Thursday, 23 November 2017

LINER NOTES: SOMETIMES A PONY GETS DEPRESSED [2006]





  1. These are the Ghosts – The Bees
  2. Stagger Lee – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  3. You Don’t Miss Your Water – The Byrds
  4. It’s All in My Mind – Teenage Fanclub
  5. What Goes On – The Velvet Underground
  6. Her Name is Melody – Adrian Pride
  7. Come See About Me – The Supremes
  8. Animal Farm – The Kinks
  9. I Can’t Be Me – Eddie Hinton
  10. Guilty – Barbra Streisand
  11. Enough Said – Devo
  12. Red Sails – David Bowie
  13. Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed – Silver Jews
  14. The Lower the Sun – Tom Vek
  15. Outlines – Clor
  16. When You Get Home – The Research
  17. Andy’s Chest – Lou Reed
  18. Time Will Show the Wiser – Fairport Convention
  19. Baby Please Don’t Go – The Amboy Dukes
  20. Sway – Rolling Stones
  21. The Partisan – Leonard Cohen

These are the Ghosts begins the album Free the Bees, and so it does Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed, a ploy that will be recognisable to anyone familiar with my compilations. You can take it from this that I acquired Free the Bees in 2005, not 2006. This does not always follow but applies in this instance. In 2005 the song narrowly missed the cut.
The way The Bees presented themselves disappointed me. As a band, they were more overtly influenced by the 1960s than many of their contemporaries, wrote better tunes than many of their contemporaries. There was an opportunity begging. Instead they elected to dress like Badly Drawn Boy, as a bevy of hard-drinking skaters. Not important, just a shame, and it didn’t stop me from playing Free the Bees relentlessly for a period of time.

Copenhagen with No Eyes and her husband. It’s a bit in late in the day to be coining new nicknames but ‘her husband’ probably deserves a sobriquet of his own. After all, he did introduce me to Boozoo Bajou’s Night Over Manaus, which appears on my 2000’s compilation The Ladies of Varades, as well as Happiness by Teenage Fanclub, which I included on the following year’s The Boys of Summer, and he came on both the associated holidays – at which he would mysteriously disappear and then re-appear, earning him the epithet ‘Teleport Man’.
Copenhagen with No Eyes and Teleport Man. Teleport Man has just been shouted at for taking photographs in Freetown Christiania by one of its free spirited natives. It’s February, so fairly cold, and we’ve been out for much of the day. Everything points towards stopping somewhere for a drink. The Eiffel Bar is nearby, a locals’ sort of place, dank but full of character. There’s country rock playing in the background, but my attempt to extract the artist responsible gets nowhere.
Two days later and it’s just me and my lady-friend. We would like a cup of coffee and find a cafe on Larsbjørnsstræde. Music is playing. At first I don’t pay it much thought – I’m distracted by the only other customer, who’d pass for National Front back home and keeps glancing over at us. He smiles, asks where we’re from, and leaves soon after. “It was back in ’32 when times were hard. He had a Colt 45 and a deck of cards – Stagger Lee.” It sounds like Nick Cave but I don’t know the album. The proprietor speaks English; it is Nick Cave (and the Bad Seeds), and the album is Murder Ballads.
It’s March. We’ve hired a cottage near Abergwesyn in Wales to belatedly celebrate the 30th birthday of my Cornish friend (the one who dropped in Debenhams). It snowed on the drive in and it’s about a foot deep in places. The lad who once lent me The Sound of the Suburbs (the same who would beat me at snooker) is here. Turns out he’s a big fan of Murder Ballads. He takes me to his car so we can listen to Stagger Lee on his new car-stereo, at volume, late at night, in the privacy afforded by Abergwesyn Valley.
It was the 1994 record Let Love In that first aroused my interest in Nick Cave, but it was Murder Ballads that stepped it up. It’s literally an album of ballads concerning murder, and it betrays a humour in Cave’s work that had until now escaped me.


Abergwesyn

Having enjoyed the first two Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe – I got around to buying Sweetheart of the Rodeo. I covered a bit of the back-story in my liner notes to Aka ‘Devil in Disguise’. I wrote thusly: “1968 was a period of transition for The Byrds. Having removed David Crosby from the fold, they were struggling to perform The Notorious Byrd Brothers in a live setting to a satisfactory standard. Enter Gram Parsons, initially on keys and then guitar. Gram had already cultivated a country-rock sound with his group The International Submarine Band, so it was a willing combination. By August, The Byrds had recorded and released their next album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, regarded by some as the first pure country-rock record.” I also remarked: “Sweetheart of the Rodeo consists mostly of covers.” You Don’t Miss Your Water was a soul record released on Stax, written and recorded by William Bell. It also appeared as the final track on Otis Redding’s Otis Blue, so it has good pedigree, and the Byrds do a fine job on it.
I’m fairly sure it was I who used to play Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub back in the day, but my Cornish friend seems to have taken over the mantle. After enjoying Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds - A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub in 2003, in 2005 he bought their new album, Man-Made, and in 2006 let me borrow it. I normally prefer Raymond McGinley’s songs in Teenage Fanclub, but It’s All in My Mind is one of Norman Blake’s.

Back in Copenhagen, looking for somewhere to eat. It’s one of those evenings where you’re unsure of your appetite. After a few beers, proceeded by too much walking, we decide to take a chance on a place called Bang & Jensen. The gamble pays off: the food is good, the interior decor pleasing to the eye, the prices quite reasonable for a city with Copenhagen’s reputation, and they’re playing The Best of The Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed. I know this because the CD case is propped up in front of the CD player, not because I have knowledge of the album. Tracks 9 and 10 come as something of a surprise: What Goes On and Beginning to See the Light. I’d felt weak and tense, but my hunger is sated and I’ve happened upon what are now my two favourite songs by The Velvet Underground. As if that wasn’t enough, the CD finishes with Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll. Within four days of my return to London, I will have bought both Murder Ballads by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground.

