My Pop Life #53 : My Girls – Animal Collective

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My Girls   –   Animal Collective

…I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things

like my social status

I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls…

Just a beautiful song – from Animal Collective’s 8th LP Merriweather Post Pavilion (named after a real place in Maryland) which has many fine moments, and was for me, the best album of 2009, although looking back at my music, it wasn’t a vintage year by any means.  Funny how that happens.  We had Cesaria Evora (see my pop life #14), Drake, Laura Marling and Duckworth Lewis Method, we had Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State Of Mind’ and Dizzy Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, we had Fever Ray, Dirty Projectors, Tinariwen and critical darlings the XX who did nothing for me.  I have got other stuff from 2009 to post, but it was thin stuff on the whole, or to be diplomatic…it was a transitional period shall we say…

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Animal Collective in 2008-9 comprised of Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Avey Tare (David Portner), and Geologist (Brian Weitz), all on keyboards and eletronica.  Guitarist Deakin (Josh Dibb) had taken a sabbatical from the band at this point, and there is no guitar on the LP.

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This song would have stood out in any year –  the strange time signature, soulful vocals, unusual melody and honest lyrics – about the reasonable ambition of providing your family with a home .   The way the economies of America and Europe are at the moment, the way the music business has shrunk since the internet stole the music, musicians can no longer earn enough money to pay a mortgage sadly.  I’m talking about established musicians like Animal Collective or Everything Everything, people who’ve been doing it for years, been in magazines, on TV, released LPs.  They can’t afford to buy a house.

I was a part-time musician while I lived in Brighton and all the musicians I know there work really hard for very little financial reward.  I’ve sat in a pub and played piano for £40, belting out your favourite songs while the hubbub vibrates around you.  Background music for midweek drinkers.  It’s one of the best things about Brighton, the amount of free live music there, reminding me of Boulder, Colorado or Austin, Texas, live music pouring from every bar door.  Even when my band, the mighty Brighton Beach Boys, played a “proper gig”, eg Shoreham Ropetackle or Worthing Pier, we’d get £100 each max.  That’s just how it is.  When I saw the Mingus Big Band in New York the other week and got chatting to the alto player, they were on the same money too.  A hit single used to be a way to supplement all the live income, but not any more.  It’s just not enough.  3 hit singles, 4 and 5 and an album – well maybe.   Even David Bowie’s last album only sold 700,000 copies, apparently.  The record companies ripped us off for so long though.  The CD era was the worst, they only cost $2 to make maximum, they were charging £17 at one point.  There’s a guy in the North Laine selling CDs for £5 each, clearly he’s making a profit, why were we paying so much in the 1990s?

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But plus ca change.  People don’t decide to play music, or become actors for the huge earnings.  But think twice before you rip that next song?

2009 was also the year I started to participate in Readers Recommend, part of the GuardianMusic online community.  This has been running since 2005 and was initiated by journalist and writer Dorian Lynskey.  There is a new topic every week – the first week was Songs About Change.  The idea is that readers of the column suggest songs they like for a final playlist to be compiled and printed a week later.   Dorian’s first playlist included Sam Cooke, Notorious BIG, The Who and Muse.  The column has now been running for over 14 years.  I joined in that January in 2009 when I stumbled across it online, as I guess most people do.  Songs about Anti-Love was the topic and I suggested Bessie Smith’s version of Careless Love.  By that point Maddy Costa had taken the chair and she chose Bessie for her playlist.  I was hooked.

I’ve been playing it off and on for the last six years.  The playlist compiler has become known as the “Guru” and I have taken the chair myself on a number of occasions, now that the community is democratic and volunteers from the readership are encouraged to put their names forward.  It’s quite a task, to listen to everyone’s songs, and choose a dozen that will illuminate the topic.  I have begun to prefer the more musical topics (such as songs with great middle eights, or songs with falsetto singing), over the plainly lyrical topics.  The game isn’t just about scoring A-listers, although it is competitive.  It’s about discovering new music, and being diplomatic about other people’s taste in music.  Very rare on the internet!  Which is why we keep coming back I guess.  All the information is available at The Marconium, a compendium of all of the Readers Recommend columns and playlists in handy format, compiled by one of our brethren Marconius7, who resides in British Columbia.  It’s pretty addictive, people flounce off every now and again, sometimes with no fanfare, I’ve done it myself quite a few times, but I’ve always come back, because, well I’m addicted to music, and it’s generally good fun.

This last weekend I have been the Guru again – for the seventh time I think – the topic set by Peter Kimpton, our current Guru of Gurus (ie a paid writer at The Guardian!) was Songs About Ambition.  Many many great songs were suggested, and as ever, I had to whittle them down to 12 A-listers.   My Girls made it, naturally.  The final column can be found here : Ambition Playlist!

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January 2009 was also when Barack Obama was elected President Of The USA for the first time.   A true landmark moment.    Why?   Because white Americans had voted for a black American, that’s why.   It was the start of a healing process which is going to take longer than two terms.  As I write Baltimore is going up in flames for all the usual reasons – neglect, loss of jobs, marginalisation, leave the cops to sort it out.

