the point: John saved us the bother of having to trawl through the quagmire of crap we have to now, he was our filter, our conduit, he syphoned away all of the excruciatingly bad records we’ve had to plough through since he was so cruelly taken from us.

Which is also why, in those eleven empty years, whilst the music has been out there, just the same as it always was, nobody has managed to step up to the plate and fill John’s shoes: his shoes are unfillable. In fact, it has taken a whole music station (by which I mean 6Music of course) to come anywhere close to doing what John did. On his own.

So anyway, here’s my record to mark the anniversary of his passing. Not the greatest version, but appropriately titled, a Peel session, and a band that John championed, seeing through all the “sixth-form Smiths pastiche” guff that was levelled at them during their all-to-brief time with us.

51DlnQ8RtVL Gene – For the Dead (Peel Session)

A Missed Opportunity

A few posts ago, when I was talking about me getting arrested in 1985 (and don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten I have to finish that year off…it’s just proving problematic. It will come and I will explain then) I somehow didn’t think to post this prime slice of Britpop greatness:

220px-Caughtbythefuzz Supergrass – Caught By The Fuzz

Consider that massive oversight rectified.

I Coulda Tooken

I think I’d better start off this post by declaring that I am not drunk. Whether that is still the case by the time I finish it is questionable.

The reason I feel the need to declare this is because I’m probably going to end up writing some things which are likely to come across as the kind of slurry “You’re my best mate, you are” things you’d only really expect someone four or five sheets to the wind to say.

There you go, that’s the disclaimer out of the way.

You may have noticed recently there has been a lot of Birthday talk on these here pages. A lot of people I know seem to have birthdays around September and October, and I suppose if you think about it logically, at the time of year when we were all conceived it would have been the winter months, dark and cold, and perhaps our parents were huddling together under what used to be called a Continental Quilt when…well, you know…one thing led to another and here we are. (Note to self: I may need to rewrite that bit, it sounds like all my friends’ parents were under the same duvet, which they weren’t, obviously)

Anyway, the thing about birthdays is that on at least one of yours, or perhaps on another totally inappropriate moment – on the school bus, say – you will find yourself suddenly considering the most awful of truths: your parents did “it”.

My brother and I are lucky in that respect. I should explain. My parents got married on 22nd October 1966. My brother was born on 29th July 1967 – near enough nine months to the day after the honeymoon, which I think it’s safe to assume went well. (This has also just reminded me I forgot to remind my Dad about their anniversary, my traditional job. Ooops!)

Similarly, I was born on 26th September 1969, almost nine months to the day after Christmas Day, so it’s safe to say the petrol station was closed, or my Dad just forgot to get my Mum a Christmas present, and had to make it up to her in…er…different ways.

So there we have it. They only did “it” twice. Ever.

I’m not really sure why I’m mentioning all of this, except as a preamble into wishing my former housemate and equal best mate Hel a happy birthday, in something approaching a creative way.

A couple of weeks ago, we were out having a few drinks and Hel pointed out that we had been friends for 16 years. Jesus, really? (You’re expecting an “it seems longer” gag here, right? Well jog on, you’re not going to get it. Because it really doesn’t seem that long. And of course by referencing said joke, I have managed to make it, whist simultaneously denouncing it. Oh yes! I am finally revealing myself to be the very epitome of a hitherto concealed post-modern self-deconstructing blogger!)

Anyway, it seems just weeks since we first met, upstairs in what was The Tut ‘n’ Shive on City Road in Cardiff (although she will probably tell me I’m wrong and we met much earlier than that). She was with her brother Llyr, also mentioned often in these pages, who would soon become my flatmate, but more of him another time.

Hel was wearing a Motorhead t-shirt, which I thought was pretty cool. This was before band t-shirts such as this became fashion accessories worn by needy people who had no clue about any record ever made by the bands whose logos graced their t-shirts  (see also Ramones).

As an aside, I have two band t-shirt stories to tell.

Firstly I was at a house party once, and there was a guy there wearing one of these:

amplified-mens-primal-scream-screamadelica-t-shirt-orange-p1831-4202_zoom

You and I know this is a Primal Scream “Screamadelica” t-shirt. But the guy wearing it? No-siree-bob.

“Nice tee shirt” I called across the room to him.

“Thank you” he beamed in response.

“Great album too!” I suggested.

“It is an album?” he replied, genuinely confused. “I just liked the picture!”

Hmmmm…..

Second, I was wearing a PJ Harvey tee shirt at work once, one promoting “50 Foot Queenie” from her “Rid of Me” album. It looked like this:

TheNostalgeec_68481424525195

I was wearing it ironically, since it has the words “Hey I’m One Big Queenie” emblazoned on it.

Certain folks in my office had never seen the likes. A very attractive girl approached me at the photocopiers.

Her: “I like your tee shirt”

Me: (nonchalantly) “Oh, thanks”

Her: “Who’s the picture of?”

Me: (disinterestedly) “PJ Harvey”

Her: “Who’s that?”

Me: “A really cool singer/songwriter. You’d like her.”

Her: “Oh? What does she sing? What do you recommend?”

My brain: “Sorry mate, I got nothing. I mean, I could have a rummage round some of these boxes of the usual shit you’ve got stored up here and try and dig out some of her songs so you don’t look like a dick, but I don’t think I can be arsed right now.”

Me: “Um….er….ahhh…hahaha…would you believe it…my mind has gone totally blank…..”

Tune in soon for the next instalment of “I am rubbish at talking to girls”

But anyway, I digress.

