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. 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 very day. Later, once I found a use for second hand 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 of these businesses still doing business is Really Good Records, currently located on Exeter Street after a few years spent in Bretonside Bus Station, which is being knocked down to make way for yet another ‘leisure complex’ (as if the Barbican Leisure Park wasn’t enough). 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 quite literally bargained for. I once dropped in looking 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 balls move in, radically changing the landscape 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 started 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, Hounslow. 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 is right to single out Pretty Ballerina, even if I don’t quite understand his reasoning why.
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 rear, 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 as such, but the copy I purchased was in mint condition and it makes for a curious object. I must 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 as 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 very much 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 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. Aside from sampling 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 to make it even more worth your while. Since June the previous year, I’d offered my thoughts on Anadin, Burger King, Twix, Foster’s lager, Threshers, 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 it 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 bit of 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 listening to it this was found to be true. I was taken aback by how good it was and also how unknown – 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 album so much, in fact, 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 to 10 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, playing something quite nice, before Jerry Harrison joins in 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. The prevailing mood on Joy Division’s record, however, is very different. Insight: a distant drone, a faint whir and the sound of a door being open 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 generally 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: I 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.


Tuscany

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 who 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. Many of the Peel Session tracks themselves would proceed to form the backbone of the ‘Best of The Fall, Part 1’ playlist I’d put together within the year. My fondness was revived and would ultimately prompt me to buy a few of the albums that 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 resolutely avoiding contemporary music, but this is only partly true. In September, I went to see Stephen Malkmus touring his latest album, Face the Truth, supported by a band called Clor who the Wilkinsons had made me aware of. 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, for which The Wilkinsons joined us, and again at the Highbury Garage in November, which was just me and my lady-friend. Aside from Illuminated by the Light by Weird War, which I bought on pretty much the day it came out, 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 are very intense. The only downside to the band is that lyrically they seem to be interested in nothing more than sex, drugs and rock & roll. This ended up being 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. I followed this up with After the Gold Rush – 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 made 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 its broader aesthetic appeal. 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 many of its 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, but after the eclecticism of the ‘French Gite’ compilations, my view began to narrow once more (although this didn’t really take hold until after my travels of 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 a miscellany of psychedelia, garage and country rock, as we have seen. It was something approaching ‘Americana’ and found its representation in: pale-blue denim, checked shirts, Cuban heels and a tight black leather jacket as per the kind David Bowie wears on the cover of “Heroes”; 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, for sure, 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.


Barcelona - which isn't Spain, apparently.

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 as much 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 of the others for putting together this compilation yourself and seeing how it flows for you.
As much as Rod Stewart’s personality nauseates me slightly, he’s undoubtedly a great singer. There’s a folksy feel to Angel that follows on from Road to Nowhere quite nicely, although it was Jimi Hendrix’s tune originally, about his mother. Ronnie Wood’s guitar playing is quite lose, sometimes behind, sometime 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. Neil Young as solo artiste 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 and 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 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 use of effects’ 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; he wrote The Psychic Soviet in between. [One of the best things I’ve ever found on-line is footage of Weird War playing their last album to a bemused and indifferent assemblage of New Zealand school kids, their confounded teachers looking on.]

 
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 balanced upon his face. I don’t know what to make of them and haven’t invested the time to find out. I like the song Silly Girl but I do get the feeling it’s a rather sad song. Not that that matters. I guess I’ve just got other fish I want to fry.

 
 

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 alarming plans to build strange viewing galleries upon the roofs, amounting to what would be an act of architectural vandalism. Such plans 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.


Thursday, 31 August 2017

LINER NOTES: FEEL GOOD BY NUMBERS [2004]





  1. Out on the Weekend – Neil Young
  2. Grand Fraud – Weird War
  3. Feel Good by Numbers – The GO! Team
  4. Sister Mamie – Yusef Lateef
  5. Thoughts and Words – The Byrds
  6. Think – Rolling Stones
  7. Help Me Girl – Eric Burdon & The Animals
  8. All Summer Long – The Beach Boys
  9. Good to Me – Otis Redding
  10. Vonal Declosion – Stereolab
  11. Bag of Jewels – Lou Donaldson
  12. Elfin Orphan – Scene Creamers
  13. New Rose – The Damned
  14. Looking at You – MC5
  15. Wash in the Rain – The Bees
  16. Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers
  17. Marquee Moon – Television
  18. Hopefully Yours – Stina Nordenstam
  19. Goin’ Back – The Byrds
  20. Reptilia – The Strokes