*

And now I find, sitting in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn on Wednesday April 29th 2015 with my two cats Boy and Roxy, that I am missing My Girls.  My #1 girl is in Dublin tonight.  My wife has gone to see our dear friend Catherine Walker in Hedda Gabler at the Abbey Theatre before celebrating her sister Lucy’s birthday and seeing her parents.  My #2 girl Skye, daughter of Tom and Scarlett has just turned 9 months old, Jenny will get to see her on this trip but I’m missing her baby year.  My #3 girl Delilah-Rose, daughter of Millie is my god-daughter and aged 7, also lives in Brighton and I miss baby-sitting her, picking her up from school, taking her to school and everything else.  Here I am in Denver, sipping California wine, and I’ve got all night to remember them, I’m in a Lone Star state of mind.  Kind of thing.

My Girls  –  Animal Collective:

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My Pop Life #52 : Complete Control – The Clash

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Complete Control   –   The Clash

…They said we’d be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant let’s make a lotsa mon-ee
An’ worry about it later…

In 1976 I was a cowboy, wandering around Bloomsbury and the LSE  in a poncho and cowboy boots, a Lee Van Cleef hat and jeans.   With a belt.  I was 19 and just back from a 5-month hitch-hike around North America with my best friend Simon Korner.   He was now at Cambridge reading English, where I maybe should or could have been and where my dad would have preferred me to be, but that’s another story.   This is how I became a punk.  It took a while.  In the autumn of 1976 I was all New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Spirit, Wings and Joe Walsh.   Not until 1977 and the release of The Clash LP did the trend really impact on me – and my recollection of this era is blurred.   The Sex Pistols had sworn on telly, we’d heard New Rose by the Damned and Anarchy In The UK  but I never really cared about being trendy.  (Said the dedicated follower of fashion victims).  But the energy around central London that winter and spring of 77 was palpable.

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Various venues, many within walking distance of my Halls of Residence in Fitzroy St W1 were now hosting punk or proto-punk bands.   The Vortex in Soho, the 100 Club on Oxford St, the Roxy in Covent Garden, the Hope & Anchor in Highbury and the Nashville Rooms in Hammersmith became my new stomping grounds.  Songs became shorter, hair became shorter, vocals more shouted, cut-up newspaper lettering, spikes, attitude was everywhere.  I didn’t like the spitting.  Neither did the bands, but they encouraged it.   Anyone could be a punk, but the real ones were working class.  Yeah right.  Like Joe Strummer, leader of The Clash whose dad was a diplomat.  A number of us at LSE embraced the new school and safety pinned our jeans and leathers, I stapled and paperclipped one entire jacket, little badges were back, hair gel and colour.  My first hair bleachout became purple.  God knows when but late ’77 I think. God Save The Queen had been number one during the Queen’s Jubilee in June despite being banned by the BBC.  The whole two fingers up to the establishment was a wonderful burst of energy, a breath of fresh air, and that first LP The Clash was absolutely brilliant.

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It was rock, it was reggae, it was anti-police, anti-racist, anti-dead-end jobs, anti Amerikka, I’m a rebel, what are you against?, well what have you got??  Every band in Britain suddenly cut their hair and their drum solos and it became immediately hard to tell who was who.  It was the New Orthodoxy within a year, hippies were the problem, flares and guitar noodling were out, politics was back.   Of course looking back it was nothing like that – plenty of noodly LPs came out in 77,78,79.   Plenty of longhairs at gigs – including me at the beginning.   But it was a new wave of energy – The Ramones, the quickly-established legend of The Sex Pistols, signing then leaving record labels, upsetting a nation, the DIY ethic of Sniffin’ Glue the fanzine produced by Alternative TV geezer Mark Perry, the startling image of safety pins in faces, shaved and coloured hair, torn clothes – it was a street revolution by the kids.

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Complete Control came out in September 1977 in a picture sleeve – another new trend – and immediately became the Clash’s best song.   It still is.   Probably.   They had a new drummer, Topper Headon, who joined Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and bass player Paul Simenon for the classic line up.  A picture postcard from the front line of rebel-band-meets-music-business, the first line is straight in there :

They Said release Remote Control, we didn’t want it on the label…

THEY SAID fly to Amsterdam, people laughed! the press went mad…”

Remote Control was on the LP and then had been the 2nd Clash single, released by CBS without conferring with the band.  The title of the song comes from a meeting the band had with manager Bernard Rhodes in a pub.  “I want complete control” he’d said and Strummer and Mick Jones fell onto the pavement laughing at his cartoon audacity.

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The song also documents the trouble they’d had on the White Riot Tour of that year, getting their mates in the back door before they were ejected again, and the police showing up to any punk event expecting trouble, thanks to the tabloid coverage of the new youth movement –

“All over the news spread fast – They’re dirty, they’re filthy They ain’t gonna last!”

Complete Control isn’t just an angry blast against The Man though – The Clash were always better than that.  They had the musical chops.  As Mick Jones fingers a deadly riff in the centre of the song, Strummer shouts “You’re my guitar hero!” ironically at him, before asking The Man, as a rough beast that slouches towards bethlehem :

I don’t trust you !  Why should you trust me ??   Huh ?!”

