Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another Sunny Day on Caff

Bob Stanley released singles from a few of my indie heroes, and here is one of the biggest of that bunch. From 1988 to 1990, as Another Sunny Day, Harvey Williams produced some of the best singles Sarah Records ever released. During this prolific period, Caff put out this one-off 7" of early demos... and covers at that. Here's a portion of what Mr. Stanley had to say in the insert:

...[H]ere's another archive goodie, this time from Penzance's titan of teen pop, Harvey "Festive" Williams (as he was known in his baseball days). Both "tracks" were "cut" on a now deceased portastudio Stamfordbrook, W. London. 'Gen Eng' was a 1983 single by OMD which appeared later that year on their seminal 'Dazzle Ships' album. Says Harvey: "That LP was a perfect combination of submarine noises, anguished vocals, thrashed guitars and Czechoslovenke radio. I accept no substitute." 'Kilburn Towers' meanwhile is from a 1968 Bee Gees LP called 'Idea'. Over to Festive: "'Kilburn Towers' is a typical, beautiful late sixties Bee Gees ballad. Strings and mellotron to the fore, atmos melody, Barry's chestwig. Without the Bee Gees I could not live." Until the Spring has sprung, Bob

Thought for the day from Ronnie Corbett: "Jesus sounds remarkably like cheeses."

There are three of these 7" singles from Another Sunny Day available on Discogs, ranging from about $64 to $114. Both of these songs are also available as bonus tracks on the Cherry Red reissue of 'London Weekend,' one of my favorite albums from the era. Without further adieu, here's CAFF 7, the label's first release of 1990.

Another Sunny Day - Genetic Engineering
Another Sunny Day - Kilburn Towers

Saturday, August 23, 2014

New Songs From the June Brides

It was a banner day when I got this news in my inbox yesterday. The followup to the brilliant single "A January Moon," from the reunited June Brides, will be out in September. As before, the "She Seems Quite Free" EP is a joint 7" between Occultation Recordings in the United Kingdom and Slumberland Records in America.

Below you'll find our first listen to one of the three tracks. "Being There" and "She Seems Quite Free" are penned by Phil Wilson, and guitarist Simon Beesley concludes the trio with "I'm Undone." In case you're late to the party, original members Frank Sweeney and Jon Hunter round out the classic lineup. Did you ever think you would hear that trumpet again? Wonderful. On drums this time is Steve Beswick. He played with the Wild Swans on 'The Coldest Winter For a Hundred Years," truly one of the best albums of this or any decade. Arash Torabi is on bass. Fans of Phil Wilson's 2010 solo album 'God Bless Jim Kennedy' will remember his name.

If you pick up this 7" from one of the aforementioned labels, gifts abound, including a special full-color insert and badge. So, you know what to do. Enough of me, already. Please listen. "Everything changes... as love rearranges us all." Interesting words, Mr. Wilson.

Update: I'm rubbing my eyes in disbelief. The band has shared another song. Here's "She Seems Quite Free."

And Yet Another Update: It's a trifecta! Here is Mr. Beesley's "I'm Undone." Now we can hear the entire EP.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Orchids on Caff

Clearly, Bob Stanley was a strong supporter of Sarah Records. As a music writer, he championed the label on paper. Check out his review of 'Lyceum.' As the head of Caff Corporation, he released three one-off singles plucked from Sarah's talented stable. When you consider there were only 17 singles on Caff, three is a pretty hefty number. CAFF 11 comes from the Orchids, and this 7" was released when the Scottish band was at the top its game. It was September of 1990. 'Lyceum' had been out for about a year, and the fantastic single "Something for the Longing" had hit the shelves about six months earlier. I didn't realize until many years later, when 'Lyceum' was reissued by LTM in 2005 with this single as part of the bonus tracks, that "An Ill Wind That Blows" and its flip side were actually demos that the band recorded in 1987. Even though the Orchids was in its infancy, just that it wasn't evident these were early rudimentary recordings are a testament to the quality. Sarah always had a reputation as music for sad sacks. "An Ill Wind That Blows" certainly feeds into that label, but I think it's wonderful.

