Wednesday, 10 April 2013

When Indie was real

I have just been Tweeting with 1p Album Club (follow them - they're great!) about Carter USM. I was, for the second time this year, reminded of the great Bloodsport For All single release gig / trashing / minor riot that was 17th Jan 1991 at HMV 363 Oxford Street. I was working at the HMV Trocadero store at the time, and was also a huge Carter USM fan. I trotted up to the cavernous store that day, and had to sign-in through the staff entrance. Back then, this HMV store was hallowed ground for any/all record store employees, and to get my 33% staff discount off my 7" single, I had to follow protocol. I remember queuing up to get the Bloodsport 7" signed (this is a link to the video - blink and you'll miss me), then after that, a lot of jumping around (ermm.. 'moshing'), and then amazement at the aftermath.


Back then, 'indie' music really was independent, but no less important. Carter's first LP came out on the tiny Big Cat records, the enormo-band that was Mudhoney (well they were to us in Surrey), were on Sub-pop, in fact to my memory to get a Mudhoney EP I had to travel to the Rough Trade shop in Kingston 'cos no-one else stocked it.
Even at this pre-Nevermind moment the biggest record shop on the planet had recognized the popularity of 'indie' music, then paid the price for inviting us anarchists into the place. 

There was Carter USM, PWEI, Neds Atomic Dustbin, Fugazi, Mudhoney, Lush, Snuff (my personal fave-at The Venue New Cross I moshed so hard I got punched and then threw up on some poor stray grebo lying on the floor), Leatherface, Mega City Four, Lard, Pixies (I have a pristine unused ticket for Kilburn National 89-damned train strikes & flakey 'friends') and so much more. The cool guys in the Warp Records t-shirts didn't cotton on until '92 when Trompe Le Monde came out and Nirvana had gone stratospheric, by which time almost all of those bands had signed to big labels and gone all  Blue Bell Knoll.


I remember being so surprised at the excitement the Stone Roses debut caused, they sounded like The Smiths to me, and they were old news by '89, and anyway, we had The Poppies! I didn't understand the reverence that the jangly crap of the first two Primal Scream Albums were held in, we had Jesus Jones!! Then, Screamadelica came out, and I'm Free by Soup Dragons, and Groovy Train by The Farm, all these big label bread-heads were doing was ripping off PWEI, Carter, Neds and the like!! The nerve.
But my Doc Marten'd, floppy hair'd, army trouser'd smelly jumper look had been cottoned onto too, by some bloke called Kur(d)t. After that, it was all over.


But once in a while i can listen to the poetry that is The Taking Of Peckham 123, and wonder at how such a tiny band, from Sarf London, could have written such amazing lyrics, to such malevolent music. Only a few years later did I realize what a debt they owed to Tom Waits Small Change, or Billy Bragg's Levi Stubbs Tears, or even Ray Davies etc. Now, we have the likes of Jake Bugg, claiming to be the new pretenders. And oh, how he pretends.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

"Its Whoop Of Gorillas....."

Last night we (well.. I..... Becca just sat and marveled at me mouthing along to all the words) had a Blackadder Goes Forth marathon. I was struck by how amazingly popular it was at the time (and still is), and how wordy it is, how generally intelligent and 'high brow' it is. Then I realised that TV like this now, would probably only make it to Channel 438+1 (v 3.56), if in fact it would be made at all, mainly because its audience would be a mere 7 million, not enough to fuel the advertisers pockets. There are moments, and only moments (I say this as a die-hard fan of all thing Adders Black) when the ensemble reach th heights of Python or Peter Cook. No, really.
I then discovered I had the documentary about the show made in 2008 (Blackadder Rides Again) so I dutifully stayed up until 1.00am watching it. It was quite interesting.
Rowan Atkinson for instance, said he suffers from a stutter, quite incredible considering the lines he delivers, and then Stephen Fry mentioned the Schoolmaster Sketch. Oh helloooo YouTube... One wonders whether underneath that searing, frightening exterior (above) was he absolutely petrified? It truly is 5 minutes of utter joy for us, however.
In an amusing side note - I tweeted a YouTube clip of the poo-poo monologue and @'d Stephen Fry. He tweeted back which was nice, but more weirdly, i am now being followed by an extra 50-60 strangers, as if touching the hem on my tweet maybe gets people closer to Mr Fry.... What an odd place Tweet-land is.
Watching the schoolmaster sketch from the Secret Policeman's Ball, I was reminded how back in about 1986, a school friend, Jon and I, mimed along to the below.
Jon was very priviledged, because we had it playing in the background on his huge 27" television (in his room!!) and then we video recorded (in 1986?!?) ourselves miming along. I would love to see it again. I think there was a viewing at my house in front of my mum and dad and sister. How cringeworthy.
Anyway, that was a nice trip along memory lane. Happy 30th Birthday Slackbladder.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Little Trains

