There’s Just One More Thing…

I mentioned last week that my old mate Rich was coming along to The Wedding Present gig last night, on his birthday.

Rich, as I’m sure I mentioned before, is the chap who properly got me into what we now rather endearingly call “indie” music; my brother had laid the foundations, but it was Rich who built on them.

I will never forget the time he played me The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”…

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The Smiths – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

…closely followed by Billy Bragg’s “The Man In The Iron Mask”

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Billy Bragg – The Man in the Iron Mask

…and then I think something by The Chesterfields, probably this:

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The Chesterfields – Nose Out of Joint

…followed up by Microdisney…

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Microdisney – Town to Town

…by which point I was smitten.

Last night, The Wedding Present played none of those songs, for what I hope are fairly obvious reasons, but they did play this, which I made sure Rich and I had a hug to on the line “You’re not like anyone I ever met”.

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The Wedding Present – A Million Miles

Now we’re all grown up and responsible, professionally, Rich is a teacher. To me, he’s always been one.

Happy (day after) Birthday mate. Love ya.

More soon.

I Am The Mouth

Shortly after I came up with the idea for what is now a hypothetical Indie night (just to recap: this was to play the songs by Indie acts which got forgotten in favour of more established dance floor fillers; indie music for the discerning palate, if you will) I  met up with my older brother.

We had a few drinks and discussed, first and foremost, music; we’re a long way down the road from when we were kids and we’d rather expose ourselves on the school bus than admit to liking the same music as our sibling.

In fact, for the past twenty five to thirty years or so, we’ve both given each other tips and nudges (and the occasional mp3 or burnt CD, which we later went on to purchase from a reputable dealer) about who we were listening to and who we thought the other would like.

Anyway, in this conversation, we started talking about bands who most people (and I don’t mean you, discerning reader, of course) hadn’t heard of, but who had obviously influenced an artist who was very much “of the moment”.

So I decided to extend the remit of the “I Am The Mouth” night (which has never happened) to include songs which had clearly made an impact on current acts.

And here are the two we were talking about. First, C86 stalwarts, The Shop Assistants:

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The Shop Assistants – Safety Net

and then, The Long Blondes:

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The Long Blondes – Once and Never Again

Hmmm. Now I listen to it again, that chord progression over the chorus reminds me of something else…

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The Smiths – I Want the One I Can’t Have

…which of course was borrowed for this Top Ten’er that I deftly avoided posting recently:

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The Housemartins – Happy Hour

More soon, don’t you know.

Claps, Clicks & Whistles #6

Just as I was heading to bed the other night, I performed my obligatory sweep of the TV channels to see if there was anything worth staying up for; I stumbled across “A Taste of Honey”, the film adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s play, starring Rita Tushingham and Dora Bryant. I wisely decided staying up to watch it all was not a good idea, so hit record closely followed by the sack.

As I drifted off into sleepy bye byes, at that annoying moment when your body is all ready to drift off but your brain suddenly thinks of something liable to keep you awake for some considerable time if not dealt with properly, I recalled that Delaney had featured as the cover star of a single by a band I adore. In fact, she also featured on the sleeve of an imported double compilation album by them too.

I would expect approximately 99.9% of you will know where I’m going with this already. The other 00.1%, listen up.

Today’s song formed part of a release which, it seems, led to the end of one of the greatest bands not just of the 1980s, but ever; a band whose legacy as an influence was not really appreciated by many until some 10-15 years after they split.

I speak, of course, of The Smiths.

August 1987, and The Smiths were about to release what would be their last album of original, studio-recorded material, “Strangeways, Here We Come”. But first, the lead single, “Girlfriend in a Coma”; the 12″ and, lest we forget, the cass-single formats heralded two tracks which were not to be included on the album.

The three tracks, “Girlfriend…”, “I Keep Mine Hidden” and “Work is a Four Letter Word” almost seem to compete against each other to see which can be over quickest, weighing in with timings of 2:04, 1:59 and 2:48 respectively. I don’t mean that they seem rushed, far from it. They just seem, well, short.

Brevity of course was a feature the band understood very well. Take “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” which is just 1:53 long. That song is, simply, perfection. Anyone who thinks that “Please, Please…” suffers because of its duration fails to understand that the finest moments in life don’t last for long; you must cherish them, savour them, for soon they will be gone.

But I digress. One of those extra tracks, “Work is a Four Letter Word”, is often cited as being the reason The Smiths split. In an interview with Record Collector in 1992, Johnny Marr said: “‘Work Is A Four Letter Word’ I hated. That was the last straw, really. I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs. That was it, really.”

The final two singles the band released (“I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”)  soon followed, and it has just occurred to me that the additional tracks on those releases were all different versions of already established favourites: the Troy Tate produced version of “Pretty Girls Make Graves”, Peel Sessions of “Rusholme Ruffians”, “Nowhere Fast” and “William, It Was Really Nothing”, a live version of “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” (containing an extra verse, axed from the album version) , a live cover of “What’s The World”, a song by James.

