Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: O

I bet most of you who have followed the challenge so far will have already guessed which band O would be represented by in this A-Z blog post of my musical memories. Yes, although I was a massive Blur fan, it was also possible to be a fan of their arch nemesis (at least arch nemesis in the eyes of the UK media circa 1995).

Yes, today O is for…

Oasis

 

Oasis were a rock band heralding from Manchester who first came to prominence here in the UK music in 1993. They don’t need much else said as way as introduction as their reputation and notoriety is known world-wide.

Now, in all honesty I did prefer Blur to Oasis, and still do. It was Brother number 1 who really got into Oasis first, and so they only really came to my attention from his listening to their debut album Definitely Maybe. Oasis had an entirely different sound to Blur, so it’s always being weird that they were pitted against each other in the summer of 1995 in a battle for chart number one. And although Oasis are a large part of my musical history especially in 1994/1995, they never really captured my imagination quite as much as Blur did.

Unlike with many of the other bands I have written about in this challenge, I really cannot recall one single moment I first heard Oasis. I believe it was the single Shakermaker which first grabbed my attention, more than likely for the similarity in the verses of the track to I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony). Oasis were sued for unlicensed use by The New Seekers and lost their case. Nevertheless, I always liked the track a lot especially for its reference to Mr Soft from the Trebor Softmints advertisements of my childhood. :)

In fact, it was difficult to dislike any of their first album. It really does contain some stand out, simply good, honest, solid rock and roll tracks right through from the opener Rock and Roll Star, (oh and weren’t they just that with the Gallaghers’ brotherly bust-ups, Liam’s swagger, the couldn’t give a toss attitude, the lack of smiling and their ability to insult just about anyone who crossed their path?), right through to Slide Away, one of my personal favourites. The guitars were loud and distinctively distorted, the drums thunderous, yet the structure of the songs and the chords so simple and accessible. (Too simple some might say).

I wasn’t sold on their image, but that album sold itself. Live Forever is for me the stand out track, a love song with attitude, but did show the softer side of Noel’s songwriting and gave me that little bit of romance I like in songs. Definitely Maybe is an album for youth. No maybe about it. Cigarettes and Alcohol, Rock and Roll Star and Supersonic (fantastic “I know a girl called Elsa, she’s into Alka Seltzer,) that’ll be from all the alcohol no doubt, (“she sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train, and she makes me laugh”), Columbia (“I can’t tell you the way I feel, cos the way I feel is all so new to me“), all provide the image and of a free and easy lifestyle synonymous with being young and, well, care free.

The follow up album What’s the Story Morning Glory, was obviously eagerly anticipated across the land, and by myself included. Though it’s a funny story with Oasis. I never felt like I could be open about my liking them. As a self-confessed Blur obsessed fanatic, once the media hype around the two bands’ ‘rivalry’ hit, I almost felt as though I had to justify my allegiance to one rather than the other and start to give reasons as to why Blur were better. The fact the bands were very different should have meant it was a nonsense to feel this way, and whereas now I’d be far more level headed about it, I often found myself sticking up for Blur over Oasis, and probably giving really pretentious reasons for it to. (“Oh so nothing to do with you fancying Damon then Joanne?” I’d often be called out on that one!) I also felt as though Oasis were my brother’s thing. He was the fan and I’d caught on to his tail coats, so to speak so it was just the thing. I like Blur more, he liked Oasis more. But the bigger problem was my boyfriend. He had very little time for Oasis, and being a silly teenager and eager to please, I must confess I probably at times pretended not to like Oasis as much as I did when I was in his presence. It was as though I was cheating on him musically!

This feeling I recall very clearly with the release of the aforementioned second album. I was visiting him up at his university in Leeds. We were in our second year of university and  he’d moved out of halls and into a shared house with his mates.

