Friday, 28 October 2011

Depeche Mode - Speak & Spell

I Love 1981 - pt 20
Phew! Well, it's been a busy couple of weeks what with one thing and another so not much time for 1981, sorry to say. But there are three, four or maybe more blockbuster '81 albums coming up before Christmas so better get cracking.
First up, here's Depeche Mode's debut album , Speak & Spell, released in early October, although mysteriously it took over a month to get into the charts when, like a newly elected Prime Minister, it went straight in at Number 10. Boom boom.

I won't go into the in-s and out-s of the album much as all us Depeche-fans know you either love it or hate it. I love it. Not only was it 'ultra-pop' ( (c) Vince Clarke) but also a great combination of perfect pop and punk ethic - after all it was a group of lads who just got together, formed a band, did some live stuff locally and made a record, and what's more put it out on an independent label, unlike say the Sex Pistols who sold out to the majors. Added bonus: it's all synths and drum machines. Ace!

Anyway here's a real treat: the Dizzy Deps doing the 'pretty boy' song What's Your Name off the album live in Chincester (Chichester?) recorded for a telly programme called Off the Record, of which I have no recollection. I see most of this gig is online. Boys say go!

PS: take a moment to read Sophia Deboick's excellent appraisal of Depeche Mode and their relationship with native new town Basildon in The Quietus this month.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Peel Life

pic: Keeping It Peel
Well, after I blogged about the new John Peel sessions compilation album Movement last week, blow me down if it isn't John Peel Day this very day. A world celebration of the great man and his life, work and music tastes. Much activity on twitter and so forth and a lot of good stuff coming out of it. While sites like Keeping It Peel are doing just that, it is rather sad that the BBC haven't updated their John Peel "online tribute" since September 2007 and are quite happy to confirm it too.

While searching for stuff on youtube I was pleased to see that Peely even went on This is Your Life (in 1996) and it was nice to see him in a totally spontaneous and joyful mode, as opposed to his intentionally stiff and sarcastic TOTP presenter-persona, which is really the only way we used to 'see' him. His radio-style was also, deliberately dry and sarcastic, but we loved that.

Here's the first part of said 'Life' episode with Michael Aspel popping up at the end of a TOTP show, and Peely being whisked away to the studio and a video message from none other than Mr. David Bowie. Nice one.

Again, many thanks John.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The rise and rise of David Jones

The David Bowie Story pt. 3
Almost forgot my ongoing potted history of Bowie, with info mostly gleaned from reading David Buckley's Strange Fascination.
Well we're just about up to the Ziggy Stardust period (1972-74), and so much has been written about it already I won't go into it, other than say I never really took to it much and still don't "get" the whole thing. Mind you, had i been slightly older at the time I may well have "got" it when watching Bowie/Ziggy and friends doing Starman on TOTP. According to Buckley it was a seminal moment (ah the power of telly!) in the rise of Ziggy Stardust, especially the moment in which Bowie/Ziggy points his finger straight into the camera and wiggles it around a bit while singing "you-ou-ou", upon which millions of British teenagers promptly swooned and were won over to the cause. They then dutifully went out and bought loads of glitter, glam clothing, oh and the record, the following Saturday. Here's said clip - watch out for that moment at around 1:37...

Love it or love it not, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars certainly assured Bowie's success, after much faffing about, and left a legacy that would influence so many for many years to come. In fact mention of the TOTP epiphany moment reminded me of the first time I - and many others - saw Tubeway Army, or rather Gary Numan, a Bowie-fan himself doing Are Friends Electric? on the show in 1979... he didn't point his finger, and we didn't faint, but the effect was basically the same.: things would never be quite the same again.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Now then, how many of you remember staying up "late" (after 10 p.m. was "late") to listen to the John Peel radio show of a weekday night, late 70s/early 80s? Well, for the uninitiated John Peel's nightly show was the place for the real alternative post-punk music that was going around at the time - you'r hear stuff here that you would not hear anywhere else, not even on Kid Jensen. Most of the stuff was so obscure that it basically remained such although the late, great Mr. Peel was famous of course for championing (he even championed the verb "to champion") many an obscure band who then went on to become quite successful, eg. Siouxsie & the Banshees, Generation X, XTC, The Undertones, The Jam, Joy Division and the like.
Each night Peely also featured usually two different "sessions", ie. bands who had gone in to the BBC studios to record three or four tracks especially for the show. These were often religiously taped and duly bootlegged, although many have already seen the light of day since as official releases (OMITD, Ultravox, Gary Numan, New Order to name but a few).

