About Me

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I'm a former hospital radio/club/mobile DJ, avid record collector and amateur musician (playing guitar, keyboards, recorder, harmonica and percussion.) I've even filled in on bass guitar for a couple of local bands as well (although that was quite a few years ago). Also interested in Motorsports, Wrestling/Mixed Martial Arts and Classic Television and Radio from the 1960s - 1980s.

Why am I on here? Well, I'm just trying to make some sense of life before it's too late...but who cares anyway?

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

OMD: “Organisation” (Dindisc) (1980)

 October 1980 was more of a time of consolidation for Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. After a promising start by Andy McCluskey & Paul Humphreys with their self-titled début LP, and with a top 20 hit to their credit with “Messages”, we didn’t have to wait too long for the group’s second LP. Taking on a gothic, slightly melancholic tone (which some say was influenced by Joy Division), the sound on “Organisation” was much fuller than before, thanks not only to Mike Howlett’s production, but also to drummer Mal Holmes, who by that time was already part of the live set-up.

On to the songs then, kicking off with “Enola Gay” which had been a big hit the month before. The upbeat feel of the song (inspired by the plane which dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima) was at odds with the rest of the tracks. Book-ended by that trademark primitive drum machine pattern it’s still hard to believe that the instruments used here are still pretty basic by today’s standards. (That synth melody you hear at the start was actually created by an organ and a very basic synth sound, combined together and treated with the usual studio effects. Simple when you know how!)

Now this is where the melancholia begins. “2nd Thought” starts off with some synthethic bell sounds before settling down as a mid-tempo synth/organ piece, while “VCL XI” (title inspired by a picture of a valve on a Kraftwerk LP sleeve numbered VCL 11) sounds a bit harsh with a repeating bass pattern, overlaid with organ which sounds as though it’s been brought too far forward in the mix, and various treated piano sounds brought in before the end.

Motion & Heart” could have been a logical choice for a second single – in fact the group later re-recorded the song at Amazon Studios, but didn’t see the light of day until it appeared as one of the tracks on the B-side of “Souvenir” the following year. On this version it’s a more basic feel, but it’s a pleasant sounding track.

Moving on to “Statues”, the lyrics of which are, in part, about Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis, who passed away in May 1980. OMD had toured with them during their early days and it was the melancholic feel of Joy Division’s material which had a major affect on the “Organisation” sessions.

The Misunderstanding” was an early number by The Id (which featured Andy & Paul), although this version had been radically reworked from the original, guitar-driven track which surfaced later on an EP which also featured early versions of “Electricity” and “Julia’s Song”.

The More I See You” is a bit of an unlikely choice of number – according to some stories I’ve seen, the duo were working on a new track when McCluskey started singing the lyrics to the old Chris Montez number over the top of the backing tape. The combination doesn’t quite work, but they actually got away with it.

The next track, “Promise” is a bit of a revelation. Featuring Paul on lead vocal for the first time, (and one of his own compositions by the way) it’s a pretty good effort from him despite his voice sounding a bit strained in parts, and wouldn’t have felt out of place on OMD’s first LP.

And then the sound of a diesel pump heralds the final track, “Stanlow”, which takes its title from the oil refinery in Ellesmere Port on the Wirral peninsula where Andy’s father and sister worked. The backdrop of the refinery at night was always a welcome sight to the group after being away on tour. And that diesel pump you hear at the beginning? Well, that was actually taken from a recording Andy made whilst at the refinery, and adds to the overall atmosphere of the track.

But our look back at this album doesn’t quite end here…

A big selling point was a free EP which came with initial copies of the album, containing some recordings from around 1978. “Introducing Radios” was exactly that – just a recording of a radio scanning up and down the dial, “Distance Fades Between Us” and “Once When I Was Six” are simple instrumentals featuring just bass, organ and the odd synth sound here and there, while “Progress” consists of passages of synth arpeggios which don’t quite resolve themselves until they fade into a wash of electronic noise before “Once When I Was Six” fades in.

Overall then, it’s a solid effort, but it’s more like a work of transition – with Andy and Paul finding their sound through this album and “Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark”, but it wasn’t until “Architecture & Morality” in 1981 where they managed to achieve the perfect balance of experimental and commercial.