I wouldnt normally share such private stuff (I can hear you all laughing), but this song just came on unexpectedly on my iTunes just a minute ago. I havent heard it in ages.
Expectedly i was reduced to a tearful blob. Its mine & Becca's song for reasons that you can figure on your own, around when I left HMV, which was really trying time for Becca.


I haven't been myself of late
I haven't slept for several days
But coming home I feel like I
Designed these buildings I walk by


You know you drive me up the wall
I need to see your face that's all
You little sod, I love your eyes
Be everything to me tonight
Be everything to me tonight


I never know what I want but I know when I'm low that I 
I need to be in the town where they know what I'm like and don't mind


The streets are full of Goths and Greeks
I haven't seen my mum for weeks
But coming home I feel like I
Designed these buildings I walk by


You know you drive me up the wall
I need to see your face that's all
You little sod, I love your eyes
Be everything to me tonight
Be everything to me tonight


Lyrics (c) Elbow (band)

(I'm driving Becca up the wall, I need to see her face, thats all - get the picture? It even mentions how i miss my mum) I know he's talking about Manchester, but who cares, music is there for our own interpretation.
And yes I am crying just writing this.
PS. The video is SO awesome.. model trains!!!


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Its Only A Shop, isn't it.....?

So today I have found myself reading the news websites in disbelief. Reading them with tears streaming down my face. These tears seem and feel utterly preposterous. Its only a shop, isn't it...?

Well to many of us, no. HMV is (was?) a place that became a shop that became a brand that became a product that went out of business. But once upon a time, not that long ago, before ISP's and VoiP's, jpg's and mpeg's, on a Saturday afternoon, we went to HMV, in the hope that our lives would be changed. Frequently we went there not expecting anything other than for the girl behind the counter to look up and notice the shy, poorly dressed youth slinking about the shop with a Talking Heads LP under his arm. That she would rush over, all boobs and tattoos, and offer her hand in marriage screaming  "you like such cool music!!!".
I have no idea where my love affair with music started, my parents weren't hippies, they didn't go to Woodstock, They owned Abba Arrival, and an Elvis Best Of LP. Mum loved Tommy Steele, Dad loved Russ Conway and Mrs Mills.There was a copy of Rolled Gold on cassette however. And if there was an epiphany, it was hearing the guitar intro to Its All Over Now.
Once I was old enough, I bought my records from Woolworth's (another store now gone, ohh how i scorned people that cried when they closed....).
HMV was a step up, a cool shop, a shop staffed by aloof, grown-up know-alls. HMV wasn't in our town so it was untouchable, a treat. Our nearest one was Guildford. To my memory it was dark, crowded, dusty and defeaning. I spent hours in there. You could then, they didn't try and 'upsell' you a DVD you didn't want, with your purchase.

So what am I blethering on about? I don't know. But I suppose I'm trying to tell you all that HMV was NEVER just a shop, it was where you went looking for Iron Maiden, and came out with the Pixies. You went to a 'pa', a signing session, and saw the place get wrecked (ref: Carter USM '91). Met famous people, made lifelong friends, and met old friends you couldn't stand anymore trying to get some 'discount'.
I ALWAYS wanted to work for them, and in Oct 1990, I was standing in a friends house and got a phone call from the Assistant Manager of HMV Trocadero, saying i had been accepted as a Christmas temp. I jumped up and down like a right berk. Almost ALL HMV staff seemed to start that way. Off I went to work on my 'cool'.