For some reason, he’d managed to get the smallest bedroom in the house. I mean it was cheaper, but honestly, it was like being in that episode of Flight of the Conchords when Jermaine moves out into a broom cupboard and holds a party there. It was titchy. And in this titchy room was an even titchier single bed which when I went to visit we used to share. Don’t even ask me how we fitted us both in it. Okay, I was about three dress sizes smaller than now admittedly, but it wasn’t even a proper sized single bed. It was so narrow, I had to sleep with my nose pressed up against the wall. The things you do for love. Or when 19. Or when drunk (as I think that was the only way we ever slept)!

Anyway, on one such visit, I distinctly remember one morning we woke up to the sounds of the opening track of What’s the Story Morning Glory, Hello (very Slade-esque) seeping through the walls from the next door student house not long after its release. This was followed by the second track Roll With It blaring through, and my boyfriend doing his best Liam Gallagher nasal singing impression for the entire song and having a good old rant about how crap Oasis were.

Fair point on the Roll With It track, though I’m convinced if they’d released Wonderwall instead of that against Blur’s Country House, Oasis would have won the so called ‘Battle of Britpop’ in the summer of ’95. Just my personal opinion. Country House wasn’t Blur’s finest hour either.

Anyway, I had to hide the album whenever he came home for the holidays after that, lest he know my guilty secret that I’d bought it and, God forbid, enjoyed some of it.

However, it really didn’t match up to Definitely Maybe. I think everyone is pretty much in agreement with that, nevertheless it did spawn some good tracks, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Champagne Supernova and of course Wonderwall which were the album’s redeeming features. Oddly the B-sides of the singles mined better Oasis gold in my opinion around that time. Tracks such as Acquiesce, Talk Tonight, Round Are Way, and The Masterplan all in my opinion alot better than some of the stuff on the album, These and other tracks were later released on an album titled The Masterplan, and is the other one I still listen to along with Definitely Maybe.

I kept up a little with Oasis after that. There was some good stuff on subsequent albums, but really I only ever go back to the first album and those B-sides just mentioned now. There are good memories associated with their music around that time in 1994-95, but the Gallagher’s constant bickering and break ups, their shouting and arguments and drama was probably all a bit too much like a mirror for what was happening at home with my parent’s break up in ’96 and escape was needed through music, not more of the same and so I abandoned them pretty much.

When Brother number 3 (the youngest of the tribe) formed his own band, The Flames, around 2003 time, much of his band’s sound was very much influenced by Oasis and they even used to play a cover of Columbia from Definitely Maybe during their sets, so it was good to re-live their sound that way. I think my brother thought he was Liam Gallagher looking back at the photos! (He would openly say he thought he was an arse for copying their sound, but me and my other siblings, for all our piss taking, thought his band’s songs were pretty good!)

These days, I do still follow one of the Gallagher brothers, even if I don’t listen to as much Oasis stuff. Noel Gallagher’s solo project Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds has so far produced two quality albums which I really love. He hasn’t done anything fancy or wildly different to when he was in Oasis, but there is a gentler, far more accomplished feel to the music. It’s as though he took the formula for Wonderwall (still probably my favourite Oasis track -ooh and if you’ve never heard the Ryan Adam’s version – RYAN not Bryan by the way – then do so), or She is Love from Heathen Chemistry and tarted up the sound with a plethora of extra ingredients, including Johnny Marr. It shows that Noel was always the real talent behind the band’s success, despite Liam’s front man swagger and the media hype of 94/95.

But then true talent lives forever.

Thanks for reading. Phew, that was a late one today, but made it!

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: N

So if I was super cool, I’d have obviously expounded on the greatness of Nirvana under N, but though I am indeed a fan of Nirvana’s music, I’ve never associated them with any one defining moment in my life, and my only real memory attached to when I first heard them is back in 1992 when doing my GCSE art exam. We had a whole two days in the art block working on our ‘piece’ and one of the other students had their walkman on (we were allowed to do that, though I didn’t for some bizarre reason). However, she had it on quite loud so that all any of the rest of us could hear was a rather tinny version of Smells Like Teen Spirit being played on repeat. ALL DAY. Needless to say it put me off Nirvana for quite a few years until I re-discovered them later in the ’90s.