As I write this, there are three copies of "An Ill Wind That Blows" on Discogs... ranging between $40 and $100. If that's too rich for your blood, the 'Lyceum' reissue is still in print.

The Orchids - An Ill Wind That Blows
The Orchids - All Those Things

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Claim on Caff

Do you remember Jon Favreau's 'Dinner For Five' that used to be on IFC? If I ever hosted a program like that, one of my first guests would be Bob Stanley. One of the myriad of reasons why I would have no audience, however, is that I'm not sure I would even ask him about Saint Etienne. He's a first-rate writer and chronicler of music, and he is known to have an incredible vinyl collection. How could I possibly get around to the importance of 'Fox Base Alpha' during the 30 minutes... including commercials? I'm sure I would be able to hear everyone's remote controls click as I stare at Stanley with starry eyes and spend an entire segment asking him about his days running Caff Records while the other guests pick at their food and curse their agents under their breaths.

For the next few posts, I thought it might be fun to listen to a few songs from the legendary label. Caff's run was quite short, from 1989 until 1992, but the 17 one-off releases, all on 7" and limited to 500 copies each, have certainly left a mark. A quick look at ebay shows prices range from $30 to $130 for one of these pieces of vinyl. Perhaps singles by Manic Street Preachers and Pulp will be the ones the masses will remember most, but those aren't the ones that first pop into my mind.

Let's start with CAFF 8. Ah, the Claim. Here's a bit of what Stanley had to say about the lads. I lifted this from the liner notes to 'Black Path,' the band's retrospective put out by Rev-Ola in 1995: "The Claim: hopelessly obscure but with enough melodic clout, character and charm not to let it worry them unduly. It's very English, not in a whimsical 'village green' way but in a kitchen sink, fish and chips way... Until this urgent, honest, heart-warming pop becomes fashionable again, the Claim will have an audience limited to those who can appreciate good music without any hype, dogtags or slogans."

More because of geography than anything else, the Claim are often compared to the Dentists, but I have always heard more of the band's love for the Jam (not as much on this single, however) and their heroes the Jasmine Minks. While you give this a listen, read a recent piece Stanley wrote for the Guardian that every record collector is sure to enjoy.

The Claim - Birth of a Teenager
The Claim - Mike the Bike (featuring Vic Templar)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Early Takes From the Bluebells Answer the Bell

The liner notes to the just released 'Exile on Twee Street,' a collection of early recordings made before the band signed with London Records, is an extended Q&A with band members. The closing question gets to the meat of the matter. "Some of the songs were later reworked on London with a proper recording budget. How do you think these early prototypes compare with the 'proper' versions which followed?" Lawrence Donegan nailed it with his succinct reply: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that the demos are always better than the 'proper' recordings."

Unlike the usual odds-and-sods packages that seem to be just for die-hard fans, these 20 tracks could actually win a legion of new listeners. For those who were always confused about why "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" was slated to be 81-12 on the list of releases from Postcard Records, three minutes into this album it becomes crystal clear what Alan Horne heard back then. The lo-fi sound really suits Bobby Bluebell and the lads, and there is no way with this lot you could associate them with the "wimpy" label they would become saddled with a very short time later. In fact, you can really hear the influence of Edwyn Collins and his crew on some of these recordings, and the Bluebells go into great detail in the liner notes about how Orange Juice helped them on and off the stage during this period.

I assumed I would enjoy these first stabs at the songs I already knew, such as "Some Sweet Day," "Happy Birthday" and "Forevermore," but the real surprises were with the songs I never knew existed before 'Exile on Twee Street.' Cheers to Cherry Red for releasing these gems and putting to rest why it was the Bluebells were such an integral part of the Glasgow scene during the city's most exciting period for music. This one is sure to show up near the top of my year-end list of best reissues.