My regard for the 1960s, and for psychedelic garage rock in particular, persisted. I procured Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68 prior to buying My Mind Goes High: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults, but it’s the latter that makes the first appearance on this playlist in the form of Adrian Pride. Her Name is Melody alone justifies the purchase: a psychedelic raga with an exquisite vocal, it deserves to be more well known.
I’d probably watched Catholic Boys again, because I’d resolved to include Come See About Me by The Supremes on my next compilation. I was able to do so after finding 20 Golden Greats, credited to Diana Ross & The Supremes, amongst the detritus of my parents’ record collection. Come See About Me originally appeared on The Supremes’ LP Where Did Our Love Go, released 1964. Catholic Boys (aka Heaven Help Us) is set in Brooklyn, circa 1965. Come See About Me serves as the backdrop to a scene where Mary Stuart Masterson’s soda shop is raided by the ‘brothers’ who teach across the road at St. Basils. Andrew McCarthy hangs back to help her clean up the mess, and romance ensues.
If I’d converted to MiniDisc a few years earlier than I eventually did, it’s quite possible that Death of a Clown by The Kinks would have ended up on one of my compendiums. A borrowed greatest hits collection was knocking around our flat in Brentford for a while, but, as is typical of so many self-serving anthologies, it lacked the necessary context to sustain my interest. By the time I’d got back into the habit of making annual compilations the opportunity had passed. It took an advert for digital imaging products to return The Kinks to my attention, by way of the song Picture Book. I’d neither heard it nor heard of it, but the album it heralded from was available from my local high street record store for a mere six pounds. Most Kinks’ greatest hit compendiums completely sidestep The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society – unless you count Days, which never actually appeared on the original record but gets tacked on whenever the album’s reissued – but I can identify at least five tunes from it that are up there among the group’s best. When it came to selecting material for my annual playlist, I found it almost impossible to choose between two of them: Animal Farm and Starstruck. Consider these interchangeable.
No Eyes and Teleport Man were living in Brighton and Hove. In 2005 my lady friend and I visited four times. I don’t know on which stay it was, but I identified a tune on a compilation they owned, called Country Got Soul Volume Two, as worth having: I Can’t be Me by Eddie Hinton. Primarily a session musician, Eddie Hinton played on the records of Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and Otis Redding, amongst others, but could also sing a bit himself (deliberate understatement). Muscle Shoals progenitor Jerry Wexler described Hinton as, “a white boy who truly sang and played in the spirit of the great black soul artists he venerated,” and I can’t say better than that.

I’d all but exhausted my parents’ record collection by this point. I made a final pass anyway and annexed their copy of Guilty by Barbra Streisand, featuring Barry Gibb. I don’t buy into the concept of ‘guilty pleasure’ (no pun intended) but this is the sort of thing people are alluding to when they make a claim for it. There’s nothing to be remotely embarrassed about. Even if there was, why not just concede to having philistine taste and be done with it? But Guilty is not that. It is a flawless pop song, as good as anything contrived by the genre’s archetypes: The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, ABBA. Time signatures are constantly moving about, from 5/4 to 4/4 and back to 5/4 during the verse, and alternating between 3/4 and 4/4 in the midst of the chorus. There are some ingenious chord changes too. My favourite is the shift from Dm to Ebmaj7 and the way Barry Gibb vocally segues into it:

Dm        Am         Dm
You got a reason for livin'
Ebmaj7
You bat-tle on_with the love you're building on.

There’s nothing wilful about these unexpected deviations – the song’s mode is strophic: introduction, verse, bridge, chorus, instrumental breakout, verse, bridge, chorus, refrain, fade – and each deflection serves to move the song towards its resolution (there aren’t the episodic digressions of, say, Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys). But it’s hard to call. Almost every line leads where you’d least expect it to, an exercise in suspense, patient with itself.

Secondhand vinyl can be surprisingly inexpensive. Rare pressings in mint condition, of the sort secondhand dealerships like to hang up on their walls, might set you back a bit, but for anything else I wouldn’t expect to pay more than a cockle. Most of my David Bowie records cost a fiver, their popularity at the time of their release ensuring that supply continues to exceed demand. I think I paid the same for New Traditionalists by Devo, whereas Duty Now for the Future cost me a paltry £3. New Traditionalists is the better album and the jerky synth-pop of tracks like Through Being Cool, Soft Things, Pity You, The Super Thing, Beautiful World and Enough Said are amongst the group’s finest.
David Bowie had championed Devo in their earlier years, to the extent that he co-produced their first album alongside Brian Eno (although by all accounts it wasn’t the most satisfying of partnerships). Might it have been this that directed my attention back towards David Bowie? More likely it was my trip to Berlin in October 2004, although before completing Bowie’s so called ‘Berlin Trilogy’ with Lodger I first bought a Station to Station, the album he recorded in Los Angeles before absconding to Europe. Station to Station is clearly the better record, but the songs have an epic quality that don’t lend themselves to 20-song playlists; I would have liked to have included the song Station to Station or Stay but they’re 10 minutes and 11 seconds and 6 minutes and 13 seconds long respectively. That being said, Lodger could be Bowie’s most overlooked and underrated work. To complement the nature of the previous track – Devo’s Enough Said – I wanted to follow up with something urgent and was torn between Red Sails and Look Back in Anger. Bowie’s slightly more tempered vocal on Red Sails swung it.
I purchased the LP Tanglewood Numbers by Silver Jews almost on the strength of its front cover. That’s not quite true: I knew a little about them – the fact that it was David Berman’s band but that Stephen Malkmus and Robert Nastanovich of Pavement often lent their services. It was worth it, and my annual compilation found its delightful name.




When we left university, the guy who owed many tapes gave me his old corduroy military style jacket, but that had long since perished and was never very warm anyhow. Prior to that I wore my uncle’s old Ron Hill cagoule and my dad’s leather ‘car coat’, neither of which afforded much protection. I now possessed a black bomber jacket, but that only really held up in the wind and the rain, not the cold. So I paid for a second-hand pea coat, the first outer garment of any substance that I’d owned since being at school, to protect against the Danish winter and other forms of inclement weather.
On my feet I rotated desert boots, Adidas Stan Smiths and a pair of Chelsea boots. I’d started investing in crew and V-neck jumpers from Marks & Spencer in sombre tones. Jeans were boot-cut but only on account of the paucity of alternatives; I would try on a number of pairs in the same size and opt for the least flared and tightest fitting (always Levi’s). The pea coat excepted, this was all par for my course – had been since the start of university and the discovery of retrospective fashion. But now a twist: I came across a picture of Tom Vek in blue jeans, trainers, and a black T-shirt. I had plenty of white T-shirts, and a blue one, a yellow one, even an ecru one, but not black. The only black T-shirt I can recall having owned was my Brand New Heavies T-shirt circa 1992-1994. And so I bought a ribbed black T-shirt from American Apparel.
My Cornish friend had pointed me in the direction of Tom Vek by way of the video for his single C-C (You Set The Fire In Me) in the summer 2005, and before the year was out I owned the album (just: it was a Christmas present – one that I probably asked for). The album hinted at a change in the musical landscape, relief from the dross that had pervaded throughout 2005: Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, Bambyshambles – the fag-end of the garage rock revival. A new sound was emerging that incorporated synthesisers and would come to be known roughly as electro-pop. Whether Tom Vek fell exclusively within this genre is moot: he was making an interesting noise that incorporated abrasive guitars, keyboards, and drawled vocals, and doing it alone in his parents’ garage.
Clor’s record was cut from if not the same cloth as Tom Vek’s then certainly a fabric exhibiting similar properties, perhaps of a higher, more melodic denier. You might want to dance to Clor. I first encountered them on MTV around the house of The Wilkinsons in Acton, and we then went to see them supporting Stephen Malkmus at the Koko in Camden. Clor split up after just one self-titled album, which was great shame.
The Research released their debut, Breaking Up, in early 2006, managed a second album in late 2008 and then went the same way as Clor. Their electro-pop was of a looser nature to Tom Vek or Clor’s (lo-fi electro-pop anyone?). Lead singer Russell 'The Disaster' Searle would hammer away at a keyboard while bassist Georgia Lashbrook churned out Wedding Present-esque grooves. My Cornish friend took me to see them play at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush for my 31st birthday, so I guess I was engaging with the contemporary music scene to a degree.