2004 – A terrible year for music: debut albums by Razorlight, Kasabian, The Killers, Keane. Snow Patrol are milking last year’s record for all its worth, Bloc Party have come into being, and the release of their sophomore LP seems to have dashed any hopes I had that The Libertines might split up.
Music is no different to any other art-form. Just as bad novels, bad movies and bad paintings find a market, so do bad songs. And just as it requires a deeper reading to appreciate good literature, good cinema or good art, so it is with music. One more than likely accepts that Earnest Hemmingway is a better novelist than John Grisham (no disrespect to John Grisham), or that the movies of Stanley Kubrick are generally superior to those of Steven Spielberg (no disrespect to Steven Spielberg), and that Andy Warhol is a more original and interesting artist than Damien Hirst… so why doubt it when I tell you that Franz Ferdinand are nothing more than a pale imitation of Talking Heads? That’s not say it matters if to your ears The Libertines are the same thing as The Strokes. Just be aware that there’s more to music than the ability to write vaguely catchy tunes coupled with propensity for hard drugs.
The problem with contemporary rock music is that the music itself is often deemed to be less important than a band’s image or a musician’s personality. Rock and roll has never been a purely auditory phenomenon by any means, but there was a time when groups actually put some effort into what they were doing, learnt their craft, paid their dues. When Keith Richards and Mick Jagger appeared before court on drug related charges in 1967, the Rolling Stones had released no less than SEVEN albums. Even if we allow that Richards, Jones and Jagger were probably getting high well before that, they’d still existed as a drug free unit long enough to establish themselves as viable artists. With a lot of bands these days you get the feeling they’d rather not bother recording any music at all.
For the mainstream act the situation is quite different. More often than not they’re in it for the fame and adulation alone, in complete cahoots with their record company who probably take an even more cynical view about the whole business than they do. Together, they work to divest their product of anything approaching artistic integrity. To ensure that the unsuspecting listener doesn’t call out the cheap pop tune for the superficial drivel it often is, all aural distractions are erased. Everything is invested into the melody, which is typically conveyed via the vocal component of the song. Frequencies are equalised, textures are compressed, rhythm instruments are buried deep within the mix. You may struggle to identify the characteristic sound of any specific instrument whatsoever. The idea is to create something that is completely benign. Why? Because the music industry doesn’t consider that their art should demand anything of its audience other than slavish devotion. As far as they’re concerned, popular music serves much the same purpose as sport.

It’s mid-March. Myself, the Guy Who Used to Own a Pager, the Former Cohabitant from Brighton and his friend Charlie (also from Brighton) are leaving Monterey in an open topped Chrysler Sebring. We all have monstrous hangovers after an evening spent drinking more than we intended to when we got talking to some of the locals at the London Bridge Pub down on Fisherman’s Wharf. Checking out of our motel was a mission in itself. No sooner had we managed it, we had to get one of cleaners to let us back into our room after realising we’d left something of value in there. I then had to deal with booking flights from Las Vegas to San Francisco (in person, from a travel agent). Finally, we paused to pick up supplies in a wonderfully spacious and air-conditioned supermarket before pushing on along the Cabrillo Highway to begin the coastal drive south.
What to listen to. How about Harvest by Neil Young? I’ve owned this album for almost a year, but it goes without saying I’ve never listened to in anything resembling my present environment. Out on the Weekend kicks in and it becomes rapidly apparent that Big Sur was designed with country rock specifically in mind.


