Thursday, 27 March 2008

Name Of The Game

My dear friend Martin has been a very busy chap with his songwriting recently, and is in the process of putting a band together with which to inflict them upon the good citizens of Edinburgh (for starters - next stop Auchterarder!). Alas, he has been struck by the eternal quandary - what to call the damned thing?

My first response (being one of those conscripted for the project) was that, since he’s the front man, and has written all the material, maybe we should just go out under his name? This has, it must be said, worked perfectly well for a great many highly successful artists and their audiences. As a punter, you pretty much know what brand you’re getting (even if it is that inadvisable mid-career shift into Balinese folk-orientated yodelling that’s been the downfall of so many...), and I’ve not heard too many people complaining that Peter Gabriel’s / John Martyn’s / K.T. tunstall’s / even Katie Melua’s (the ultimate example of "The bland leading the band"...? oh yes, madam, had to work hard to get a gag that bad in, but always worth the effort) etc,etc backing musicians’ names and fizzogs weren’t plastered all over the gig poster/album cover/etc.

We ’backing musicians’ (c’mon, I’m a bass player, and don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur - I know my place! ) also tend not to be quite as ’pretty’ or otherwise appealing / ’interesting’ as the star attraction (i.e. we can nip off to the loo without being followed by photographers trying to catch a glimpse of us with our kecks round our ankles, busily snorting the rim-block...not that I’ve ever been involved in anything of that nature, goodness me, no ), so can have a long-term musical existence without the attendent loss of personal privacy. (Of course in my case, this is achieved by an almost complete absence of commercial ’success’. Or, in fact, any current recording/gigging profile at all. Me own fault for spawning progeny, I reckons...).

Another reasonable naming option would be to follow the jazz example, and go down the "Martin Lennon Trio / Quartet / Stonking Great Massively Expensive Band" route, although it’s not really appropriate for the rootsy / bluesy / dirt-under-yer-collar style of music. Which is a shame, because I had such high hopes for "The Martin Lennon Jolly Minstrel Three", I really did.

The trouble is, since he’s going to insist upon subsuming his identity within a group (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing - I like the first Tin Machine album, I really do! ), I’m not going to be much use to him when it comes to the name-calling - anything serious I try to come up with sounds either incredibly portentously idiotic, or simply totally genre-inappropriate...usually both. As a result, my ideas always collapse, rapidly, into the realms of unfit-for-purpose daftness and inanity - as you’re (inevitably - you probably guessed where this post was heading a while back, didn’t you?) about to find out.

Here, (in best Blue Peter tradition), are a few I made earlier that have been callously spurned and rejected (often by me, the instant after they leapt, unbidden, into my head ). In most cases it should be fairly obvious as to why:

"Age Before Beauty", "All Our Own Hair", "The Prostrate Prostates", "Sanatogen Supermen", "Moobs Alert", "Early-Bird Buffet Gigolos", "One Big Slipper" (in case there’s still somebody, somewhere in the world, who doesn’t know this gag, it’s a Billy Connolly routine which I’m sadly unable to provide a YouTube link for), "Shouting At The Radio", "Applied Gerontology Unit"...all disqualified for possibly being accurate descriptions of the physically ’mature’ nature of the band members...

Of course, it’s just going to be massively downhill from there...let’s start the next lot by going a little bit ’metal’ (although let’s be honest, it’s almost an un-parody-able genre, so one small addition to the canon should suffice):

"Demon Whores of the 13th Circle", "Slightly Soiled", "Your Cousin’s Old Enough" (a little too ’Country’..? ), "Braw Neeps" (a Scottish "Smashing Pumpkins" tribute band), "Spam Tackle" (as in the nearly-meat-like foodstuff, rather than vexatious junk email), "Portaloo Sunrise", "Fiddler At The Doors of Dusk", "Too Much Tongue (for your Mama)", "Accidental Mouthful of Frogspawn", "Koala Rampage"...I’ll stop there - it’s for the best.

