How to Do a Cover Version

I was going to suggest this tune for The Chain this week, but decided that it needs a post all of its own.

I mentioned a little while ago that I listen to a lot of comedy shows on the BBC iPlayer, and specifically name-checked the David Mitchell hosted “The Unbelievable Truth”.

Another one that I particularly enjoy is “Dilemma”, hosted by newly anointed Queen of Having Some Professional Integrity, Sue Perkins.

On “Dilemma”, panellists are posed various awkward scenarios that they have to not only explain what they would do, but justify it too. Like tequila followed by a shot of chilli vinegar, it’s better than I just made that sound, trust me.

For example (and if they don’t use this in the next series, I’ll be annoyed): the TV show you co-host has just been sold to a rival channel. Going with it means you will get paid a lot more than you do now. Do you follow the money, or do you stay put?  (I don’t watch that Bake Off show, and never will, but gosh wasn’t it  heartening to see Mel, Sue and Mary Berry electing not to jump ship when the BBC lost the rights to air it the other week? For a fleeting moment, we all realised that some people might just be as nice in real life as we hoped.)

By the way, I find myself unable to pronounce Sue Perkins’ name as Sue Perkins since an appearance she once made on Have I Got News For You. She was on Paul Merton’s team and Merton, who was trying to quit smoking at the time, complained that he had been partnered with someone called Superkings. And so, to me, whenever I say her name out loud, it’s Superkings rather than Sue Perkins.

Anyhoo, the theme tune to “Dilemma” is this tune by Sleeper, who are the point of reference in this week’s Chain:

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Sleeper – What Do I Do Now?

That got covered by no less a musical God then Elvis Costello on his album with The Attractions, “All This Useless Beauty” – and when Elvis decides he’s going to re-work a tune, boy oh boy he does just that.

If you’re familiar with the original, but have never heard Costello’s version, then I urge you to listen to this. Actually, even if you don’t know the original, you should listen to this. To my mind, it’s one of the greatest cover versions ever. There, I’ve said it.

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions – What Do I Do Now?

See? Stripped back, you realise how great some of those lyrics are: “Riding her perfume downstairs…make-up like glue…spent the whole of Sunday sticking you together” – all wonderful words that are properly fleshed out in Costello’s version.

If ever there was a cover version that defined this “How To Do…” corner of the internet, then it’s that. I may as well pack up and go home now.

I’ll be back, briefly, tomorrow (Monday) – out of character, I know, for me to post on a Monday, but you’ll see why – and then I’ll meet you all back here on Wednesday for some more Chain Gang shenanigans. Assuming that I can locate the many, many suggestions I’ve received this week. (That’s not a complaint, by the way.)

More soon.

Name That Tune

Now the ticker tape parade of me reaching 400 posts has subsided, back to normality.

In my first year at college, every other Tuesday was spent in the Student Union’s nightclub/venue, “Shafts” (the college was in a South Wales mining community, in case you think there’s some innuendo to be found there) at the fortnightly Indie night, wittily called Funk Off.

The night had two resident DJ’s, Jim and Chris. Chris was rumoured to be a bit of a headcase, apparently carrying a knife with him when he DJ’d. Jim was a nice enough, bloke, who ended up playing bass in the band I was in a year or so later, and who I’m still in semi-regular contact with on Facebook (and who will be sent this post in the hope I haven’t offended him).

However, it was not, it’s fair to say, a well attended event, barely scraping fifty attendees on most weeks. We didn’t really mind this, as it meant that we could ask for any record we liked, and Jim and Chris would generally oblige, as it meant that at least someone would go onto the dancefloor.

My mate Danny Sweeney and I would often sit predicting what record would be played next. “Okay, so The Wonder Stuff are on now, bet they play Pop Will Eat Itself next…yup, there it is”. We, of course, thought we could do better.

So at the end of our first year, Danny and I approached the Social Secretary, a chap called Ken, and asked if we could maybe, y’know if it wasn’t too much trouble, totally fine if not, have a go at DJ’ing the Indie Night.

As it happened, Jim and Chris had, I think, decided they’d had enough of DJ’ing, and were ready to stand down from their post, although I have some dim recollection that Chris had been kicked off his course and Jim didn’t want to carry on without him.

And so Ken, and the Entertainments Manager Phil, agreed to giving us a go, and dates and times were sorted out when we could be trained up.

