Saturday, October 21, 2017

Clive Product - Financial Suicide

Clive Product – Financial Suicide (1988)

In 1988, Clive Product became the second artist after Billy Bragg to appear on Utility Records (which had originally been formed as part of Charisma). Billy’s 1983 release Life’s A Riot with Spy vs Spy had been the label’s first release (UTIL 1), but there wasn’t a UTIL 2 until Financial Suicide came along in 1988. By then Utility was owned by Billy and Peter Jenner and they were trying to showcase independent acts which had tried hard, but so far failed, to break through. Clive fitted the bill perfectly, having already released four albums, to no appreciable commercial success.

Financial Suicide was a six track compilation mini-album, taking tracks off Clive’s earlier LPs. So we have Shoddy Body and Songs From An Untidy Bedroom (from Songs From An Untidy Bedroom (1986)), Everyone Sees What I See and The Man Who Thought He Was a Steam Train (from The Care Assistant (1987)), Penguins (from Village Tours Start Here (1983)) and a track that Clive released as a single, There Goes The Floor Again. The CD of this mini-album added Two Fat Girls (also from The Care Assistant).

I love this album and still play it regularly. Clive produces great eccentric, acoustic pop music – memorable hooks and a lot of humour. The album opens with an up-tempo song I can really relate to - Shoddy Body. “I’ve a shoddy body, you’ve a shoddy body, there isn’t anybody who hasn’t got a shoddy body”. As Clive says, “nobody’s perfect.” Why that wasn’t a top ten hit I don’t know. Everyone Sees What I See, is a bit more chaotic, another self-deprecating song (“don’t tell me I’m special”) all driven along by a virtuoso violin. “There goes the floor again, opening beneath my feet” – another downer of a song – sounds like Clive had a bit of a self-esteem problem when he was younger. Great melody though. The Man Who Thought He Was A Steam Train sounds like the title of a book by Oliver Sacks. An upbeat tune, about a chap shuffling around a care home living out the life he wanted inside his head. Penguins is a haunting mournful ballad, an evocative and slightly eerie song. So, it’s a good job the mood is lifted by Songs From An Untidy Bedroom, which is one of my favourite tracks of all time. It’s a warning not to lose the idealism and vitality of youth, with a driving beat and a catchy tune. “I still believe in cheap guitar strings sounding just as good on a cheap guitar.” The CD bonus track, Two Fat Girls is perhaps a little politically incorrect, but a nice bit of observational song writing.

I utterly fail to understand why Clive never broke through. In 1990 Clive relocated to Berlin and produced one more LP (Fate On A Plate) in 1992. Between 1993 and 1997 he wrote and edited the fanzine Big Untidy, which eventually led to the publication of a book in 1999, Beautiful Extremes: Conversations with Kevin Coyne. It’s difficult to be definitive about what he’s been up to since then, as his web page has disappeared, but he does crop up from time to time. It appears that Clive has recorded several albums worth of new material, including Shooting Stars (2000) and Skeleton Songs (2002), but I have been unable to track down any copies. An acoustic EP, Broken Pieces, was released on 9pm Records in 2004. Clive has also toured and recorded as part of The Anglo-German Low Stars. Their film soundtrack album The Night of The Amazon was released on 9pm Records in 2001 and it looks like they recorded at least one EP (The Dead Grandmas of Potsdam (2005)). I also have No One Should Drink Alone which is an album Clive did with Grae J Wall from 2006 and the (sadly abandoned) Big Untidy website mentions he was recording an album called Like the Tide Coming In (many of the tracks of which are even now still available on what is left of Clive’s myspace page). But there’s not a lot of recent information out there.

I hope life is treating you kindly Clive, wherever you are.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tubelord - Our First American Friends

Released 12 October 2009

Hassle Records HOFF080LP

I was introduced to this album by my daughter, Kate. It has become one of my firm favourites, but so far my attempts to covert other friends to its charms have not been that successful.