Big Sur

In the autumn of 2003, the former cohabitant from Brighton had put the word out that he intended to spend some time travelling around the USofA. 2003 represented something of a financial nadir for me, and I received his proposition – for I was invited – with a restrained avidity. Although now working a steady job, I was still recovering from the economic damage travelling inflicted upon me, and I’d not been employed long enough to justify a prolonged leave of absence. On the other hand, my new-found tenure gave me a modicum of financial security, and if I could somehow borrow against that then maybe I could join my good friend for at least part of his planned odyssey.
I applied for a credit card offering 0% interest for the first six months, working on the premise that Nikon paid an annual bonus at the end of April and the supposition that this would about cover it, made arrangements to meet the former cohabitant on a specific date at a specific place, and then opened it up to a few friends who I thought might be interested.
It was a close call. My credit card application took longer to process than I’d anticipated. This was compounded by an ineptitude on my part that saw me defer the matter in the first instance, for no particular reason other than I would forget, remember at importune moments, and then forget again. Less than three weeks prior to our intended departure – the guy who used to own a pager had climbed on board – I booked two return tickets at £240 a head, leaving from Gatwick Airport and only slightly soured by the condition of transfer, which sounds cheap, and was, but not ridiculously so. The first decade of the new millennium was a good time to be taking holidays and it’s quite possible that if I’d been more on the ball I could have found cheaper tickets still.

I’m in Haight-Ashbury browsing through records in Amoeba Music with the guy who used to own a pager, who’s enquiring after lap steel guitars. I’m looking for If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em by Weird War because I’ve not been able to find a copy in London. I am successful. Just as Out on the Weekend is the first song off of Harvest, Grand Fraud is the first song (proper) on If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em. I find that such incipient energy is often transferable when compiling playlists.
Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team hadn’t been released at this juncture, but I didn’t want to overload the front end of my compilation with tunes exclusively related to my two week vacation. My lady-friend, the guy who passed out in Debenhams and I went to see The Go! Team play at The Spitz (supported by Field Music) in October. The song Feel Good by Numbers reminds me of something Vincent Guaraldi might have composed for the Charlie Brown TV Specials of the 1970s. It’s an instrumental number, which why is I’ve followed it up with a bit of jazz, although the tone of Sister Mamie by Yusef Lateef is very different: a hard-bop groove with eastern textures. Sister Mamie recalls our return to Lynton, North Devon, in the August, but it’s the only tune that does: the dye had been indelibly cast the previous year and I will forever associate that place with the Rolling Stones' albums Their Satanic Majesties Request and Beggars Banquet, and very little else.


Exmoor

We’ve not long left San Francisco, by way of an unplanned detour through downtown Oakland, and the guys from Brighton are flicking through their collection of CDs. We are driving to Yosemite National Park on the first leg of a four day road trip that will take us from San Francisco all the way to Las Vegas (the long way around). After mildly enjoying Donovan’s greatest hits, it materialises that the guys from Brighton have with them Younger than Yesterday by The Byrds. I’ve played this record almost to death but I’ve not tired of it. The song Thoughts and Words now replaces Have you Seen her Face as my favourite – both are Chris Hillman penned tunes. We will listen to the album again on the final leg of our journey: the drive from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas.
Turns out I’ve not given Aftermath by the Rolling Stones the attention it deserves. Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and Under My Thumb all made it onto my ‘Best of the Rolling Stones’ Minidisc compilation, but I’d left it at that. My loss, because there’s at least Think to (re)consider. I’d imagined that a golden age era Stones’ album would be more suited to driving through California, but there’s something about Aftermath that seems to suit the mood – an innocence perhaps, or a particular type of sound. Whatever it is, it sits very nicely alongside Eric Burdon’s Help Me Girl, which was released the same year (1966 – although we’re actually listening to The Very Best of Eric Burdon & The Animals).

