Festive not quite 50

December 31, 2011

It’s been a long time between drinks as the Aussies say, so what better time to post than New Year’s Eve. We may be looking forward to 2012 with some trepidation (damn those Mayans) but musically there will be much to celebrate if it’s half as good as 2011 has been. These are great times for new music. Maybe it’s because this YouTube generation has been exposed to so many musical influences that 2011 felt more like the halcyon days of 1981 to me.

So here are my favourites, in no particular order.

Ghost Poet : Survive It

Haunting, sparse, this is the soundtrack to urban Britain falling apart at the seams. Like The Special’s Ghost Town 30-odd years before it captures urban fear and decay while rising above it. Nothing changes.

Foster The People : Pumped Up Kicks

Never has a song with such a grim subject matter sounded so damn upbeat. I was whistling it all summer not knowing it was based on a real high school massacre in the US. If  the Monkees had sang about Spahn Ranch it would have sounded like this.

Of Monsters and Men: Little Talks

OK – it’s sounds more than a little like Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, but I love the jolly sea shanty-ness of this. And they’re Icelandic – what’s not to like (although I can see myself kicking the tele in this next next year as the B&Q advert  play it for the millionth time).

I Break Horses : Hearts

More Scandies – this time Swedes. Those long nights sure do much talent make. I love the C86, My Bloody Valentineish, shoegazerness of this. Lovely.

Miracle Fortress: Miscalculations

Everything reminds me of something in this crazy post modern pop world we live in, and this reminds me of early Talking Heads.

S.C.U.M : Faith Unfolds

And if we are going back to the future, this is like all the best early 80’s tracks, mashed up and spat out by a DeLorean into the here and now. I know people compare them to Simple Minds, but this sounds more like Ghosts by Positive Noise to these refined ears. But better. After 40 million listens I still love this.

Thurston Moore: Benediction

It wasn’t just the youngsters making great music this year. Thurston made a beautifully chilled solo album, proving he was always the melodic foil to Lee Renaldo’s wall of sound in Sonic Youth. This is the stand-out track.

Jez Kerr: Play Something Fast

Another ageing gentleman makes a surprisingly good solo album. I don’t know why I should have been surprised as post Simon Topping ACR were as good, if not better, than when he was still blowing his own trumpet. Jez has made a very good album that sounds nothing at all like ACR. This is a great track and the video is shot at the best art exhibition of the year at YSP. Winner all round

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: Garden

Trance lives! Pity those advertising bastards have gotten hold of it.

And that’s about it. I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten, but in all a great year. Biggest musical regret – not getting to see Belle and Sebastian at the Roundhouse. And biggest musical loss – Poly Styrene.

Have a great 2012 and lets hope we’re all doing this again same time next year (bloody Mayans)

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I’ll skip the Joy Division/New Order legacy – it’s a well told tale we all know by heart. But what about those other Factory bands? The ones who played Bolton Wanderers to New Order’s Man Utd.

It used to be a tired music press cliche that the rest of the Factory stable were pale JD/NO imitators. Having seen most of them live I never went along with this lazy journalism and listening to the retrospective box set what strikes me is the diversity on offer. Yes there’s some crud – Crawling Chaos and Royal Family and the Poor – but show me the record label that doesn’t have crud in its back catalogue. But most of the bands here deserved more than their indie obscurity that was guaranteed by Factory’s obtuse (lack of ) promotion. Durutti Column, ACR,  Stockholm Monsters, Section 25 all deserved more. James did get more but only by breaking away. Happy Mondays were the only other Factory band to make it big without leaving.

Most of it still sounds great and I hear echoes of Factory bands today in Belle and Sebastian, Delphic and Hurts. Here’s my 10 favourite non JD/NO Factory tracks in no particular order:

Flight – A Certain Ratio – music from another universe, sparse, atmospheric, nearly but not quite danceable.

My Country – Durutti Column – probably the Factory act I still listen to the most. I have dozens of favourite tracks, but this is todays – mainly because of the ace Monarchy remix that I can’t stop playing

Moves Like You (remix) – Cath Carroll – readers of this blog will know how I feel about Cath. BEST. SONG. EVER.

Brighter – The Railway Children Pure pop. Should have been a hit, but you can’t blame Factory. They left and still didn’t make it despite the lead singers pop star good looks. Shame.