But only to a degree. Once they’d finished playing The Velvet Underground in Bang & Jensen, on went Lou Reed (with a little help from David Bowie and Mick Ronson). I’d never bothered with Transformer because I never liked Walk on the Wild Side and couldn’t stand Perfect Day. But I hadn’t ever heard Vicious, or Andy’s Chest or Hangin’ Around or I’m So Free, so it was worth a fiver from HMV to add the CD to my burgeoning collection.
I have no idea what inspired me to buy the first Fairport Convention album. If I was expecting something along the lines of The Wicker Man soundtrack then I was to be disappointed. Folk rock, as I have touched on before, is very different to country rock, and never held as wide an appeal. At the time Fairport Convention’s debut was written, however, folk-rock was more ‘rock’ than it was ‘folk’, taking its lead from Bob Dylan, The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane, as Time Will Show the Wiser amply demonstrates.
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68 was released in 1972 and has been reissued on numerous occasions since. This assemblage of music has been offered up as the antecedent of punk (although, as I’ve already discussed, it was jazz that instituted the manner by which punk was recorded). Proto-punk credentials aside, it’s the perfect place to start for anybody interested in exploring the genre. The Amboy Dukes’ cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go is a marked highlight, and at over the double the length, far better value than Them’s version.
What made me hark back to Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones and include Sway on my 2005 compilation? I couldn’t say, but I’d bought a burgundy and white geometric-print silk scarf from Portobello Road market in October to pair up with the pea-coat, Keith Richards circa 1967 being my point of reference. Photos from Budapest and Madrid convey a similar vibe. In any case, Sway is assuredly one of my favourite Stones’ tunes, so there’s no harm in it being here.


Budapest

In 2005, the former cohabitant from Brighton had been house-sitting for his parents when he invited me and the friend who foundered in Debenhams to pay a visit. I came early, and we made arrangements to hook up with our Cornish friend later that evening for a spirited pub crawl around Brighton’s Lanes. Back at the house, the former cohabitant had a few things he wanted to show me (footage from our trip to the States; works in progress), and whilst doing so played whatever had been last listened to on the CD player.
Once when my mother heard me listening to them, she proffered that the Tindersticks sounded like Leonard Cohen. They don’t, but at some point Leonard Cohen started singing in a tone vaguely approximating that of Stuart Staples (during the 1980s, on Various Positions?). What I was hearing now did not sound remotely like the voice of Stuart Staples. It was the song Who by Fire, taken form Cohen’s fourth album, 1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony. I read somewhere that Ian McCulloch thought that Greatest Hits was Cohen’s best record, so I took him at his word and bought a copy from a second-hand record store, I don’t recall which.
On the inner sleeve there are liner notes recounting the back story to every song. For example, of Famous Blue Raincoat Leonard Cohen has this to say:

“I had a good raincoat then, a Burberry I got in London in 1959. Elizabeth thought I looked like a spider in it. That was probably why she wouldn’t go Greece with me. It hung more heroically when I took out the lining, and achieved glory when the frayed sleeves were repaired with a little leather. Things were clear. I knew how to dress in those days. It was stolen from Marianne’s loft in New York sometime during the early seventies. I wasn’t wearing it very much toward the end.”

Taking an opportunity to invite the chap who got me into Sarah Records back to our new flat, I played the record and directed his attention to this specific annotation. He understood instinctively. The Partisan is a cover of a French homage to the French Resistance in World War II written by French journalist Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie. For some reason, Leonard Cohen’s interpretation brings to my mind the Spanish Civil War. I do not know why this is.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

LINER NOTES: AKA DEVIL IN DISGUISE [2005]





  1.  That’s the Way It’s Got to Be – The Poets
  2.  Entry of the Gladiators – Nero & the Gladiators
  3.  Pretty Ballerina – The Left Banke
  4.  Song for Jeffrey – Jethro Tull
  5.  Christine’s Tune (aka Devil in Disguise) – The Flying Burrito Brothers
  6.  Rhyme the Rhyme Well – Beastie Boys
  7.  Outdoor Miner – Wire
  8.  Sunny Sunny Cold Cold Day – Herman Dune
  9.  Warning Sign – Talking Heads
  10.  Insight – Joy Division
  11.  (Intro/Tokyo) City Girl – Kevin Shields
  12.  Cruiser’s Creek – The Fall
  13.  Record Collection – Comet Gain
  14.  Come Back Jonee – Devo
  15.  King of the Rodeo – Kings of Leon
  16.  Mod Lang – Big Star
  17.  Road to Nowhere – Hearts and Flowers
  18.  Angel – Rod Stewart
  19.  Tell Me Why – Neil Young
  20.  Girls Like That – Weird War
  21.  Silly Girl – Television Personalities

Record shops come and go. Growing up in Plymouth, I used to shop at HMV and Our Price on New George Street, Rival Records on Royal Parade, and Virgin Megastore on the corner of Cornwall Street and Armada Way. I say ‘shop’ but I’d mostly go just to look, often on my way home from school after taking an unnecessary detour via the city centre, thus postponing the laborious task of tackling the homework set that day. Later, once I found a use for secondhand material, I’d frequent Purple Haze at Drake Circus, the Music and Video Exchange in the Pannier Market, Different Class on Frankfurt Gate (not so much), and Really Good Records back when it occupied one of a row of Victorian tenements next to Plymouth Library. Fans of dance music would undoubtedly give a shout out to Bigga Records, and there were probably other record shops I have either forgotten or was never aware of.
The only one of these businesses still doing business is Really Good Records. After occupying a plot in the now defunct Bretonside Bus Station, it can now be found on Exeter Street just above. A guy called Mike runs the place and he won’t open up before 10:30 a.m. – or at all if it’s a Monday. He is very persuasive. If money was tight I’d think twice about paying a visit, knowing that I might leave with more than I literally bargained for. I once dropped in for a Jethro Tull album and left with two (This Was and Aqualung), as well as a psychedelic/garage rock compilation entitled Illusions from the Crackling Void, and only narrowly avoided adding something by The Seeds to my collection. When I returned some months later for Devo’s first album I also came away with Real Life by Magazine and a beaten up copy of the Spiral Scratch EP by Buzzcocks.
This sort of thing could happen on any one of my tri-annual sojourns to Plymouth, to see family and catch up with friends. These apportioned visitations would further reveal sudden physical changes to my hometown’s landscape, often to my dismay, occasionally my pleasure. Some were more substantial than others. When the council finally gave permission for the old Drake Circus to be redeveloped it came down very quickly, as most buildings do once the wrecking ball moves in, radically changing the terrain in and around. The planning process had been so drawn out that by the time the new Drake Circus Shopping Centre opened in 2006, it was immediately considered démodé. Not that I imagine the shopping obsessed hordes particularly cared; only those of us who remembered fondly Arcadia, Olympus Sport, Purple Haze, The Unity were in any way bothered by it.
Illusions from the Crackling Void turned out to be quite the coup. It’s a collection of late 1960s psychedelic rock released on the Bam-Caruso imprint, the same people who put together the Rubble anthology comprising the same sort of thing, which was in turn inspired by the Nuggets series begun by Elektra and continued by Rhino Records. Most of it is fairly obscure, although The Poets, who were from Scotland, were probably one of the better known groups of the ‘freakbeat scene’, which was really just a British term for psychedelia with a mod-ish slant.