Anyway, I digress. No for today’s post I’m back in good old Blighty with a group who it seems to me have always been rather underrated, (not critically or in music circles, but certainly in popularity among the masses). As a major influence on my all time favourite band – The Charlatans – how could this band be missed off this list? They are also a group whose band name I’ve stolen for the final chapter in my book.  :) Today’s musical memories for the letter N come courtesy of…

New Order

Now once again, going by the picture, you’d think I was going to transport you back to the 1980’s. However, as usual I didn’t discover New Order first time around, simply being very young at the time they renamed and reformed from Joy Division after the death of Ian Curtis in 1980.

It was actually ten years later, aged 15 that I found New Order. I think at that point I was vaguely aware of them due to the hits Blue Monday and True Faith which although released years before were played a lot on the radio. Blue Monday, of course, being the best selling 12″ record of all time.

No, I discovered New Order (probably as many others of my age group did) in 1990 when they recorded the official song for the England Football Team for the World Cup in Italy that year.

Now, oddly enough, having three brothers meant I got quite into football (soccer for my friends over the pond!) in my youth. By the time the World Cup came around in the summer of 1990, and England happened to be doing rather well, we were all quite hooked. I became a little bit fanatical in fact, and still have all the newspaper clippings of England’s progress through the contest. (If you’re struggling for context then it’s the year Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne cried, though I like to remember more the fact we won the Fair Play award for the competition and Gary Lineker’s legs of course.)

Aaaaanyway…the soundtrack to all this wonderful patriotism sweeping the land was New Order’s World in Motion. Hailed the ‘best world cup song ever’ by just about everyone who had an opinion on the matter, it became a number one hit here in the UK for them. (Co-written by the actor/comedian  Keith Allen who in 1995 appeared in Blur’s Country House video, pop pickers!)

Always loved how serious Bernie Sumner and Gillian Gilbert looked!)

 

And I still love that song. Complete with commentary from the 1966 World Cup, (and even 25 years after 1990 we’re still harking back to that one victory from the ’60s!), a pulsing electronic drum beat all the way through, the tinkle of the synthesized keyboards, optimistic lyrics oozing positivity and a ‘we can do this attitude,’ despite Bernard Sumner’s rather flat vocals, then just perhaps the team did well because of the song? :) World in Motion is also, in its own way, a love song. (“This ain’t no football song…” )I think if you listen to the lyrics, it can be taken as such. Until you reach the John Barnes’ rap section that is! Now, sorry, I know it’s probably regarded as utterly naff but it remains my favourite part of the song and I can guarantee any Englishman/woman who was into football at the time knows every single word!

“You’ve got to hold or give/ but do it at the right time/ you can be slow or fast but you must get to the line./They’ll always hit you and hurt you/ defend and attack/ there’s only one way to beat them: get round the back…” (Come on, you know you can finish this in the comment’s section without the aid of Google!)

Then of course this is followed by the rousing repetitive finale “We’re playing/singing for England!” Enger-land” just to get the patriotism really up to fever pitch. Seriously, though the song is not New Order’s finest hour in terms of musical genius, but it does stir a certain passion in me from that time. The highs, the lows, the victories, the disappointing penalty shootout against the Germans, the tears, me hiding behind the couch during the Cameroon match unable to take the tension, the sunshiney heat of the whole of Italia ’90, Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma…I could go on. It all comes flooding back in that 4 minute track.

Of course following this, New Order released a new album, 1993’s Republic which landed right smack bang in my era of discovering my musical world.

Republic will forever be an album synonymous with travelling on trains when on the hunt for universities and attending interviews. Being the eldest of five, my mum didn’t have the time to drive me up and down the country as so many of my friends had their parents do. And thank goodness for that. At the age of 17 I was starting to really get a taste of the independent life, and I loved it. Even it was only travelling on trains to a few universities by myself. (Irony would have it I ended up staying in my home town and, in fact, at home my entire student life. Still there were circumstances for that, and I didn’t get the necessary grades to go elsewhere – probably too busy listening to music than concentrating on memorising facts)!