Anyway here comes possibly the first official  'Best of Peel sessions' release: Movement brings together many of those bands and more from the all-important 1977-1979 period. There's quite wide range of styles, not just the new-wavers but also ska from the likes of Madness, The Specials and Selecter and reggae from UB40, Aswad and Steel Pulse - all styles which were covered by Peel.

Of note to LiM is the inclusion of  Being Boiled by The Human League, recorded for their only session in 1978 which has never had an official release, only bootlegs. So here's hoping it's been properly dusted down for the occasion. It's a unique version in that it's kind of half way between the original Fast version and the radically re-vamped Holiday '80/Travelogue version. Well, Blind Youth geeks will know what I mean anyway.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Advanced Maths - 3

The John Foxx & The Maths tour kicked off last night from the intimate surroundings of the Assembly Rooms in Leamington Spa. The line-up of John Foxx, Benge, Hannah Peel and Serafina Steer suffered a few first-night nerves (according to Brigid Burke's excellent blog posting) but with a track-list which included some of Foxx's electro-classics from Metamatic (No One Driving, Underpass, Plaza, Burning Car, He's a Liquid), others from his Ultravox days (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Dislocation, Just For a Moment) and selected new tracks from the cracking 2011 album Interplay (Summerland, Evergreen, The Good Shadow, Catwalk), they couldn't really go wrong, and indeed they didn't.
The band and entourage are already on their way to Poland to play at the Unsound Festival in Cracow. Chris & Cosey ex of Throbbing Gristle also on the bill. The Maths' UK tour resumes next Thursday in Bristol.

Respected on-line music magazine The Quietus has uploaded a new JF & Maths track Where You End and I Begin feat. Tara Busch, who is the support act on most of the tour. (soundcloud link). The track comes from the new album The Shape of Things, available at gigs only for now.

Here's video footage of He's a Liquid performed at Leamington Spa last night, as filmed by Mateybloke who also took some rather good photos. (wonder what Mr B. Currie makes of the violin playing!)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Sound of The Future

(click for bigger)
Here's an interesting snippet from a feature in Smash Hits magazine of 30 years ago (as ever, thanks to the truly wonderful Like Punk Never Happened archive). A Beginner's Guide to the Human League who were just on the brink of becoming totally massive; in fact the feature/interview focuses on the imminent release of new album 'Dare', which has already been preceded by three hit singles, including the current Open Your Heart.
The 1981 section of the a.m. guide is of course incomplete for 1981 - perhaps not even the mighty League (and the immodest Phil Oakey) could have guessed what was just around the corner..
The question mark over 1982 is somewhat foreboding however, but fair-do's, they did manage a couple of great singles. More anon.

So open your heart, dare to feel and add your voice...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Of birthdays and weddings

Yesterday was John Winston Ono Lennon's birthday, and as he was born in 1940, most mathematicians will tell you he would have been 71 years old, if he hadn't been so brutally shot and killed in 1980, when he was 40.
Loads of people around and the world will have remembered him yesterday (oops..) by playing Imagine, but I listened to The Wedding Album instead.
John and Yoko got married in Gibraltar on 20th March, 1969.