Drake Circus, I'm guessing mid-1990s (Courtesy Plymouth Herald).

“What the hell is this?” quoth my lady friend. “It sounds like clowns on acid!” The song, written by Czech composer Julius Fučík, had indeed found fame as a circus march, but why the allusion to hallucinogens? Nero & the Gladiators belong to that rather tame strain of instrumental rock & roll that was popular for a time in the early 1960s, as exemplified by groups like The Shadows, The Tornados, The Ventures. The source in this case was a long player entitled Decade of Instrumentals: 1959~1967, which was one of a number of the records The Former Cohabitant From Brighton brought over for me to listen to when I was living at 27 Hanworth Road. A man who moved house often, his records had since become an encumbrance, and so he decided to pass them on to me. Entry of the Gladiators starts with applause, then the spoken words, "Hey, say there Brutus man, like, here come the gladiators,” before a woozy, reverb-drenched guitar kicks off the tune’s chromatic scale, making some sense of my female companion’s startled appraisal. In retrospect, I’m surprised it never made it onto The Heroes of Hanworth.
Baroque pop is pop/rock that utilises traditional classical instruments, such as strings or harpsichords, and may employ musical strategies more usually associated with classical music. The Beatles were arguably the genre’s most accomplished exponents – In my Life, Eleanor Rigby, Fixing a Hole, The Fool on the Hill, etc. (it seems to be more McCartney’s thing) – but the Stones contributed too, probably at Brian Jones’s behest – Play with Fire, Lady Jane, She’s a Rainbow. It wasn’t by any means a British phenomenon. Love dabbled, and The Beach Boys too, but it was perhaps New York band The Left Banke who came the closest to being defined as an actual baroque act. Pretty Ballerina is the last track on Illusions from the Crackling Void. In the 1967 television documentary Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, Leonard Bernstein cheerfully observed that it incorporated, “a combination of the Lydian and Mixolydian modes,” although did then go on to urge us to, “never forget that this music [as in popular music generally] employs a highly limited musical vocabulary.” But he was right to single out Pretty Ballerina, even if I don’t quite understand his reasoning.
I had recently seen exerts from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (which funnily enough opens to the sound of Entry of the Gladiators) and had been very impressed by Jethro Tull’s contribution, Song for Jeffrey. My fondness for vinyl is based on its superior sound quality, and if the packaging is any good it’s a bonus. The front cover to the Jethro Tull album This Was depicts the group dressed up as old men surrounded by dogs, as if in a forest or wood. On the reverse, the band as they are, laughing, but not in colour as on the front, but in a monochrome yellowish green with the band’s name and the album title writ large in red. It’s gatefold, and so on the inside we get a picture of the band live on stage, the track listing and recording information printed over the top. The card itself has a pleasing lustre. I don’t mean to say that it is attractive, but the copy I purchased was in mint condition and makes for a curious object. I concede to be slightly underwhelmed by the music itself, although Song for Jeffrey lived up to its initial impression.
1968 was a period of transition for The Byrds. Having removed David Crosby from the fold, they were struggling to perform The Notorious Byrd Brothers in a live setting to a satisfactory standard. Enter Gram Parsons, initially on keys and then guitar. Gram had already cultivated a country-rock sound with his group The International Submarine Band, so it was a willing combination. By August, The Byrds had recorded and released their next album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, regarded by some to be the first pure country-rock record. I bypassed this album – for now – and went straight for The Flying Burrito Brothers, the band Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman formed shortly after the release of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Whereas The Byrds had become Roger McGuinn’s band, The Flying Burrito Brothers was certainly Gram’s. I can only assume Chris Hillman enjoyed playing a supporting role, which is not to undermine his contribution or even how his contribution was perceived: just as Hillman is given credit commensurate with McGuinn on The Notorious Byrd Brothers, so he is with Parsons on The Gilded Palace of Sin (Sweetheart of the Rodeo consists mostly of covers). Band politics aside, the movement of staff doesn’t impact much on the music. Both Sweetheart of the Rodeo and The Gilded Palace of Sin are sincere exercises in fusing rock and roll with country and western, demonstrating a complete disregard for the psychedelia or R & B that was more fashionable at the time. One wonders why Christine's Tune wasn’t released as a single like Marrakesh Express was, which featured David Crosby on harmony vocals.
It had been six years since the release of the Beastie Boys’ last album, Hello Nasty, and I hadn’t listened to much hip hop in the intervening years. My youngest brother burned me a copy of To the 5 Boroughs, with some Jurassic 5 tacked on the end of it, which I took back to London along with all the stuff I’d purchased from Really Good Records. The album is more minimal, without some of the filler that mars Hello Nasty, and Rhyme the Rhyme Well is a good example of this. Save for the sampling of Chuck D’s opening salvo on Public Enemy No. 1, the track is built around nothing much more than a strong thumping beat and a weird descending keyboard effect. Country rock and hip hop aren’t the most complimentary of styles, and I wonder whether the pared down sound of Rhyme the Rhyme Well is what allows it follow on from Christine's Tune without too much bother.
To supplement my modest income I’d been attending ‘focus groups’ on a fairly regular basis. They typically paid in the region of £50 for a couple hours of your time, give or take, and there might also be free food and drink. Since last June, I’d offered my thoughts on Anadin paracetamol, Burger King, Twix, Foster’s lager, Threshers off-license, Right Guard, the BBC website, iced tea, Budweiser, and cigars. I didn’t even smoke cigars.
The day after expatiating on the subject of cigars, for which I was awarded £60, I was back in London to see Herman Dune at the 100 Club with The Chap Who Introduced Me to Sarah Records. This means that he would have already made me the compilation that included Herman Dune’s Sunny Sunny Cold Cold Day, as well as Outdoor Miner by Wire (the album version). Wire had the same look about them that a lot of those early British post-punk bands did: Gang of Four, Magazine, Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees to an extent. It’s a very simple, understated look, made up of plain shirts, suit jackets, sensible shoes and slacks in muted colours. I’ve often wondered where it derived from. Was this a deliberate attempt to eschew the showier visage of early punk: the torn fabric, piercings and sculpted hair of bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned? Or was it a nod to the drab functionalism of Dr Feelgood and the pub rock scene? Television, Blondie and Talking Heads manifested it too – all of them American – so maybe not. Anyway, Outdoor Miner by Wire doesn’t sound much like Wire – they’re not normally so melodic – but how is this for an opening stanza:

No blind spots in the leopard's eyes,
Can only help to jeopardize,
The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries.