Nevertheless, off I travelled to Edinburgh, Exeter and Bath via train on my own and it was for me, having lived a very sheltered life, quite an adventure. New Order were the soundtrack to these travels. Train music I always think of it as. That album in particular. The opening chords of the opening track (and biggest selling single) Regret simply starting off many a journey. Of course Regret is not my favourite track from the album…played too much on radio for that. Besides, I always preferred the New Order tracks with more bass, more synths, more dance based beats and less of the guitar. Oddly. (Though the follow up single, the sad and sublime Ruined in a Day, is lovely.) So World, Spooky, Young Offender and Chemical I love more. My all time favourite though from the album is Special. At that point I had no idea about relationship break-ups, but this song spoke to me with all its sadness and poignancy (despite it’s electronic upbeat backing). Bernard Sumners’ vocals  – serious, flattened, almost monotonous, are just perfect to portray the regret which can so often mar most break ups. He does have a very unique voice that I like for some reason. Still don’t know why, as it is quite flat, as I say in many ways. Maybe it’s just very normal and British and unaffected. It is what it is, no poncy affectations. Special also has violins at the end (albeit electronic ones,) and we all know by now how I love a good violin in a track.

In 1994 New Order released a Best Of which I bought on cassette after having already purchased 1987’s compilation Substance on CD. The only reason for buying The Best Of… was it had World in Motion on (and with no digital downloads in those days it was the only way to get my mitts on it). It also contained updated recordings of True Faith, released as a single in ’94 (still  in my top three New Order tracks alongside Vanishing Point and Blue Monday), 1963, Bizarre Love Triangle and Round and Round.

Also around that time I picked up on Electronic, Bernard Sumner’s other project with The Smith’s Johnny Marr and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. Both Electronic albums are very New Orderish, yet coupled with Johnny Marr’s distinctive guitar riffs, are just a match made in heaven. Raise the Pressure was a 1994 release and I also bought the eponymous debut album around the same time, which I love to pieces.

I guess New Order, and Electronic were my first dalliance in to dance music (alongside The Pet Shop Boys), and I did have a spell of listening to dance records during the club Ibiza heydays of the late 1990s/early 21st century. (Not that I ever went clubbing in Ibiza!) However, nothing has the longevity of what New Order did to dance music. Blue Monday is the real living proof of that. Really, could it be beaten? I mean when re-mixed with Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, it took her single to far better heights to my mind.

And then, quite by accident, I got to see New Order at the same gig I went to see Blur play at Hyde Park in 2012. Blur were headlining, but New Order (along with The Specials and Bombay Bicycle Club) were ‘supporting’. I mean, I’d happily paid the £60 just to see Blur again, but to have New Order thrown into the mix too was just a mega bonus. Their synthesizers and drum beats sounding utterly awesome live playing out across the vast field. I mean, you know, they are not a band who are synonymous with lighting up the stage or ‘putting’ on a fancy show. There was not alot of interaction with the crowd (there was no Peter Hook either by this stage – shame), and Gillian Gilbert always resembles a wooden doll on keyboards! I can’t understand how the band manage to stand so still when playing Blue Monday or True Faith! But you know what? Who cares if they provide a back to basics approach instead of an all singing, all dancing extravaganza? They provide the most important element – the music, the beat.

The crowd can provide the movement. Quite easily.

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: M

It was bound to happen. I was bound to get sick of the sound of my own bloggery voice, and that day came yesterday. (Hence no post but also because I was shattered from painting a fence.) However, I said I’d do this challenge, as much a test of my own resilience and time management as anything, so here we are at M. Half way through the alphabet which means still half way to go. Really? But April is flying by! Eeek!

Travelling back to childhood again today with the letter M and strangely a group not heralding from the ’80s, (or Britain) but from the ’60s…Today M is for…

The Monkees

I guess it was inevitable The Monkees would feature so heavily in mine and my sibling’s early childhood musical memories simply because my mum had been a huge fan in the 1960’s. She was obsessed with Micky Dolenz back then, not that we knew that necessarily, or paid much attention to it if we did know. We came upon The Monkees when their TV show was shown on repeat during the mid 1980s, twenty years after the height of their initial popularity.