Andy, Paul, the big time’s that way….”

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

OMD - "Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark" (Dindisc) (1980)

“Two guys and a synthesiser? It’ll never catch on!”

 That’s what they said when Andy McCluskey & Paul Humphreys, armed with the most rudimentary of electronic instruments (including a cheap synth bought from a mail order catalogue) started out as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, initially to do the one gig at Eric’s club in Liverpool. Fast forward to February 1980 – the duo by then had signed with Carol Wilson’s Dindisc label, and their self-titled debut LP was in the nation’s record stores. Was Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s proclamation that Andy and Paul were the future of pop music justified?

 The album opens with “Bunker Soldiers”, a mid-tempo, purely electronic number (featuring a drum machine which sounds like one of those rhythm boxes found on those cheap home electronic organs you could get in the 70s) which to me conjures up images of soldiers fighting in the trenches in World War One. The chorus is an interesting effect, merely consisting of the title spelt out as random letters, translated into numbers. It’s best to hear this one on headphones to get the full effect, with the letters on one channel, and the numbers on the other. All in all, a nice way to kick of the LP.

 “Almost” is a bit of a low key affair, with a simple backing from bass and organ with a few electronic embellishments. Hard to make out what this one’s about really, but it’s a pleasant enough track. For “Mystereality” it’s time to call in a favour or two as Martin Cooper joins the duo on saxophone for this one. (Cooper would go on to become a full-time member in late 1980.) It’s a bright and breezy affair if I were to be honest about it, as is “Electricity”. The story I often hear about the latter track is that Tony Wilson wasn’t too impressed when he heard it. However, it was his wife who persuaded him to take a chance on the duo which led to the single being released on Factory before Dindisc took them on.

 “The Messerschmitt Twins” is another low-key number, the title being inspired by a nickname for McCluskey & Humphreys. It was while Andy was doing research for the track that he came across a reference to the “Enola Gay” aircraft, which gave him the inspiration for their first top ten hit (but more about that in a future instalment…)

 Flip over and side 2 begins with “Messages”. This isn’t the single version produced by Mike Howlett, but it sounds as though the bare bones of what would eventually become their first top 20 hit are more or less in place, albeit with a few rough edges. As for that repeating synth pattern? That was basically one key held down, the synthesiser set to arpeggio and Andy sitting there switching octaves on the machine for around 5 minutes. (and everyone thought it was done on sequencers. How wrong they were!)

A lot of the tracks dated back to the duo’s days in The Id. “Julia’s Song” was co-written by Julia Kneale, who was also in The Id at that time, while “Red Frame/White Light paid homage to (of all things) a telephone box near the Railway Inn in Meols, which doubled up as the contact point for the band in the early days. Even now there are stories going round about OMD fans ringing the number quoted on the track (632 3003) hoping to speak to one of the band!

 “Dancing” is, to put it bluntly, a weird one. Starting out with brief snatches of an unknown orchestral piece mixed in with a bit from Glenn Miller’s “Sunrise Serenade” – How they got away with that I’ll never know – it’s just a mish-mash of bass, drum machine, a weird synth noise playing a tune I can hardly make out and some electronically treated voices. And to be honest, it’s probably the only duff track on the entire LP.

The LP closes with “Pretending To See The Future”, written about being in the music business in general and specifically about signing a record contract. It’s a bit of a slow burner to start with, but builds up towards the end with the promise that “we’ll see you the same time, same place, next year round, with the same kind of product and a similar sound”, as McCluskey & Humphreys take separate vocal lines which get tangled together so you can’t quite make out what’s happening.

 On the whole it’s a pretty solid effort for a debut album. Granted, there are some tracks which seem a bit rough around the edges, and could be better had more time been spent on them, but that’s the beauty of an album like this – it’s the start of a learning curve which would lead them to greater success in the future. As for those who thought that two guys and a synthesiser would never work? They’re probably having second thoughts now!