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This is Joe Public speaking.  I’m controlled in the body, I’m controlled in the mind.

It’s astoundingly fantastic, trust me.   Why should you trust me ?  Huh ??  Well you shouldn’t.  Keep an open mind kids, most of what you know is blindingly obvious, just cos it’s not in the papers don’t mean it ain’t true right ??  We knew the Royal Family was a total joke, but never really saw it in the media with such passion and rage before God Save The Queen.  All these songs and gigs captured a frustrated young angry nihilism and bottled it.   Speed fags and beer helped too at gigs.  The singles kept you going between gigs, kept the flame burning.  Walking around looking punk was thrilling, the sense of power and sneer on the streets of London and elsewhere was fun, which is partly why lots of kids did it.  Posing down the King’s Road, Kensington Market or Camden Town.   Later in the 70s tourists would pay money to take your picture.  But that’s another story.  This is how I became a punk.   Actually got the hair cut and fucked myself up and started wearing eyeliner and  Doctor Martens from Kentish Town Road.  What was that shop called ?

I didn’t actually see The Clash until 1978 on Hastings Pier – or was that 1977 too?   That’s another story too.   They were completely brilliant.    But no – I’ve misremembered – I saw them first at Victoria Park Rock Against Racism in spring 1978 with Jimmy Pursey and Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson. What a day that was.

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This song is the cry of the artist against the system.  Within two short years punk had been co-opted into the mainstream and eaten by the culture, mimicked, nullified, de-fanged and major-labelled.  They bottled punk and sold it back to us – and America.  Other groups would come and kick it.   Other youth movements would rise up.  This was mine really.  I was nearly too old be to be a punk, having dedicated the majority of my teen years to glam rock with a hippy fringe, Ben Sherman meets platform shoes meets loons, but I was 19 and happy to go drainpipe, day-glo and angry again.  Although of course I was doing a law degree at the LSE.  Hahaha.   I never called myself Ralph Rebel or Ben Bollocks or anything.  But brother Paul and I had some fun in London Town for a couple of years.   We were both “dragged up on a council estate by a single parent on social security” (only kidding Mum).  We could be punks if we wanted to be.   It was a laugh.  It was a thrill.  It wasn’t exactly Anarchy in the UK, but it felt bloody great.

“This is the Punk Rockers !”

My Pop Life #51 : Tom Hark – Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

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Tom Hark   –  Elias & His Zig Zag Jive Flutes

…your team is shit

I don’t know why

but after the match

you’re going to die…

That’s me singing nonsense aged too old in 1980-something in the North Stand of the Goldstone Ground – to the tune of Tom Hark.  After 1980 when The Piranhas did their cover of this much-covered song.   It is still sung today at football grounds around the nation, with differing violent and scatalogical lyrics depending on the team being supported.   I really enjoyed singing violent songs at football when I was a teenager.  “You’re going home in a fucking ambulance” followed by a rhythmical clapping pattern, thousands of hands in unison.   It was funny.   I know it doesn’t sound funny but it was.   We sang to Bread Of Heaven (“referee, referee – you’re not fit to wipe my arse” which I misheard, rather brilliantly, as “you’re the features of my arse“!), we sang to Land Of Hope and Glory (“we hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Liverpool too, we hate Westham United but Brighton we love you… ALL TOGETHER NOW…”) and we sang to The Quartermaster’s Song (“he shot, he scored, it must be Peter Ward, Peter Ward ! Peter Ward…”).  And many many more.   Football fans like to sing.  They like to change the words of popular songs to fit around their team, the current squad of players.  I know some musicians whose sole aim and ambition is to write a song which gets sung at football matches.   The Pet Shop Boys spring to mind as a recent addition – Go West has many different versions but the no-diocese “You’re shit and you know you are” is my personal favourite ;  the existentially acerbic wit of “you know you are” being the most humiliating insult in the lexicon.

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The Piranhas were a Brighton punk band led by Bob Grover who added lyrics to the tune of Tom Hark, and had a top 10 hit with it in 1980.  Previous covers were by Millie Smalls (1964) Georgie Fame (1964) Mickey Finn (1964) and the Ted Heath Band (1958).  The first three of these are all, like the Piranhas version, ska, or bluebeat, which is to say 1960s Jamaican music which became popular in the UK and elsewhere.   Which is odd because the original is from Johannesburg in South Africa.  It’s a nice story…

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Jack Lerole would play the pennywhistle or kwela on the streets of Jo’burg and Alexandria township for money with his fellow musicians David Ramosa, Zeph Nkabinde and his brother Elias Lerole in the 1950s.  They would carry hatchets or tomahawks with them to deter thieves and gangs.     One day, talent scout and producer Rupert Bopape heard them and invited them to record at EMI South Africa’s newly-formed black division.   The resulting tune was called “Tom Hark”  which may have been a mis-hearing of Tomahawk, or may have been changed to make the song less violently-flavoured.   It struck gold – the single was a huge international hit, and the success of Tom Hark in the UK charts (where it reached number 2 in 1958), and the orchestration by Ted Heath in the US (see below) hugely boosted the popularity of kwela music in South Africa itself, leaving behind many of the street urchin associations that pennywhistle had picked up (but which perhaps returned when we sang it on the terraces?).