My mum had this album I recall (amongst others)

 

I guess the appeal of the show even for children, even in the ’80s, was its fun factor. It was bright, colourful and most of all utterly silly. Grown men running around being silly, pulling silly faces and stunts whilst playing music. I mean what wouldn’t kids love about that? The lively pop music added to that, especially the theme tune and I can’t remember whether we were maybe steered towards watching it, whilst my 30 year old mum relived her youth, (she was so young!) or whether we discovered it for ourselves, but either way, we loved it. (I speak for my siblings here..perhaps they didn’t love it as much as me, so I’ll stop lumping them in with me from here on in!)

Anyway, I do distinctly recall my grandad buying us a greatest hits compilation album for Christmas one year on vinyl for us to share. I think it may still well be in my garage…hold on I’m off to check.

Ooh look..yes I found it! Bit worse for wear!

2015-04-16 10.16.49

(Also found the Debbie Gibson album, mentioned in my G post; all my Blur cuttings and posters, all my Indie bands montage/mural clippings, my Tim Roth collection of clippings (forgot I’d had a Tim Roth obsession!) oh and a teen magazine I appeared in once about student life. The crap I keep!)

Anyway, The Monkees…yes, where were we?

So we had this album to share between the four of us which contained twenty of The Monkees greatest hits. I always loved how the name of the group was made into a guitar shape, with hearts for the tuning pegs. Whoever came up with that design was a creative genius in my mind. The album had this picture on the back, (in colour though) which made me want a director’s chair for my entire childhood/teenage years! (I’ve grown out of that dream now!)

The LP was played to death. The scratch marks all over it will contest to that. (Or perhaps they’re down to the fact it was left in charge of four children under the age of 10 in a bedroom which resembled a rubbish dump most days). It was played on an old box record player my grandad gave me (see picture below, kids). It was the best thing I’d ever been given and meant we could now listen to records in our bedroom, not just downstairs on my mum and dad’s player. We only had a few stock records between us. These been aforementioned Monkees album, The Muppet Movie Soundtrack and Muppet Show LP, Rainbow Connection by Kermit on 7″ GREEN vinyl, (I know!) and the Fraggle Rock theme tune, the B-side to which we’d put on every time our mum shut us in our room to clean it up, as it was called Working. (Er…seems I maybe should have had M for The Muppets!)

This is exactly like the one I had except mine was in a blueish grey box if I remember correctly. It was a great piece of a kit for a ten year old to have. retro even then!

So, there we were, listening to our Monkees album, quite often performing the songs standing on our sideboard (furniture could stand up to such antics) in those days. I can’t remember if we ever played out the TV show (as we so often did with other TV shows with 4 ‘characters’ such as The A-team) but it wouldn’t surprise me if we did, and in that case I’d probably have been Mike Nesmith as the sensible, older one!

As for the music, well really what’s not to like?

They may be the first ever manufactured pop band (something I’m not keen on at all these days), but the songs written for them (and even the ones they wrote themselves) are stand up, great pop records. My favourite has always been Pleasant Valley Sunday. The guitar opener hooks you in there and then followed by the wonderfully cynical lyrics about typical suburban life:  “rows all the houses that are all the same/ and no one seems to care.” 

Now that I live the suburban ‘dream’, it is a song which still speaks to me. “I need a change of scenery.” Funny really how not a lot has actually changed at all from the 1960s to the present day, if you listen carefully to those lyrics. “Mothers complain about how hard life is and the kids just don’t understand.” Blur’s Sunday, Sunday is very reminiscent of Pleasant Valley Sunday, strangely enough; the same sort of take on a typical British suburban Sunday. “Sunday, Sunday here again in tidy attire/you read the colour supplement, the TV guide” Both tracks always make me smile. Both have an upbeat, musical backing to these actually quite depressing lyrics about what life is truly like in the safety of suburbia.