Tubelord were formed as far back as 2005 and they were (at the time they made this album) a trio – Joseph Prendergast (vocals and guitar), David Catmur (drums) and Sean Barnberger (bass). Our First American Friends was released in 2009 and although most of the material was new, it did feature re-recorded versions of Night of the Pencils and Propeller which had been on earlier limited edition singles releases. I think this was itself a limited vinyl release of 500 copies. I’m not too sure how useful musical labels are, but this album has been referred to as “math rock” because of the frequent use of unusual time signatures, pauses, and overall rhythmic complexity, It can be very disjointed and jarring, but always comes back to a unifying melody or chorus. The album is hard work, because just as you get used to something it veers off into something else. For a casual listener, this can be very off-putting – but fight the temptation to give up, this is an album that it really is worth persevering with. Tubelord’s lyrics are fairly stream of consciousness stuff. There’s usually some meaning somewhere, but the complexity and randomness usually means it’s just out of your grasp.

Your Bed is Kind of Frightening, is, I think, a reflection on post-coital uncertainty. It begins with the gentle repeated refrain “Sleep, it’s over…” but soon transforms into a maelstrom of noise as the track reaches its, well, climax. I’d just be guessing if I said I knew what on earth Somewhere Out There A Dog Is On Fire was going on about – the end of a relationship perhaps, and how we protect ourselves at our most vulnerable? Night of the Pencils and Stacey’s Left Arm appears to be similarly about a dysfunctional relationship, perhaps a little obsessional and fortified with drugs. Even Propeller appears to be a jarring dreams experienced when in bed with a partner (but I could be totally misreading it). By He Awoke on a Beach in Abergavenny, the relationship is over (“Shelf life, you’ve almost passed. Your sell by date is today”). I Am Azerrad references for no particular reason the author/journalist Michael Azerrad. Apparently Joe just liked the sound of the name and didn’t intend it as a death threat. The album then changes its feel totally with Cows to the East, Cities to the West, which is a minimalist comforting ditty accompanied by a single string of a guitar. [A very different full band alternative version of this song was on the One Inch Badge Split series vol4 (2011)]. Synthesize appears to be more reflections on a close personal relationship and the album ends with the title track Our First American Friends, which feels like more of a celebration, ending as we began the album with “Sleep, it’s over…”.

This album is a veritable tour de force. Don’t expect to listen to the lyrics too closely, just let it wash over you.

Tubelord were to record one more CD (Romance), before announcing in November 2012 that they would play a final show on New Year's Eve 2012 before splitting up. Joe Prendergast now records under the name Joey Fourr.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Supertramp - Indelibly Stamped

Released 25 June 1971
A&M Records - AMLH 64306
Indelibly Stamped is very much a transition album. When you listen to Supertramp, the eponymous first album, it feels like the sort of psychedelic/progressive art pop that might emerge from Pink Floyd or Traffic. There’s a Progressive feel to both the lyrics (all written by Richard Palmer-James) and many of the songs. But Indelibly Stamped is different, it is positively eclectic. Apart from Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson the rest of the band had changed between the first and the second album. They’d lost Palmer-James, their lyricist, guitarist and vocalist and Millar their drummer. If you are being charitable you could say that with a new band (Dave Winthrop on flute and saxophone, Frank Farrell on bass and accordion and Kevin Currie on drums) Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson were just trying out a variety of styles to see what worked best. If you are being uncharitable you could say that the album didn’t hang together and was a random collection of songs. Many of the reviews you can read of Indelibly Stamped are fairly negative, but personally I have always had a soft spot for this album.
Of course, the first thing that hits you about this LP is the cover – a heavily tattooed woman with bare breasts. The model, Marion Hollier, was apparently paid £45 for the photo shoot. The original LP has a nice colour gatefold sleeve – mysteriously toned down to a black and white photograph for the CD release in 1982. It is rumoured that in the US A&M put gold stars on the outside of the shrinkwrap to cover up the nipples, but I’ve never seen an example. I have no idea what the relevance of the cover is to the music or why the album is called Indelibly Stamped. I just know I was 15 when I first bought this LP, so the cover made quite an impression. It’s gatefold sleeve with….