I’d always liked Talking Heads, hadn’t I? I’d owned the live album Stop Making Sense since my first year at university (on tape). In about 1998, I’d purchased True Stories on a hungover Sunday morning with The Guy Who Used to Own Many Indie Tapes, who by now owned just as many CDs. I suppose the intent was always there to explore the group’s back catalogue in more detail, but the Stones and David Bowie and The Byrds and Led Zeppelin and jazz and funk and ska got in the way.
There are only so many defining moments in one’s life, and relatively few really. How many more records will you listen to that genuinely fill you with the same sense of awe or glee you felt when introduced to a favourite album? Maybe twenty, probably less. How many more times will you sit down with the express intention of listening to a particular record from start to finish, and to only listen and nothing else. Perhaps five or six? And yet it all seems limitless.
I purchased More Songs About Buildings and Food on a whim after coming across it in the ‘£5 or less section’ of HMV in Hounslow. The front cover intrigued me – a group portrait made up of 529 individual Polaroids – and its date – 1978: the same year of Plastic Letters by Blondie and Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo – inferred the album might exhibit the sort of new wave qualities that appealed to me – intelligible vocals, keyboards, rhythmic guitars. On playing the CD this was found to be true. I was taken aback by how good it was, and also how unfamiliar – how so few of the songs had been released as singles (just one: Take Me to the River, a cover of an old Al Green song). I liked the record so much that I quickly surmised it might be one of my favourites. To satiate any curiosity you may have upon this subject, here are my 10 favourite albums of all time in the order I came across them:

Sign o’ the Times – Prince
Licensed to Ill – Beastie Boys
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back – Public Enemy
Step in the Arena – Gang Starr
One for All – Brand Nubian
Green – R.E.M.
Modern Life is Rubbish – Blur
Tindersticks (first album) – Tindersticks
This Nation’s Saving Grace – The Fall
Mars Audiac Quintet – Stereolab
Forever Changes – Love
Stardust – The Sea Urchins (not strictly an album but a collection of the band’s singles)
A Northern Soul – The Verve
Black Secret Technology – A Guy Called Gerald
Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones
Black Monk Time – The Monks
Notorious Byrd Brothers – The Byrds
Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul – Otis Redding
More Songs About Buildings and Food – Talking Heads

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that I’ve listed more than 10 albums. I tried whittling it down but couldn’t get any lower than 14, and I’m not even sure I’ve got that right.
Warning Sign is a very highly strung song. It starts with Chris Frantz knocking out a few bars on drums, Tania Weymouth then embarks on a wandering groove, David Byrne’s guitar gradually chimes in before Jerry Harrison joins on second guitar, and then BAM! – Byrne mutates his instrument into a discordant siren, demands we admire his hairdo and tells us that he’s ‘got money now’. It could be a comment on how wealth corrupts the individual, but I can’t be sure.
What Brian Eno brings to More Songs About Buildings and Food is comparable to that which Martin Hannett lends to Unknown Pleasures. Both producers subject their musical constituents to echo and delay, with a particular emphasis on drum and bass, to create a sort of industrial sonority. However, the prevailing mood on Joy Division’s record is very different. Insight: a distant drone, a faint whir and the sound of a door being opened and shut – a prison cell is insinuated. Cymbals and guitars gradually fade in, then Peter Hook’s bass in a register diametrically opposite to Tina Weymouth’s. The variance between the respective vocals is even more pronounced. Where David Byrne offers abstruse verbalism, Ian Curtis’s tone seems to be one of resignation, in keeping with his mythology. His inflection is more nuanced than he’s given credit for, and nowhere is this more true than on Insight, his bass-baritone sounding at moments almost fragile.
I used to watch more movies in those pre-internet days. The film Lost in Translation seemed to divide people, and I was very keen. If I had been connected to the internet then I probably would have downloaded City Girl, but instead I had to buy the film’s soundtrack, and did so for this song alone. When it came to including it on Aka ‘Devil in Disguise’ I was unable to physically dissociate it from Intro/Tokyo, a segment of ambient sound that wouldn’t feel out of place on the second side of “Heroes” by David Bowie. This turned out to be not such a bad thing, providing a dissonant bridge across from the relative clarity of Insight to the melodic oddness and distorted guitar of City Girl. It’s a song that doesn’t really resolve itself. The same chord cycle just repeats itself four times, without any real regard for what might be a verse or a chorus, except each time the tempo is increased slightly. I could listen to it all day.




