50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #30

If you had asked me, twenty five years ago, who Florian Schneider was, I would have shrugged and told you I had no idea.

If you then went on to tell me that you were from the future (bear with me) and that the fifty year old me was really quite saddened to hear that he had died, I would probably have called the (time) police.

But such is life and death; for this week I was indeed saddened to hear of the passing of somebody who can truly be described as a musical innovator.

For Florian was a founder member of Kraftwerk, the German minimalist electro band. Moreover, he’s the one from the band that you recognise.

Describing Kraftwerk as a band doesn’t seem right somehow.

Pioneers. That’s better. For that’s what they were.

There are few artistes that you can confidently say changed the way music is produced, listened to and appreciated, but Kraftwerk unquestionably fall into that bracket.

I first encountered them, as I imagine so many others did, when this single went to #1 in the UK charts back in 1982:

Kraftwerk – The Model

At the time, I remember being baffled that this weird sounding thing had knocked Shaky’s Oh Julie off the number one spot. Back in the days when singles didn’t just go straight in at #1, it lumbered its’ way up the charts in a fashion that just doesn’t happen now (I guess: I can’t remember when I last checked in on The Charts,but that seemed to be how it was happening last time I looked). It spent just one week at the peak, replaced by The Jam’s Town Called Malice.

The even weirder thing about The Model was that the week before it hit the top slot, it had gone down from #2 to #3. This sort of resurrection simply never happened; once a record had hit its peak, that was it, done and dusted. Off down the charts you pop. (It was kept off #1 the first time around by Bucks Fizz’s The Land of Make Believe.)

But something about this Germanic foursome’s record buying public refused to give in.

I’m not sure when things finally clicked and I ‘got’ Kraftwerk. I guess it was sometime on the 1990s, or possibly even the early 2000s. I suspect it may have been when I finally got my hands on a copy of the NME 40th anniversary album Ruby Trax – where contemporary acts of the day were invited to record a cover version of a song which had been a #1 single – heard Ride cover The Model, and thought a) That sounds nothing like Ride; b) that’s really great but is it really that different from the original? and c) What have I been missing all these years?

Ride – The Model

I do know that I was desperate to see them on their 2005 Minimum/Maximum tour, but didn’t manage to get there for some reason or other. Probably financial, as I would think tickets for a Kraftwerk gig were prohibitavly, and justifiably, expensive.

So here, to mark Florian’s passing is footage from that tour. Clear some me-time in your diary and watch this, two hours of minimalistic magic (m)electronica:

More soon.

50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #29

In a rare example of me being ahead of the curve, I’d not only heard of but had seen Manic Street Preachers a good while before they got anywhere near being famous.

For they had played as a support act at a gig we put on at the Students’ Union.

This was in the year before I became Social Secretary, and so I had nothing to do with them being booked.

And I can’t pretend I was in slightest bit enamoured with them when they did play; I can’t put my finger on quite how I came to this opinion, but I was pretty sure that at least 50% of the four-piece band were miming.

A few months later, when I had taken up my elected post, I was told that we had the chance to book them again.

“Absolutely not”, I said. “They were awful last time they played here, and I can’t see them having got any better.”

Oh, how wrong can a man be.

The Entertainments Manager, who had the final say over who got booked and who did not, decided – rightly, wisely – to ignore my input.

And so, the Friday night they were booked to headline (I say headline, obviously my indie disco was the main draw) rolled around, and as the crew set up, I was charged with looking after the talent, and on this occasion this meant taking them to the college refectory for some food.

We queued with the rest of the students, the band fitting in pretty well to be fair, and then we sat, the four of them with their bordering-on inedable meals in front of them.

Richey noticed I didn’t have any food. “Why aren’t you eating?” he asked.

“Budget doesn’t extend to me, just you chaps,” I replied.

“Have you eaten today?” (I was a lot thinner then than I am these days, or he probably wouldn’t have asked.)

“No, I’ll get a bag of chips on the way home.”

He pushed his plate into the middle of the table.

“Here, have some of mine”, he said, and so it was that I shared a cheese salad with Richey Manic. (Sharing a Cheese Salad with Richey Manic so nearly ended up being the name of this blog.)

This in no way colours my reappraisel of them when they played that night, but everything clicked and fell into place, I suddenly got them. And if they had been miming the first time, they definitely weren’t miming now.

In the years after, when I was working in retail in Cardiff, I sold Nicky Wire the entire Echo & The Bunnymen back-catalogue, and James Dean Bradfield some athlete’s foot powder (in different shops, of course).