So what of the music? The album opens with Your Poppa Don’t Mind, which is well bluesy and a bit poppy, clearly a Davies composition. Travelled, a Hodgson composition is one of my favourite tracks on the album, a strong melody accompanied by Dave Winthrop on flute - something which still has a bit of a progressive feel to it. But them we are into Rosie Had Everything Planned which is the exact opposite. A slightly plodding tune, with an accordion riff, but tackling the unusual subject matter of a housewife waiting in the garden to murder her possibly unfaithful husband. Uniquely among Supertramp songs, it is credited to Hodgson and Francis Farrell the bass player (and accordionist).[As a side note Farrell later co-wrote the No.1 hit Moonlighting with Leo Sayer, but I digress.] Side one closes with Remember, a straight rock number and Forever which is more minimalist R’n’B. My guess would be they are both Davies compositions.

As this is vinyl we now have side two which opens with Dave Winthrop on vocals singing Potter, a bit more of a straightforward rock song. The next track by contrast, once it gets going after a hony-tonk introduction, Coming Home to See You is almost a bit of a boogie.  Times Have Changed was apparently a re-worked idea from the first album which is followed by the rather short Friend in Need. This is a little ditty of a song, almost McCartneyesque, and is quite a contrast to the closing track, Aries. Clocking in at 7’25” it is easily the longest track on the album, it’s a short folk-rock song with accompanying flute and a very long repetitive fadeout (a bit like Crime of the Century but less polished).
The sound of Indelibly Stamped is a bit patchy, a bit raw. The band themselves produced both of their first two albums and it shows. The vocals wander around in the mix and often the music can become a bit murky and lacking in definition. Three years later, the follow-up album, Crime of the Century, was to be their big break. Yet again Davies and Hodgson had changed all the other members of the band. But was it a coincidence that this time they had also brought in Ken Scott to produce it? The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

David Bowie - No Plan

Released on vinyl 22nd April 2017

A digital release of the No Plan EP took place on the anniversary of Bowie's death on 10th January 2017. But I have always found digital releases not to be the real thing - for that you need a physical medium.The EP was released on CD on 24 February, but for vinyl we had to wait until April.

In retrospect it may have been easier to buy the RSD 2017 release of David Bowie's No Plan 12" EP on eBay, rather than getting up early on Saturday 22nd April to get in a queue at 5am for a shop which didn't open until some four hours later. Easier maybe, but probably less of a sense of achievement. 

No Plan brings to vinyl the four bonus tracks on 2016's Lazarus cast album - namely Lazarus and three other tracks which were also written for the musical, No Plan, Killing A Little Time and When I Met You. The RSD release is in a translucent marbled pale blue vinyl and it is quite striking when compared to the standard black issue, also issued on the same day. It is a single-sided 12", with the four tracks on one side and an etching on the other of a star.

For an artiste who always seemed to have a plan, No Plan is a statement of helplessness which is compounded by the fragility of the vocals. It's impossible to know the extent to which these songs were written to fit in with the narrative of Lazarus the play, or whether these were songs about Bowie the man retrofitted into the play. The similarities of Thomas Newton, an alien lost in Manhattan and David Bowie are manifest. Is it reading too much into it to see No Plan as a contemplative pause before death? In Lazarus the song is given to the Girl to sing - a stranded character who appears to be between life and death.

All the things that are my life
My moods
My beliefs
My desires
Me alone
Nothing to regret
This is no place, but here I am
This is not quite yet

If Killing A Little Time continues the theme, the music certainly switches up a gear and shows us a man who is not going to go gently into that good night. It is an angry song with a searing saxophone, a cry of frustration. "This rage in me. Get away from me."

But the rage abates when the singer considers When I Met You. A song directed to the one who changes the singer's life for the better. In Lazarus the song is directed towards Mary Lou; it is tempting to see it as being a tribute to Iman, Bowie's wife.

I was torn inside
When I met you
When I met you
I was too insane
Could not trust a thing
I was off my head
I was filled with truth
It was not God's truth
Before I met you