November 19th, 2013
Originally posted August 2007.
I was never the sort of kid who was interested in planes or trains or automobiles, but even I got a kick out of seeing Concorde. It started commercial flights in 1976 and used to fly over our school one afternoon every week on its way from Heathrow to Bahrain. For a while that was the only route it flew out of England so spotting it was something of an event. We were usually in the playground on our way to the next lesson when it came over, everyone would excitedly look up when we heard its roaring engines and kids inside would rush over to their classroom windows to try and catch a glimpse.
What made Concorde so great was that it was (at least partly) British. It started flying during the dark days of the 1970s when the country was falling apart and we had little to be proud of except our “glorious” past, but here was this gorgeous, futuristic thing we helped design and build — easily the most beautiful passenger plane ever created. With it’s sleek, sexy lines and thrusting nose it was like the E-Type of aircraft, an object that stirred the loins of national pride. The fact that the Americans wouldn’t allow it to land at their airports made our pride swell even more, they said it was because of noise pollution but we thought they were just jealous because they hadn’t built the world’s first supersonic airliner themselves.
The Concorde project started in the 50s but to me it evoked the British “can do” forward thinking of the 1960s, that optimistic period when when we’d never had it so good and Harold Wilson was talking about the “white hot heat” of the technological revolution. It didn’t last of course, by the time Concorde was ready to fly the country was in the toilet and the oil crisis meant there wasn’t much demand for a petrol-hungry supersonic plane. So it was a bit of a white elephant that cost a boatload of money and ended up in limited service for the wealthy, but it was a magnificent white elephant and it was ours.
John Peel played some bizarre music on his show but “There Goes Concorde Again” by …And The Native Hipsters from 1980 must rank as the one of the most completely bonkers. This is nearly seven minutes of spoken word whimsy punctuated by tuneless electronic bleeps and bloops and the occasional clattering of typewriter keys. “Vocalist” Nanette Greenblatt sounds like some batty old cat lady who spends too much time indoors, watching the comings and goings of the world from behind her net curtains. You either love this or it will drive you from the room screaming. Me, I think it’s a lovely piece of peculiarly English eccentricity and never get tired of it no matter how many times she says “ooh look!” — which is a lot.
Surprisingly this was a big hit on the indie charts and I swear I remember Peel playing a parody version of it someone did about looking out of the window and seeing two Joy Division fans walk by carrying copies of “Unknown Pleasures” under their arms. Anyone else remember this or did I hallucinate the whole thing?
Download: There Goes Concorde Again – …And The Native Hipsters (mp3)
November 13th, 2013
In the old, dirty (and cheaper) London like the 1970s of these photos you’d see concert ads like these plastered everywhere, and in areas like Camden and Ladbroke Grove with a happening music scene and a more bohemian population the walls were often like dense collages of old and new posters pasted on top of each other in thick layers.
This constantly-changing gallery was a highly visible sign of the vibrancy of the city’s music scene, and these cheaply-printed, often illegally posted posters were a very rock and roll form of advertising. More than an email alert anyway.
A couple of gigs well worth going to above, like The Police with The Cramps at the Lyceum, and Rockpile with The Specials (bottom of the bill!) at the Palais, while below on the right there is a poster advertising the strange combo of bland soft-rockers Sad Cafe with punk poet John Cooper Clarke. Think I’d rather have gone to see Motörhead at The Music Machine..
This must be the strangest one though: Prog Rockers Curved Air with the New York Dolls third on the bill. I like to think people had more eclectic tastes back then, but more than likely the Dolls got booed off or had beer cans thrown at them by angry hippies.
I’ve seen some great headliner/support combos in my day: Orange Juice/The Pale Fountains, The Pretenders/UB40, U2/Public Enemy, and Siouxsie & The Banshees/The Associates. Sadly that last one was a bit of a disaster as the punks in the audience didn’t care for their avant-garde artpop and showered Billy Mackenzie in spit and beer the whole time they were on. The poor sod just stood there in a big fur coat and took it with a massive grin on his face.
I never saw this lot in concert but the song has the word “Wall” in the title and it’s live too, so what the hell.
Download: Over The Wall (Live 1981) – Echo & The Bunnymen (mp3)
October 22nd, 2013
The “it” in this case must mean abducting a girl in broad daylight on a busy city street. I guess having a fast car would make that a lot easier.
Download: Cartrouble – Adam & The Ants (mp3)
October 14th, 2013
Actress Jane Horrocks is probably best known for playing the ditzy Bubbles in Absolutely Fabulous and for the movie Little Voice. She’s also known for her brilliant vocal impersonations of divas like Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey, but now she’s singing in her own voice on what is planned as a series of cover versions of Post-Punk classics, starting with Joy Division’s “Isolation” which features Rat Scabies on drums. Very good it is too, I might go so far to say I prefer it to the original but that could just be because I prefer female voices.
Buy it at iTunes.
(Discovered over at Paul Gorman’s blog.)
October 9th, 2013
This is what the future was supposed to look like. But if it had stayed as bright and cheerful as this what would skinny white boys with synthesizers write songs about?
Download: Underpass – John Foxx (mp3)
September 20th, 2013
I saw U2 at the Hammersmith Palais the same year as this clip (1981) and it might not be hip to admit it now but they were fantastic, one of the best live bands I’ve seen and one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever been to. To use the vernacular, they really tore the roof off the sucker. Bono himself said at the end that it was one of the best gigs they’d played so far outside of Dublin.
Funnily enough I only really went to see the support band: Altered Images.
September 16th, 2013
If you’re a reader of David Hepworth’s excellent blog you’ll know that he considers 1971 to be the best-ever year for rock albums. He’s beating that drum again by listing the albums that would have been on the Mercury Prize shortlist (albums released by UK and Irish acts) if they’d had one that year.
A very impressive list it is too (if you can ignore the presence of Yes and Jethro Tull which I’m trying hard to do) and in response I offer what would have been on the Mercury Prize shortlist in 1979. I’m leaving off some out of personal preference (The Fall, not my cup of tea) and I’m sure there are others missing that will be pointed out in the comments.
Metal Box – Public Image Ltd.
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
London Calling – The Clash
Entertainment! – Gang Of Four
Armed Forces – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
154 – Wire
The Raincoats – The Raincoats
Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker
The Specials – The Specials
Forces Of Victory – Linton Kwesi Johnson
The Undertones – The Undertones
Setting Sons – The Jam
Drums & Wires – XTC
Cut – The Slits
Broken English – Marianne Faithful
Not that I want to start a generational war or anything, but: Eat that 1971!
I was 17 in 1979 so obviously I have a sentimental dog in this race but I think it wins this one by several noses. Not only is that a list of great records, many of them are great records which had a huge and lasting impact on rock music. 1979 looks even better when you see the NME albums and singles of the year.
Was it a better year than 1972 overall? We could argue about that until the cows come home but that’s what we like doing best isn’t it? Having completely pointless arguments about things that can never be proved one way or the other.
Download: Careering – Public Image Limited (mp3)
Download: New Dawn Fades – Joy Division (mp3)
Download: Discovering Japan – Graham Parker (mp3)
Download: Sonny’s Lettah – Linton Kwesi Johnson (mp3)
Download: No Side To Fall In – The Raincoats (mp3)
Download: Nite Klub – The Specials (mp3)
September 13th, 2013
Somehow I’ve managed to have never seen this video before until recently. I’m very glad I have now, it’s just as brilliantly bonkers as the record.
Is this the best pop record ever made by “a loose collective of avant-garde and free improvising musicians”?