The Presence – Crispy Ambulance. Surely the crappest name in the history of music. What did they do – stick a pin in a dictionary? Great track though – 10 glorious minutes of sublime Hannet production. I always used to fall asleep drunk to this and wake up with it still playing on a loop in the middle of the night.

Miss Moonlight – Stockholm Monsters best track from the best band to come out of Burnage. Haunting vocals and trumpet.

Inspiration – Section 25 Like New Order, Section 25 discovered dance and sequencers and made a great album (From the Hip). My favourite track.

Hymn From a Village – James. Not their best song, but their best on Factory.

Miaow – When it all Comes Down Purrfect pop from Cath again. Far too breezy to get lumped in with the C86 lot

Happy Mondays – Kuff Dam – Dam Kuff – genius

The second, and maybe most important legacy Factory left the world is shorts. Long shorts. On men. Look around – every summer every bugger wears knee length baggy shorts,usually khaki. Rewind thirty years and the only men seen wearing shorts outdoors were footballers, who sported ultra tight, ultra short ball huggers, and scout masters. Until a bunch of skinny white boys from Hulme stopped off at an army surplus shop before catching the train back to Manchester.

Their next live shows saw them ditch the long macs for a British 8th Army look – with whistles.  The long shorts slowly caught on with art students and trendies (to much ridicule). Then ever so slowly, long shorts crept into high street chains like Next and Top Shop. Until everyone was wearing them. They still are.  All thanks to some obscure northern funksters.

I could go on about how Simon Topping single handedly changed British men’s haircuts, but that’s another story. The whistles,though, never caught on – shame that.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Factory Records recently. Partly because I’ve been dipping into James Nice’s exhaustive history of Factory , Shadowplayers; partly because a nice person bought me the Factory Communions box-set CD; and mainly because I’ve just spent a weekend in Manchester.

And it’s Manchester where Factory’s legacy hit me. The Hacienda may be long gone, but the city itself has been transformed – from the grimy black and white streets Joy Division stalked , to, well, a British Manhattan . Who’d have thought that Rob Gretton’s plot, hatched in a NY nightclub, to bring a bit of the Big Apple to his hometown so he could drink past closing time, would have  started the  transformation that has resulted in today’s red brick and chrome megalopolis. Castlefields looks like TriBeCa; loft living is everywhere; chrome cafes and bars sparkle in the sun – yes there was even sun;  the Northern Quarter has become a northern SoHo and G-Mex has rebranded itself as (cheekily)  Manchester (Grand) Central.

The sheer chutzpah of the Factory collective, coupled with their stubborn civic pride and their  belief in themselves and their city, which in their eyes was the centre of the universe, made this possible.It may have only started the redevelopment ball rolling, but others were swept along in the crazy dream.  Art, not industry gave birth to this transformation (oh and maybe a bit if drug laundering money helped too).

The north has indeed risen again.

 

I enjoy washing up late at night. A time to wind down after another hectic day of work, kids, cooking. A time to listen to Gideon Coe on BBC 6 music. Enjoy the classics, maybe pick up on some new stuff. I was doing just that last week when a truly beautiful and haunting song had me mesmerised. I  quickly grabbed a pen to write down the track name, thinking it was some great new talent. I scribbled “New Grass” on a damp piece of kitchen towel, by Talk Talk. Talk Talk! Surely I must have misheard. I flipped open the laptop, googled the track name, and wiki confirmed that it was from the 1991 album Laughing Stock.

Now 1991 was my musical prime. I ate, slept and breathed music. Listened day and night to XFM, still devoured the NME, hung out with fellow music freaks. Yet this album had completely passed me by. Checking the NME End of Year List for 1991 I wasn’t the only one. Granted 1991 was a good year for the album, vintage some would say. It was the year of Nevermind, Screamadelica, Achtung Baby, Loveless and Blue Lines. But scrolling down the top 50 can anyone honestly say that God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Schubert Dip by EMF are remembered by anyone other than the band members themselves? But no Talk Talk. John Peel’s Festive 50 is the same – dominated by the usual suspects – Nirvana, Teenage Fanclub, The Fall and the Wedding Present.

So what of Talk Talk. According to Wiki, Laughing Stock was well received by critics, some comparing it to Miles’ In a Silent Way. I concur – to these ears it exists on the same spiritual plane.

Maybe, like me, everyone had written Talk Talk off in the early 80s as floppy haired Duran Duran wannabees; or had hated the anodyne synth pop of It’s My Life.