Of course there were the more popular hits such as Last Train To Clarkesville, I’m a Believer and Daydream Believer, but I have always been one to prefer the tracks which were not necessarily so well known. For Pete’s Sake, (the end title music on the TV show) Valleri, Look out (Here Comes Tomorrow), Words, A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You, and Teardrop City my top tunes from that particular compilation.

As I’ve grown I’ve come to appreciate the tracks I wasn’t so keen on as a child (perhaps they were too grown up for me at that time, not ‘poppy’ enough.) So tracks such as What Am I doing Hanging Around?, Randy Scouse Git (renamed Alternate Title as it was deemed by RCA to be ‘taboo’ for a British audience’, even though Micky Dolenz, who wrote it, heard the phrase on a British TV programme! There’s irony for you), and Listen to The Band are now some of my favourites too.

In May 2011 I had the opportunity to see The Monkees play live. This was just before Davy Jones sadly passed away in February 2012, and it was quite simply one of the nicest surprises I’ve ever had, (and probably (weirdly) the most romantic and thoughtful thing any bloke has ever done for me). My boyfriend at the time bought tickets for us without me knowing. (This is the same one mentioned in blog post for D, so you may have some understanding of why our split hit me hard.) We’d only been going out for about six weeks, but I’d already regaled him with stories of my childhood musical history as we talked A LOT about music. Anyway, one day he said we were going out and wouldn’t tell me where. I nagged him about what I should wear (I mean what if we were going snowboarding or something??) but he just said, “You can dress up if you want.”

So we started off with a meal at a Chinese restaurant and then he finally broke the news where we were going and I couldn’t contain my excitement. To see a band whose music you’ve grown up with and still love even though I was 36 was amazing and I think I jumped up and down and clapped my hands a little bit. Maybe a lot!

Mike Nesmith wasn’t there, but the other three, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones were. What astounded me was how good they sounded considering their age. Micky Dolenz had the energy of a twenty year old, not someone pushing 70. He really lit up the stage. All the hits were there as well as all my favourites. The other lovely thing about it was that my boyfriend really didn’t know anything by them much at all bar I’m a Believer (due to the Vic Reeves and Wonderstuff version) I think! Afterwards he’d said he hadn’t been sure what to expect and didn’t think he’d enjoy it, but said it was great. I think that’s why it’s one of the nicest things someone has done for me. He knew how much I’d love it, wasn’t keen himself but endured it anyway!

Still, it was a wonderful thing, to be able to see a group (perhaps not as I remember them looking – all fresh faced and cheeky) that had been a big part of my musical history when growing up. After all, it”ll never happen again, but there will always be the music as there always had been.

 

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: L

I’ve been looking forward to L, which technically could have been C, but as I overloaded C already I couldn’t really justify a third there, and so here we are at L, and one of my all time favourite artists.

Today L is for…

Lloyd Cole 

Lloyd Cole (and the Commotions) may be best known for the hits Brand New Friend and Lost Weekend, taken from their second album Easy Pieces released in 1985 as they are the only two tracks from the group to enter the top 20 in the UK. However, if this is all you’ve heard then you’ve heard no where near the best of what Lloyd Cole had to offer and I’m here to tell you to ignore Easy Pieces and find the rest. (Or at least the four albums I’ll go on about here.)

Me, being me of course, didn’t discover Lloyd Cole until a decade after the debut album Rattlesnakes was released, and if it hadn’t been for my first boyfriend (see my post for H), I’d, in all likelihood, never have discovered Lloyd Cole. As I’ve said before, whereas Brother Number 1 was often responsible for extending my Britpop scope and my best friend was responsible for finding me music from across the Atlantic, my boyfriend at the time for some reason would introduce me to alternative music from the 80s. Now, to me the 80s was Wham! and Madonna and Michael Jackson and er… Debbie Gibson, and cheesy pop of the Stock, Aitkin and Waterman variety, and power ballads, and Simple Minds, but in the mid 1990s I discovered that the 80s really had much more than what had been in the charts to offer (basically whatever had been on the radio or what my parents listened to).

