Friday, May 29, 2020

Planting Seeds That Produce Nuggets

Three weeks and one day until summer "vacation." Then I hand in my No. 2 pencil and retire from being a full-time teacher to my kids. (Well, at least until the next wave hits, eh?) Yes, just like when I was a lad, I'm counting the days until school's out. Tonight, after a particularly trying day of work and school, neither done as well as they could and should have been, I was horizontal on the couch vegging out and watching episodes of the late '60s sitcom "The Mothers-in-Law" and hoping for sleep when I hit season 1, episode 30, called "How Not to Manage a Rock Group." This ridiculous program really lifted my spirits because L.A. garage rockers the Seeds portrayed fictitious band the Warts and performed the biggest hit the Seeds ever had in "Pushin' Too Hard" (No. 36 in Feb. '67). Man, seeing frontman Sky Saxon on screen was a hoot. Here's a clip. Lester Bangs called him an American ripoff of Mick Jagger. Hmm. What do you think?

Now I'm awake as can be and have all three of my Nuggets box sets out and ready to spin. I have a feeling I won't be pushin' too hard tomorrow. Here's a fun cover from a band we all seem to have time for in this little corner of the 'Net.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Book It... and Quick!

Every few weeks for the past couple of years I have snooped around the 'Net looking for a copy of 'C86 & All That.' The book was penned by Neil Taylor, one of the original compilers of the legendary NME cassette, and there is no better journalist to tell the tale. The book was in print for the blink of an eye, and I seemingly missed my chance at this testament to the golden age of indie-pop because those lucky enough to grasp the grail never resell them. Trust me, I have searched high and low and have never seen one on the block. It's a keeper.

The other day while on the hunt I checked out the Facebook page dedicated to the book. Was it a mirage? Mr. Taylor was touting the fact that 'C86 & All That' was back in print. The post was dated May 12. Gulp. I wrote to Mr. Taylor, and he told me the second reprint had sold out in six days. Of course it had. Foiled again... but no! A third batch has been printed. Better hurry, lads and lasses. These won't last long. Here are the details. Comes with a batch of postcards too. Oh, and he's got badges for sale.

To whet your appetite, here is a fun watch. It's Mr. Taylor with some of our heroes from that era talking 'C86' to promote the book. Pete Astor, Luke Haines and more!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Mind Another Gap

I could just about take the text from our last installment on Pete Astor and pop it on this page. I discovered the Monochrome Set in 1985 when the two singles from 'The Lost Weekend' received a little bit of airplay here in America, particularly on MTV. I immediately went for the band's back catalog and caught up. Bid was uncomfortable with signing to the Warner-backed Blanco Y Negro and with their commercial sound on that album, and the boys ended up calling it a day. Incidentally, the album is excellent. Everyone kept in touch, and they even backed Jessica Griffin in '88 on 'The Camera Loves Me,' the first album from Would-Be-Goods. In 1989, the Monochrome Set had made a demo and considered reuniting.

Surprisingly, the Set ended their first hiatus by signing with Vinyl Japan. Turned out, even to the surprise of the band, Bid and the boys were big in that faraway land. The band released 'Dante's Casino' in 1990 and hit the road... in Japan. Bid has described the experience as akin to 'A Hard Day's Night,' complete with girls chasing them. That never happened in the UK. There would be four more albums to follow between 1991 and 1995, the last three for their old mates at Cherry Red. Bid has said these were more or less for the Japanese market, but even there they had an expiration date. Britpop became the new flavor, and the Japanese economy started to take a dive too. The band broke up again, and this time the gap between albums would be 17 years.