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Pennywhistle music (or ‘jive flute’) was considered very lower class in the earlier part of the century, being the favourite employ of street gangs and urchins who would masquerade as buskers.  After it became “kwela” music it emerged as a genuine home-grown South African music, perhaps echoing the reed flutes of the Tswana and others.   The term kwela is also interesting.    In Zulu it means “climb on, get up” and is often shouted in these types of songs, encouraging people to join in.   However, on the record itself, listen: it  begins with a short scene (spoken in flytaal the Afrikaans-based urban African dialect) of men playing dice on the street, then packing up the gambling and pulling out the penny whistles as one shouts ‘dar kom die khwela khwela‘ – or the police van.  Who knows?  It certainly became kwela after this single was released.

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Either way it had been the dominant musical style of the townships throughout the 1950s and made huge stars of Spokes Mashiyane, Aaron Lerole, and Jack Lerole himself, forming a local style that could compete commercially with imported music.   It wouldn’t last too much longer though – by the early 1960s the saxophone had replaced the pennywhistle and the bands had electrified their guitars and added a bass guitar creating a brand new sound that would dominate the airwaves for over 40 years – Township Jive or”mbaqanga“.    But that’s for another post.    This was a commercial fact of life, to pick up the saxophone in order to keep making money from music, but many of the kwela players claimed to prefer playing the penny whistle because as Aaron Lerole noted later “I could master it. I could make it talk any sound I wanted“.  The saxophone is more rigid.

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Rupert Bopape in 1958

The record is credited to “R. Bopape” who took all of the publishing.  Elias and Jack never received a penny beyond that which they made for the day’s recording.  Jack Lerole went on to become one of the first “groaners” affecting an extremely deep voice like township star Mahlathini, but would die of throat cancer in Soweto in 2003.  Rupert Bopape would go on become a hugely influential Berry-Gordy-esque figure in the South African music scene, running Gallo records and creating many many hit acts, including The Mahotella Queens and the Funk Brothers of the South African scene, The Makgona Tsohle Band.   I came across all this music in 1985 via one LP released in the UK on Earthworks called The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, featuring both of the above-named bands.   It was a doorway into a thrilling new collection of sounds.

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As for Tom Hark, it reappeared into my football life – c’mon, it had never gone away only the words had changed – when my beloved Brighton & Hove Albion became homeless in 1997, and the only viable site for a new stadium in Brighton was Falmer, opposite Sussex University.   We’d been playing at temporary athletics stadium at Withdean for years when the Falmer campaign really kicked in.   John Prescott was the target as his department would ultimately be the judge and jury, and so a long imaginative campaign by Albion fans commenced.  My own small part in it was to play the saxophone on a new version of Tom Hark called We Want Falmer with Attila The Stockbroker and The Fish Brothers, Too Many Crooks and me – a Brighton supergroup called Seagulls Ska.

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Recorded in Sayers Common one afternoon and rush-released in January 2005 with an instrumental version of our anthem “Sussex By The Sea” on the B-side, the mass-purchase of this single by Albion fans pushed the campaign song to number 17 on the national charts, and Number 1 on the independent charts.  Not bad.  Falmer Stadium eventually opened for business in July 2011.

My Pop Life #50 : Breakin’ Down (Sugar Samba) – Julia & Company

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Breakin’ Down  (Sugar Samba)   –   Julia & Company

…I’m telling you this, you can’t resist you gotta get up and dance, breakin’ it down…

It’s hard to remember just how dominant dance music was in 1984 – punk and new wave had been and gone, leaving Elvis Costello and Paul Weller to re-invent themselves with each LP (they both did dance LPs around this time) 2-tone had sealed the deal, and the disco underground of the 1970s was now mainstream chart music.  Bestriding the world like a colossus was Michael Jackson, who was burned filming a Pepsi Commercial in January just before the release of his ground-breaking and game-changing video film for Thriller, the final single from that record-breaking album.   Number one in Britain for weeks were Frankie Goes To Hollywood with “Relax“, a genuine british dance hit record which the BBC refused to play presumably because it references orgasm.   Their 2nd single Two Tribes would also reach number 1 in April.  In the previous year, when I’d been at the Donmar Warehouse for five months (!) in Steven Berkoff’s WEST, even David Bowie had gone disco with Nile Rogers and Let’s Dance.

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And this surge of popularity gave many smaller acts their chance in the spotlight: Sharon Redd, The Pointer Sisters, and Washington D.C. resident Julia Nixon who produced a stunning 45rpm 7-inch single called Breakin’ Down (Sugar Samba) first on a local label District of Columbia then later on London Records – the one which I bought in a picture sleeve.  It is a major groove and will, under almost any conditions, make people dance…

  Featured image  Knowing nothing about this group until recently when I learned that Julia Nixon had replaced Jennifer Holiday in Dreamgirls on Broadway, and that after this cracking single in 1984 and the follow-up I’m So Happy, she finally released her first solo LP in 2007 some 23 years later.

