That Lovely Idea

One day, I will be rich. One day, I’ll win a big, big lottery win and with that money, I will call M Ward and ask him for some guitar lessons. I don’t care if I’ll have to fly to Portland to see him. I don’t care if I’ll have to pay him much money for this honour. All I’d care about is spending some time with this marvellous individual, just to see how the hell he plays his goddamn guitar.

Because, frankly, there aren’t many people out there who can play like him. Sure, James Blackshaw can do the whole long-fingernails-what-the-blazes-is-going-on-there thing, him from Russian Circles makes some astonishing music with pedals and tapping and whatnot, and there’s all sorts of fretwankery from the likes of Steve Vai, but no-one, no-one I tell you, can take an acoustic and just play and sing and make something astonishing sound like the most natural thing in the world.

And what’s caused this belated mash note? Alcohol? Why, yes, but also having played this little-listened to excerpt from the Lauren Laverne show back in March on YouTube for a good few weeks now, I thought I’d finally say something about it1:

It’s had 2,474 views. I suspect around a hundred of them were me. M Ward has a gift of taking someone else’s song and making it utterly his own. I can only imagine what songwriters that he covers think. He sneaks into their house and moves the furniture, hoovers the carpets and gets some new curtains, and before you know it, he’s inviting them arond for a cup of tea and some cake. And they are glad he’s done it.

Sure, in this case, the songwriter (a certain Julio Cesar Sanders – thanks, Wikipedia!) is long gone, but the idea still remains. Not only has M Ward done one cover of this song, he’s done two – the first being the rock’n’roll version on A Wasteland Companion, the other being the solo acoustic version presented here.

Just listen to the way he strums to keep the rhythm going. Just listen to how he deftly picks out the bassline. Just listen to the elegantly played melody. And just listen to his wonderful warm, soft, intimate singing, full of smiles and love and promise and just a hint of sadness. Above all, just listen.

The guy’s a fucking genius.

MP3: I Get Ideas (Lauren Laverne Show 200312) by M Ward

1 It being dreadfully quiet round here, and all.

Buy “A Wasteland Companion” for £4.99. £4.99! You’d be a fool not to.

The Peely John Peel Show

So, some bright chap decided it would be a ripper wheeze to post 458 of John Peel’s shows on Soundcloud. For those of us of a certain age, this is manna from heaven. You pretty much have to resort to cliche when describing John Peel’s influence. He was the kindly uncle who took us under his wing and played us strange, wonderful, charming, ugly, quirky, alien, familiar, and most of all different music. And The Fall. I have no idea what my musical tastes would be without him. Sure, we grew apart in later years, after he got shoved around the schedules, my adult life taking me to places and situations where it was hard to catch up with him (and I am a lazy sod), but when he died, he left a hole in million’s of people’s lives.

And with the wondrous modern world of interconnectedness and sharing and whathaveyou, he’s back.

And with the less wondrous modern world of lawyers, Cease And Desist orders, the Web Sherriff, DMRA and DMCA and all those lovely acronyms hiding sharpsuited record label execs who have watched their easy money go sailing off into the distance on a sea of fibre-optic cable (note to self: this bit needs work), he’s gone again. In one day.

Which is all pretty sad. Wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, the people with the lawyers disappeared for a while and just let us normal folk listen to music, reminisce, then go out and buy some of the marvellous records he played?

Cheerio, Peelie, it was fun having you around again, even if for just a day.

MP3: Teenage Kicks by The Undertones

Buy “Teenage Kicks – The Very Best Of The Undertones” (CD/MP3)

I Just Never Could Quite Tell You No

So there I am, driving around in the Florida heat in a rental car listening to some country music station (I don’t know which, K-ROQ or Q-UIM or somesuch), when on comes a familiar song. Well, familiar in one sense; it was a version of a Bonnie “Prince” Billy cover1. I’d never hear the original version of “Just To See You Smile” off somewhat obscure EP “More Revery”, but I’d loved the cover and chucked it on mix CD’s left, right and center, back in those heady pre-blogging days.