But I never again crossed paths with Richey, who went missing a few years later in 1995, never to be found again. He was pronounced “presumed dead” in 2008.

Motorcycle Emptiness remains their finest moment, but for my money this remains them at their most angry, visceral and magnificent. Lyrics all by Richey (I think!):

Manic Street Preachers – Motown Junk

More soon.

50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #28

I’ll be honest, this series is proving a lot harder to complete than I thought it would be.

The problem is, I think, that I set a target of 50, which I originally thought would be a doddle (OK, I thought it was a clever play on a Paul Simon song, which nobody seems to have got), but now, just after half-way through, I find myself scrabbling for subjects to include. But because I set that target, I can’t just let it tail off like I normally do, only to picked up like a discarded toy at some point in the future.

And so to today’s topic, not somebody that I particularly disliked at any point, but just somebody who never really crossed my radar when I was younger.

See, when I was a young ‘un my thirst for music was such that I snaffled up lots of classic artists, buying albums by the likes of Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Dusty Springfield etc etc etc.

But not this guy, despite one of his songs featuring prominently in one of my favourite films, Blue Velvet. I was just disinterested, for reasons I know not.

It wasn’t until he’d died that I finally connected, and I can pinpoint the moment precisely when his music suddenly meant something.

It’s circa 1992, and I was in a car with Daints and Louise; Daints had been the singer in the band I was in at college, Louise was (still is) his partner, and I was crashing on their sofa for a couple of weeks having secured a temporary job and moved back to Cardiff, but unable to move into my new house for a short time.

It was a really happy couple of weeks, for me anyway – they may have a different recollection and considered me to be a terrible imposition. They lived on Richmond Road in the Cathays area of Cardiff, the nearest pub (The George) was just a five minute walk away, and most nights (because we were young and could handle going to the boozer on a ‘school’ night) that’s where we would be. When we weren’t, Daints and I would sit up listening to The Smiths and eating Stilton cheese and crackers.

Good times.

I don’t remember where we were going or why, but I do remember, out of nothing, Louise suddenly started singing this song; Daints and I joined in and for a brief moment it was one of those sponteneous things which seem so much better at the time and with the benefit of hindsight than it does when I see it written down.

I’ve only ever experienced impromptu singing in a car twice in my life (but I’m no James Corden, thankfully): this time and on one other occasion, which maybe I’ll write about some other time when I’m struggling for something to write about.

Because there’s something magical about that moment, when somebody simply has to and does dare to sing, unprompted, and people join in.

And that’s how I view this record: magical. Even though Jeff Lynne glossily produced it to within an inch of it’s life.

Roy Orbison – You Got It

Go on, tell me you don’t feel better after listening to that, you ghoul.

More soon.

50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #27

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, because I’ve mentioned many times before that in my youth I misguidedly resisted any records which didn’t have any guitars on them.

Surely, there’s no finer example of this than rap.

In the late 80s/early 90s, when bands like Public Enemy and N.W.A. exploded onto the music scene, I was pretty much indifferent.

And then, many years later, when I finally got into the clubbing scene, I found a film which perfectly encapsulated what I had found and loved: Human Traffic.

Granted, much of the appeal of the film was that it was set in and around the nightlife of Cardiff, where I lived at the time, and used many locals in some of the scenes. Consequently, I felt an affinity with the film, because I knew the bars and clubs that the main protaganists visited, and recognised many of the people hovering in the background, or occasionally blessed with a speaking part.

And there’s one scene where main man Jip (played by John Simm) is driving to visit his mother, with a Public Enemy track playing – and my ears and brain finally got it.

This one:

Public Enemy – You’re Gonna Get Yours

Other than the Cardiff setting, and the utter tunes sprinkled liberally throughout the film, the thing I love the most about Human Traffic is a very young Danny Dyer’s performance, as small time dealer Moff, so here’s a selection of my favourite Dyer moments from the film (these are most definitely NSFW, by the way):

I know I’m preaching to the converted to some extent here, because if you were into clubbing in the late 80s/early 90s you’ll have seen this already. But if not, and you like the music from that era, go watch Human Traffic.

More soon.

50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #26

Whilst usually in this series – which I hadn’t forgotten about, honest! – I feature songs which I didn’t like, ignored or was dismissive of when I first heard them, today’s entry is included for a slightly different reason.

For despite being exactly the sort of band I would love, somehow Rilo Kiley – for it is them that I speak of – completely flew under my radar for several years.