I went full-time, and spent two extraordinary years at that place, discovering Miles Davis, The Who Live At Leeds, Shostakovitch, crummy happy hardcore dance music, realising that I loved U2 however hard i tried not to. I foisted my bands demo tape on shoppers, I tried to explain that this indie group Neds Atomic Dustbin were the future, I wore DMs, I had floppy hair. I sneered, I thought Massive Attack's Blue Lines was shit, and that You've Got The Love by The Source was a pile of dancey drivel. E(beneezer Goode) would fix that.
Ultraviolet (Light My Way) just came on the stereo here whilst I am typing, and it has transported me back 22 years, to a memory of standing behind the tills (tills with ashtrays!!!) to a sudden melee outside, and people running inside the shop in excitement, Bono was on the roof of Tower Records (or somewhere) filming. It turns out this was The Fly video. Another melee was because Roddy Frame walked past (!). Stuff like that happened all the time, HMV were the centre of things. Richard O'Brien used to come in all the time, and carefully talked down to us lowly sales assistants, with great gusto. Morrissey came in, but wasn't mobbed by American tourists (the only people who thought Kill Uncle 'rocked') No-one turned up to a p.a. by Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2. No I don't remember him either. We heard about Jane's Addiction doing a warm up gig in the Marquee so off one of us went for a 'special afternoon break', in the name of music, to get tickets. We heard of REM's secret gigs as Bingo Hand Job, not so lucky there. We got free EMF tickets, and still went!
I noticed on MTV one day this hairy angry AWESOME band getting loads of airplay, (this is 1991 folks when hardly anyone had Sky!!). I said to my manager "I just can't keep Nirvana's Nevermind in stock, what should i do?". "Rack it out on the front wall, Nick". The rest, is history, with Pearl Jam snapping at their heels. So you see, I started grunge too.

We had our own section in those days too, I ran Rock and pop cd M-S (a guy in corduroys called Marcus ran the tapes section). This meant I had Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones (but not the coveted Beatles section). We did our own buying too, we had great relationships with all of the record companies, this meant frequent free tickets, free promo stuff, free t-shirts. When the guy from Silver Sound came in his van it was like Christmas, a truck FULL of hard-to-get imports!!!! I was also the t shirt buyer for quite a while, and made a success of Red Dwarf, Simpson's and James t-shirts. I had an affair with a one of the girls from one of the t-shirt sellers, at least with her voice, then one day she said her pic made it into a published book, I excitedly turned to page 113, there she was, my dream girl, pale, thin goth-like. Affair over. HMV girls often got me in trouble, one of them moved to HMV Sutton, and rang me asking for some Led Zeppelin Remasters on CD (VERY scarce at the time) - I had it all piled up to be sent, then the manager noticed and put a stop to it.
"If you had sent those I would have fired you, Nick". He needn't have worried, 18 months later I left HMV in cloud of drugs, stupidity and general teenage angst anyway, having been shipped off to their London warehouse to get me out of the way. The dream was over. I blew it.
In 2002 I went back to HMV. Things were different. Computer to search for stuff, instead of just having it all in your head. Shop playlists, strict controls with buying.
It went downhill once Amazon got their teeth. HMV sat back and arrogantly puffed on its (probably) Lou Reed promo cigars and waited for these upstarts to f*** off. They didn't.
And here we are. HMV gone. 
from this.......
to this.
So - my thanks to the HMV of Brian McLaughlin, of a passion for music, the HMV that gave me my best (wo)man at my wedding, the HMV that had Bowie for tea. 
Most importantly thanks to staff past and present:-
(Troc) Martin, Jenny, Boyd, Chris, Simon, Jim, Marcus, Dermot, Chris, Scotty, Anna and anyone else who put up with me in 1990-192.
(Northern Ireland) Dave, Michael, Dave, Ian, Sara, Anna, Fiona, Sarah, Trevor, Stan, Zoe, Joan, Paul, Dave, Chris, Ciaron, Jacqui, Warren, Danny, Jackie, Una, Gav, Joe, Ben, Cathy, Rachael and many many more who put up with me 2002-2008.
I leave you with a lyric that stuck in my head from the day i heard it, on the shop floor of HMV Trocadero in 1991, blasting out of the shop stereo, (with the older members of staff shaking their heads at U2's descent into Bowie-Berlin plagiarism)

"You can throw it up
Or choke on it
And you can dream
So dream out loud
You know that your time is coming 'round
So don't let the bastards grind you down".