Now, I’ve been an actor for some 33 years myself, and I consider myself lucky to have lived for the bulk of my working life doing what I am capable of, and what I enjoy.  To be precise : what I enjoy is the actual act of acting.  The business of show less so, because of revelations like this : a clearly great singer (listen to the song) with a hit single who has had to wait for over 30 years to get one miserable solo LP released.  She is clearly a better singer than the majority of chart acts, but pop music is merciless with talent, as is the TV and Film industry.  I’ve thought about this many times, why does person a) get work and person b) doesn’t ?

I’m not pretending to know the answers to this but certain things are clear.  Talent isn’t enough to succeed.  There are other elements at work :  luck, connections, and the greasing of the wheels.  Whether someone wants to have sex with you or not.  Whether they think that you’ll make them some money.   In the acting industry the disappointment of rejection becomes your regular companion;  if you took every defeat on the chin you’d never get up.  Some don’t.  In the music industry again the rejections may or may not fuel the fires of creativity, or someone younger and sexier might just jump into the gap.  Good actors often decide that the lack of control they feel doing screen work can only be balanced by regular stage work, where the actor is king.  Screen work generally is paid 10 times stage work.  Good musicians will often be happier with regular paid session work, playing on other people’s hit songs, or writing other people’s hit songs (secret corn!) than sitting at home trying to plot an assault on the charts under their own name.   And in both industries there are filters at work;  gatekeepers, paid to streamline the flow of artists into the hallowed name positions.

Julia Nixon has carried on acting and singing, and still earns her living from doing it.  She was recently nominated for a Helen Hayes Award in ‘Caroline, or Change’ in Washington D.C.

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I was at the beginning of my working life when I heard this song, which I still love today, if I ever DJ for a brief nostalgic hour at a party or some such this record is Always In The Box along with Kid Creole & The Coconuts and TLC.   I didn’t really have a plan in 1984, no strategy, no idea what I was doing frankly.   Following my nose.  No one ever sat me down and explained the industry to me.   People just don’t do that.   I wouldn’t have listened anyway.   Young people don’t listen – they surge, they feel, they deal with it.   The endless thought process dealing with “how it all works” is like trying to understand the dawn of time, or how dogs can smell cancer, or the endless mystery of why people are racist.   Why does the river flow into the sea?  Why is the sky blue ? (oxygen molecules)  Why can’t I bend my left leg in the same way as my right?  Does it matter?

We all get our moment in the sun.  This is a superb song.  Smooth, funky, sexy.  I give you the seven-inch :

London Records re-mixed the 12-inch version :

the original District Of Columbia 12-inch single :

My Pop Life #49 : This Guy’s In Love With You – Herb Alpert

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This Guy’s In Love With You   –   Herb Alpert

…who looks at you the way I do?  

When you smile

I can tell 

we know each other very well…

It certainly helps that the first thing you hear is a soft-tone electric keyboard before the brushes on the snare and the vocal arrive for this is a lounge groove par excellence, from deep in my memory.   Herb Alpert had been running Tijuana Brass since 1962 with huge success, the extremely popular albums outselling even The Beatles in 1966.   Tijuana Brass were a faux-Latin brass pop outfit which Alpert described as “Four lasagnas, two bagels, and an American cheese”.  Alpert himself is Ukrainian Jewish from Boyle Heights and went to Fairfax High in Los Angeles.   He is also the “A” in “A&M Records” which he formed with Jerry Moss in 1962 and was home to The Carpenters, Sergio Mendes and Burt Bacharach who wrote and arranged “This Guy…“.   It wasn’t all easy-listening central, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker and Procul Harum (My Pop Life #37) all signed with A&M in the late 60s and by 1972 they were the largest independent record label in the world.  Herb Alpert has many Grammys, millions of sales and the distinction of being the only artist to top the charts as a singer (This Guy…1968) and an instrumentalist (Rise, 1989).

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He’s not the greatest singer as he would himself admit – Herb first sang this to his wife on a TV special (see below) but the phone lines went ballistic and within two days it was released on his own label.  Somehow it is one of the most romantic records ever recorded.  Perhaps the guys listening to it feel they can join in given that the lead vocal is so ordinary, perhaps the languid backbeat just makes them wanna slow dance with their wives…either way it is a potent and irresistible slice of conceptual conception music for adults.   Cheesy you say?  Only in the best possible way.