Friday, 13 November 2015

BUGGLES - "Adventures In Modern Recording" (Carrere) (1981)

So what do you do when you have a number one single, followed by a top 30 album? Well, If you're Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, you break off work on the next album to join one of the archetypal prog-rock bands of the 70s, after which you go back to your original outfit to continue work on the second album. Simple? Well not quite, as Downes would move on to form Asia with former Yes bandmate Steve Howe, leaving Horn to soldier on under the Buggles name and finish the album with new musicians and songwriting partners. So how did the album turn out?

The title track is probably a great choice for an opening number, with the lyrics almost reading like a summary of an X-Factor episode - the main character plucked from obscurity and touted as the "next big thing", as the promotional machine goes into overdrive. The story, such as it is, isn't resolved fully, leaving you asking yourself "whatever happened to him?"

"Beatnik" sees Horn in a bit of a playful mindset - to me the track sounds like he'd been given all this new gear to mess around with - with the results sounding rather appealing.

"Vermillion Sands" on the other hand, was a much more complex proposition. Starting out in a low key fashion with just bass,electric piano and a rudimentary rhythm box (similar to those you'd have got in one of those home organs you'd see in a mail order catalogue) it chops and changes, with passages including some Level 42-esque bass, and those brass stabs which Horn would turn into one of his trademark production effects, an atmospheric synth line played over what sounds like a scene from a fillm noir production and climaxes with a big band finale which even Glenn Miller would have been proud of!

As for "I Am A Camera", that song has its roots in "Into The Lens" which featured on Yes' "Drama" LP in 1980. While the Yes version was very much full-on prog, the version we have here is almost like a demo with minimal instrumentation. And to be honest, it works better in this format.

"On TV" has one of those insistent synth lines which tends to stick in your mind as you're warned about the perils of watching those late night shows on the box, while "Inner City" could work well as a soundtrack to one of those late night film scenes where the traffic whizzes by leaving trails of light in its wake.

"Lenny" has a bit of an interesting story to go along with it. When the track was released as a single in Holland and Horn was asked to appear on Dutch TV to promote the single, the backing group he recruited for the night was an up and coming outfit called ABC! (There is footage of the performance doing the rounds on YouTube should you want to take a look for yourselves)

"Rainbow Warrior" is something of a slow burner which doesn't really get going until halfway through, although it does end the LP on a relatively high note.

The LP came out in late '81, but did absolutely nothing chart wise in the UK. However, it was the ideal opportunity for Horn to experiment with some of the production tricks which would become his trademarks in later years. It's a solid effort on the whole, but it's best seen as just a taste of what Horn was truly capable of achieving as he embarked on a new adventure in modern recording.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

THE STYLE COUNCIL - "Our Favourite Shop" (Polydor) (1985)

May 1985 - two years into the Conservatives’ second successive spell in power, two months after the UK miners’ strike had finished, and a time when the unemployment rate had been hovering around the 11.6% mark.  It was this grim backdrop which was reflected in the Style Council’s second LP “Our Favourite Shop” .  The title came about as Paul Weller’s answer to critics who claimed that the group were using too many music styles in one album, or in extreme cases in one song. As for the material, Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot had come up with their most overtly political songs to date - with subject matter including racism, excessive consumerism, self-serving governments, the death of one of Weller’s friends, and a lack of opposition to the status quo.  All this pessimism countered with glimmers of hope that alternatives were out there - if only people could see them.  And as for the styles of music used, they were as wide ranging as their first LP (that is if you don’t count the “Introducing” mini-album.)

We start with “Homebreakers”, telling the story of a family forced to split up - the sons moving out in an effort to find work, while the father finds himself made redundant.  Bear in mind that this was around four years after then-Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit made that infamous speech about “getting on your bikes and looking for work”, in the wake of the 1981 riots, but it was still relevant in’85.  One of several Weller/Talbot co-compositions (and featuring Talbot on lead vocal) this set the tone for what was to come.

Things didn’t get any more optimistic with “All Gone Away” - bemoaning the decimation of communities reliant on major industries set against a light, Latin style backing.  The contrast doesn’t really work until you’ve heard the track several times, but could be judged as a fair assessment of what was happening in mid 80s Britain.  The same could also be said about “Come To Milton Keynes”, a lyrical dig at the culture of “new towns” which were springing up around the country every so often, where the reality of violence, drugs, and a lack of direction was hidden by houses where the curtains were drawn, and the Americanisation of British culture in general.

