Late Night Stargazing

I see Primal Scream have announced a tour where they will play two sets; one: a greatest hits set, and two: where they will play their iconic and ground-breaking Screamadelica album in it’s entirety, as it reaches it’s 30the anniversary.

They say as you get older, time seems to pass more quickly; not a view I’ve ever subscribed to until I found myself thinking: “What again??” at the aforementioned news, as it seems like just a couple of years ago that Hel and I went see them play exactly the same set at Olympia to mark the imminent 20th anniversary of the very same album. And that, the internet gleefully tells me, was in November 2010, the night so successful that the band set off on a full tour doing more of the same the following year.

There will be differences this time round, of course: for a start, bassist Mani quit the band at the end of that tour, to rejoin his previous band The Stone Roses, who were set to reform. I wonder how that went…

The other way will be that when Hel and I went we were treated to DJ sets by Andrew Weatherall, at the start of the night and in between the greatest hits and album sets. He won’t be there for a much sadder, and more irreversible, reason than Mani.

Anyway, on Friday night, partly to mark this latest milestone, and partly because they had just played this weekend’s Isle of Wight Festival which they were showing “live” footage from, Sky Arts showed the Classic Albums documentary about the making of Screamadelica.

I’ve seen it before, but it’s a really great little programme, including interviews of all the main players, and plenty of never-seen-before footage of the band at the time.

The key moment is, of course, when the band give tonight’s song to Weatherall and ask him to remix it for them. Weatherall recalls how he tried six or seven times, couldn’t get it right, and that lead Screamer Bobby Gillespie had turned his nose up at them when he played them back to him.

Sensing that perhaps Weatherall was perhaps being a little too respectful of the original song, Gillespie reportedly said “Nah, man, smash it the fuck up, do what you want to it.”

And so Loaded was born.

But you all know that – and doubtless all know this too: the song which became Loaded:

Primal Scream – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have

That song had actually first appeared on the band’s 1989 eponymously named album, and is the stand out track amongst a load of much more rock’n’roll tunes. And it’s a song which always brings back happy memories for me too.

For back in 1989, I had begun my tenure as resident indie DJ at Uni, taking over the not particularly coveted fortnightly Tuesday night slot with my mate Danny; neither of us had any DJ’ing experience and we basically hustled and hassled the Entertainments Manager until he let us have a go.

Doors would open at 7:30, but we rarely saw anybody come in for at least another hour, still fewer would venture onto the dancefloor, no matter what we threw at them. The few that did attend, would sit in the shadows, quaffing their pints of snakebite and black and looking nervous about venturing out on to the dancefloor in case they had not picked a cool tune to cut a rug to. I’ll be honest, the night was dying on its arse until we got lucky and the phenomenon Madchester struck.

But anyway, one night, quite early on, two girls approached the DJ booth. They were called Sian (a Welsh girl) and Joan (an Irish girl) and they would, every fortnight from then on, come and ask me to play this record before it got, as they laughably described it, “too busy”.

“If you’ll dance, I’ll play it,” I told them, which seems a lot sleazier writing it as an almost 52-year old than it did saying it way back then.

“Deal.”

And so it became, in my head, Sian and Joan’s tune. And it got to the point where I would keep an eye out for them, wait until they had arrived, bought some drinks and got settled; then I would play it without them having to ask. And at the end of the record, as they made their way back off the dancefloor to their unguarded drinks, one of them would always turn and wave at us, or occasionally shout “Thank you!”, like they were getting off a bus.

Know your audience.

The following year, Joan became the first ever female DJ to regularly play at the Uni. And I know this because I gave her the job and trained her, a glass ceiling I remain immensely proud to this day that I helped her smash.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Time to feel old again.

On Thursday, it was twenty five years since R.E.M. released what is arguably their last truly great album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi (or, as one of my mate Martin’s mates inadvertently and innocently used to pronounce it: New Adventures in Hee-Fee).

Recorded during the band’s 1995 Monster tour, it proved to be the final album to feature the original line-up, with drummer Bill Berry departing shortly afterwards. Funny how collapsing on stage with a brain aneurysm can effect people.

Here’s bass player Mike Mills in an interview with Mojo magazine:

“We got into the studio feeling very happy and relieved that everyone was okay, especially Bill. It brought us all much closer and made us realize how important we are to each other. Once we’d been through a crisis like that, making a record was a piece of cake. We discussed making an album of on-the-road stuff a year and a half before we went on the Monster tour. We wanted to get some of the looseness and spontaneity of a soundcheck, live show or dressing room. We used all the good songs. ‘Revolution’ – a song we did live – didn’t make it onto this record, just like it didn’t make it onto Monster… It usually takes a good few years for me to decide where an album stands in the pantheon of recorded work we’ve done. This one may be third behind Murmur and Automatic for the People.”