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It reminds me strongly of my grandfather’s funeral in Portsmouth.  My mum’s dad.  I remember Horace as a kind man, balding with remaining hair greased flat onto his head, slight air-lip, dark suit, sleeveless maroon pullover and a navy tie over a white patterned shirt.   We used to play jacks together – he taught me how to play it with five dice : 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King.  Kept in a nice red leather pouch in the sideboard.  He had a mysterious genesis as we believe his mother returned from Shanghai pregnant and gave birth in Portsmouth.   My brother Paul lives in Shanghai.   There is a Laming mentioned as a government official in China but not much more information, and it could be unrelated of course, but anyway murky family histories sometimes have to be pieced together with the clues available from reticent relatives.  He met Ruby my nan in Portsmouth and they married and had two daughters, Heather, my mum, and her sister Valerie.  I do know that Horace, my grandad, was a policeman during World War Two and had to climb onto the roof of the Guildhall in air-raids to defuse unexploded bombs, which is impressive to say the least.  He then became a shoe shop manager/owner (vagueness again) and a Mason.  The funeral I was attending, along with the other males in the family but none of the females, was Masonic.

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Portsmouth 1968

It was a pretty weird day.  I don’t even remember if my Dad was there, but I think he was.  I was eleven. Paul was nine, Andrew just turned five.   Aunty Valerie was married to Uncle Keith by now and he had a daughter Annette who was about my age. Uncle Keith was a dark-voiced stern-looking smooth operator.  Over-familiar yet unfriendly.  The ‘men” all trooped off to some impersonal chapel of rest where other masons sat in silence and a vicar read a funeral service, inserting the word “Horace” where a blank was left for a name.  There was no personality to it.  No eulogy detailing what he had done, who he was, and I was tremendously disappointed.  The priest seemed not to have known Horace at all.   It made me wonder whether there had been another Masonic funeral service to which Uncle Keith, Dad, Paul and myself would not have been invited.   The glum little ceremony done, we were driven back to 6 Moneyfields Avenue in Copnor where Nan and Mum and Valerie, Annette and cousin Wendy were gathered.  Triangular sandwiches appeared.  Tea.  Paul was there aged nine, and Andrew was five.   Perhaps he’d stayed behind with Mum.  Some music went on the gramaphone, Uncle Keith no doubt.  For some unspoken reason the men congregated at the back of the room, and the women near the bay window.

Then this song came on.  Me being a veteran of the radio and TOTP I knew it, but Uncle Keith wanted to instruct us in the ways of righteousness.  Our conversations were suddenly interrupted as he announced “Listen to this – suddenly there’s a complete silence”.

“Say you’re in love, in love with this guy.  If not I’ll just die….”

We dutifully listened to the silence.

And the mournful trumpets returned, Bacharach-style, and that laid-back groove from heaven resumed, and Uncle Keith made a hand gesture as if to say “See – what did I tell you?”.   We all nodded in solemn appreciation of this moment and then after a respectful pause carried on chatting, ignoring the actual song itself, it was the silence we had come to see.  Uncle Keith had slip-on shoes and he wasn’t to be trifled with.

About two years earlier he and Aunty Valerie had been looking after Andrew and offered to adopt him if Mum “couldn’t cope” after her first major breakdown.  They were childless, and Andrew had spent a lot of time down there.  But he’d stayed with Mum in the end.   He’d be back in Portsmouth a a couple of years time when we lost the house in Selmeston, but for now we were all together.   Later on, Aunty Valerie would divorce Uncle Keith and he would disappear from our lives.   Aunty Val would go on to live with the true love of her life in Norfolk, a woman whom I never met, also called Wendy.

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This Guy’s In Love With You was written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David at some point in the 1960s when Herb Alpert asked Burt if he had any old songs lying around.  It has been covered numerous times by other artists such as The Supremes, Donny Osmond, Booker T and Bacharach himself.  It reminds us that while the Beatles broke the charts, and the Stones brought the blues to suburban England, there was always a strain of seriously laid-back music with its adherents and practitioners happy to croon away on Sunday evening radio, any evening radio, Andy Williams, Percy Faith, Barbra Streisand, Val Doonican and even Elvis himself supported the cause, the chunky sweater, the easy warm smile, the undemanding seductive tune, your gran liking it, your Uncle Keith liking it;  secretly, you’re loving it too;  you know you are.

From “The Beat Of The Brass” TV Special 1968

My Pop Life #48 : Photoshop Handsome – Everything Everything

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Photoshop Handsome   –   Everything Everything

My teeth dazzle like an igloo wall, I inhabit, I inhibit y’all!
Can you operate alone?
Chest pumped elegantly elephantine, southern hemisphere by Calvin Klein…

A bejewelled musical box of a song I first heard on the radio in 2009, its hyperkinetic cartoon energy, mouthfuls of words and ideas sung in choirboy falsetto, proper pop chorus and hooks, thrilling drum patterns : an extraordinary construction that made my ears sit up and beg.   Here was a band who didn’t give a shit about what everyone else sounded like, who had decided forge their own independent arrogant bloody-minded path through the pop world.…I will gain an extra life when I get the high score…you can respawn anywhere…

IFeatured image bought the LP immediately it came out a few months later in 2010 and wasn’t disappointed by my own high hopes – Man Alive is, for me the single greatest record of the 21st century so far, a record that is so breathtakingly original that to compare it with Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black – great though that is – is a pointless comparison.  The LP that comes close is Kanye West’s Yeezus for musical boldness and pointers to the future, and of course there’s been interesting electronica from Jon Hopkins and Burial, Four Tet, J. Dilla and Flying Lotus, some beautiful music from Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire, John Legend & Vampire Weekend and many more indeed, insert your favourite here, but Man Alive is head and shoulders more inventive more original and more exciting a piece of work than any of the above.  Apart from maybe Yeezus….