For the benefit of American readers, order this one on the UK version of Amazon. I know it saved me a ton of dough.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When the Posies Backed Big Star

Earlier this week, Swiss Adam at Bagging Area had a post about the Posies that instantly took me back to the summer of 1993. I'm constantly blogging about that time in my life because I had the good fortune of working at a record store then, and it really was as wonderful a job as you may have imagined. Anyway, there were a dozen or so new releases that summer my peers and I took a shine to and seemed to spin at the shop daily. One of them was a live Big Star reunion of sorts called 'Columbia.' Here's how Karen Shook summed up the show in the liner notes:

You know, it never hurts to ask. With all that in mind, a college radio station in Columbia, Missouri, asked Alex Chilton a simple question and got a minor miracle in return. And so a few weeks later, at KCOU's behest, there we all were under a big striped tent and the spring sun. Alex, Jody Stephens, the Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer as delighted hired hands, and a few hundred people who have loved Big Star so long and so fiercely that even 20 years' worth of the record industry hasn't succeeded in erasing its memory. What was it like? I stop making sense when I try to talk about it. We waited, and watched, and pinched ourselves. And when those chiming guitar chords, those shiny choruses appeared like they'd never been away, I wouldn't have traded places with God. They plated some pop songs, I guess, and we sang along. And as Jody beamed out from behind the kit and the Posies played their hearts out, I thought I saw Alex Chilton listening to his past and smiling.

The late music critic Robert Palmer had a chance to dig a little deeper with Stephens and Chilton about the April 25, 1993, show. Here is a condensed version:

Stephens got the initial call from the student organizers of the University of Missouri's annual Springfest, asking whether he'd consider doing a Big Star set if Alex agreed. He says he "didn't want to be the first to say no." To everyone's surprise, Chilton didn't say no either, despite the fact that he has scrupulously avoided trading on the Big Star name for almost two decades. [He did tell his callers, "You don't have much money, but hey, cool, I'm not doing anything that day."]

It was Stephens who drafted Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to round out the new Big Star lineup. Jody credits Stringfellow and Auer with "balancing out Alex the way Chris did. And there were some cliffhanging moments when their playing brought the music around again." Together, the revitalized Big Star made music that sounds so right-on-time, it almost comes as a shock when you recall that these songs were first recorded 20 years ago.

The further adventures of Big Star may never mean more to Alex than any other stop on his lifetime musical odyssey; if they did, he wouldn't be Alex Chilton. But it's evident that the melodic contours and deeply felt existential shorthand of his best Big Star songs still speak to his soul. He sings them as if his life depended on it, particularly "The Ballad of El Goodo," which might be more relevant to his state of mind now than when he wrote it, and his classic astrological torch song "September Gurls." "Hearing Alex's performances reminds you what a great creative player he is," adds Stephens. "Stuff he does off the cuff has more emotional and musical content than most people get from sweating out a part for days."

Even Alex Chilton's celebrated cool begins to warm up a bit when he talks about the concert and this album. "I thought we got a good, screamin' thing going," he says. "It was loose as a goose, and it rocked more than it did the first time around. I was pleased. I mean, there's no point going on-stage and sucking."

As Swiss Adam mentioned, the Posies are one of the power-pop greats, and "Solar Sister" is one of my favorites of that genre, but I will always think of Stringfellow and Auer first as the duo that helped bring Stephens and Chilton together again. Here are four from 'Columbia.' Stephens takes lead vocals on "Way Out West." That's Auer on Chris Bell's solo effort "I Am the Cosmos." (Now there's an album that deserves its own post!) Stringfellow takes his turn on "Back of a Car." Finally, that's Chilton on "The Ballad of El Goodo." To those few under the tent in Columbia that day, I will be forever envious. And thanks for the inspiration, Adam. I had nothing tonight.

Big Star - I Am the Cosmos (Live)
Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (Live)
Big Star - Back of a Car (Live)
Big Star - Way Out West (Live)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lounge in the Living Room

Let's go straight to the disclaimer: This is most certainly the worst sounding official release in my entire collection. So much so, in fact, I have held off posting about Creation's first full-length LP for several years. It says right on the cover to "Pay No More Than £2.99" for a reason. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, seeing bands like the June Brides or the Pastels at Alan McGee's Tottenham Court Road club would be a top time machine moment for this fella. Here's what Mr. McGee had to say about those days:

Between August 1983 and February 1984 The Living Room was where it happened in London... From that first sweaty night with The Nightingales until the Police Raid at The Personalities gig in February, The Living Room stood for something, most importantly something different to each individual... To this Lost Soul The Living Room meant a place I could go... Nothing to do with Trends, Fashions, Haircuts or Clothes... Jasmine Minks, Three Johns, The Loft or The Legend! all Brilliant all different... Nothing to do with any Cult or Fashion... If you are the type of person that needs deep meanings then ponder on this one... The Living Room meant more in its WC1 residency than Bono Vox, Ian McCullough, Jim Kerr, Kirk Brandon, Ian Page or Jimmy Pursey ever will... But what does it all mean you ask?... Better ask The Legend! that one... -- The Crapachinno Kid...

How about a handful from CRE LP 001, 'Alive in the Living Room,' warts and all? As McGee mentioned, the selection from Television Personalities " cut short due to a police raid on the club." It may not sound great, but "Three Wishes" makes for a very memorable album (and club) closer.

Jasmine Minks - Seven and Seven Is (Live)
The June Brides - I Fall (Live)
The Loft - Your Door Shines Like Gold (Live)
Television Personalities - Three Wishes (Live)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Treat

Well, it's a matter of taste, and I don't mean the ice cream. This single from 1982 came to us via Stiff Records. Pookiesnackenburger was known more as a musical-comedy troupe than a conventional band. After the band's demise, a couple of the fellas started a dance-percussion-theater production known as 'Stomp.' Yes, that 'Stomp.' So, you don't have to feel bad about this song missing the charts. I'm dedicating this one to Dirk. He's learning all about Cornettos this week.

Pookiesnackenburger - Just One Cornetto

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Melancholy

There is almost no finer specimen than the catchy summer song. You just can't help but nod your head, tap your toes and wear a big grin. It makes you feel like a warm breeze... light and airy. It's as if your cares have blown away in copious amounts of hand claps and layered harmonies... for three minutes, anyway. What could be better? Well, for this grump, the best summer songs sound innocent enough, but the lyrics don't quite have that same sunny disposition. Heartbreak doesn't wait for the calendar to turn to September. Here are a few favorites:

Wait a minute. I'm not supposed to be TOO happy.
Elvis Costello - The Other Side of Summer (from 'Mighty Like a Rose')
"The sun struggles up another beautiful day
And I felt glad in my own suspicious way
Despite the contradiction and confusion
Felt tragic without reason
There's malice and there's magic in every season"

It's the cough in the second verse that makes this song perfect.
The Velvet Underground - Who Loves the Sun (from 'Loaded')
"Who loves the sun?
Who cares that it makes plants grow?
Who cares what it does
Since you broke my heart?"

Finally, a glimmer of hope.
The Chamber Strings - Make It Through the Summer (from 'Month of Sundays')
"If I can make it to September, I'm gonna tell her that I love her."

The forecast appears to be more of the same for tomorrow.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Remembering Ramones

Not to be too dramatic, but I seem to be taking the death of Tommy Ramone harder than I would have expected. I think it's the finality of it all. He was the last of the original Ramones. Even though the fellas were a generation ahead of me in age, the demise of the band has me realizing life is flying by, and the 20 years they had on me are going to pass in the blink of an eye.

Why would Ramones, of all bands, produce such a melancholy mood? Probably because, as I mentioned to Dirk at sexyloser earlier today, my first-ever album purchases using my own dough were 'Ramones' and 'Rocket to Russia,' and I have never forgotten that feeling of excitement as I walked out of the shop with those two records under my arm. It was the summer of 1982. After collecting some cash on my paper route, my junior-high pal Matt, with his mother driving, picked me up for a trip to the mall. I had recently seen 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' on cable, and it seemed like 'Citizen Kane' to me. I snatched up these two albums from the bins of JR's Music in Pekin, Ill., and took them to the counter. They were $6.49 each. With tax, I was going to be a little short, less than a dollar, and my friend's mother came through with some change at the bottom of her purse. How could that have been 32 years ago?