Many of the elements which we had come to expect were all here: down-beat lead single (E-Bow The Letter)? Check. Cool rock star celebrity guest appearance (Patti Smith)? Check. Seemingly pointless short instrumental (Zither)? Check. Absolute swoonsome beauty, drenched in feedback, sandwiched between two rockier/poppier numbers? Check.

This one:

R.E.M. – Be Mine

As is the record industry norm, a 25th anniversary edition is scheduled for release in October. Genuinely excited about this one.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

I’ve written before – here and here – about my love of a spontaneous car-journey sing-a-long. It had bothered me, though, that I couldn’t recall a single example of this joyous, bonding experience ever making an appearance in a film or TV series.

Doubtless you’re all muttering moments under your breath right now, and you’re right, I had completely forgotten about one such sequence in a film, which I haven’t watched in donkey’s years, but happened to watch the other day, when it cropped up on one of the movie channels I subscribe to.

I speak, of course, of Cameron Crowe’s 2000 masterpiece Almost Famous, which tells the story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s, his touring with the fictitious rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published.

Anyway, here’s the clip:

Were he still around, then Llŷr and I would have raised bottles of beer to our mouths to hide the fact we didn’t know all the words many times throughout that, all the time giggling and giving each other knowing looks.

It’s not the first, nor the most recent, time the song has cropped up in a film. Perhaps less surprisingly, it features in the rather wonderful Rocketman, a film I wanted to hate (I’ll explain why some other time) but which I actually think is, as they say in the land of the luvvies, an absolute triumph (dahling!):

Taron Egerton – Tiny Dancer

(For ages now, I’ve been meaning to write a post comparing Rocketman with the other biopic that came out around the same time, Bohemian Rhapsody. I’ll get round to it eventually, y’know, like I keep saying about the next episode of The Chain…)

And here’s the song itself, from Elton’s 1971 album Madman Across The Water; unbelievably, this never got released as a single in the UK (before the pedants leave comments: not until 2015, when it managed to reach #70 in the charts):

Elton John – Tiny Dancer

And not a mention of mondegreen Tony Danza in sight.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

I think I’ve mentioned before that in an old shared household I used to live in, Friday night would often be spent sitting around, playing records, drinking, chewing the fat, smoking the more than occasional doobie (as I believe “the kids” stopped referring to it at least 30 years ago) and, ultimately, proceeding/denigrating (delete as applicable) into a drunken sing-song at the end of the night.

We all knew when one of us decided the night was over; pop one of three or four records on and the message was clear: I’ve had enough and I need my bed.

Hel and I had a clutch of tunes which we had to hear (and bawl along to) before we staggered up the wooden hill to bed, but it’s funny thinking about it now that there was no cross-over, no Venn diagram – the same songs didn’t crop up on both “must hear” lists, no matter how much I tried to educate her. (Tongue placed firmly in cheek, there.)

Anyway, in the old house, this was one of those songs we simply had to hear and sing-a-long to, even if, as it transpires, I was getting a good chunk of the words wrong, and whenever I hear it – this version, not the George Jones version, mind – I’m transported back to those nights with – even though I am no longer on speaking terms with any of the other people involved – a certain degree of fondness:

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Good Year For The Roses

There’s a line in that which I’m pretty sure Gary “Boss-Eyed” Barlow *ahem* appropriated (nicked) when he wrote this:

Take That – Back For Good

Did you spot it, dear reader?

Go on, admit it. That’s still pretty great, isn’t it? Even if a bit of the lyric is stolen, like some tax money stowed away in an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.

I’m nothing if not up-to-date with my targets.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Watching Radiohead’s headliner set from Glastonbury 1997 on Friday night, I was reminded of just how wonderful this song is:

Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)

I was also reminded of the video:

…bits of which I always thought were ripped off (towards the end) on this video:

R.E.M. – Electrolite

And here, finally, is Michael Stipe dropping a bon mot and a clanging name-drop when explaining part of the lyric on an edition of VH1 Storytellers:

Michael Stipe – Explaining Electrolite

I know, annoying I cut it there, right?

More soon (I promise, R.E.M. won’t feature).

Late Night Stargazing

Continuing a watery theme from yesterday morning….

After the football on Friday night – i.e. just when I needed it – BBC4 aired an hour of R.E.M. live at the BBC.

If you can ignore the fact that it jumped from second album Reckoning‘s Pretty Persuasion to sixth album Green‘s Pop Song ’89 it was a reasonably career- encompassing show.