In early 2010 I lived in Brighton and had a comfortable, settled and engaged life.  Happily married, working regularly as an actor on TV and in films, in a great band, season-ticket holder at The Albion (my local football team), good friends nearby to have a pint of beer with, cycling across the Downs on summer’s days to stay healthy and find secret butterfly sanctuaries.  I felt connected, satisfied, but as ever, needed a challenge.   I’d joined the Green Party 18 months earlier and spent every Saturday since on Caroline Lucas‘ campaign to be elected as the first Green MP in the UK for Brighton Pavilion, the centre of the town’s three constituencies.   It was a major challenge.    It was a place I felt like putting my energy.   And the energy of my ironic LPG-converted 4-wheel drive Grand Cherokee Jeep, which carried volunteers all over Withdean, Patcham, Bevendean and Hollingbury.   People came down to Brighton from all over the UK every Saturday morning for a year.

Featured imageIt was a great collective effort which culminated in election day – I spent time outside three different polling booths, then knocked people up, getting our vote out, then once the polls closed fielding some calls as local Press Officer – one from ITN News –  and I was at home.  I said “we’re quietly confident”  – I just made it up – and that became the tag-line for the night on the TV.   We had no idea if we’d won.  I went down to the count at The Brighton Centre at around midnight, place was buzzing, I had a Press Pass and talked to all the journalists there about IF Caroline wins, who she willFeatured image talk to and for how long, then a Press Conference on the top floor, then we waited and watched.  It took forever – til dawn, but then, the count, the result, the release of tension, victory at 7am in the morning.   I ran down to meet Caroline at the door of the counting room and three of us with passes escorted her up the stairs, through the throng of media, cameras in our faces, flashbulbs popping, it was the most rock-star moment I’ve ever had frankly and it was a political victory.   Extraordinary.  Upstairs the press interviews, the TV excitement, then afterwards the Green gang on the pavement outside, the celebration and then the real work began.

The end of 2009 was also when I first visited Galway on the west coast of Ireland, filming a show called The Guards with old sparring partners Stuart Orme and Iain Glen and Irish beauty Tara Breathnach.   What a town though.  Featured image I was staying in the swish elegance of the G Hotel.   A 15-minute walk took me into the pubs, the pubs the pubs of Galway.   Are there better pubs than these?   Can it be true?   One after another they suck you in with their brightly coloured exteriors, their fiddle music and soft southern voices, their velvety pints of Guinness and piles of triangular cut sandwiches, free for drinkers.   Dear Frank O Sullivan gave me the guided tour.  More than once Galway reminded me of Brighton – the music scene is thriving, the people are laid-back and friendly, it’s artistically alive, racially and sexually mixed and international yet small and manageable.  Brighton has more pubs per square mile than anywhere in the UK and more than once I heard it said that “Galway is the graveyard of ambition, the place is full of dreamers and drinkers…”

I think it’s good to listen to the universe if possible and hear what it is saying to you.   Featured imagePerhaps I should mention too, that Brighton and Galway are places where people actually choose to live because they are great places, and The Graveyard Of Ambition is always said in Galway with an undercurrent of pride – they don’t want to be anywhere else.   Balls to ambition.    This is of course hugely tempting, but perhaps not quite yet.    I did hear the universe nattering away eventually, for here I am in New York City having decided to shake things up a bit and escape from the satisfied life for a new experience.   To seek out new life, new civilisations. To boldly go to where people are allowed to split an infinitive.   Everything Everything spoke to that part of me that is always agitating, looking for change both without and within. They still speak to me.

I was on Twitter in 2012 and being a Follower of the band I read a tweet one day which said “watching Wayne’s World 2 on the tour bus…”   Hey guys – I answered (though they weren’t following me) “you made my favourite LP of the century so far !!”

This led to a Mcflurry of DMs and a date four days later in the Waggon & Horses, Brighton, by the Dome…Featured image

where Everything Everything were due to play in The Great Escape Music Festival.  We had pints, we chatted music, TV, ideas, mutual likes and dislikes, as you do.  Then I went to see them play a set, their new LP “Arc” was just out, and is also a fantastic listen.  They were, of course, tremendous.   I’d seen them before at Concorde 2 in 2010.   They’re a fairly ridiculous band live, unfeasibly brilliant.   The 3rd LP is about to be released as I speak here in April 2015, trademark crossword puzzle falsetto art pop that forges its own eclectic inspired path I’m happy to report.  The moral of the story?     Don’t settle.   Not yet.

I have to just add me and the boys outside the pub –

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Alex (guitar), Michael (drums), Me (fanboy), Jeremy (bass), Jonathan (vocals, everything)

well c’mon it is my blog.   And that as well as all the hype I’ve heaped onto the chaps, I’ll have to add that this is perhaps the best pop video of the 21st century too….a ridiculous level of detail and fun therein, both alarming and hilarious.   Enjoy!