That’s because, I now realise, “Work is a Four Letter Word” was recorded in the same session as “I Keep Mine Hidden” and as such today’s choice is the last ever original composition recorded by The Smiths:

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The Smiths – I Keep Mine Hidden

The same 99.9% of you will know that the original vinyl releases of all (or if not all, most) of The Smiths records had a message etched into the run-out groove. The message on the B-Side of “Girlfriend in a Coma” reads: “And never more shall be so”.

In other words: Goodbye.

More soon.

Mummy’s Brave Little Soldier

Hello. Been a bit quiet around here lately, hasn’t it?

Sorry about that, been a bit under the weather all week. I’ll not bore you with the details, but last weekend I got struck down by what some might call flu, others might rather disparagingly call Man Flu, but which I’m going to call a really heavy cold (mostly to neatly side-step any unkind messages advising me to man up).

I battled on with normal life, spending the last week alternating between sitting at my desk at work, coughing with a veracity and vibrato that knocks Storm Doris’ efforts into a cocked hat, and my bed, pausing only to quaff a Lemsip or a Hot Toddy or two along the way. Frankly, sitting down and writing stuff here fell off my list of priorities.

Anyway, although I’m still not feeling 100%, hopefully normal service – and yes, that includes The Chain – will now be resumed.

In the meantime, allow me to wheel out one of my catchphrases. These records seem appropriate:

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Mudhoney – Touch Me, I’m Sick

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The Smiths – Still Ill

(I’ve always loved the harmonica part on that version.)

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Gene – Fighting Fit

More soon. No, really.

I Am The Mouth

So after a weekend that involved me posting nothing but Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz, Darts, Dire Straits and two other Mark Knopfler based tunes, I suppose I ought to drag this back round to something a little less mainstream.

Think about every time that you’ve been at, what for the purposes of this section we call an ‘Indie Disco’, and then think of the different songs by The Smiths that you’ve heard being played. “This Charming Man”, obviously. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” maybe. Occasionally “Hand in Glove”. “Panic” less frequently (DJ’s tend to get a bit nervous of playing that, given it’ “Hang the DJ” closing refrain). “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” often makes an appearance as an end-of-the-night dancefloor sing-a-long, signalling the fact that the lights are very much about to come on.

But today’s choice? Never, as far as I can remember, have I heard it played “out”, which given it has a shimmering extended funky disco-esque groove and a bassline that Nile Rodgers would be proud of, whilst still retaining it’s indelible Indie-ness, is a bit of a surprise.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I can think of one occasion when a DJ played it “out”, although I think you’d struggle to describe it as being at an ‘Indie Disco’.

This would have been around 1986, or maybe 1987, when I was at Sixth Form college studying for my ‘A’ Levels. Inexplicably, one afternoon my friend Richie and I are sitting in the Peterborough branch of McDonalds. This is inexplicable since Richie was definitely vegetarian at the time, and if I wasn’t one yet then I must have been very much on the cusp.

Possibly the reason we were in there was due to a second inexplicable fact: there was a DJ playing. Nobody famous, just some local Dave Doubledecks mobile DJ who had been hired in to provide something approaching atmosphere. I think we must have ventured in, intrigued and, more than likely, to take the piss.

We were definitely on our way somewhere, to a house party I think, as Richie had a plastic bag full of vinyl with him. As we sat there, the DJ, clearly bored with having to think of stuff to play all by himself, and possibly in a desperate attempt to alleviate his boredom by creating some sort of audience participation, went on to his microphone and boomed something along the lines of “If there’s a special record you want to hear whilst you eat, come on over and ask; as long as I have it, I’ll play it.”

We mischievously sidled over to him.

“Alright mate?” was my opening gambit of choice. “Play anything will you? Got any Smiths?”

“No, sorry mate” he replied.

At which point Richie stepped forwards, thrust a record into his hands and said “You have now. Title track please, it’s the last track on Side Two.”

Many of you will know that The Smiths only released four studio albums (compilations aside), and of those only two have title tracks: “The Queen is Dead” (and, similarly, you all know that the title song there is Track One, Side One) and the album that the DJ looked down to find he was now holding.

“You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?” he said, trying to off-load back to us the copy of “Meat is Murder” that he was suddenly, unwantedly, clutching. “I can’t play ‘Meat is Murder’ in a branch of McDonalds!”

“You just said you would!” I piped up. “‘As long as I have it, I’ll play it’. You just said it. And now you have it, so…if you don’t play it then I think you’ll find that technically that’s false advertising. Illegal. I’m sure the manager would be interested to hear about that, is he around….?” (I really was that much of an annoying, argumentative little git at that age. Some would argue that little has changed since.)

“Oh come on lads, don’t make me do this,” he pleaded, “I’ll either get fired or they’ll refuse to pay me….”

“You should have thought about that before you decided to take the corporate death machine’s dollar, matey,” Richie pitched in, in full Rik from The Young Ones mode.

