Tuesday, 6 February 2018

No. 39 The Bitter Springs - Its Business

Over the years, few people have had a greater influence on my musical tastes than my friend Mark, or as he's known to the Twitter masses @pomfob. Since the late 1980s we've been applauding, informing or deriding each others musical acquisitions almost constantly. An important part of this process was the mix-tape. I still have every one of the C90s that Mark carefully curated for me back in the day, and I'll wager he still has mine. Some of the music he exposed me to had had a huge impact on my listening; I never really 'got' Wire until he recorded Mercy for me, from the peerless Chairs Missing. Other songs proved less significant but still provided some small joys.

The next single is definitely in the latter category. This is the only product I've every owned by Teddington's The Bitter Springs, though they have an extensive back catalogue stretching back to 1995. For those who don't know their work, think I, Ludicrous, Animals That Swim or Half Man Half Biscuit. Its Business is a fabulous little indie tune, with deeply cynical lyrics and a wry sense of humour. I particularly like the final couplet;

I've got the words but they won't come
Unless the band give up on their percentage

I'm pleased to see that The Bitter Springs are still going concern; they seem to have become Vic Goddard's backing band and played that bastion of long-in-the-tooth indie bands The Lexington last year with the likes of the Monochrome Set and The Band of Holy Joy.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

No. 38 The Birthday Party - The Friend Catcher

OK, so it's been far too long since I've done one of these. It's EARLY January, the weather is foul and the kids are deeply involved in their iPads, so this is seems like a good opportunity to add another post.

And what a single to return on. I picked this up as a teenager in Plymouth, I knew of the Birthday Party but didn't know any of their music, so this was a bit of a gamble. If memory serves it was, even in 1985, a fairly collectable single, seeing as it was a fairly early 4AD release (AD 12), but because the sleeve was pretty battered, it was a fairly cheap buy. Thirty five years later it still sounds remarkable; the song opens with a 30 second blast of howling feedback, which reappears throughout the song and returns as it fades into blackness. It also contains one of the finest guitar riffs of any Birthday Party song, or indeed any goth track. Cave is also on fine form, delivering a typically theatrical performance.

You also get not one but two decent b-sides, the Roland S. Howard penned Waving My Arms and a cover of Gene Vincent's Catman; here's the original for a compare/contrast moment.

Friday, 26 May 2017

No. 37 Billy Mahonie - Nightmare City

My third and final offering from Billy Mahonie is their Nightmare City/Scary Village single. It gathers together a pair of tracks from 2002/3. According to the Rough Trade sticker on the front, both tracks were originally available as mp3s from the band's website, but were subsequently released as a single on the French label Euprate in 2007. I think this was the band's final single, though there was a fourth and final LP release in 2009. Both tracks were subsequently included on the Exhale on Mare Street compilation, which can be found in its entirety at https://billymahonie.bandcamp.com. Both tracks are relatively long (the single plays at 33rpm as a result); Nightmare City offers some excellent loud-quiet-loud-quiet-loud-louder dynamics, whilst Scary Village briefly resembles Bela Lugosi's Dead (in a good way).

The single is a rather lovingly put together - clear vinyl is always a winner and the sleeve in printed on semi-transparent paper, with a suitably nightmarish city scape. I do own a further seven inches featuring the instrumental joys of Billy Mahonie, but it's a split single, so won't feature until we reach the letter V (for various, obviously), which at the current rate will be around 2049. If memory serves this particular single was a gift from fellow-indie traveller Mark (@pomfob) currently pursuing all things indie in the greater Europe as I write this) - many thanks!

Teaser - Next time will feature one of the greatest goth tunes ever.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

No. 36 Billy Mahonie - One Thousand Years Of Billy Mahonie

Firstly a confession, I'm not certain that this is strictly a Billy Mahonie release. I'm slightly anxious that it should be filed under various artists and thus blogged about in (at this rate) about 37 years time. All will be explained...