I asked Hel what her favourite Motorhead record was. Her reply: “It’s actually a thing they did with Girlschool…”

I looked at her in some amazement.

“Please Don’t Touch?” I said.

“Yes!!” she replied, mouth and eyes agog that someone else knew that record.

This one:

motorhead-and-girlschool-please-dont-touch-bronze Motorhead & Girlschool – Please Don’t Touch

And yes, I know I’ve posted that before.

We got talking and somehow got onto the topic of Smash Hits magazine. The more astute of you will have spotted the more-than-occasional homage to their way of writing around these parts. We enquired about each others favourite fact gleaned from those glossy pages. Number one on both of our lists was: “Mark King of Level 42 has insured his thumb for a million pounds!!” Truly I had found a kindred spirit. A Liverpool fan, but you can’t have everything, right?

If further proof were needed, we both love this record, the UK’s Eurovision entry the year after Bucks Fizz:

One_step_further_bucks_fizz Bardo – One Step Further

If I had a pound for every time we had drunkenly attempted to do the dance routine I’d be a very rich man by now.

We’ve spent many a happy night ratted together, me and Hel. There was the time we stayed up all night pissed, and I sent her out to buy another bottle of vodka at 9am, after which we decided it would be a really good idea to watch Jimmy McGovern’s death drama “Hillsborough” (the clue’s in the title as to how happy it’s going to be), spending the next few hours hugging each other and bawling our eyes out.

And then there was the time of the great argument about radishes.

Suffice it to say that on many of the stories I will tell over the forthcoming posts, Hel has been at my side, my wing-girl, a reciprocal deal, I hope. There’s so many stories I could, and probably will, tell you about times we’ve spent together, things we’ve done. For now, I’ll just give you a couple.

Firstly, as a measure of the woman, when I first was moving to London 7 years ago, I gave her a ring to see if she knew of anywhere I could find some digs.

“There’s a spare room in my place,” she said.

“Really? Great! Can I have it….?”

“It depends. Have you got the following things: 1) a DVD player 2) a pepper grinder, and 3) friends who are male models?”

I had the first two, but not the third.

“Meh. We can work on that. Move in when you like”.

And on the day I moved in, instead of unpacking and then letting me get an early night before my first day in a new job, she proceeded to take me on a tour of all the local pubs and get me proper hammered.

More recently, we’ve started DJ’ing together. Usually when you DJ with someone, you have an agreed spell “solo” on the decks, say half an hour on, half an hour off, but I have a need to know what’s coming next, in being prepared and lining the next one up (reasons will become clear in subsequent posts, and yes, those that know it, I am going to tell that story eventually), and she totally buys into this. As a result, Hel and I seem to have such a blast DJ’ing together we spend the whole night conferring about a running order, concurring about what the next record will be, and then the next and the next, with an implicit agreement that if you suggested the next record up, you mix it in. It’s a truly democratic process.

Our most prestigious gig was about a year ago, a private function in London’s swanky Groucho Club (we’ve never been invited back, but we were invited to “turn it down please” on the night.)

Beforehand, Hel had told me she was desperate to play Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”. I wasn’t particularly happy, but had decided I could counter it by deciding what to play either side. The next three records were the sequenced result:

Dance%20Apocalyptic%20Concept%20Art%20-%20Credit%20SAM%20SPRATT Janelle Monae – Dance Apocalyptic

Krista-2_28-2 Taylor Swift – Shake it Off

Britney_Spears_Toxic Britney Spears – Toxic

(What actually happened was as we walked to the venue, I told Hel I had thought of a record that would fit perfectly after Taylor Swift. “Is it Britney?” she asked. Damn you!!!)

(The place went batshit crazy when we dropped the Janelle Monae track, but we’ve never actually agreed which of us thought to play it. But I mixed it in, so……)

Some time earlier, we had played a friend’s wedding (truly any occasion, bar mitzvahs etc etc) and Hel taught me a valuable lesson: in certain circumstances, it is perfectly acceptable to play this:

whitneydance Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance With Somebody

There’s loads more records I could play now which make me think of her, one of which she would fucking kill me if I posted, but for now, that’s me and Hel.

Oh, and then there’s this:

R-826535-1190720197_jpeg Almighty Allstars – Star Wars

Can’t think why that reminds me of Hel….did I mention she used to work for Almighty Records…? And recorded the odd vocal…? No….? Silly me….

Happy Birthday, hope you have a great one.  Love ya loads.

Here’s an appropriate one:

R-1574277-1274915614_jpeg The Velvet Underground – She’s My Best Friend

(Count yourself lucky I didn’t post The Wedding Present version)

PS: OK, now I’m drunk.

Friday Night Music Club

And lo! The mood is set. And the more observant among you (who haven’t been subjected to one of these before) will note a pattern emerging: three or four songs in a similar vein or genre, followed by one or two linking to the next group of songs. Yes, that’s right: a bit like a DJ set (admittedly a DJ set in a ropey bar, student union or indie club as supposed to at, say, Ministry of Sound, or Pacha)

You’ll remember last time out we were entering into disco mode…so ready to go? Flares and afro on? Good Then here’s the second batch:

114890377 Odyssey – Going Back To My Roots

Let's_Groove Earth Wind & Fire – Let’s Groove

The-Wonder-Stuff-Who-Wants-To-Be-T-38682 The Wonder Stuff – Who Wants to be the Disco King?

Shed-Seven-Disco-Down-458513 Shed 7 – Disco Down

TheClashLondonCallingalbumcover The Clash – The Guns of Brixton

More next week!