N.B. All these names are, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, free and available for anyone who wants ’em. Although you know that does mean you’re probably borderline certifiable, ok? I wonder what Martin will think of the great album title I’ve got for him - "The Sheep Stands Up On Leith Walk" ? Sounds like a winner to me...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Somewhere But Yesterday


The following post contains material that could be described as "prog-tastic", "prog-errific", and even "prog-tabulous". This may cause distress to small children, domestic animals, and anyone with a known risk of anaphylactic shock upon hearing the words "25-minute track", "concept album", or "if you like early Genesis, you’ll love this". The author shall not be held responsible for any ill effects brought on by the further reading of this post (including headaches, nausea, dizziness, flatulence, sudden growth of improbable facial hair, ’air-drumming’ in 7/4, believing that Jon Andersons’s lyrics actually make sense, becoming strangely unattractive to 99.53% of the population, failing to realise that "Thick As A Brick" was Ian Anderson taking the piss [brilliantly, it has to be said], and feeling strangely cheated when a song only has two (or fewer) oblique references to:
a) semi-apocryphal figures from ancient history
b) ’astral projection’ [or any other equally-unproven ’supernatural’ phenomenon]
c) ’The Lord of The Rings’.)

Right then - not my fault from here on in, so don’t try blaming me if you develop an overwhelming urge to buy the entire Gentle Giant back catalogue.

14 years (you have no idea how much it hurt writing that) after the release of Citizen Cain’s album "Somewhere But Yesterday" (no, not a clue, I had no responsibility for the titles, song lyrics, etc), I was cheerfully searching away for something entirely unrelated when I stumbled upon one of my fellow ’ex-Citizens’ - Alistair MacGregor, guitarist extraordinaire, who emigrated to Ozland soon after the album was done, and is now a full-time function band muso - and doing very well, too by the looks of it...

This, of course, brought back all sorts of memories - completely knackering, thrice-weekly band rehearsals in (drummer) Nick’s basement, down in the ’peeling-and-fading-Victorian-seaside-resort charms’ of Portobello; sometimes struggling with the 85% of the basslines (’where the feck’s it going next? aaarggh!’) that were written by Stewart, the (musically hyperactive) keyboard player; and above all else, the great month we spent out at Splitlevel Studios recording the damned thing.

Admittedly, this did involve a lot of sitting around, listening intently for tiny variations between mixes...which, when one of the tracks does, indeed, run for over 25 minutes - there’s a lesson in there, maybe - can feel as if entire years of your life have ebbed away through the control-room floor...but then for that same track, there was the childish fun of building an unfeasibly large and (dangerously) unstable pile of everything unbreakable I could lay my hands on in the studio, just so that we could create as ’authentic’ a sound of a garden wall being demolished as possible. Being a musician can be *such* hard work, sometimes.

[Would you believe that the last copy of this album I saw on Amazon UK was going for over £60??
Nice to see someone making some money out of it at last]

Then there was the night we finished-up just in time to spend half-an-hour standing around outside, completely oblivious to the cold, gazing up in awe at the Leonids meteor shower (Splitlevel is outside Edinburgh, and round one side of the cottages you can be almost entirely shielded from light pollution, so the effect was pretty spectacular). Appropriately for a prog band, our sense of timing was "most bonus", as Neil, (producer, and owner of Splitlevel) was wont to say.

It was also the only occasion my flute tootling has been recorded for posteriority - all 20 seconds or so of it. Mind you, it is the only real bit of flute on the album - the rest was all done by Stewart using samples - not that any of the reviews it’s had over the years spotted the difference, which says a lot Either the reviewers’ ears, my playing, or the quality of synthetic woodwind in the early 90’s. And since it couldn’t possibly be my playing, well...

I’m still slightly bemused by some of the (often bizarrely over-the-top positive) things people have said about it (yeah, I’ve ’googled’ it - a bit sad & needy, yes, but then it’s the only "proper" CD I've made), and I hate the lazy Mike Rutherford comparisons (I’ve never been much of a fan of his, to be honest) some folk have made when it came to the bass playing (doesn’t sound anything like him...well, except for those bits where it sort of does...but I didn’t write those bits), but my personal favourite comment I’ve come across thus far is:

"WOOOORGH! This is it! - Utter utter prog - on toast! - In progginess terms this is drinking undiluted Ribena from the bottle!"

Is it entirely surprising they’re from Holland?

Still, maybe there’s more to this ’ex-proggers-in-function bands’ business than meets the eye...Alistair’s doing the business in Ultra Violet, both Nick & I were in WildGeese...