“Look, how about I play the track before that, that’d be alright, yeah? A compromise?” It turned out to be a brilliant move by him; proving he knew today’s song and therefore probably the album too, it showed us that he was probably alright really: it saved his bacon’n’egg McMuffin.

And so it was that one Saturday afternoon in the late 1980s that Richie and I spent six and half minutes dancing to The Smiths in the Peterborough branch of McDonalds.

To this:

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The Smiths – Barbarism Begins at Home

Footnote: I mentioned this in passing to Richie a while ago. He had absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. I can’t have made it all up, can I….?

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Johnny Marr has just had his autobiography published. I don’t have a copy yet – I bought Morrissey’s, loved the first half, but found the whole read spoiled by the twenty-odd page rant about the Court case where he and Marr were ordered to pay drummer Mike Joyce a larger slice of the royalties – but it’s on my list of things I need to buy.

There was an interview with Marr in The Grauniad yesterday, an article which made me feel immensely happy and proud of the fact that The Smiths happily nestle atop my list of my favourite bands ever. I know I often say that I’m not wrong for liking one particular record or another and you’re not wrong for disagreeing, but The Smiths are the exception that proves the rule: if you don’t like them, you’re just plain wrong.

You can read the article here.

Buried within the interview, you’ll see it noted which is Marr’s favourite Smiths tune is. This one:

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The Smiths – Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

I don’t know how he can definitively state which his favourite song is: mine changes every time I hear one. Maybe it’s the one he’s most proud of.

There are other bands that I love, but who have released the occasional clunker, but not The Smiths; every song is an absolute gem, perfectly formed crystals of astounding Indie pop.

And, in case you’re wondering what my thoughts are on an (unlikely) band reunion, I hope they don’t do it. For a start, I can’t think of a single band who have reformed that have produced new material anywhere near the level that they did in their heyday.

I never got to see them play live when they were going, I was far too late to the box-bedroom party. The only part of me that wishes for a reunion to happen is on behalf of my old buddy, Richard, the man who got me into The Smiths, the man I met too late to introduce me to them earlier in their short existence, and who had a ticket to go and see them (at Brixton Academy, I think) but (again, if I remember correctly) Marr broke his arm, the gig was cancelled, and never rescheduled. So, for Richard, I hope they reform, play one gig, at which he is the guest of honour.

But for me, I’d rather their legacy remained as it is, thank you very much. Unblemished. Perfect.

More soon.

Classical Corner

Some culture for you all this morning, even if the inspiration for me posting it comes from a less than cultural place.

On Thursday night here in the UK, the latest series of The Apprentice started. There is a USA version too (it came first, naturally) which is hosted by some chap called Donald Trump. The UK show, however, doesn’t feature an idiotic, racist, sexist, homophobic, lying orange baboon. Were it to follow the absolute template of the US show, then it would be fronted by someone from UKIP, if they weren’t battering the heck out of each other at the European parliament. (By the way, if UKIP hates Europe so much, why do they have so may Euro MPs?)

But instead of either of those options, we have British businessman and former Chiarman of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur, Lord Alan Sugar, who a group of aspiring businesswomen and men compete to impress, for the chance to win a £250,000 investment into whatever their loathsome business idea is.

(Say what you like about the British political system, but at least the only button that Sugar’s finger will be hovering over in six month’s time is on an Amstrad Em@iler Plus)

Each week, the group are split into two teams and set a task; from the losing team at least one person is “fired” from the show (obliquely referred to as “The Process” by Lord Sugar and all others involved in it).

The challenge this week was to sift through a warehouse full of mostly old tut, but with some genuinely high value items and antiques in there too, sort what may be of value, then go and flog it for as much as possible.

I love The Apprentice, and always look forward to seeing this year’s candidates, who, I was delighted to find this week, are the usual mix of greedy, egotistical idiots. There are already several that wind me up, and I can’t wait to see them unravel and fail over the coming weeks.

Anyway, I said there was going to be some culture today, and here it is. The music played every week over the opening titles of The Apprentice is this, taken from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”. The movement in question is often referred to as “Montagues and Capulets” but is actually titled “Dance of the Knights”. It deserves to be played loudly:

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London Symphony Orchestra – Dance of the Knights

Indie pop kids of a certain age will know that The Smiths often used that as their walk on music, as can be heard here (just about) from the opening of their contract-fulfilling live album “Rank”:

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The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (live)

Of course, this is not the only time that Romeo and Juliet have been referenced in pop music (don’t worry, I’m not going to post Dire Straits’ “Romeo & Juliet” again). I’m thinking here of the mention of Montagues and Capulets in the Arctic Monkeys break-through hit from 2005 (really?? That was eleven years ago????), “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”. Here’s the video, which I’m posting instead of the song because a) I imagine you all know and own it already, and b) I love the moment drummer Matt Helders performs the backing vocals before delivering a pleased-as-punch wink to the camera:

Such a great record, that.

More soon.