Coruscations of light bounce upward off the Pacific Ocean blue. Neil Young’s Harvest has drawn to a close. What’s next? The Beach Boys of course. All Summer Long. It may only be March but it feels like July. The guy who used to own pager, who has had to do all of the driving on account of being the only one of us with a driving licence, thinks it’s hilarious.
Having exhausted my parents’ supply of 60 and 70s ‘rock and roll’, as well as my father’s jazz, I’ve made a start on my mother’s limited supply of Atlantic Soul. (I never really understood why my parents decided to abandon their record collection: they only ended up replacing records with CDs, and the sound quality will have only suffered.) It’s The Soul Album by Otis Redding that’s caught my eye. It could well be that I’ve recently watched the film Catholic Boys for the hundredth time, which features the Otis Redding track I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, although that’s not on this album. My favourite track on The Soul Album is Good to Me, a similarly slow and rather plaintive tune. Within a year I will have purchased a copy of Otis Blue.
          Margerine Eclipse is the first Stereolab album that’s not quite lived up to my much heightened expectations. Let it be known that there was never any question that something from it wouldn’t feature on my annual compendium, and it’s a very good record by anyone else’s standards, but I sense that the premature death of ‘groop’ member Mary Hansen in late 2002 has, understandably, taken its toll.
The quintet Lou Donaldson brought together to record Midnight Creeper in 1968 is quite something: Blue Mitchell on cornet, Lonnie Smith on the organ, George Benson on guitar, Idris Muhammad on drums, and the man himself playing alto sax. It’s another one of my father’s records, although ‘funkier’ than most of the jazz he used to own. Jazz-funk is a mysterious genre looked down upon by some, but the calibre of the musicians that have indulged speaks for itself: Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis – even Miles Davis to some extent.
For a brief moment, Weird War became Scene Creamers, subsequently reverting back to their original name when an obscure French graffiti collective claimed legal ownership. Rather ironically, the album released under the Scene Creamers name is one of Weird War’s best (and if you google ‘Scene Creamers’ those Gaelic scribblers are nowhere to be seen). Released in January 2003, whilst I was still bumming about Southeast Asia, I Suck on That Emotion should have more rightly featured on the previous year’s compendium, but I didn’t get hold of it until late in the year and continued to listen to it well into 2004. Incidentally, Ian Svenonius dedicated to me his performance of Elfin Orphan at the Highbury Garage after I requested he play it in return for the beer I bought him. (He’d actually wanted Grenadine, but it was off.) I hadn’t meant to hold Ian to ransom but the barman had insisted he pay for his drink, despite the fact that Scene Creamers/Weird War were headlining, and Ian didn’t have any cash on his person.


Driving to Yosemite

The origins of punk have been attributed to myriad sources. Did it start with the Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, The Sonics, The Seeds, The Monks, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Dr. Feelgood, You Really Got Me by The Kinks, Seven and Seven Is by Love, or Louie Louie by The Kingsmen? No, it started with jazz. More specifically, it started with bepop.
The precursor to bepop was swing and big band jazz, which was driven by the individual, a bandleader or arranger: Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman. Early rock and roll was similarly individualistic: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley. Bepop was interested in advanced harmonics, rhythmic intricacies, modal chords, with less emphasis on melody. There was no longer any need for a large orchestra and so the role of bandleader became diminished. The beat combos that resulted – quintets and quartets mostly – were therefore more democratic. It was customary for each musical component to contribute not just towards melodic elements but to also improvise a solo. The nominal leader of these combos might even write a piece with a specific instrument, or even musician, in mind. The song was no longer the sum of its parts but a grouping together of singular strands, recorded live, be it in the studio or in a club or concert hall. It is left to the musician to regulate the volume of their instrument. There’s no technical Svengali sat in a control room, twiddling knobs, deciding which sound should predominate, emphasising melody and/or dampening rhythm. All sound is equal.
Despite not being recorded live as such, punk aspires to very much the same thing. The idea is to allow the timbre of each musical constituent to flourish in an attempt replicate a ‘live’ experience. Less emphasis might be placed on a song’s vocal. The bass line is as likely to carry a melody as the lead guitar. Traditional hierarchies are disposed of. This is music following the path of least resistance, a communion between the artist and the listener.
New Rose by The Damned was purportedly recorded in a day. Released in October 1976, it has the dubious honour of being British punk’s first ever record – ‘dubious’ because I imagine that sort of thing brings with it a certain amount of pressure. Fortunately, New Rose does not disappoint. I borrowed it from the friend who crashed to the floor in Debenhams, who owned the ‘greatest hits’ compilation album The Light at the End of the Tunnel.
My first go at MC5 had not been a great success. I purchased Teen Age Lust in about 1998/99 only to find the sound quality wanting. The album is a live recording of a gig they played in 1970, which goes some way towards explaining it. I was careful not to make the same mistake twice and opted against buying MC5’s seminal debut, Kick Out the Jams, also recorded live, and instead purchased Back in the USA, which they cut in GM Studios, Detroit. My opinion of MC5 improved immediately, and I was able to appreciate why some have claimed them to be a progenitor of punk.
I can’t recall how I came by Wash in the Rain by The Bees, but it would be a while yet before I picked up their album. It’s quite possible that I heard it on the radio and then bought it as a 7” single, but I can’t be sure of this. I’ve acquired a lot of music this way, where I’ve not known enough about a band to chance it on an actual album but I’ve been desirous of owing a particular song. My uncertainty stems from the fact that singles are not really a thing anymore and all mine are stashed away somewhere: it’s far too much bother to manually recalibrate my record player to play at 45 rpm, so I never do.