Not everyone was asleep though. Guy Garvey has said that he wants ‘New Grass’ playing at his funeral, and you can definitely see the influence on songs like ‘Scattered Black and Whites’

Listening to Laughing Stock now I’m glad I’ve only just discovered it. I wouldn’t have been ready in 1991, still high on pills and thrills. Now I can put it in the context of Miles Davis,John Coltrane, Robert Wyatt, Brian Eno and Nick Drake. Of English pastoral and American free jazz traditions.

Today I’m an evangelist – forcing it onto friends and strangers in a way I did with Unknown Pleasures thirty odd years ago.  If you too missed/dismissed it the first time round listen now and share my wonder.

“For some ,there was a rather quant notion that the size of a man’s record collection was somehow symbolic of of his size in other departments” Bill Drummond

My understairs cupboard, my den, my refuge, has a wall of vinyl. My shrine, my Buddha, my Mecca,  my Wailing Wall. Truth be told I visit it less to listen these, more to caress, to slip the vinyl worshipfully from battered sleeves. It is frozen in time – I stopped buying records years ago, yet it means more to me than all the CDs and MP3 downloads in the world. Like my DNA it carries my history, shaped who I am.

I’ve just sold a load of CDs and felt not a pang. Ugly plastic things that they are. But my vinyl I could never part with. Vinyl is artefact. Lose your tunes off your i-pod and it matters not, you can download them them again. But how could you replace those limited edition 12 inches, singles on coloured vinyl or long deleted LPs.

I always used to organise my record collection for the day some  girl would flick through it going “wow the first Throbbing Gristle album, and Joy Division live at the Electric Circus. Shack Up on Belgian import – you really are the guy for me”. It was years before I realised that the ability to reel off the first fifty Factory releases may not be the stuff that dreams are made on and that only boys like The Fall.

But lurking somewhere in my forever teenage mind is the nagging thought that there will still be a day of judgement, when my record collection will be the thing that really matters, will open the doors of heaven. That St. Peter, flicking his way casually through, will suddenly exclaim ” fuck me, Cabaret Voltaire Live at the YMCA – in you go mate”.

So there I was, post Christmas, post visit to ghastly garden centre with Mrs Anorak’s maiden aunt in deepest, darkest Kent. Sitting in the saddest sub Harvester, definitely non-gastro, pub imaginable. The grim background muzak grinding away – Abba, Eagles, you know the score. Heard it in a thousand similar joints up and down this septic isle.

Then, as I worked my way through the most miserable pie imaginable, Nick Drakes’s beautiful Northern Sky drifted down, not from heaven, but from the tinny speakers in the corner of the room.  Oh the irony. Should I laugh or cry that  a man who sold less than 5000 records in his lifetime, who struggled to earn £20 a week from his music and whose lack of success led to his depression and ultimately his tragic suicide, is now condemned to an eternity of background music for an army of eat as much as you can for a fiver gluttons. It makes me weep that someone, somewhere is getting fat from the royalties poor Nick never earned.

Is there no end to this democratisation of our culture? What next – Throbbing Gristle’s Hamburger Lady in Macdonalds? Actually that I would like to hear.

Festive 5 and a bit

December 23, 2010

Back in the day (I have to stop saying that!) by far the most exciting part of the Christmas build-up (apart from the Blue Peter advent calendar) was listening every night to John Peel’s Festive 50 (I didn’t get out much). Especially in the late 70’s when it really was out with the old – Stairway to Heaven, Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun, and in with the new – Pistols, Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, The Jam, Siouxsie et al. The revolution may not have been televised, but the end of year roll call sure meant we could listen to it on the radio. I’d religiously tape every show on a crappy old radio cassette. I still have them somewhere, rotting probably, with no cassette to play them on any more.

Uncle John is still sorely missed, but I thought I’d fill the  void by polling the indieanorak household for their top tunes of 2010. I’ve edited it down to the best half dozen (kicking out anything Glee related). So here are the best tunes of 2011 – as voted by family anorak:

6. Crystal Castles – Celestia

5. JonsiGo Do

4. Delphic Counterpoint

3. Beach HouseZebra

2.Gorillaz featuring DaleyDoncamatic

1. SwansReeling the Liars In

Now there have been allegations of vote rigging, but these have been looked into and the vote has been declared valid. (How can the best song from the first  album in 14 years from New York’s finest not be the best track of 2011?)