Turning 40 isn’t as bad as turning 30. In 2005 I turned 30. We gathered at The Endurance in Soho to celebrate: myself, my lady-friend, the guy who keeled over in Debenhams, the former cohabitant from Brighton, the guy who used to own a pager and his girlfriend who tenuously resembles Emily the Strange, ‘The Wilkinsons’ and the boys who lived at The Grosvenor, No Eyes and her husband, Queen of Tin (an old university associate we became reacquainted with during our Brentford years), and my brother (the one who recorded Orbital for me, not the Beastie Boys). Just a few days later I was in Tuscany for the wedding of an old school friend. Badminton had died a death but I was playing 5-a-side with the guys at work. I cycled to work. My brother (Orbital) challenged me to run the Brighton 10K with him in mid-November, to which I acceded (although I didn’t start training for it until late September). A city-break to Barcelona with my lady-friend in July, and another to Berlin with the Wilkinsons in late October. The August bank holiday weekend was given over to canoeing and camping in Wales, where we also kept close tabs on how England was getting on in The Ashes. I ate a lot of rice and felt professionally dissatisfied.
For my birthday, the Wilkinsons very kindly gifted me The Fall: The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004. The Fall was known to be 'my' group. In truth, I hadn’t listened to them much over the last five or so years and hadn’t bought any of their records for longer than that, but I welcomed the prospect of reacquainting myself with the world of Mark E Smith. These Peel Session tracks would proceed to form the backbone of the ‘Best of The Fall, Part 1’ playlist I subsequently compiled, and would ultimately prompt me to buy a few of the albums I’d never got around to buying the first time around. For the time being, Cruiser’s Creek features here.
Comet Gain are another by-product of the compilation the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records put together. The song Record Collection tells of not being able to listen to certain records because they remind the protagonist of his ex. Sarah Records guy and I have a shared appreciation of many musical moments: the sudden shift from Gbm to D in Marbles by the Tindersticks; the strained harmonies in Solace by The Sea Urchins; Arthur Lee pleading that, “we’re all normal and we want our freedom,” towards the end of Love’s The Red Telephone. On the other hand, whereas I’m very interested in rhythm, Sarah Records guy is all about melody – he has no time for The Fall and likes a good tune. If there’s a space where we meet in the middle, Comet Gain occupy it. He took me to see them at The Water Rats in King’s Cross at the beginning of the year, and I understood perfectly.
I doubt very much the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records has much time for Devo. This is because he would perceive them to be a ‘comedy band’, and if there’s one thing he can’t stand it’s that – he has no time for Half Man Half Biscuit. But he wouldn’t be quite right. There’s certainly a humorous element to Devo’s act, but it’s equally kitsch, subversive and satirical. Not that that would impress Sarah Records guy either – as far as I know, he has no time for Weird War. Myself, I have no problem mixing mirth with music. How I laugh to myself every time I catch a glimpse of the back cover of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! depicting various band members with stockings pulled over their heads (actually a stilled image from the band’s extended music video The Truth About De-Evolution, which I recommend highly).
It might appear that I was still avoiding contemporary music, but this is only partly true. In September, I saw Stephen Malkmus touring his latest album, Face the Truth, supported by a band called Clor. My friend who passed out in Debenhams pointed me in the direction of Tom Vek by way of the video for his new single C-C (You Set The Fire In Me). Field Music, who had impressed in support of The Go! Team the previous year, released their debut album. Weird War had a new record out – they even played twice in support of it: at the Camden Underworld in May and again at the Highbury Garage in November. Aside from Illuminated by the Light by Weird War, bought within days of its release, it took me a while to absorb the rest, but ultimately I did. In the meantime I purchased Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon.
I have Aha Shake Heartbreak on 2 x 10” vinyl. It is a nice object and a good album. The drums are sometimes off the beat, the guitars often in conflict with the melody, and Caleb Followill’s vocal delivery is intense. The only downer is that lyrically they seem to be interested in nothing more than sex, drugs and rock & roll. This ended up being somewhat true of The Strokes too.


Are we not men? No, we are Devo.

Early in the year I thought I’d have another stab at Big Star. I took a chance on #1 Record and liked it so much that within a matter of weeks I’d bought Radio City – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It can be hard to discern from my playlists what sort of thing I might have been into at the time I compiled them. Generally speaking there’s no particular strain of music that predominates, but sometimes there is. I’m alluding to music in the wider sense, encompassing a broader aesthetic. For example, the collective presence of Blur, The Jam, the Small Faces, early Rolling Stones, Love, The Beatles, Herbie Hancock, The Yardbirds, and St Etienne on Carrington Classics and The Heroes of Hanworth is indicative of the Britpop scene and its many cultural accoutrements: Fred Perry polo shirts, V-neck jumpers, desert boots, and anoraks; films like Blow Up and The Ipcress File; cafes; an almost Ballardian relationship with one’s environment; a sense of irony; whatever Graham Coxon was into. By the time I’d made Bully for Bulstrode such inclinations had dissipated. After the eclecticism of the ‘French Gite’ compilations my view began to narrow one more (although this didn’t really take hold until after my travels in 2002/03). The artistes this time around were The Byrds, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Syd Barrett, The Amboy Dukes, Led Zeppelin, Big Star, golden era Rolling Stones, and, as we have seen, a miscellany of psychedelia, garage and country rock. It was something approaching ‘Americana’ and found its representation in: pale-blue denim, checked shirts, Cuban heels, black leather bomber jackets; films like Zabriskie Point and Buffalo 66; the works of Hunter S Thompson; the tattered reputation of Richard Nixon; my American ‘road trip’ of the 2004, which was basically the enactment of some sort of fantasy; Keith Richards sat outside the burnt hulk of his Redlands estate in cut-off denim shorts and a tight fitting shirt with the sleeves rolled up. These are trivial matters, but when I look back over certain periods of my life, to the clothes I wore, the places I ventured, the music I listened to, the films I watched, then suddenly there’s meaning where there didn’t appear to be at the time.
Anyway, Big Star: I’d conquered ‘power pop’ without having to resort to Cheap Trick or The Knack. 

Let’s all give Mike at Really Good Records a big round of applause. The third and final track taken from Illusions from the Crackling Void – and there could quite easily have been more – is Road to Nowhere by Hearts and Flowers. You might call it country rock but it’s probably more rooted in the American folk-rock tradition. It could be seen as the climax to the compilation – it has that quality to it, approaching the sublime – and it’s a good a reason as any for putting together this compilation yourself and seeing how it flows.
As much as Rod Stewart’s personality can be slightly nauseating, he’s undoubtedly a great singer. There’s a folksy feel to Angel, which follows on from Road to Nowhere very nicely, although it was Jimi Hendrix’s tune originally, about his mother. Ronnie Wood’s guitar playing is quite loose, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead of the beat, always deliberately so. The verse builds to a crescendo and at the moment of release we get congas.
A lot of country, folk and psychedelic rock is fairly interchangeable (excepting the strain of British folk-rock that developed into the Canterbury Scene, but that’s not relevant here). Take Neil Young’s work with Buffalo Springfield. At the time it could conceivably have been characterised as folk rock with a psychedelic edge. When Young went solo he jettisoned the psychedelic and rockier elements in favour of a more country-inflected sound, and yet you’d be hard pushed to call it country rock in the vein of The Byrds or The Flying Buritto Brothers. Nor could you call it ‘southern rock’, a derivative of the genre that was gathering pace. What you might call it is country folk. Such pedantic taxonomy aside, I added After the Gold Rush to my collection and sought to include a track on this compilation. Still beholden to MiniDisc, I was going to go with Cripple Creep Ferry but found I had almost three minutes to spare on account of opting for Silly Girl by Television Personalities, at 2 minutes 45 seconds, ahead of Cross-Eyed Merry by Jethro Tull, which comes in at 4 minutes and 6 seconds, and so settled for Tell Me Why, which lasts 2 minutes and 54 seconds.
I was initially a little disappointed with Weird War’s Illuminated by the Light – especially so given the eagerness with which I rushed out to buy it. It lacks the urgency, the mania and the effect pedals of its predecessors. However, its lethargic, folksy funk grew on me, and the material worked well live. But Svenonius was done with Weird War. He took a break and returned four years later with a new outfit, called Chain & the Gang.