It is also a landmark for two reasons - it's the first double-pack single (though there are plenty more to come) and it's  the first where one side of the vinyl is, in fact, an etched image. The single was put together to celebrate the fact that it was (first-rate indie label) Too Pure's one hundredth release.

So, that leaves three sides of music. The first is provided by Billy Mahonie; a reworking of Flagiolettes (this, along with the other two tracks are taken from their debut album, The Big Dig) called Less Flagiolettes and with added trumpet from Ian Watson (who I think also worked with fellow Too Purists, Gallon Drunk - more of them later). 

However, it's the other two tracks that are problematical, only because they're clearly not really performed by Billy Mahonie. On the flip of disc 1 is a reworking of We Accept American Dollars, remade by Luke Sutherland, of the fantastic Long Fin Killie (more of them later, too) and Bows. The final track is redone by Hefner (featuring Darren Hayman, later of The French, Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern etc - much more of them/him later). Both the re-workings, sound fairly different from the originals - for a start they both have vocals. The former could easily be a Bows track and the latter sounds like a Hefner demo (no great surprises there).

The whole thing is nicely packaged in a smart gatefold sleeve; all-in-all a rather lovely object (but I still think it might be a various artists release).

You can listen to Less Flagiolettes at Gavin John Baker's excellent Bandcamp site, alternatively there's a fine (if incomplete) version of the band forming Flagiolettes on a boat in Poole Harbour. You get a good sense of what an impressive live outfit they were (even on a moving boat).

Saturday, 25 March 2017

No. 35 Billy Mahonie - Whistling Sam

Billy Mahonie were a London based all-instrumental band; the brain child of Gavin John Baker. At the time of this single, their line up consisted of two bassists, a guitarist and a drummer. Their music was always labelled post-rock, I guess partly because of the lack of a singer and because they were contemporaries of bands like Tortoise and Mogwai. I'm not sure that either comparison is that helpful; whilst they could certainly play it loud, they were never quite as bombastic as Mogwai can get and unlike Tortoise, there's no black-polo-neck-and-goatee-beard-jazz thing going on. What you do get is rather lovely interplay between then guitar and basses, fairly sparse drumming and a sound that shifts effortlessly from quiet and intricate to loud (and still intricate). 

This was their first single proper; they'd previously release a split-single with fellow bass guitar over-users Rothko on Fierce Panda; this came out on Fierce Panda offshoot Livid Meerkat, in 1998. You can hear both tracks from the single, On The Brinck and Whistling Sam, at Gavin John Baker's excellent and exhaustive Bandcamp page, on the very fine Found compilations.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

No. 34 Big Black - He's A Whore

Big Black's final single included two cover versions. The first was Cheap Trick's He's A Whore, from their 1977 debut album, whilst the b-side includes their cover of Kraftwerk's The Model, which had already been included on their final album, Songs About Fucking.

So, compare and contrast time. First up, Big Black's take on He's A Whore versus Cheap Trick's original version; the video is worth a go, if only to engage with Robin Zander's hair and his outfit, which leaves little to the imagination. 

Then we have Big Black performing a fine live rendition of the Kraftwerk classic, alongside the Kraftwerk original (I still remember watching this promo clip on Top of the Pops as a teenager and thinking how alien and sci-fi it sounded).

Monday, 21 March 2016

No. 33 Big Black - Heartbeat

More Big Black loveliness. Heartbeat is a Wire cover, the original is itself a cracking tune, as this live version from 1979 demonstrates. Albini is a long-time fan of Wire; they played at the ATP he curated some years ago, though the sleeve notes suggest that he may not have been too impressed by Colin Newman at this point. The Big Black version does a pretty decent version of capturing the angsty quiet-loud dynamics of the original song though.

On the reverse are two tracks. The first is Things To Do Today is based on a piece of evidence from the 'Billionaire Boys Club' murders, whilst the short instrumental I Can't Believe rounds off the single. This originally had lyrics but guitarist, Santiago Durango hated them, so it became an instrumental.

This was packaged as part of the 1987 Headache e.p. along with a fine four-track 12" single. Not one but two cover versions on the next seven inch post.