If you ever find yourself on a cruise ship, and come across a wee (slightly podgy, with a receding hairline) keyboard player, who occasionally slips bits of Marillion in to alleviate his boredom, never know...? And if he’s working in a duo with a guy who sings ’60’s standards’ in the style of early Peter Gabriel...

p.s. I love prog. Give me great steaming wodges of it, church organs, complex time signature-changes, massive pretensions and all. Sorry, just felt that needing saying, in case I’d given the wrong impression above. I even still enjoy listening to "Somewhere But Yesterday" - even the bit where I got my part right, while Stewart’s playing was slightly off, but it ends-up sounding like I’m the one who cocked up. Not at all annoyed about that, even after (sigh) 14 years.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

What's Going On?

Evening all, (and perhaps even sundry). Been a while, hasn't it? This blog nonsense of mine is becoming almost as rare as Scotland beating England at rugby - oh, but hang on, that's exactly what happened today - and far more comprehensively than the scoreline suggested, too. Anyway, I'm writing this at the behest of my mate Martin, (who finally has some of his great new songs on-line!), although I must say he seems to be in something of a 'minority of one' where my blogging's concerned - I've hacked-out 39 posts, about 600-odd (very odd) individual folk have visited from over 20 countries (only 19 States of America to date though, but I have had contact from Aruba!), and nobody (except him) bothered to have a stab at the "Classic Soul Quiz Question"...

Ah well. I'm secretly working on some vague musical ideas of my own, which might eventually wend their way myspace-wards, and since I only have very limited time - after the kids are in bed and the flat is showing a passing acquaintance with the concept of tidiness, but before my eyes start closing involuntarily - something has to give way. 'Something' most likely being these witterings - but then, the viewing stats suggest that won't be the greatest loss the world has ever suffered...

Ok, then. Well, before I offer up the answer (that has precisely zero people in a hystrionic frenzy of antici...............pation!), a quick mention of something else that's largely Martin's fault.

Apparently, I'm in a King Crimson-related video on YouTube. Not, unfortunately, in any kind of impressive-performing-of-difficult-music sense, rather footage of a 1973/74 line-up King Crimson reunion-cum-Discipline Global Mobile album launch in London back in 1997. Martin (who had been fab and secured the tickets) and I traipsed down there on the night bus from Edinburgh, an unusually unpleasant, (not to mention almost entirely sleep-free) experience, complete with a 'Night Of The Living Dead' stop-off halfway-down the M6. (Not the most exciting zombie flick ever made - a bus-load of brain-dead semi-humans shuffles across a motorway bridge in search of the service station café, where they consume cups of an unidentifiable brown sludgy liquid in complete silence, before re-tracing their steps, and vanishing southwards into the night. About as interesting as an Andy Warhol movie, only with better dialogue and acting.)

Anyway, for anyone who's daft enough to want to see it (and to be fair, there are some snatches of Mr. Fripp being humourous, Tony Levin playing a Ned Steinberger EUB, John Whetton playing acoustic guitar and singing "Book of Saturday" in a most impressive manner, which are worth a gander), click here! I make several appearances in the last 30 seconds (starting at about 9'30"), chatting with Tony Geballe (who's a great guitarist, and a very nice man!), and asking Tony Levin a question of such spectacular banality, it's a good thing the audio track fails to pick it up. In case there's any confusion, I'm wearing a light reddish-brown 'ethnic' collarless shirt (my favourite shirt for over a decade!), and have severely short hair (I'd just had my shoulder-length ponytail chopped-off, and remember still being very aware of its absence - it's surprising just how much heat insulation hair can provide). Oh, to be 11 years younger again...

That'll do with the procrastination, onwards to the Great Answer!! What was it that all those incredible soul/funk artists had (still have, at time of writing) in common?

None of them ever had a 'number one' hit record in the UK.

Yes, yes, less than earth-shattering, but at least slightly surprising, I hope you'll agree? And yes, I know - they were much bigger stars in the USA, but still...

It all started when another (I've got a couple of spares locked away in the attic) mate of mine, Neil, and I were idly browsing around on the ChartStats website, and he thought he'd find out exactly how big a hit Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" had been. Imagine our shock (and a little bit of awe), when it transpired that this all-time classic had scaled the dizzy heights of...number 37!! This spurred us on to further investigation into the record-buying habits of the British public - "Respect" only made number 10, "Think" got to 26, and "Spanish Harlem" up to 14. (Now, it could be claimed that she did, in fact, make the top spot - but only thanks to 1987's [terrible] George Michael vehicle "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)", and that's almost as far from 'classic soul' as it gets, so it was disqualified...)