Friday, 16 March 2012

Planning For More Plate Glass

So it has been reported on the BBC Website recently that another beautiful Victorian building in central Belfast is going to be torn down, to be replaced by another gaudy plate glass covered monstrosity - to be apartments I gather. WHO in the Belfast planning department thinks this is a good idea?!? There are now innumerate newly built empty buildings dotted all over Belfast, not that this is our problem, but if private contractors want to waste money building developments that lie empty as the we continue to experience the worst recession in 25 years, then that's up to them.
However there are also innumerate beautiful, old empty buildings in Central Belfast. How about a planning law that states no more new buildings can be built until all existing ones are developed and filled!?! Surely, for example the old Bank Of Ireland building would be worth renovating and occupying. And what a place to have your offices?!
As Northern Ireland moves forward, and the dark days move ever further into memory, I can understand us wanting to remove any trace of the old, but there have so many spectacularly bad planning decisions in Belfast recently, that, even since i moved here 10 years ago, it is virtually unrecognizable as the architecturally beautiful city it once was.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Wake up and see who I am

So, those of you that know me will be wondering what has become of me. Posting a picture of a football match on my blog?! Professing a love for football?!?!

Well.. I posted rather hastily and high & mightlily on facebook earlier today, commenting on the horrible situation in Egypt. A friend called me on it, and rightly so. But it has made me realise something about myself.
For most of my adult life I have disliked football. The game, the overpaid whingeing players, the clubs dripping with money, the homophobia, the hypocracy and the corruption. The fact that football is our 'national game' and that it is presented as a role model to our nations (mainly) male youth. This role model leaves me feeling hopeless for the men of the UK.

But it really is just a mirror of what is happening in our society.

I'll let you into a couple of secrets about me - I have a Panini '81 football sticker album which I feverishly collected. I completed Derby County. (Division 1 as was!!). I also went to see Liverpool play Charlton at The Valley in '88. When they scored I just stood there whilst grown men jumped about like ballerinas and I didn't get it.

But then I was offered a ticket for the FA cup Final 1988 between Wimbledon & Liverpool. I was in the Wimbledon supporters end. There must've been about 3000 of us and 100,000 red shirts. It was incredible. I was behind the goal when Beasant saved the penalty. I watched Vinnie flip the bird to royalty. I lifted young Liverpool fans up to my pen (it was still terraced then) so that they could see. I saw grown men cry when Wimbledon won.

Then my best mate went to see Liverpool play Tottenham . He was 16. He got punched in the face and his nose broken, and called a 'f*****g scouse git' by a Tottenham fan (we are from Surrey - I know I know, you dont stop to ask when you punch someone) and the police just laughed at him as he cried clutching his broken nose, the London policemen obviously showing the disdain for the 'scouse kid' that the government clearly felt for the whole City of Liverpool. The love affair ended there.

So what also happened? I spent most of my late teens and 20s and 30s having no genuine male friends. I always thought that men were obsessed with talking about football (don't like it), drinking beer (eugh - talk about a social pariah - I hate it) and (talking about - lol) 'shagging'. Well since this isn't the case, I think I have denied myself lots of great, deep and interesting relationships.

Recently I have come to the realization through my church friends and my belief in God, that one of the things missing in my life, are male friends. In the last couple of years, this has begun to change. And no, its not all been about football beer and... Well.. Stuff. So it seems I am finally allowing myself to be happy, enjoy peoples company for no reason other than it being enjoyable, and that guys aren't all shallow beer-swilling berks.

I'm not there yet, but things are moving forward. Who knows, I might like football one day. Although its unlikely that this will happen in Northern Ireland. One thing I still dislike about football is the identity the team you support gives you.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Pop Music Reaches The Ice Age

A Big Husky Yawn

The New Boring - from The Guardian
Wow. Finally a national newspaper noticed something I've been bangin' on about for years.(mainly on facebook - the eternal mouthpiece to nowhere).
WHY WHY WHY does having a husky female voice mean genius?! WHY does being 18 yrs old and able to sing and play a guitar at the same time (sharp intake of breath) mean you're the future of pop?!! WHY does wearing meat equate to genius?! WHAT is the excitement with Mumford & Son - they're, so, you said it, beige. I'm not saying any of this music is even bad, just, its so polite, homogenized, and inoffensive. Not that I even want to be offended.
Pop is in the doldrums and I have no idea what will save it. I haven't been surprised by music for about 15 years or longer. In fact - the last time I heard something mainstream that actually made me sit up - would be Beck. 1994. Oh dear.
Soy un perdedor, baby.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The cost of having money