The highlight for me was a performance of Nightswimming, lifted from an edition of Later…with Jools Holland; to the best of my knowledge this has never seen a commercial release (and I’m sure The Robster will correct me if I’m wrong). It certainly doesn’t appear on the R.E.M. – Live at the BBC album which came out a couple of years ago..

And so here it is, just Stipe’s unmistakable vocal, Mike Mills on piano, and I think something that’s supposed to sound like a cor anglais parping along beautifully. Thankfully Jools doesn’t rock up with his trademark boogie-woogie piano:

R.E.M. – Nightswimming (Later… with Jools Holland 14 October 2003)

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

1986, and Norwegian pop dreamboats a-ha released a remixed version of the title track and fourth (or fifth if you count Take On Me twice, since it flopped on its first release) and final single from their debut album, Hunting High and Low.

I had bought the re-released Take on Me on 7″ single (partly, admittedly, swept up by the magnificence of the ground-breaking video), didn’t buy but loved their only UK #1, The Sun Always Shines on TV, wasn’t particularly fussed about Train of Thought, but on hearing Hunting High… I was inspired to go and buy the album.

It’s a song which is all too often over-looked in favour of Take on Me (because of that video) and The Sun Always Shines… (because it was #1), which is a shame, I think, because, as I will say at least another two times before the end of this post, it’s just lovely.

Locked away in a part of my brain I have yet to recall the security code for, there is a memory of me – briefly – wearing, or at the very least considering wearing, leather laces as bangles, in the somewhat desperate hope it might make me look a bit like lead singer, Morten Harket, and therefore irresistible to members of the opposite sex. I don’t think I actually went through with it, but there’s enough doubt in my mind, and enough recognition of the daft lengths I would go to (try to) achieve the same goal when I was a teenager, to make me think I may well have done.

A case in point: at around the same time as a-ha were becoming famous, I went on a camping and canoeing trip to Norway, organised by my school. (To be clear, we did not canoe to Norway.) I knew very little about Norway, except I’d heard it was largely inhabited by blonde, blue-eyed beauties. And so I decided that what I needed to do was dye my hair blond, because that was clearly what Norwegian girls wanted from their overseas visitors: more of the same.

A friend and I duly purchased a bottle of Sun-In hair dye; we read the instructions, applied the lotion, rinsed and then…decided it hadn’t worked and did it again. And again. And then once more for good measure. So that by the time we boarded the ferry taking us to Norway, I was not the mousy brown-haired teenager I normally was, but neither was I the blonde sex god I had hoped for. No, my hair was a kind of muddy orangey red, and I looked as gorgeous as that sounds.

The female half of Norway was not in the slightest bit interested, needles to say.

Anyway, despite this traumatic memory, whenever I hear this song, it still makes me go “Ahhhh….” in the same way as it did when I first heard it, because it’s just lovely:

a-ha – Hunting High And Low (7′ Remix)

See? Just lovely.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Back when I was a kid, attending the school disco was a big event, although it would always, inevitably, end in disappointment.

For after several hours of bopping around to the latest pop sensations, suddenly things became very serious when things got slowed down for the last couple of records. For this was the moment where you were supposed to ask a girl to dance, but I never did.

No, I was one of those wallflowers, pressed terrified against the wall, unable to pluck up the courage to go and ask someone to dance for fear of rejection; forced to stand and watch as all of my mates grabbed a girl, led them onto the dancefloor and spent the next three and a half minutes trying to thrust their tongue down their throats whilst grinding their groin in a misplaced display of attraction.

At the time, this – purely because of its tempo, I think – was an often played song which graced what we called dismissively/jealously referred to as “The Erection Section”, although listening to it now the lyrics don’t seem to be on an entirely appropriate topic.

But Elkie’s voice…although she doesn’t properly let her vocal chords rip here (check out some of the records she made with Robert Palmer of all people under the moniker Vinegar Joe; she was the UK’s Janice Joplin, except she missed out the bit where she accidentally took too much heroin and was elevated to superstar status), anyone who can make we voluntarily listen to a Chris Rea composition (which this is) more than once must have something about them, which Elkie surely did:

Elkie Brooks – Fool If You Think It’s Over

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

There will be a more involved post appearing about her soonish, but I couldn’t resist posting this bit of…well I guess you’d call it Dream Pop, by the gorgeous, sassy, funny, and all-round brilliant Charlotte Church.

Lifted from her 2013 EP “Two” – g’wan, guess how many EP’s she’d released before this – this starts off all Cocteau Twins before descending into what I like to call a glorious cacophony of noise:

Charlotte Church – Lasts, or Eschaton

More soon.