It’s Friday night in San Francisco and we’ve ended up back at Delirium, the same club we went to on Tuesday. That evening they played an eclectic mix of classic rock, garage, new wave, heavy metal, punk and indie - 'a rock & roll party for the 20th century'. Tonight they’ll just be spinning punk and new wave. I get talking to the DJ and put in a request for Terry Waite Sez by The Fall – I have no idea why that tune – which he fulfils. Between that and The Sex Pistols, The Stooges, The Cramps and The Clash, something catches my ear. I consult the DJ to find out what it was: Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers.
         Proto-punk: designation after the fact. The Modern Lovers took their cue from The Velvet Underground, so how’s that supposed to work? The Modern Lovers was the first album I bought once I got back to Blighty (although I bought the wrong version:The Original Modern Lovers, produced by Kim Fowley and not John Cale). If this was indeed punk then it was my sort of punk. My problem with punk generally is that it’s quite shouty. I can’t listen to the Sex Pistol because of Jonny Rotten’s voice, and when I’ve made forays in other directions I’ve come up against the same problem. I really wanted to like Holiday in Cambodia by The Dead Kennedys, for example, but just couldn’t get past the vocals. It’s the same with The Ramones, although I must confess to be being disappointed with them generally. Towards The Clash I remain ambivalent. And then there’s the clothing. I don’t really go in for all that ripped denim, heavy leather and graphic sloganeering.
I suppose this is why I’ve always erred towards new wave. Whether Television qualifies as new wave is debatable – post-punk at least, which almost amounts to the same thing. I knew Marque Moon was a great tune and took myself to Richmond Library to follow up on my interest. Unfortunately, the album Marque Moon left me slightly cold, but as with Big Star’s Third (aka Sister Lovers) its reputation may have adversely preceded it.


Delirium

In June, our landlord decided he wanted to sell the flat. Putting aside the rigmarole of having to find a new place to live – as well the loss of the Royal Oak as our local – it wasn’t such a bad thing: Douglas Bader House had always been a dark and isolated tenement with too little furniture. We found a flat in Isleworth that we’d had our eye on the year prior, with a metal staircase leading up to, which lent it a certain frisson. Down the road was St. John’s Stores, around the corner a train station, and The Red Lion just a few minutes’ walk away. We were better off.
            Be reminded that online technology as we now know it was still in its infancy. Not only was all this sorted out through actually walking into buildings and talking to real people, but we didn’t own a computer that could be connected to what passed for the internet – I didn’t even own a mobile phone. I still relied on physical musical forms: records, CDs and Minidiscs. Was I thus obliged to purchase every single and album that interested me? No. As well as renting CDs from libraries, I’d go around to the houses of more technically savvy friends with a list of tracks that they would very kindly download and burn onto a CD, which I in turn transferred across to MiniDisc. Sometimes there wouldn’t be enough material to fill a whole disc, in which case I’d scour their general collection for bits and bobs to pad it out. This is how I belatedly came to own Hopefully Yours by Stina Nordenstam.
In July I purchased The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the last Byrds’ album to require David Crosby’s input. Crosby was a bit of a burk really. He fell for the whole trippy hippy thing in a big way, much to Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman’s chagrin, who were by now exploring more traditional forms of American music: bluegrass, country and western, Appalachian folk. They also wanted to record the Goffin-King composition Goin’ Back, which Crosby thought was somehow beneath him. He had this smutty song called Triad knocking about and wanted to cut that instead, so McGuinn and Hillman booted him out of the band. Their version of Goin’ Back is vindication enough.
2004 – A terrible year for music. I’d not bothered buying the second Strokes album but when the first single came out I was quite taken by it, although not enough to go back and buy the album. My mind was elsewhere, contemplating country rock, ruminating on new wave and deliberating baroque pop. There were specific bands I wanted to check out and existing ones I wasn’t done with, and none of them were current. Apart from Weird War, Stereolab and maybe The Bees, there wasn’t much around that interested me.
And then I heard The Bucket by Kings of Leon and was forced to reconsider my position.