Funnily enough his old mucker Paul McCartney went and got married for the third time on the same day as aforementioned birthday, which is a bit in bad taste if you ask me. I wonder if a) he did it on purpose as a way of remembering the man who made him famous in the first place, b) a way of distracting people from the fact that it was Lennon's birthday so as not to get all the limelight, or even c) he'd forgotten it was his bloomin' birthday. Whatever it was here's a couple of pics of the happy couple thanks to the very excellent Beatles photo blog. She's quite nice isn't she?

The Man Who Wore a Dress

The David Bowie Story pt. 2
Moving swiftly on in our David Jones mini-biography (part 1 here) we find the young David still struggling somewhat in his apparent mission to become an arty-folky-spaced-out-rock-n-roll-star, meeting a lot of interesting people but making a few mistakes along the way.
Since his debut album, Bowie had met and worked with Lindsay Kemp, dancer choreographer and all round arty-bloke who taught him a lot about body movement, theatre and mime (although Kemp didn't like that term much). This more or less resulted in Bowie making the Love You Till Tuesday mini-movie, which included a new song what he had written called Space Oddity. He even did a special scene for the movie to accompany the song, effectively making it one of the world's first purpose made 'promo-videos'. The song also went on to become Bowie's first hit in 1969, despite a veto by the BBC who thought it would bring bad luck to the impending Apollo mission which was to put a man on the moon for the first time. The song was inspired by space travel, Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey released the previous year, and was also an apparent allegory of a drug-induced 'trip'. Far out man, planet earth is blue. Whatever it was, it was Bowie's first taste of stardom, even though he was to remain a 'one-hit wonder' for a few years yet. The album obtained modest success but in its confused use of styles and subject matter, the NME rightly described it as "vastly incongruous".

But on with the 70s, and a new rather nihilistic lifestyle for Bowie who had also met up with the flamboyant American citizen Angela Barnet, whom he would marry and soon have a child together. They resided in the "art deco/art nouveau"-decorated  Haddon Hall in Beckenham, where they would frequently entertain musicians, artists and various nightclubbers in a totally, er, free and open way. Bowie had in fact manged to assemble a group of trusted musicians to form something like a proper band and in 1970 released The Man Who Sold the World, his third album which featured a more 'rock' style although still leaning towards the folk-psychedelia of previous work, Bowie was still trying to find his way in the new decade and the changing world. In the UK the album fared even less well than Space Oddity and failed to spawn a hit single, even though the title track would be bizarrely re-purposed for a cover version some years later for British petite-chanteuse Lulu.

Interest for Bowie grew with the album in the US however, and a promotional tour was organised in the early months of 1972, where the artist frequently showed up wearing a ("man") dress as on the UK album sleeve, exploiting his 'androgynous' tag and generating much interest. The trip was also fundamental in Bowie 'discovering' two American artists Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, as well as meeting Andy Warhol, with whom he shared a revolutionary approach to art.

Bowie returned to the UK to make another album Hunky Dory, released just before Christmas 1971, which was perhaps his most commercially viable to date with songs like Changes, Oh You Pretty Things and the epic Life On Mars?, all of which would later become Bowie 'classics'. Critics were generally enthusiastic although the public still couldn't quite handle the quirkiness and eccentricity associated with the artist which runs throughout the album. Although Hunky Dory now stands as a milestone in his career and the development of 'art-rock' and many other genres, Bowie was still very much finding his way. Referring to Hunky, Bowie declared many years later "I'm getting it, I'm finding my feet. I'm starting to communicate what I want to do. Now: what is it I want to do?".