In fact, I even bought Rabbit Fur Coat, the band’s main woman Jenny Lewis’ 2006 album with The Watson Twins, long before I was in any way conscious of Rilo Kiley’s existence.

And then, three or four years ago, today’s tune came on BBC 6Music, and my ears pricked up, partly because I recognised the voice but couldn’t place it, mostly because it’s such a great record.

When the DJ gave the band name after the record finished, and mentioned Lewis too, I couldn’t understand how this record wasn’t already in my life.

Shortly afterwards, I’d picked up their 2004 album More Adventurous, where this little beauty lives:

Rilo Kiley – Portions for Foxes

More soon.

50 Ways to Prove I’m Rubbish #25

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of an afternoon and evening in the company of my old mate Richie, conkers deep in all things Wedding Present.

For a start, we drove over to The Crouch End Picturehouse to watch Something Left Behind, the really rather wonderful documentary about the genesis of the band and the making of their still-great-after-all-these-years debut album George Best.

That was followed by a Q&A session with none other than Wedding Present main man David Lewis Gedge himself and the documentary’s director Andrew Jezard.

Then we hot-footed it over to Kentish Town to watch the band perform as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of their second album Bizarro.

But more of this another time, for what I know you’re all thinking is this: Jez, we all know that George Best came out in 1987 and that you were super cool by then and bought it straightaway, so what are you doing banging on about The Wedding Present here, in your series where you talk about your failures, the songs you didn’t appreciate at the time?

Good question.

Well as Richie and I stood supping our drinks, chatting and catching up, the interlude mixtape ringing in our ears, when today’s song came on.

“I love this record,” I said. “Hated it when it came out, mind.”

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?” Richie gently prodded.

“Probably,” I replied, “and if I do, then I’ll attribute to me anything amusing you might say about it now, of course.”

“But of course.”

Of course, today’s record also falls into that age-old category “it has no guitars on it” category, but I don’t think that’s the reason I failed to fall for it’s charms back then.

No: today’s record came out in May 1979, and I think I was probably just a bit too young to “get it”. I was 9 at the time, and frankly I was more interested in novelty pop records, Shakin’ Stevens and Boney M (I say that like they weren’t novelty pop acts) to be even remotely bothered with this.

At the time I was friends with a lad that I think must have moved away from the area shortly afterwards; certainly he didn’t go to the same secondary school as me and the rest my peers went to, and I never heard from him again.

His name was Steve Corrie, and for a summer holiday or two we spent our time riding around the local estate on our bikes. And when we weren’t doing that, he was telling me how amazing Gary Numan and Tubeway Army were, and I was looking at him blankly, utterly non-plussed.

A few years later, I had joined the ranks of Smash Hits readers; by now, apart from the odd duet with some bloke out of equally unfashionable Shakatak, the hits had dried up for Numan. He only got a mention in the pages of the Hits because he was a horrible Tory, who painted his face white, died his hair purple and wore purple lipstick, and had a pilot’s licence.

“He wasn’t even the most famous person with a pilot’s licence at the time; imagine being outdone by Noel Edmonds…!” Richie definitely didn’t say, he was too busy nodding sagely as I did.

Anyway, here’s the tune, and it is, to use what I believe is young person’s vernacular, an absolute banger:

Gary Numan & Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric?

Although it came along many, many years later, by which time my resistance had already thawed, this, an absolute staple of the last hour of a night out at Cardiff’s Cool House club night, definitely wore down any remaining barriers.

Tip: play this loud and, as the saying goes, dance like nobody’s looking:

Feel Alive – Pure Orange feat. Shane Nelson

Choon!

More soon.

50 Ways To Prove I’m Rubbish #24

Oh lawdy, The Cramps.

How on earth did I manage to avoid them for so long?

I was aware of them, sure, but for some reason I always associated them with wrong ‘uns, scary looking blokes with geometric-defying buzz-cut flat-tops and Meteors tee-shirts.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Wrong.

Did I mention I was wrong? Well, I was.

The penny finally dropped about ten years ago, when somebody – forgive me, I forget who – posted something by them and I clicked on the link.

And I had one of those Where have this lot been all my life? moments.

Answer: they were there, I just wasn’t paying attention.

I mean, how could I have resisted the charms of a song with this title (from their utterly brilliant 1991 Look Mom, No Head album)?:

The Cramps – I Wanna Get In Your Pants

Since I finally discovered them, I’ve bought a lot of their stuff; whenever something pops up on my iPod shuffle, my usual shitty mood is lifted, and I find myself with a big grin on my face.

There’s no finer testament, in my book.

More soon.