I decided that this was a topic worth pursuing (there was nothing on telly the next evening), and the more I looked for details of 'classic' songs, the stranger it got - the original release of "My Girl" by The Temptations spent a single week in the chart, stalling at number 43. (It did, however, finally get them up to no.2 in 1992, thanks to Dan Ackroyd's cloyingly dreadful film of the same name...sorry, but I think I'm actually physically allergic to Macaulay Culkin). Their 1973 version (arguably the best-known?) of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" bailed out at no.14. "Soul Man" couldn't get Sam and Dave higher than no. 24 in 1967. That oft-requested-at-gigs ode to utter despair, "Sitting On the Dock of The Bay" came closer, reaching no.3, a position equalled in 1970 when Edwin Starr questioned the utility of "War". "Dancing in the Streets" needed two bites of the cherry (no.28 in 1964) to climb to no.4 for Martha & the Vandellas in 1969. Still, that's better than the "Godfather of Soul" ever managed.

Unbelievably (to me, anyway), James Brown's biggest hit was "Living In America", which peaked at no.5 in 1986. This was a feat that Brummie comedian Jasper Carrott had achieved 11 years previously with "Funky Moped". In fact, 1975 was a fine year for 'funky'-themed comedy songs, because The Goodies got one place higher singing "Funky Gibbon" (a true classic in its own right, it has to be said!). 1966's "I Got You" fizzled out at a pretty miserable no. 29, and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)" - not the world's greatest song title, really - collapsed at a distinctly unsexy no. 32, four years later.

And then we can turn to the artists that only hit the top spot once, in spite of many classic songs to their names - The Supremes, for instance, with "Baby Love" (first time around, in 1964), Smokey Robinson ("Tears of a Clown"), or Marvin Gaye (it should be obvious which song it was in his case). Sticking with the sublime Mr. Gaye, "(Sexual) Healing" may have (briefly) touched no.4, but how come "Let's Get It On" only made it as high as no.31? And as for the great song that's the title of this incredible number 80...!?! Even Stevie Wonder, for all his earlier brilliance, had to wait until 1984's (frankly, musically quite tedious with anodyne lyrics) "I Just Called To Say I Love You" before he got an actual chart-topper.

It's made all the worse when you realise that back in the "classic soul" era, (1971 to be precise), "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" by Middle of The Road, (where's a lorry with failed brakes when you need one?), spent five whole weeks at no. 1 (and more than 8 bloody months in the chart, finally dropping-out at no. 48).

What the hell were my parents' generation thinking?

Still, we did redeem ourselves slightly when, in 1984, the nightmarish combination of Janet Jackson and Cliff Richard teamed up to offer us the sheer unmitigated horror of "Two To The Power". How did it fare?

Three weeks in the charts, with a high point of no. 83.

So we aren't completely devoid of taste, after all...

Before I go, I've always wanted to start an internet rumour (the more ridiculous the better), and since controversial politics seems to be the only way to draw attention to oneself these days, I offer you this (please feel free to pass it on to anyone you think might be half-way gullible enough):

There was a YouTube video that was uploaded on Feb 29th, that featured Barack Obama, tied to an office chair, being spanked, whipped and generally dominated by a leather-clad Hillary Clinton, while a third person, whose physique appeared identical that of John McCain (wearing only a gimp mask and a pair of powder-blue socks) watched. (Always include little details like the colour of the socks - the conspiracy nuts love that sort of thing). The video was only online for a matter of minutes before it got pulled, and neither YouTube, nor any of the alleged participants, have been willing to answer questions about it. Three of the major US networks are 'known' (a favourite 'woo'-believers word) to have copies of the footage, but since they're part of the 'mainstream media keep-us-in-the-dark, protect-the-establishment' conspiracy, they're denying all knowledge of its existence. All links, etc, to the video have, naturally, been deleted by those who are 'in control' of the web...

Now, who can prove it didn't happen?

All the best, for the time being, from this small corner of sub-standard reality.