Berlin

In October, my lady friend and I moved to the more salubrious environs of St Margarets, Twickenham. I didn’t want to but circumstances dictated that we did. I had liked living in Isleworth, having the Red Lion as my local, St John’s stores at the end of my road, the H37, ‘St John the Baptist’.
Silly Girl by the Television Personalities, courtesy of the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records. I’ve only got two Television Personalities songs to go on: this and a track called Back to Vietnam which the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records played to me around the time he introduced me to Sarah Records, and did so with slight smirk. I don’t know what to make of them and haven’t invested the time to find out.

 

Friday, 22 September 2017

STADIA: GIUSEPPE MEAZZA AND COMUNALE LUIGI FERRARIS





The 1986 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be held in Colombia. In late 1982, the prospective host withdrew from its commitment, citing ‘economic difficulties’ (read as asymmetric internal armed conflict) and Mexico was awarded the privilege in their place. From the perspective of the sport, the tournament went on to be a great success – the collected images of Diego Maradona are some of the most iconic of the sport – but it’s been said that the physical infrastructure was found wanting. The fact of the matter is that Mexico wasn’t afforded the time to adequately prepare for the job – just three years. Most of the venues dated back to the 1960s; some were even older. Throw a major earthquake into the mix, a mere eight months before the competition was due to start, and one begins to think that maybe the Mexican Football Federation pulled off quite a coup. Moreover, despite their age, some of the stadia were actually very impressive: the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, completed in 1952, is an extraordinary building, while the mighty Estadio Azteca, opened in 1966, is one of the most imposing structures of its kind.
Such tribulations were unlikely to befall Italy’s preparations for hosting the world cup in 1990 (although it is a place vulnerable to seismic activity). Not only did the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) have the more usual six years in which to prepare for the tournament, but Serie A was the preeminent league of its day. There was a sense that this might be the greatest world cup ever.
The Italians elected to use the same number of stadia as the Mexicans. Of those twelve, two were new-builds (the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin and Stadio San Nicola in Bari), another two may have well been (the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris in Genoa and Rome’s Stadio Olimpico), while the remaining eight were enlarged, reconfigured and refurbished. This posed various problems, and architects came up with various solutions ranging from the ostentatious through to the very subtle, by way of the ingenious, with varying degrees of success. But it was never about volume: what the FIGC was paying for was architecture.
In the end, the quality of the actual football was disappointing. The tournament saw the lowest goals-per-game average for a world cup and what at the time was a record of 16 red cards. More to the point, it wasn’t always pretty. There was mention of the ball – the Adidas Etrusco Unico – being unfavourably light, harder to control. Such talk is de rigueur these days, but back then you felt there might be something in it. Try and find some match footage from Mexico ‘86 – Brazil v. France will do – and see how comfortable the players look in possession of the ball. Then watch Brazil v. Argentina from Italia ’90 and count how many shots fly high and wide.
But I digress.
A number have problems have since arisen. For one, the quality of the original construction work was not always of a very high standard. Within just a few seasons, terracing that had been completely refinished for the world cup was crumbling underfoot, and reinforced concrete supports were starting to spall. Second, Serie A is no longer Europe’s wealthiest league: it’s the fourth behind England’s Premiership, Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga. Less money to spend on players means less success means dwindling attendances means less revenue to spend on the upkeep of the stadium. Finally, the oval stadium format which permeates throughout much of Italy has slowly become redundant as European clubs have embraced the rectangular ‘English style’ of stadium, which deems a running track an encumbrance. (Italian football grounds have historically been built using public funds. For this reason, local authorities have quite reasonably insisted that they cater for athletics.)
In 1990, the Stadio delle Alpi and the Stadio San Nicola were admired for their architectural adventurousness. Today, the former has been demolished and the Juventus Stadium erected in its place, whilst the latter presents a sorry sight, many of its Teflon roof sections blowing in the wind or ripped from their fastenings entirely. To be fair, the grounds they replaced also had athletics tracks; however, the Stadio Comunale and the Stadio Della Vittoria were smaller stadiums. At full capacity, a running track isn’t so much of a problem. The Stadio delle Alpi and the Stadio San Nicola were/are never full to capacity.
It’s not so much that the Italian authorities made a mistake but missed an opportunity. It’s a moot point as far as Verona or Bologna or Napoli or Cagliari are concerned, because Verona and Bologna and Napoli and Cagliari didn’t have new grounds built for them. The only cities that really benefitted, in that they were left with stadiums that anticipated the emerging trend, were Milan and Genoa.




When the Giuseppe Meazza – or plain ‘San Siro’ as it was called up until 1980, whereupon it was renamed after the former AC and Inter player, who died the previous year – was built in 1925, it was unusual for not encompassing a running track. The reason why is because the San Siro was privately funded by a consortium headed by A.C. Milan’s president Piero Pirelli – of the homonymous tyre company – enabling them to build in any style they pleased. They opted for the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ comprising of four rectilinear stands, including a covered main stand, and space for 35,000 spectators, 20,000 on seats (the remaining 10,000 stood upon parterres situated in front of the three uncovered tribuna). Possibly because of its configuration, the ground proved very popular and, up until the inauguration of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in 1937, was the venue of choice for the national football team. Realising its financial potential, in 1935 the local council purchased the ground and set about increasing its size still further. By 1937, the smaller goal-end terraces had been extended and all four stands connected by way of four curved corner sections, allowing for a capacity approaching 65,000. In 1947 local rivals Internazionale became tenants, ushering in a period of Milanese semi-domination with four of next available eight scudettos ending up in the city, honours even. (The 1949 Superga air disaster certainly had something to do with this, wiping out the Grande Torino who’d dominated Serie A since the end of the war, and to an extent before it).
The next phase of development happened in 1955 and would come to define the stadium. The plan initially was to raise the capacity to 150,000 by way of two additional tiers. Perhaps realising the sheer ambition of the scheme – or the cost – the plans were retrenched. Instead, a single, continuous freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it, making enough room for a mere 82,000 spectators. Nothing particularly innovative going on here – Real Madrid had put together something similar eight years earlier at what was then known as the Nuevo Estadio Chamartín – except architect Armando Ronca had carefully considered the question of access, the economy of space, and aesthetics. Nineteen 200 metre long helical ramps were attached to the stadium’s exterior, each rising gradually to a height of nearly 20 metres. These parallel walkways led directly to individual vomitories providing access to the second tier at equidistant points, thus displacing the crowds that would otherwise have gathered outside. More than that, it gave the stadium a visual identify to set it apart from other football grounds; it became a thing of architectural interest in its own right. Ronca’s most recognised work is probably the Eurotel in Marano (1958-1960) which appears to have taken its inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Unité d'habitation. It should be appreciated that in Italy the difference between architetto (architect) and ingegnere edile (building engineer) is often indistinct. The San Siro is at once modernist and utilitarian, which often amounts to the same thing.
Italy’s winning bid for the 1990 world cup brought with it terms and conditions. If the Guiseppe Meazza, as it was now called, was to host the opening game (restitution for the final being played in Rome) then it would need an all-seated capacity of at least 80,000, two thirds of which would have to be under cover. The Milan Municipal Administration decided against building something bespoke and they awarded the architects Ragazzi, Hoffer and Finzi the task of surmounting these obstacles by way of refurbishment.
The issue of space was dealt with in the same way it was 30-odd years earlier: a single freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it. Ostensibly, this upper gallery is a continuation of the one already in place, but it rests upon eleven cylindrical, reinforced-concrete pillars aligned to the stadium’s curved rectangular perimeter. These colossal towers have their own ramps, spiralling upwards in accord with the existing architecture. It should be noted that this third tier is incomplete: the stadium is hampered on one side due to the presence of the racecourse – hence the odd number of supporting pillars – and so the east side of the ground remains as it was. An all-seated capacity of 85,700 is achieved nonetheless.
As well as propping up the third tier, the four (larger) corner towers support four perpendicular steel girders, their ends protruding horizontally beyond the polycarbonate fabric of the roof itself, which hangs above the stadium like an open-sided pavilion. The burgundy-matt finish of the steel complements the pale grey patina of the reinforced concrete, the effect accentuated against the backdrop of a cloudless azure sky. It’s a readily attainable perspective: San Siro – the area from whence the stadium first got its name – is suburban, low-rise, remote, and to the west of the ground lies a vast expanse of concrete from which the sheer scale of the building becomes apparent.