This has been a three-pub posting.

My Pop Life #47 : The Great Gig In The Sky – Pink Floyd

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The Great Gig In The Sky   –   Pink Floyd

There are no words.    Just the wonderful sound of Clare Torry‘s voice rising and falling like the pure instrument it is over the shifting chords of Floyd’s keyboard player Richard Wright.    Track 5 on their magnum opus Dark Side Of The Moon, released in 1973, it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and probably always will.    This was a monster LP by any standards, probably the only LP at Lewes Priory School to rival Abbey Road in school corridor sightings per day.   Others had their moment and faded, these two giant records were beyond fashion and cool, beyond fortune and even taste.  They just WERE, like the stones of Stonehenge.

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Dark Side Of The Moon became a cliche quickly due to ubiquity, but it never stopped being good.   We all loved how sonically rich it was.  We loved how it took its time.    It was anti-war and anti-money, had wisdom in the mouths of fools and mental patients, it was druggy, paranoid and alive.    We all loved the muttering voice at the beginning of The Great Gig In The Sky, “And I am not frightened of dying…why should i Be, there’s no reason for it…you’ve got to go sometime..” mainly because, of course, we all are terrified of dying;  we loved a character who returns chuckling at the end of the LP on Brain Damage “the lunatic is in my head…” ;   we loved the early electro wobblefizz of On The Run which appears to end in a helicopter crash;  the line in Time which would have meant little to a group of teenagers: “…and then one day you find, ten years have got behind you….” but which haunts every adult I know.   The production is immaculate: those liquid slide and pedal steel guitar chords, blissful Hammond organ, crisp drum breaks, whispered cymbals, tasteful vocals and major sevenths in abundance.  The Great Gig In The Sky was added right at the end of the LP sessions, when the band decided to append an instrumental track of 4 minutes.

The opening chords are rather lush  :     Bm     F(-5)     Bb     F/A

play it on the piano then you can almost hear that pedal steel guitar  Gm7 to C9  sweeping in which is the bulk of the song.

But of course the reason why it stands out is the voice.  Clare Torry was a songwriter and session musician (ie paid by the session, or by the day)  and the original song was just a group of chords.  Pink Floyd’s engineer Alan Parsons suggested Torry,  she said no, she had tickets to see Chuck Berry, but came back a few days later and improvised over two and a half takes the track that we hear today.

We listened to it straight, we listened to it stoned, we listened to it tripping.   I’ll always associate it with the Ryle’s house “Waterlilies” in Kingston where I had taken refuge from my family, was playing in a band called Rough Justice with Conrad Ryle and going out with his sister Miriam.   Miriam was tall, elegant and beautiful, and when she smiled at me it was like the sun coming out.   They had a shiny wooden record player with large speakers that you could lie down between if you so desired.  In the summer of 1975 Miriam decided that we could not go on dating, mainly due to her parents splitting up – I had become “part of her past” overnight.   Miriam and Conrad’s mother, dear Rosemary Ryle (who sadly passed away in 2013) in retrospect took pity on me and said I could stay on at Waterlilies, since I had a summer job at Sussex University Library just down the road in Falmer, but some 30 miles from Hailsham where my family were.

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From Kingston Ridge towards Waterlilies, Juggs Lane, and Lewes

 Miriam wanted to stay friends and didn’t object, the house was quite a large bungalow so we weren’t exactly on top of one another, but it was a strange and melancholy summer, sprinkled with contentious trips home to Mum, Paul, Andrew and now, aged 3, my new sister Rebecca. “You treat this place like it’s a hotel, only coming back to change your clothes”.   Change clothes and pick up that Jimi Hendrix single.    Back to work on the train to Falmer.    Back to Waterlilies.    I remember lying down between those two speakers one afternoon and playing The Great Gig In The Sky at Top Volume when everyone else was out, tears streaming down my face.   Miriam was my first love, and she’d broken my heart.

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Clare Torry in 1973

But hey, I survived to listen to another Pink Floyd LP.  1995’s Wish You Were Here was the last one of theirs I liked.   Call me weird.    I spoke to Clare Torry a couple of years ago in relation to a documentary I was trying to raise finance for about Session Musicians – she was reluctant to speak of this song on camera again after so many years, a court case, regular interview requests and so on and so forth.    But she was very sweet about it.    It’s not hugely unlike what I do for a living – the session musician, the character actor –  the Lee Van Cleef image of the hired gun – ride into town, hitch the horse, set up in the saloon, shoot some bad guys, ride into the sunset with a bag of coin.   Not the whole bank.   No glory.  Hit and run.    And then the chance, now and again, to really nail something with some great people, play a lick, set up a groove, do a twirl, hit a bullseye.   Then glory, then love.   Then.    Then wait for the phone to ring.   Feed the horse.   Keep your eye in.

This really is the most incredible performance.

The Making Of The Great Gig In The Sky

Clare Torry being hilarious on making The Great Gig In The Sky

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