Bonnie Billy’s version is all broken, tentative, full of heartache, his voice cracking under the memory of telling the sad tale:

The original, by wholly-unknown-in-the-UK-star Tim McGraw2, is on the surface a more chirpy affair, all banjos and pedal/lap steels bouncing away with that marvellous Nashville sheen, but that old familiar tale still gets rammed home with a tear in ol’ Tim’s eye.

You can’t beat lyrics, or a tune like this, can you? Either way the song is performed, the sheer quality just shines through. I love both versions, though the cover is always going to have a special place in my heart that the original won’t ever displace.

MP3: Just To See You Smile by Bonnie Billy

1 Ok, fact fans, really it’s by Bonnie Billy. No idea why the “More Revery” covers EP misses out the “Prince” bit. Any ideas?

2 Fact Fans No. 2; “Just To See You Smile” was written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin. So there.

Buy Bonnie Billy’s “More Revery” EP here (note: not cheap) and Tim McGraw’s Greatest Hits (CD) here

I Can’t Hear Myself

Woke up this morning, got an email from Songkick, that email tell me that Grizzly Bear are comin’ to town
Oh yeah, Grizzly Bear comin’ to town
That great big bear must have some new tunes, I’m a guessing
So I hightail it off to their website, that big bear website
And sho’ nuff there’s an album, a brand new album, hailin’ in the month of September
And there’s a song, a brand new song

Woke up this morning to a brand new song
An’ it has guitars, big guitars, and that high-voiced singing, and those guitars
Man those guitars, they sing like an angry choir, and that man Rossen
Boy oh boy, does that man Rossen play the guitar
And the song, the brand new bear song
The brand new bear song with the guitars and the singing
The song’s a-called Sleeping Ute

An’ I been playin’ it so loud
That I can’t hear myself sing my praises to the Lord
I can’t hear myself

Amazon’s Grizzly Bear Store

You Should Hear Me Play Piano

So today I finally cracked. Three days of this Jubilee malarkey is all well and good, but the whole thing started to get on my nerves after a while. By this afternoon I was starting to wonder if the French had had the right idea. Still, if the alternative was President Thatcher then I suppose I can take a Queen for a bit longer, especially with one who has spent much of the weekend looking like she’d rather be sat in front of a roaring fire with a nice cup of tea. And the extra day off has been nice too.

Not that our old chum Morrissey would see things the same way. I’ve been reminded this weekend of the old Smiths classic “The Queen Is Dead”, which inadvertantly ended up being played in the kitchen the other day. The kids seemed to like it. If you don’t know it, listen below:

If you do know it, then, well, it’s nice to be reminded of such a cracking song, eh? All the usual Smiths tropes are there, the maundlin mention of rain, the shared intimacy of talking of precious things, the sly humour (“I’m the eighteenth pale descendant\Of some old queen or other”), the left-wing politics, all finished with the none-more-Smiths “Life is very long when you’re lonely”. And by jove, did I wonder that today when I saw Prince Charles gazing from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Tied to his mother’s apron, indeed.

MP3: The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths

Buy “The Queen Is Dead” Here

Squeaky Ears, Squeaky Voice

This whole tinnitus thing is having a strange effect on my brain. Because I’m not spending the best part of two hours a day on public transport listening to music, my brain is filling in the gaps by dredging its memory banks for most unexpected items. Last week I had “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by REM, this week it’s been, rather less welcomely, “Pure Morning” by Placebo.

Now Placebo aren’t a band I have much cause to listen to, and “Pure Morning” was the song at which I thought “Are this lot taking the piss, or are they actually serious?”. The answer being, a bit of both, but as time went on it became far more of the latter than the former. Squeaky-voiced annoyance-bot Brian Molko was amusing in small doses (the whole thing about getting London journalists thinking he might be a laydee, and being successful in some cases, was definitely quite a ripping yarn), but after a while it all got a bit tedious. “A friend with breasts and all the rest” indeed. Plus, I had the misfortune of seeing them live in Zurich some years back, and this counts as the second worst gig I can remember.