The DJ booth was a place of wonder to me the first time I entered it. There were two Technics decks with the channels unit/mixing desk positioned in between them, all facing out onto the dancefloor, and with two crates of albums and 12″ singles housed underneath. Next to that was the light controls, which could be pre-programmed (by which I mean, buttons pressed making each individual light whirr into life) or you could operate them manually (by pressing a button, etc etc etc). Next, a video player, monitor, computer and keyboard; “Shafts” had several screens positioned around it, and you could mix between vinyl and videos, as well as using the computer to write messages for the crowd to read. Back in 1989, this was pretty high-tech stuff.

Finally, embedded into the back surface was a tray containing a couple of thousand 7″ singles, which we would scour through before the set began, pulling up any we thought we might play that night.

I had my training session and was left alone to practice for a couple of hours or so. It seemed pretty straight-forwards, and my happiness at having conquered it was topped by being asked to turn up for the next week’s “Funk Off” where I would DJ with Jim. Danny would DJ at the next one after that and then, when term started again in September, the night was to be ours.

So, Tuesday night rolled around, and I strolled up, with a bag of vinyl that I hadn’t spotted in the racks when I had my training session, and which I thoroughly intended to play.

Jim was already there, and was programming our names into the computer. Screen One: Welcome to Funk Off. Screen Two: Your DJs: Jolly Jim and…

“We need to give you a name”, said Jim.

“Is Jez not sufficient?” I replied.

“No. You need something alliterative to go with it. Something that isn’t ‘Jolly’, because that’s mine.”

So for that first night, and never again, we were billed as “Your DJs: Jolly Jim and Jocular Jez”.

Harumph.

“You’ve brought some records”, said Jolly Jim. “Let’s have a look.”

Jocular Jez was reluctant.

“It’s fine,” Jolly Jim reassured me, “as long as you haven’t brought anything as fey and ball-less as Talulah Gosh, of course.”

You can guess what happened next, dear readers.

Yes, the first 12″ he pulled from my bag (okay, that sounds ruder than I meant it to) was none other than this:

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Talulah Gosh – Talulah Gosh

Cue: awkward silence and a raised eyebrow in my direction.

I didn’t dare to play it, after that look. But Jim dropped a tune which I don’t think I’ve heard before or since, a proper ace skanking hornblast of a record, which fits here too:

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The Larks – Billy Graham’s Going to Heaven

There’s a couple of tunes buried away in my back catalogue of records that I love, that I think have enhanced my life (for the better), and which I can directly attribute to Jolly Jim, and this is most definitely one of them. The others will surface sooner or later, rest assured.

Cheers Jim!

More soon.

Not Suitable for Weddings, Parties, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.

My erstwhile DJ’ing partner Hel has secured herself a gig next weekend at a friend of her sister’s wedding. I am surplus to requirements, which is fine. No, really. I can pop my nose back into joint any time.

We were discussing it last night, and in particular this thoroughly modern trend of the bride and groom asking the wedding attendees to request records for the DJ to play in advance of the night.

In case it sounds like I’m talking nonsense, here’s what used to happen: DJ would be booked, DJ would turn up, DJ would be asked throughout the night for various tunes, DJ would lie and say one of the following two things about any request they didn’t want to play : “Oh, I’m really sorry, I didn’t bring that out with me tonight”, or “I’ll try and squeeze that one in but I’ve already got a lot to try and get through here”.

There was one wedding that we played where two girls kept coming up and asking us for awful, awful records:

Girls: “Do you have any Olly Murs?”

Me: “No.”

Girls: “Do you have any One Direction?”

Me: “No.”

Girls: “Have you actually brought any records with you?”

Me: “Yes, just not shit ones.”

Girls: “What about Westlife? Have you get any Westlife?”

Me: “No, and even if we did, we wouldn’t play it. Now, take the hint and fuck off, will you?”

What happens nowadays is this: after agreeing to DJ such an event, you are presented with a list of songs which the attendees have suggested, which you are expected to have, and which you therefore have no excuse for not playing.

Which presents a conundrum: what if someone – a much loved aunt, or recently bereaved sibling, for example – suggests something which you really don’t think is appropriate to play, but which it may be demanded of you to do so, irrespective of what your professional integrity tells you?

Let me give you two examples. Many, many years ago, one of my many, many cousins got married. I was drinking with her brother, who was closer to my age, and one of his mates, who decided he was going to ask the DJ to play a record which he really liked. That record was Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield” (which obviously dates this anecdote). I tried to explain to him that wasn’t really a song which was appropriate for a wedding, but he didn’t take any notice. He approached the DJ, put in his request and came back to us.