The riots in London and other major English cities should come as no surprise to anyone who actually walks around with their eyes open.
Over the last 25-30 years, since we saw the last serious inner city violence (in England at least), our society has made some amazing advances, not least with the formation of 1000s of community groups helping to keep a dialogue going between the people and the police and government.
However, our governments seem to think that the way to fix our social ill's is with money. With acquisition. With getting more stuff. It is interesting and maddening to watch Northern Ireland changing, and this belief is being perpetrated on us as well, with the building of a huge shopping centre, that seems to mean that now we have an Apple Store, the Troubles are really over.
The real problems in society now are a totally disengaged youth population, that look at everybody else, and wonder where their second car is, where their holiday home in Devon is, where their 3 holidays a year are. The trouble is two-fold. The youth think that acquiring stuff, the above things, will solve their problems, and also, secondly, so does our government.
Labour turned their back on society and went all right wing, and worse still we now have real right-wing politicians in power, who are desperate to destroy our health service and other public services and benefits.
It has been hilarious to watch all the politician's condemning the violence, and 'calling' (whatever the heck that means) for it to stop. Like the youth CARE what these dinosaurs think.
Take a look at the pictures I have attached. What strikes you about them? The mess? Or the people all stopping to take pictures with their mobile phones, as if this is all some kind of TV show put on for them to share with their friends?
Capitalism's house of cards is collapsing - look at the mess money and greed has made of Murdoch.  The trouble is that unlike in the early 80s, we can't fix inner city violence with the promise of owning your own home, a job in the city earning £100,00 a year, a mobile phone and a Golf GTI. Already tried that. Doesn't work.
If you want to get a job or even just get an interview, you need a third level qualification, trouble is, there's no jobs that 'befit' someone who studied for 4 years for a degree. Now, you have to start on £9500 per year whether you have a degree or not. The governments have lied to them as well. Degrees are now somewhat worthless, even though they leave you with £20,000 of debt. And anyway, what about those of us that didnt go to University, as is now seemingly your God-given right.
Any now I see that the police want to use plastic bullets, or call in the army. Do we learn NOTHING from the past?! Has our society become so arrogant and blinkered by its possessions that it can't see that if ONE person is killed by police or army action, there will be civil war, not just a few burning buildings.


Friday, 22 April 2011

Hope.. in a blue plastic bottle


Over the last few months.. and possibly years.. I have found myself becoming more and more disillusioned with ('popular') music. I think this reached a zenith just before I departed from HMV in June 2008. My cd collection had started to become unwieldy again, and I was buying things for the sake of owning them. This I might add is not an uncommon problem for record shop employees.
Although I also might add at this point, that 'record shop employee' is sadly, a phenomenally redundant description of HMV etc employees.
So when you're in trouble you call on a friend, this one being Simon Weller. He had been on tour as photographer for a 'super-duo' and I felt his ligging credentials were top notch. Plus the fact he's a top bloke with a musical listening history similar to mine.
So he suggested Deutsche Electronische Musik - the best (and maybe only) 100% quality early 70s German Electronica cd compilation there is. I hesitate to use the term Krautrock - but if it helps - there it is. This compilation is brought to us by the same people who came up with 100% Dynamite! Ska, Soul and Rocksteady - not obvious bedfellows.
I now find myself posting this because I appear to have been given some musical hope. I still cannot find anything new/contemporary that doesn't sound derivative or, frankly, beardy and fleet of fox... (I do like them - just hate seeing them on the cover of EVERY magazine over the last 3 months. Go away.).
So I have purchased some Neu, Harmonia and Cluster. I seem to like the Roedelius, Moebius and Rother stuff mainly, but it also has re-kindled my Kraftwerk love too.
I also recommend the BBC documentary Krautrock - The Rebirth Of Germany which features some AMAZING footage, and is so inspirational. It off iPlayer now but search YouTube - you'll find it! The guys just keep on keeping on. Faust are not my thing, but haven't deviated. Still doing their thing with great humour and artistic vision.
Get some of this stuff. Its not all easy listening - but Neu's Hallogallo is a great place to start.
All this stuff has made me realise we don't always need to keep going forward, when there's so much good stuff we haven't heard yet from the past!!!