Friday, 7 October 2011

John Foxx - The Garden / Ultravox - Rage in Eden

I love 1981 pt.19
Hate to have to lump these two albums together but they are of course related in more ways than one, sharing more than just the vicinity of their "birthdays".
Warning: I'm going to say some unfavourable things about the Foxx album. Don't get me wrong, I'm (officially) one of the world's biggest Foxx-fans, but The Garden just didn't do it for me, and thirty years on still doesn't. "There's a difference between creating your own distinctive sound and doing the same thing over and over again. John Foxx falls the wrong side of that line" : Ian Cranna said that in Smash Hits, not me but I couldn't have agreed more.
"I'd grown tired of being a frozen electrician"
After the ground-breaking revolutionary and utterly stupendous Metamatic, issued at the very dawn of 1980, John Foxx had gone to Italy to "thaw out", rubbed shoulders with the likes of film director Antonioni, tasted a bit of la dolce vita and came back to create what was essentially a re-working of his previous sound with Ultravox. Even the title of the the album's second track 'Systems of Romance' is re-cycled from his third album with the group, and who is to say he hadn't already written the track for the band. Tracks like When I Was a Man and You Were a Woman, You Were There and Walk Away may as well have had former band-mates Chris Cross, Warren Cann, Billy Currie as well as Robin Simon, who was in fact brought in on some tracks, playing their respective instruments on them, so close they are to the 1978 Ultravox sound with Foxx on vocals.
The fountains, squares and colonnades of Italy had rubbed off efficiently only in the opening Europe After the Rain and the post-Metamatic walking tours around England reflect in the closing title track, two songs which are essentially the album's saving grace. True, Foxx had already anticipated his move from the Ballardian underpasses and concrete jungle dystopias of Metamatic with the interim single Miles Away (there's a new man at the edge of me..making new plans for the rest of me), but few followers expected such a sharp turn-around in the underpass as they got with The Garden. OK, Ballard was still there with the images of overgrown cities and buildings and churches the like, but the warmer and more organic sounds seemed less suited to Foxx as he had established himself as a solo artist.  "After 1981 everyone and his dog went electro, so I became Max Ernst dressed as Lord Lost, exploring the overgrown and abandoned city of London. To a psychedelic ecclesiastical disco soundtrack." Shame really. Nice booklet though.

 John Foxx & friends perform Systems of Romance live in 1983

The new eighties Ultravox on the other hand  rarely looked back on their Foxxy past and together with Midge Ure, Messrs Cann, Currie and Cross continued their rise to popularity and household name-ness with Rage in Eden, released two weeks before The Garden. Smash Hits, this time under the pen of Johnny Black, was equally scathing in their review stating that the album "was too bland to satisfy", favouring instead Numan's Dance, but this time they were wrong! Ultravox had good songs, Conny Plank at the helm to make one heck of an album. The Thin Wall had already announced it's tougher, edgier feel vis à vis Vienna, yet it was stomping tracks like The Voice, We Stand Alone and I Remember (Death in the Afternoon) (singled out by Black, to his merit) which push Rage along and we our attention is even maintained during the 7 minute long Stranger Within,and the closing, agonising angst of Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again).

At the time I don't think there was no real sense of competition between the two artists and their respective albums, but in retrospect it was Rage in Eden which had the upper hand. True, Ure-vox were pompous and just a tad pretentious in form and style yet they somehow managed to carry it off, at least for now. For the moment they were the ones who were taking electronic music into some sort of mainstream audience, and arguable "merit" in itself but it got them lots of radio play and onto Top of the Pops a lot and we loved that.  RAge in Eden was quality new-music in huge quantities, adequately packaged by Peter Savile, the perfect match to their neo-thirties-cum-futuristic style.
No Ultravox album would be as good as this ever again, proof of that being the amount of tracks from Rage that are played live to this day - Thin Wall, I Remember, We Stand Alone, Rage in Eden and not least The Voice with its spectacular burundi-esque 4-man drum-pad finale.

Ultravox perform The Voice live in 1984

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Kate goes Wild

Kate Bush will publish her new single next week. Wild Man will also be previewed on Radio2's Ken Bruce Show on Monday 10th October. The release comes ahead of the new album 50 Words for Snow out in November, when it might even snow. List of international pre-order sites here, although too bad if you live in Burkina Faso.

As a tie-in to our I Love 1981 series let's remember how gorgeous Kate was thirty years ago in this little number .. in the song Sat In Your Lap, I mean.