But I started this blog to be nice about bands, not to slag them off. Lots of people like Placebo, and who am I to criticise their tastes? On that note I decided to listen to a couple of tunes from their debut, which I’d loved when it came out, in those heady heady mid-’90’s days of Britpop and Camden and spending my days driving round the country to visit pubs to tell them what music to play (seriously). Guess what, dear reader? Yep, some of their early stuff is good. Not superb, not marvellous, but still, pretty good.

“36 Degrees” sounds like The Undertones gone crazy with PCP and Motorhead, though the chorus of “Someone tried to do me ache” is the most clumsy thing I’ve heard for many a year:

“Nancy Boy” takes their Therapy? and Smashing Pumpkins love to new heights, and both “Bruise Pristine” and “Come Home” thunder around like a Velociraptor that’s been told that no, it can’t wear that ripped shirt to Granny’s birthday party, and what have you done to your hair, tidy yourself up, lad, before running back upstairs to its bedroom to sulk a bit more.

Yep, the whole I’ve-done-drugs-and-felt-a-girls-naughty-bits-and-now-I’m-sad schtick does wear somewhat thin over the course of an album, but this is a band that got it completely right the first time round and then it was all downhill (apart from “Brick Shithouse”, of course). The energy, the superb drumming, the sheer velocity of these songs keeps them from sounding that dated. They definitely sound better than most other songs of their era, I’ll say that for nothing. Go on, go and listen to some Verve songs. Quelle drear.

So let’s raise a glass filled with absinthe to little Brian Molko and his chums, for making a record which sounds suprisingly good many years later, then let’s go and do some drugs, pick up some questionable ladies-who-may-be-men, have our hearts broken, get all moany, sing loudly about being moany, then do some speed. Bonzer! Isn’t being a teenager great?

(Note: I would happily post one of these songs, but I noticed on Hype Machine that anyone who has posted them before hasn’t got them up any more. This is normally a sign of a very heavy-handed record label or publisher, and frankly, I’ve had enough of that shit before. So here’s “Pure Morning”, even though it’s not the song I like. C’est la new world of the Internet. If only Placebo would use Soundcloud, eh, lads?)

MP3: Pure Morning by Placebo

Placebo by Placebo (It’s The One To Get)


You can’t beat a bit of dreamy folk-tinged oddness. Mount Eerie hail from Anacortes, Washington, that green and rainy and woody land hugging the Puget Sound, somewhere betwixt Seattle and Vancouver. The kind of place I can imagine makes you hole up in a freezing garage for months on end making slightly ominous fuzzed out space-pop. The kind of music in which you can hear the damp cold air swishing past the microphone, chilling everything around it. Music for long, cold, dark, soggy nights; music for a landscape of forests and mountains and a sea that will suck you down and crush you under a continental plate. That’s what “House Shape” is.

Sounding like The Besnard Lakes after a night on Mogadon listening to Spaceman 3, this is a marvellously odd piece of acid-tinged narcotic wooziness, featuring a two minute krautrock intro followed by some undecipherable lyrics, before coming to a rather unexpected halt. Over this all is the a buzzy hum that feels like the kind of sound that valves make to keep themselves warm. All in all, I’ve become inordinately fond of it.

Plus, the band, which pretty much consists of Phil Elverum and a couple of folks helping out here and there, has possibly the best band website I have seen in years. Go on, go and have a look now. Brilliant design, a marvellous photoshopped image of a P.W. Elverum & Sun store, and all the lovely photos you can shake a stick at. This kind of site, with lots of things to buy, nice photos, lovely posters to buy, and even a $60 photo book, make me think that there’s life in the record industry yet, that there’s a way to be a proper Indie when you’ve got talent.