“Internationalists” gives the first hint of hope with its militant call-to-arms set against a funk groove, the message here basically being “stand up and be counted”.  Contrast that with “A Stone’s Throw Away”, with Weller reflecting on a world where the power of protest is crushed by the iron fist of authority - set to the backing of a string quartet.  The contrast is stark, but the images painted by the lyrics are powerful to say the least. Even more powerful is the insistence that this is all happening closer to us than we realise.

We do get a bit of light relief next in the form of “The Stand-Up Comic’s Instructions”. The song plays more like a comedy sketch, with Lenny Henry joining in as a concert secretary at a typical working men’s club, giving his star turn advice on which jokes to use to get the most laughs. But there’s a serious side to the track too, as it exposes the racism inherent in such characters.  (a theme which harkens back to a more politically incorrect time).  “Boy Who Cried Wolf” , which rounds out side 1, is probably the closest you’ll get to a love song on the LP, and with additional vocals by Weller protégé Tracie Young, is more or less your standard pop number.  The biblical reference might be lost on some listeners though.

Flip over to side two, and a recording of church bells heralds “A Man Of Great Promise”, which Weller dedicated to a friend who committed suicide.  The lyrics generally reflect chances not taken or potential unfulfilled.  “But who am I to say”.

“Down In The Seine” takes a completely different path.  Taking on a distinctly French feel, (even down to some of the lyrics being in French) it’s one of those songs which is difficult to fathom out.  No such problems with “The Lodgers” however. Especially as it’s an indirect reference to a certain property.  The implication here being that it’s the lodgers in the property who make the rules, not the owners.  Weller shares vocals on this one with Dee C. Lee, and the combination works quite well.

“Luck” breezes on next, full of joy and optimism (and that’s probably the only time you’ll see this phrase during this piece!) and throwing in a gospel feel certainly adds to the mix as well.  It soon became a live favourite, especially when given to Dee as a solo spot. (Check out the version on her “See The Day” 12 inch single and you’ll see what I mean.)

The big revelation comes in the form of “With Everything To Lose”, which has its roots in another song, “Have You Ever Had It Blue”.  For this track, drummer Steve White wrote new lyrics which reflected what was happening with the Youth Training Scheme which had recently been introduced.  It was his first crack at writing lyrics, and personally, I thought they were spot on - especially as I had been on something similar a few years previously.  Using more of a bossa nova type feel for the music, the contrast was particularly effective.  As for the original song, that was eventually released on the “Absolute Beginners” film soundtrack in 1986.

The title track was one of those Hammond organ instrumentals that Talbot made a speciality of in the group’s early days, and a chance for some light relief before the final assault of “Walls Come Tumbling Down”.  Defiantly optimistic in its approach, the message was simple - “this is your chance to change things for the better.  It’s down to you now“.  (Well, that’s how I thought about it).

On the whole, it’s a pretty good collection of songs which neatly sums up the mood of the mid 80s, and probably the strongest album The Style Council ever recorded.  However, sadly, a lot of the songs remain relevant even today.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

THE JAM - "Transglobal Unity Express" DVD (Cherry Red) (2008)

Having gone through The Jam's studio albums late last year, the old DVD player's been called into service so to speak for this particular article - and it's a chance (albeit a brief one) to catch them in concert.  Now I've never seen them live, so the various TV appearances on shows like "Top Of The Pops" and the various live albums and Radio 1 "In Concert" shows were the only chances I had to see and hear their performances.  In fact, I remember seeing the "Transglobal Unity Express" gig featured on this DVD on BBC Two during one of the channel's "Rock Week" seasons in 1982.

To start with, this is a straight transfer to DVD of the original Channel 5 release (and in this case I mean the Polygram-owned video label of that name), but fans may feel short changed here, as there have been several sightings of a full length recording on You Tube running for around 90 minutes which, had it been used, could have made for better value for money, but there you go.