That was the summer of Ramones. Much to the horror of my parents, this twelve year old was screaming along to songs about DDT, lobotomies, sniffing glue and a daddy liking men. Hey, that's what kids do, and I fully expect to be on the other end with my children in a few more years. They're pretty scratchy now, but I still have these vintage pieces of vinyl. Here's one from my copy of 'Rocket to Russia.'

Thank you, Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey and, yes, Tommy. You boys lit a wick under me that still burns brightly. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Ramones - Teenage Lobotomy

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

He's My Rushmore

I'm finally going to see 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' tonight. It's the first film from Wes Anderson I missed seeing on the big screen, and I'm just sick about it. If you happen to be the person who read this blog in 2009 (OK, maybe there were two of you), then you know I did an entire week on the soundtracks to Anderson's movies as a walk up to the release of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' The following is a digest of that fine work. (I don't mean mine.) It makes for a fine little mix.

I should probably have a song by the Rolling Stones here. The band's music appeared in every film through 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' For the longest time, Anderson could use the Stones' music in his films, but he wasn't allowed to include their songs on the soundtrack. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In 2009, Anderson signed on with the band's original label, and Abkco finally allowed the Rolling Stones on an Anderson soundtrack. Now that's a fan!

I especially admire the work found on the early soundtracks. Mark Mothersbaugh created the original scores back then, and I find his pieces to be charming and quirky... just what you would expect from a member of Devo. Having said that, if you're going to replace Mothersbaugh, you can hardly go wrong with Alexandre Desplat, as all of his Academy Award nominations will attest. His music has really grown on me. Check out a couple of my favorites from these geniuses at the bottom of the post.

Do you have a favorite Anderson film, or do you find his work over the top and the attention to detail just a little too much? Whatever your opinion, I hope we can agree the use of music in his films has been spot on. Just the fact that all but 'Bottle Rocket' are still in print, when most soundtracks disappear in a flash, is quite a testament in itself.

Love - Alone Again Or (from 'Bottle Rocket')
Creation - Making Time (from 'Rushmore')
Nico - These Days (from 'The Royal Tenenbaums')
Devo - Gut Feeling (from 'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou')
The Kinks - This Time Tomorrow (from 'The Darjeeling Limited')
The Bobby Fuller Four - Let Her Dance (from 'Fantastic Mr. Fox')
Françoise Hardy - Le Temps De l'Amour (from 'Moonrise Kingdom')

Mark Mothersbaugh - Hardest Geometry Problem in the World (from 'Rushmore')
Alexandre Desplat - Mr. Fox in the Fields (from 'Fantastic Mr. Fox')

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Could This Be When the Bluebells Bloomed?

If you like your '80s indie pop straight outta Scotland, and I know I certainly do, this is terrific news. The Bluebells' much sought after pre-London Records material has been collected by Cherry Red and will be released July 28 as 'Exile on Twee Street: Songs From Glasgow 1980-1982.' All but one of the 20 tracks are said to be previously unreleased. The exception is the flexidisc version of "Happy Birthday" that was on the excellent 'Scared to Get Happy' box set last year. I have always liked the rerecorded take found on the flip side of the "Sugar Bridge (It Will Stand)" 12" in '83, but the flexidisc version turned out to superior in just about every way. Point is, I'm hopeful early recordings of songs like "Wishful Thinking" and "Tender Mercy" will be gems too. Hey, it was certainly true of Friends Again's output on Moonboot Records.

While we count the days to this release, let's listen to one of my favorites from 1982. To be clear, this is not the version that opens 'Sisters,' the band's full-length album from 1984. If you only know that one, you're in for a treat.

The Bluebells - Everybody's Somebody's Fool

'Exile on Twee Street: Songs From Glasgow 1980-1982' Tracklist:
1. Everybody's Somebody's Fool
2. Some Sweet Day
3. Happy Birthday
4. No One Ever Waves Goodbye
5. One Last Love Song
6. Wishful Thinking
7. Oh Dear
8. You're Gonna Miss Me
9. East Green
10. Red Guitars
11. Sugar Bridge
12. Forevermore
13. Holland
14. Honest John
15. Stand Up Cowboy
16. Small Town Martyr
17. Learn to Love
18. All the King's Horses
19. Tender Mercy
20. I'm Set Free