“Is he going to play it?” we nervously asked.

“I think so,” came the reply, “he said he’d try to squeeze it in, but he’s already got a lot to try and get through.”

More recently, Hel and I were DJ’ing at a friend’s wedding. Our friend, a former flatmate, was marrying a city banker type, a lovely bloke  who doesn’t fit the stereotype of your normal city banker type, in that he isn’t an absolute cock, and who we had spent many an enjoyable night in the company of. Hel wanted to play Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”. She took a lot of persuading that, great crowd-pleasing record that it is, it wasn’t exactly appropriate in the context of the gig we were playing.

Anyway, I digress. For the forthcoming wedding, Hel had been presented with a list of 200 songs which people had requested, and amongst them was Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”.

Now I think there are few amongst us who would argue that “Whole Lotta Love” isn’t a great record. But a wedding disco appropriate record? We were not so sure. I’m thinking specifically of the breakdown, where Robert Plant basically makes sex noises for a while. It’s the wedding, not honeymoon you’re supposed to be sound-tracking, after all.

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Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love

My solution? Play this:

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C.C.S. – Whole Lotta Love

You’re welcome.

More soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

This, apparently, is my 400th post. Best I make it a good one, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Different Drum”, which prompted Rol to comment on how he had (sort of) come to know the song through The Lemonheads version.

Which reminded me of another song I first heard because of the same band, a tune they covered on their 1990 album “Lovey”.

This one, by the late, great, Gram Parsons:

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Gram Parsons – Brass Buttons

Just gorgeous.

400 up. A good, if brief one. Mission accomplished.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

When I lived in Cardiff, I spent a good chunk of my twenty years there living in the Roath and Cathays areas. My Sunday mornings would often be spent wandering up to Albany Road, and trawling through the Reduced to Clear section in the now defunct Woolworths.

There were other records stores in the area, but none that opened on a Sunday; there was a Cash Converter across the road, which had a massive collection of CDs, mostly crappy magazine free giveaways, which, if you went there at the right time (namely a week or two into term, when the students had decided to sell their CDs for booze, just before Christmas, when the students had sold what was left of their CD collection for more booze and possibly a Christmas present or two, or just after Christmas, when students had sold ill-judged received presents for…oh, you get the picture) then you could monopolise on their “10 CDs for £10” deal.

Neither Woolworths or Cash Converters were the most creditable place to buy records from; those awards go to D’Vinyl Records, which was just around the corner on Death Junction and one which to this day I have no idea what it was called other than “Record Shop”. I’m not going to go into this now, as new friend to Dubious Taste, The Robster, describes it perfectly here.

I can only corroborate Robster’s description of it as being 100% accurate, and it was there that I would make my pilgrimage on a Saturday afternoon.

But Sunday’s were different, for on Sunday’s Woolworths was pretty much the only shop that was open.

One particular Sunday, I stumbled across a compilation CD, with an awful name and an awful sleeve. It was called “Mad For It”, so I can probably place this as being in the mid-90s. The sleeve had a picture of a herd of cows on it, which made me wonder if this contained some long-lost Inspirals tune. Obviously, I bought it.

It didn’t have anything even vaguely Inspiral-ish about it, needless to say.

What it did have, though, was two CDs. Released on Telstar records- who I had assumed had died in the 1970s, along with Ronco products – the first CD was crammed with your standard Britpop-y types: there’s Ash, there’s Sleeper, there’s Suede, whilst the second CD was filled with more “dancier” numbers: your Prodigy, your Leftfield, your Underworld etc etc.

This was a time when I was still resistant to dance music, obstinately refusing to listen to it due to the absence of guitars, but clearly something had piqued my interest. In fact, I think I must have bought this because I was intrigued by some of the more obscure – to me – tracks on the dance CD. And when I listened to it back in my bedroom, it seemed to me that it got darker and more interesting the further it went on.

One of those darker songs came on my iPod as I was travelling home from a very enjoyable evening over at the closing night of Dalston’s Street Feast tonight with my good buddies Hel, Neil and Ian, where I have drunk and eaten quite a lot (food highlight: the arepas, a Venezualan cornbread stuffed with beef and a whole lot of other yumminess; drinking highlight: tequila shots washed down with a chilli vinegar, which now I write this, sounds revolting, but whoa! did they work! All of them).

Anyway, this is the tune, which I think is the first instrumental I’ve ever posted here:

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Nightmares On Wax – Nights Interlude

More soon.