Anyway, filmed at Birmingham's Bingley Hall in March 1982, around the time that "The Gift" was released  the Jam were joined on stage by Steve Nichol and Keith Thomas on brass, the pair having helped out on the album, from which most of the songs on the DVD were taken.

 "Town Called Malice" was always going to be a crowd pleaser, with its motown-esque feel, with "Carnation", "Precious" and "Ghosts" also getting a positive reception from the 5,000 strong crowd that night.
The group threw in one of their occasional soul covers as Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" (introduced by Paul Weller as "one of Rick's (Buckler) songs") before Bruce Foxton's bass menacingly powered headlong into "Private Hell".  We then had a pretty standard version of "Pretty Green", followed by "Trans-Global Express (with Weller not quite in sync during the last verse) before the statement of intent that was "The Gift" sending the fans home happy.

There might have not been any extras features on the disc, but despite that, the programme did give a hint of what the group were capable of at the time.  And as for Paul's dad John Weller's opening claim that The Jam were the best band in the f***ing world,  well, the 5,000 fans there that night would certainly be inclined to agree with him!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

THE JAM - “The Gift” (Polydor) (1982)

So we’re in 1982, and the music in the charts was so varied around this time that it was not unusual to see the likes of Dollar rubbing shoulders with Motorhead,  Duran Duran fighting it out with Iron Maiden, and Renee & Renato preventing The Jam from taking the Christmas number one.  (Yes folks, you read that correctly!)

Rewind to March 1982 and the band’s final studio LP “The Gift”.  It was a marked change of style from previous albums, with Paul Weller & Co going for a more soulful sound with Pete Wilson taking over from Vic Coppersmith-Heaven on production.  Weller was once quoted as saying that he wanted this to be the best Jam LP ever, stretching his own abilities as well as those of Bruce Foxton & Rick Buckler.  To boost the sound, Steve Nichol & Keith Thomas were brought in on brass (they would also join the trio for the “Transglobal Unity Express” tour).  So how do the songs stack up?

We start with “Happy Together” after a reminder that “now for those watching in  black and white, this one’s in Technicolor”.  Foxton comes in with one of his trademark bass runs while Weller’s vocal performance here (and on the album as a whole) is probably the best he’s done up to that time.  It’s probably a good idea here to note that the overall sound on the LP has a more immediate feel than before,  complemented by Pete Wilson’s production work.

“Ghosts” slows down the tempo with minimal guitar work and a simple rimshot pattern courtesy of Buckler, before moving onto funk territory with “Precious”. (with just a touch of Pigbag’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” thrown in for good measure)  “Just Who Is The 5 O’Clock Hero” revisits “Mr Clean” from the “All Mod Cons” LP, but this time looks at the working class point of view.  “Trans-Global Express takes it’s inspiration from the Northern Soul funk hit "So Is The Sun" by World Column.  The only problem here is that the vocals are so far back in the mix that you could barely make them out, so a lot of the power of this militant call-to-arms is lost.

Flip over to side 2 and “Running On The Spot” which is vintage Jam, but seems too polished, while “Circus” (another one of Foxton’s compositions) probably wouldn’t feel out of place on one of those sporting retrospective programmes which usually crop up on ITV 4.  “The Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” shows how the restrictions of the basic format were becoming apparent -  the group trying their hands at calypso (with some steel drums thrown in), but not quite succeeding.  “Carnation” reflects the dark nature we all seem to have.  “Town Called Malice” (complete with Motown-esque rhythm track) is a pretty fair assessment of working class life at the time dealing with issues such as the everyday struggle of making ends meet and the lack of facilities in smaller towns.  It all seems pessimistic, but “The Gift” defiantly shows that there is hope - we’ve just “Got to keep moving”

It’s a bit of a mixed album if I were to be honest.  While some of the songs like “Malice” and “Running On The Spot” work reasonably well, especially in their own right (Weller has recently been playing them during his solo gigs) others like “Planner’s Dream Goes Wrong” appear to fail to get their message across.  Nevertheless, on this LP, one would be inclined to cherry-pick the best bits.