So happy Christmas from everyone at indieanorak. Take it away Michael…

 

When I was a raincoat wearing student, way back when, I’d spend far too many evenings hunched over a pint in a seedy north London pub arguing with my mate Nigel about which was the best debut album, Crododiles or Unknown Pleasures. Sometimes things would get a bit heated. God knows what the old soaks in the pub made of two floppy haired fops getting emotional in the corner. But for some reason this seemed really important. Hell, it still does.

I was reminded of this tonight when All that Jazz came on the radio as I was doing the washing up.  Its still sounds good, better than good, brilliant even. My God – was I wrong? Have I been wrong all these years?  I’ve always been such a  fundamentalist in my steadfast belief that Unknown Pleasures was, is, the best debut album by anyone ever. But is my faith as blind as that of an ayatollah?

So I went back to the beginning, or tried. I revisited both albums as if I’d never seen or heard them before.

It had to be the vinyl versions. Unknown Pleasures was easy to find, sitting as it always has at the front of my record collection. Year zero. But where was Crododiles? Where were the Bunnymen in my order of merit? Behind the Fall – no. After Cabaret Voltaire – no, not there either. Surely not behind Theatre of Hate? Further and further back, until lurking behind The Doors I found it. As if to prove a point I’d hidden it at the back of my collection.

I held them both, examined the covers, trying to get in touch with my 16 year old self handling them for the first time. Both strike a cord with my impressionable young self. Crocodiles for Mac’s  pose and his thousand yard stare, and the coats, always the long coats. Unknown Pleasures for the iconography and mystery. Both bands were myth-making, even then, consciously or not.

I drop Unknown Pleasures onto my dusty turntable. Outside first, of course. The opening drum, bass and fractured guitar of Disorder sounds as good as it did in the dark bedroom where I lay and listened to it  30 years ago. Insight, New Dawn Fades, She’s Lost Control, Shadowplay, right through to I Remember Nothing , still sound as vital, claustrophobic and starkly beautiful as they did then. More so,maybe.  Hannett’s production sharp as razor-wire.

So to Crocodiles. Side one starts strongly with Going Up and builds to a crescendo with Monkeys and Crocodiles. Side two is even better – Rescue, Villiers Terrace, Pictures on My Wall and All That Jazz, classics all. Only the last track, Happy Death Men is a disappointment.

So what have a learnt in the 30 years since both albums were released? That they are both classics and arguing over which is the best is as futile as trying to choose between Picasso and Michelangelo, Pele and Cruyff, Kylie and Dannii.

I can only thank God that I grew up in a time when these two great works of art were created.

It’s nearly 30 years since I first saw the Fall, round about the time Hex Enduction Hour was released. That was a cold winter night too, but in a bleak northern city, when we were all younger men (the Fall audiences are always men).

I’ve seen them many times since, but not for a good few years, so I didn’t know what to expect from the 2010 version of the Fall.

The first thing I notice is how freaking gnarly the audience is. Whatever the opposite of ‘beautiful people’ is – this is it. The crowd look like they’d been rounded up from all the betting shops in the South West. So it must make them all feel better when they see the fucking state old MES is in these days. He always claimed the gift of second sight, so when he sang ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded” way back when, little could he have known he was singing about his future self as a hydrocephalic hunchback. The only thing more startling than the man’s physical decline, is the stunning beauty who is now on keyboards, Brix having been traded in for a younger model. Don’t ask me how.

Is it worth mentioning the rest of the band? I’ve no idea who they are. Ever since those old retainers Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley decided they’d finally had enough, I’ve tended to ignore the ever changing band members. The remarkable thing, though, is that they still sound like the Fall.  Maybe MES was right when he claimed “if it’s me and your granny it’s still the Fall”

As usual the set was made of of mostly new tracks, but these sounded as good as anything in the Fall canon. And as usual we were treated to an unexpected old classic – in this case a real gem, “Muzorewi’s Daughter” from the 1978 album Dragnet – a track I haven’t heard for years.

Any other band with such a track record – ‘check the guy’s track record’ would be churning out the old crowd pleasers, but credit to the man, he remains as uncompromising as ever. And like that other great autodidact WB Yeats, he continues to produce great work in his later years – check out the last two albums if you don’t believe me.

For the best part of my life the Fall have been an education, an inspiration. In a world of ever growing banality they remain crucial.