That's when I re-entered the picture. I have been there for the six albums released since 2012, and there hasn't been a disappointing note in the bunch. I have been spending this time cooped up in the house getting acquainted with the '90s albums I missed, all with the help of the new Cherry Red box set 'Little Noises.' All five albums are in the set, 'Dante's Casino,' 'Jack,' 'Charade,' 'Misere' and 'Trinity Road.' There are only three bonus tracks, but that's not such a surprise since there were only two non-album B-sides during this era. Journalist Michael White spins a good story in the liner notes, and there are plenty of quotes from the band. The only tiny bone to pick is the box itself. I prefer the sturdy clam-shell design to this flimsy cardboard with an open end like you commonly find on the original album series boxes. I recently picked up the new boxes Cherry Red has put out of the Primitives and Shoes, and they have the clam-shell design for more or less the same price point as this one.

As for the music, the Monochrome Set means a lot to me, and I feel like a couple of listens to each of these albums isn't enough to compare fairly with their earlier and later eras. I can say I'm not hearing an 'Eligible Bachelors' in this box set, but that's setting the bar awfully high. The addition of Orson Presence on keyboards and guitar, as well as taking on some of the songwriting duties, did seem to change their sound a bit. Having said that, there is no doubt you're listening to the Monochrome Set, and there are songs I have taken an instant liking to and am playing over and over again. 'Dante's Casino' and the poppy 'Charade' are the two albums that seem to be rising to the top. As expected, this is probably not the place for the novice to start, but this is a great way for the true fan to fill the gap between the Monochrome Set's two wider known periods.

As if further evidence was needed that '90s era Monochrome Set is obscure, these are the only two clips I could find to give you a listen to songs from the box...

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Mind the Gap

Regular readers know my enthusiasm for new music waned in the '90s. I won't rehash the reasons. It will have to suffice to say sounds and tastes went into directions that weren't my cup of tea. Soup Dragons "Hang-Ten" vs. "I'm Free" is about the best example I can give. While I licked my wounds and retreated to the bands that made me love music in the first place (Kinks, Beach Boys, Zombies), I missed out on releases from artists I had once adored. During this ongoing period of isolation, I have rectified a couple of those mistakes.

Through the years I have given quite a bit of time to Pete Astor on these pages. Whether with the Loft, Weather Prophets or the solo albums he's been releasing on Tapete in more recent times, it's obvious he's a musical hero. By the 1990s, Astor's sound had begun to fall out of favor with a fickle and aging indie crowd. The Weather Prophets had dissolved, thanks in part to Creation joining forces with WEA for a few minutes, but Astor continued his relationship with Alan McGee's label by releasing two solo albums, 'Submarine' (1990) and 'Zoo' (1991). By this time, McGee was looking for the hits, and Astor didn't have any on those two albums. McGee suggested a change of scenery. There was a monthly music magazine in France that was big with the university set called Les Inrockuptibles that constantly touted Astor's work. His popularity there led to signing with French indie label Danceteria. Astor released 'Paradise' in 1992 to favorable reviews, and it was bought by the usual suspects and a handful of new fans in France.

I completely missed this album. Thankfully, Tapete reissued it late last year. The 10 songs display Astor's talent as a singer-songwriter, and the sound reminds me a bit of later Lloyd Cole. It's mostly gentle and turned down, and there is a lot of acoustic guitar and even a little twang. The lyrics are brilliant, and standout songs "Almost Falling in Love" and "She Took the TV" are being played daily in this house. There was another album on Danceteria in 1993 before Astor grew tired of the industry and disappeared for quite a while. This story sounds an awful lot like Phil Wilson's, doesn't it? I'm hoping Tapete reissues followup 'God & Other Stories' as well. I'm sure if we all buy 'Paradise,' it will get the Hamburg label's attention. Here is a little taster. That's Felt and Everything But The Girl guitarist Neil Scott taking some of the duties on electric guitar. Back next time with another lost classic from this era.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

'This Is Healin' Music!'

That jackhammering piano. Those WHOOO-OOOOOHHHs. I would say rest easy, Richard Wayne Penniman, but that's just not your style. Heaven just got a helluva lot more interesting.

Ooh! My Soul