Anyway, by this time, Weller was keen to explore new styles, but one of the problems he encountered was that the rhythm section of Foxton and Buckler was so easily recognisable, that even if he had written a song in a completely different style, it would still be recognised as a typical Jam song.  This was probably one of the factors that led to the band splitting at the end of 1982, but not without going out on a high note when “Beat Surrender” gave the trio their fourth number one (and the third to enter at the top).  And it would have been the Christmas number one if it wasn’t for Renee & Renato.

So that’s it.  Six studio albums in six years.  From the punk explosion of 1977, through the mod revival of 1979 and through to 1982, which not only saw Weller & his cohorts develop musically, but also as people.  One door closed, but a whole new world waiting to be explored.  Well,  it was great while it lasted…

Sunday, 6 October 2013

THE JAM - “Sound Affects” (Polydor) (1980)

1980.  The dawning of a new decade.  Surely it couldn’t get any better for Paul Weller and co after “The Eton Rifles” and ”Setting Sons” both performed solidly in the singles and album charts respectively.  Well, we got our answer when “Going Underground”/”The Dreams Of Children” did the seemingly impossible -  by entering the charts at number one - the first single to achieve this feat since 1973 when Slade managed it with “Merry Xmas Everybody”.  (You have to give credit to Polydor’s marketing department here,  not only did they release the single on a Tuesday - which wasn’t the normal practice at the time - ensuring that it maximised sales, but also added a bonus three-track single recorded live in London towards the end of last year.

1980 also saw something of a change of sound for the band‘s next album,“Sound Affects“, influenced by bands like Wire, Gang Of Four, Joy Division, and, to an extent, Michael Jackson (Weller was once quoted as saying that the next LP was a cross between The Beatles’ “Revolver” and Jackson’s “Off The Wall”) so it would be interesting to find out how it all turned out come release time…

Starting with “Pretty Green”, and one of those insistent basslines from Bruce Foxton, it very nearly was a single if it wasn’t for Weller, standing his ground and insisting that “Start” was the better bet (more on that later). The song (about the power of money) is as solid an opener as you could find on any of the band’s L.Ps.  “Monday” is a bit of a departure though, as the guitars take on a jangly, slightly psychedelic quality which is also evident on the likes of “Man In The Corner Shop”, one of Weller’s “photographs of suburban life”, and another of those numbers that Ray Davies would have been proud of writing.

There are still elements of the old “Jam Sound” evident in tracks like “But I’m Different Now”, “Dream Time” and “Boy About Town” (the latter two adding the occasional brass section). “Start” meanwhile nicks elements from The Beatles’ “Taxman” (especially that bassline) and uses them to good effect - and gave the trio their second successive number one single - although for this version, the brass section again is called into service (pity it isn’t credited though).  “Set The House Ablaze” powers through at a furious pace.  Hang on though, do I detect the slight influence of Whistling Jack Smith (ask your grandparents) here.  “Scrape Away” and “Music For The Last Couple” are the closest the band come to that edgy sound that Weller had intended for the LP, while pride of place has to go to “That’s Entertainment”, an acoustic number which (so the story goes) Weller reeled off in a matter of ten minutes after coming home from the pub one night.  It wasn’t an official single, but it did get into the top 30 purely on import sales.  (Polydor would release it officially in 1983 in the wake of the band’s split, and again in 1991 to promote the “Greatest Hits” collection.)

It’s the group’s most adventurous effort to date, (Weller still cites it as his favourite Jam LP), but it took me a few plays to get used to the new sound when it first came out.  Sharp eared listeners would probably have noticed that a lot of the volume had been lost in the mastering process - in fact when it was remastered for a special edition CD, one reviewer went as far as to say that you could actually make out the tape hiss during the quiet parts.  Some of the songs seem unfinished but there’s plenty on the LP to warrant repeated listening.

There would only be two new singles released by The Jam in 1981 (“Funeral Pyre” and “Absolute Beginners”, which would both reach the top ten), but the following year would prove to be more successful.  However, 1982 would be the last year that the band would be active together - with Weller announcing that they would split at the end of the year.

So what would the band leave as a parting gift?  (Nifty clue about the title there).  We would find out the answer in March 1982.….