The parallels between A.C. Milan and Genoa C.F.C. are manifold. Both clubs began life as sort of English expatriate associations with a side-line in cricket. In each instance, the English orthography would prevail: Milan rather than Milano, Genoa instead of Genova. Milan Cricket and Football Club proceeded to privately build an exclusively football orientated ground, and so too did Genoa Cricket and Football Club. These same grounds were subsequently sold to their respective local authorities and were also renamed after bygone players. And just as A.C. Milan would end up sharing grounds with their local rivals F.C. Internazionale Milano, in 1946 Genoa C.F.C. invited the newly formed U.C. Sampdoria to play at theirs.
The Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris began life in 1911 as the Campo di Via del Piano (also known as the Campo Marassi) and was then little more than a green surrounded by a horseracing track overlooked by a single stand with a gable in the middle. In 1928, the pitch was rotated by 90 degrees and work began on what would become the Stadio Comunale. By the time Brazil and Spain faced off in the first round of the 1934 World Cup, the ground’s capacity had risen from a notional 28,000 to a substantial 51,000 and had been entitled in honour of former player (and engineer) Luigi Ferraris, killed in action during the Great War. At this point, the stadium wasn’t too dissimilar in aspect to the San Siro in Milan – rectilinear terracing with a vaguely neo-classical façade – but whereas the stands at the San Siro were being joined up to form a coherent hole, the work at Comunale Luigi Ferraris displayed no overarching strategy. Cantilevered roof extensions were later added to each end of the main stand and spiral walkways providing access to the goal-end terraces, achieving a symmetry of sorts. In 1951 an open double-decker stand was erected along the stadium’s east side, facing the covered single-tiered stand opposite. The ground as it then was could accommodate 55,773 spectators, 40,000 of them seated, which is quite impressive given the physical impediments that surround the site: housing tenements, the Villa Mussi Piantelli, the Bisagno River, even a prison.
If the Luigi Ferraris had been a stadium in Mexico in 1983, it would have been left very much alone and may even have gone on to host a quarter final. Had it been located anywhere else in Italy but the undulating and beset city of Genoa, they’d have probably knocked it down and replaced it with something on the edge of town. In the event, the Luigi Ferraris was knocked down but then rebuilt where it had formerly stood, and because there was nowhere else for Genoa and Sampdoria to play in the interim, it was literally done one half at a time. At no point did it not exist, but by the time it was finished the ground was completely transformed.
But why was the Luigi Ferraris rebuilt at all? It was already large enough to host international football (just) and granted no less protection from the elements than the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence or the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara in Bologna. Did its piecemeal design finally catch up with it? Was the stadium just a little too ‘English’ for its own good? Whatever the reasons, the FIGC got their money’s worth. The architect Vittorio Gregotti was given the job of sorting it out and went about imposing his trademark rectangular prisms upon the limited space available.
If the Giuseppe Meazza reflects a moderately Brutalist, post-war impression of modernism, then the Luigi Ferraris is pure pre-war Bauhaus functionalism; where the Giuseppe Meazza embraces curves and oblique lines, the Luigi Ferraris is bound by right angles. The structure appears as rectangles as the sum of squares, and the motif is repeated throughout: four square gaps in the external wall behind each goal-end terrace; six protruding square shaped stairwells above the stadium’s main entrance; large square apertures in the sidewalls revealing ramped walkways behind; fifteen smaller quadratic openings in the walls diagonally opposite; rectilinear lines etched into the concrete itself. Holding this diffuse geometry together are four rectangular towers, which support the roof by way of white steel trusses and allow the building to prevail upon the skyline. The roofs themselves are formed of an indistinguishable metal framework but are countersunk and not visible from street level.
Unlike the Giuseppe Meazza, which depends on distance to be appreciated, this assemblage of terracotta red boxes would look adrift upon the wastelands of San Siro. In amongst the compact, quadrate edifices of Marassi, the order of the Luigi Ferraris makes perfect sense. It can be viewed in sections; it is to be viewed in sections. It is not the sum of its parts but a collection of perpendicular vignettes comprised of linear planes. Under the same conditions, the Giuseppe Meazza would have an intimating effect and might itself be confused with something like a multi-storey car park.




Over recent years, AC Milan and Inter have entertained the possibility of abandoning their home in favour of a brand new build, more than likely on the periphery of a motorway somewhere. The fashion for constructing stadia in the most insalubrious of surroundings aside, the problem with the Giuseppe Meazza is that it’s too big. Over the course 2016-17, Internazionale and AC Milan averaged an attendance of 46,620 and 40,294 respectively (although when they played each other approximately 78,000 fans turned up). There’s also the sense of neglect. I had the privilege of beholding this sporting icon in 1993, and it was in good shape. I have no idea what sort of condition it’s currently in. Regardless, the intimation that the building could have run its course is an alarming one. Not for a moment would anybody entertain tearing down the Duomo di Milano, no matter what its condition, so why is the thinking different here?
The same goes for the Luigi Ferraris. Genoa’s terrain limits either club’s options, but I’ve read of plans to install strange viewing galleries upon the roofs, amounting to what would be an act of architectural vandalism. Such schemes are indicative of a trend that regards modern architecture as something ephemeral, to be disposed of in accordance with the vagaries of fashion. Everybody wants to build a ‘Veltins-Arena’ all of sudden, despite the fact that the Veltins-Arena could be easily mistaken for an electrical wholesalers’ superstore on an industrial estate. Armando Ronca and Vittorio Gregotti’s efforts deserve more.