November 4th, 2014
Trad Jazz clarinetist Acker Bilk died on Sunday. He was one of those faces that always seemed to crop up as the musical guest on Light Entertainment television shows in the 1970s, always with his distinctive bowler hat, waistcoat, and goateee. Put on Morecambe & Wise or Mike Yarwood on a Saturday night and there he’d be. If it wasn’t him it would be fellow Trad-Jazzer Kenny Ball (who died last year), it was like a refuge for all the pre-Beatles acts who’d had their pop careers wiped out by the Fabs.
So while I knew bugger all about him — I only just found out where his nickname “Acker” came from — and couldn’t tell you how good his Jazz chops were, he was ubiquitous in my youth so his death makes me rather sad. It’s like another little piece of my childhood as gone, if a very esoteric one. Acker Bilk was a household name back then but I doubt if anyone under 30 has ever heard of him.
This is the tune he’s most famous for and no apologies for that because I think it’s a gorgeous melody, even if it does sound like a proto-Kenny G record now. A huge hit in 1962, this became only the second record by an English artist to top the American chart (Vera Lynn was the first, trivia fans).
Download: Stranger On The Shore — Acker Bilk (mp3)
He plays it slightly jazzier on this version, but I’m including this clip mostly because it’s such a perfect example of the shabby tackiness of 1970s Light Entertainment television. The rubbish you had to sit through on a Saturday night while lying on your brown living room carpet in front of the television waiting for Match of The Day to come on.
September 19th, 2014
Poor old Malcolm Owen. Died of a heroin overdose after The Ruts had recorded just the one album and a few singles, forever making them a “What if?” footnote in post-punk history. Also had the misfortune to die only two weeks after Ian Curtis and get forgotten by history while the gloomy Manc is a legend (even though The Ruts were a bigger band than Joy Division at the time).
June 10th, 2014
One night in the early 1980s I was having dinner in a restaurant with my Dad when the actor Brian Glover walked in and, being a friend of my old man’s (he played God in the National Theatre production The Mysteries) he joined us at our table.
Glover had recently played a small part in An American Werewolf in London with the late, great Rik Mayall and the conversation turned to The Young Ones which was on TV at the time. Brian asked me, as the official spokesperson for young people I suppose, what I thought of it. Trying to convey just how popular and important the show was to us “kids” I compared it to Top of The Pops because the day after it was on everybody was talking about it at school or in the pub with the same sort of “Did you see THAT?” excitement. Having just started art school I knew real-life versions of Rick, Neil, Mike, and Vyvyan.
The Young Ones was the television equivalent of The Ramones’ first album — an anarchic, out-of-control cartoon — and Mayall was a key part of the British “alternative” comedy generation that did to the bland, golf-playing, Tory-voting comedians on TV what punk had done to dinosaur rock bands: made them look irrelevant, dull, and reactionary. Because of that he will always be cherished by people my age, he gave us comedy that belonged to us.
But he won’t just be remembered for Rick, but also for characters like Kevin Turvey, Jeremy the Beatnik, and of course Lord Flashheart. It takes some genius to completely steal an episode of Blackadder from Rowan Atkinson. This still makes me wet myself.
April 2nd, 2014
I had already planned to post this record in the next week or so as part of my I Have Twelve Inches series, but now, sadly, it will have to do as a tribute to the great Frankie Knuckles.
Of all the genres, subgenres, and microgenres of dance music over the years the classic Chicago House sound has been my favourite from the moment I first heard the massive pounding beat of “Love Can’t Turn Around” in 1986. Give me a big piano riff and drum machines over a 4/4 beat with soulful vocals and I’m in Dance Music Heaven. Frankie Knuckles practically invented that sound which not only revolutionized the club scene — giving us superstar DJs and Raves — but was also a huge influence on mainstream pop music.
Club music was changing and evolving so quickly back in the late 80s-early 90s that it could he hard keeping up with who was doing what or even know the names of records you’d been dancing to, but if I saw Frankie Knuckles name on a label, either as producer or remixer, I’d buy it.
“Tears” from 1989 is my pick for his best record. A slow-burning, hypnotic number, with a gliding sensual beat and an intensely soulful vocal by Robert Owens. Just sublime, and a contender for greatest House record ever made IMHO.
Download: Tears (Classic Vocal Mix) – Frankie Knuckles Presents Satoshi Tomiie (mp3)
January 6th, 2014
Well this is a rotten start to the year.
I’ve been a huge fan of Phil and Don ever since I bought a copy of the 1970s compilation Walk Right Back With The Everlys (with the great Mick Brownfield sleeve) back in my teens. Still got it too. I thought the mountain-air purity of their voices was one the most beautiful sounds in pop music.
Unlike a lot of other 1950s acts The Everly Brothers never sounded dated to me, and transcended the era of bobbysoxers and quiffs because of the classic, clean-cut lines of their harmonies and guitars. They weren’t as big in the post-Beatles world (though they remained very popular in England) but you could hear their influence all over 60s music and beyond.
This is a gem from 1966 which shows they were still making great records then too.
Download: Leave My Girl Alone – The Everly Brothers (mp3)
Do yourself a favour and get this box set.
December 16th, 2013
“We both are old now, more sedate, more responsible, we sleep in beds and sometimes we are sober; our bones are brittle, our sinews want elastic, the optician is kept busy and the dentist’s in despair, the barber gives us shorter shrift while the tailor makes thick overcoats, but should a shining occasion present itself, why, we will run jump fight fuck wheel a barrow drive a truck and generally present ourselves, singly or in tandem, to whatever merry mayhem takes our fancy”
Peter O’Toole, Loitering With Intent
RIP the very, very great Peter O’Toole. I highly recommend the two volumes of his autobiography, and of course, the movies.
Download: Overture From Lawrence of Arabia – Maurice Jarre (mp3)
October 27th, 2013
“Without Lou there is no Bowie as we know him. Me? I’d probably be a maths teacher” – Lloyd Cole
Brian Eno’s famous line about the first Velvet Underground album only selling 30,000 copies but “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band” may have been a very quotable exaggeration but was a tidy way of expressing their oversized influence. I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess at what British music would have sounded like for the past 40 years if it hadn’t been for the Velvets and the literate, envelope-pushing songs Lou Reed wrote for them and in his solo career — from Glam Rock, Punk, Post-Punk, and Goth through to jangly-guitar Indie, his fingerprints are all over it.
But only seeing him through the lens of his influence on other people does him a little disservice when his own records were often – and with the Velvets, nearly 100% – brilliant in their own right, no matter who formed a group because of them.
Download: Sad Song – Lou Reed (mp3)
June 25th, 2013
Very, very sad to hear about the death of Bobby Bland. I’m not a huge Blues fan, but his voice is one of my favourite sounds in all of popular music. That mixture of gravel and honey and the way he would suddenly, dynamically, shift from a tender whisper to a full-throated, lion-esque roar could give you goose pimples. I didn’t really consider him a Blues singer anyway, to me he was up there with the great Soul growlers like Otis, Wilson Pickett, and James Carr.
Download: That Did It – Bobby Bland (mp3)
Buy: The Voice: Duke Recordings 1959-1969 (album)