The album from which this stems is “Clear Moon”, and it’s released on May 22nd. I’d pre-order it if I were you. Going by this, it’s going to be marvellous.

Note: At time of writing this song has 48 “Likes” on Hype Machine. What the hell is wrong with everyone? Come on, this deserves more than that.

I Am A Vagabond

Don’t know about you, but I tend to watch “Later…With Jools Holland” with my finger hovering over the fast-forward button. For every performance by a good band, there’s always some hideously hyped new act, some tedious jazz-soul band, and an excruciating performance by an old muso chum of Jools who really ought to have packed it in years back.

It was the first of those options which nearly led me to zoom straight through Grimes. I hadn’t actually heard any of her music, but what I’d picked up was that she was going to be some tedious electro-pop act, like Florence and the Whatsit, but thankfully I gave her a go. Thankfully because I had one of those increasingly rare moments of hearing something new on Jools Holland that I rather liked.

Yes, “Genesis” does sound alarmingly like a very good Orbital record from 1993, all melancholy euphoria and a couple of synth sounds that should have been abandoned in the factory, but her beautiful, yearning voice overlain onto those interlocking melodies and whatnot made me go all funny. Which is a good thing, clearly.

Once I get over this bout of tinnitus1 and start listening to music on my daily commute again, her album “Visions” will be top of my list. Honest it will.

MP3: Genesis by Grimes

1 Seriously. This explains, to a large extent, the total absence of any updates around here. Difficult to write about music when you’re not listening to any. I am off to see Russian Circles on Monday though, which is a kill-or-cure thing, I guess.

Buy “Visions” by Grimes (CD/MP3)


Well, wouldn’t you know. After a couple of days having Grandaddy songs playing in my head, kitchen, and in front of my six year old son (who tried dancing to “Now It’s On”, bless his little cotton socks), I saunter onto the Drowned In Sound board and find that Grandaddy are reuniting for some gigs. Grandaddy! Gigs! They are a band I only managed to see live once, in a club in Basel, of all places, playing to about 20 vaguely interested Swiss folk and a smattering of ex-pats who were far more interested. And they were great; despite there being some obvious tensions in the band, they sounded good, looked like a bunch of skaters, truck drivers and odd-job men who’d decided to form a band singing about robots, and generally made it more than worth the train ride from Zurich.

For they are one of the Great Lost Bands of the 90’s/00’s. I’ll never understand why they didn’t make it big (or at least bigger); they made music quite unlike any of their peers, mixing weird old analogue synths with fuzzed guitars, with the sweetest tunes you can imagine, sung by a man with the resigned air of a fellow who’s just seen his girlfriend run off with a snowboard instructor, singing tales of broken robots, miners on a distant planet viewing their loved ones but unable to talk to them, the perils of doing science, paeans to the outdoor life and how cities slowly kill you, and that’s just off one album. The songs were wistful, funny, achingly sad, thoughtful, whimsical, wry and pointed. They felt utterly human, even when singing about how their robot had died.

Unlike 99.999% of their contemporaries, they were about modern life, about suburbia, about dull jobs, about sci-fi, about skating, about cats, about anything that Jason Lytle was curious about. I’ve missed them, and seeing him play solo back in 2010 was a highlight of my gigging career.

I can only hope they play some shows in London.


Crystal Lake:

Hewlett’s Daughter:

El Caminos In The West:

Buy stuff from Grandaddy’s Amazon Store.

Jocky Said

So the big man, Jocky Wilson, passed away last night. I don’t know much about darts but he was ever-present in my childhood as the man that took the darts world by storm, as well as doing it drinking a huge amount of beer. And whiskey.

But every time I hear his name I can’t help but think of this:

Ah, those amateurish TOTP staff. I do miss that. Miss Dexy’s too, a little, for they are one of those bands that liked being just a bit different. RIP, Jocky.

Buy The Excellent “Let’s Make This Precious: the Best of Dexys Midnight Runners”

MP3: Jackie Wilson Said by Dexy’s Midnight Runners