The first album my boyfriend gave me of Lloyd Cole’s was Rattlesnakes ( a copy on cassette naturally!), though I think this was after I’d heard it playing a few times at his house. I’m more likely to cotton on to something simply from hearing it than being told to listen to something because it’s good! Sometimes that works for me, but often it doesn’t. (Not that I’ve been recommending anything to anyone in these blog posts! ;D )

Anyway, I guess what I loved about Rattlesnakes initially was the poetic and romanticised nature of all Cole’s lyrics, full of cultural and literary references. (It’s important to try and feel clever when you’re a student!) Of course now a little older and wiser I see more of the cynicism behind them, which means I just love them more. The lyrics are then set to a backdrop of an almost country and western-esque sound with just the right dollop of pop. The lyrics do speak to you as a teenager in love. Simple as that, so with all my romantic ideals I had a soundtrack to them too.  I never was Ready to be Heartbroken, after all you don’t think that’s going to come, but Lloyd Cole warned me. No, at that age you think you will meet someone, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. I was very much in love back then and so no, when my feelings changed I didn’t see that coming at all!

But despite Rattlesnakes being a great introduction to Cole’s music, (the title track, Perfect Skin and Speedboat being my stand out favourites) I was far more taken with their third album, Mainstream. (Well that may well say something about me, I don’t know!)

It was, for me, a punchier album, far more in your face. There was a swagger to it and I fell in love with Cole’s voice then. The lyrics were a little sexier and perhaps gave a taster of what was to come in Cole’s solo stuff after The Commotions split. If you were to check out their work I’d definitely suggest finding Mainstream first. The upbeat My Bag opens with the great line ‘Pirelli calendar girls wrestling in body lotion’ after having just walked through a “ten foot storey non-stop snow storm.”  Lines to make you smile as most of them in this track do. My favourite being: “spin, spin, whiskey and gin/ I suffer for my art bartender/ I got wild mushrooms growing in my yard.” Who knows what the heck that’s about but I just like words and I like words put well to music even more so and that fits the bill nicely.

However, what I like most about tracks like My Bag is they don’t necessarily follow a typical song structure. (This is why my favourite Bowie track is Width of a Circle: variety) There is a lot of variety in My Bag that holds your  interest and leaves you wanting even more.

Jennifer She Said is a wonderfully cynical track about getting a tattoo of the name of a girl (could translate to boy) in the hopefully optimistic stage of a relationship, believing it will last forever.

“Jennifer we can’t go wrong, let’s put it in writingJennifer we can’t go wrong, let’s do it right now.”

And my favourite line: ‘Have you ever had a bad dream, wake up and it not stop?’  alongside: “Did you ever feel for a girl for a time and then stop?” 

“Well it’s written there in blue/ with a heart and an arrow through/ Her name on you.”

A life lesson in a three minute song, right there.

The middle eight section of the track is a beautifully composed guitar piece and gives you pause to reflect on what’s just been said before the track ends on the saddest, most truest part of it all. “You change with the weather/this is the rain.”

Then there’s Mister Malcontent with its slow build bubbling opening. It sounds like a nothing song at first. Really. But the guitar slopes in after a little vocal introduction into the story character’s persona,  followed by the drum beat and half way through the first verse you’re glad you carried on listening because you’d have never suspected what comes.

It then jogs along in the same vein for a while, before slowing down a little (not following any particular regular verse/chorus structure just like My Bag) and then it hits you; the instrumental middle section which leads you to a raucous dashboard tapping finale. (Yes! You can’t drive and not tap your dashboard to it. Well, okay, I can’t!)

What I guess I’m trying to say about Lloyd Cole in my less than eloquent way, is that there was the perfect mix of lyrical wonderment infused with interesting musical arrangement, and I was hooked from the start.

But it was his solo stuff which really made me sit up and notice and the album Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe meant I fell even more in love with his music.

Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe (first of all, great title, no?) has an orchestra playing on half of the tracks. I like orchestral music added into pop/rock, Spiritualized anyone? Superb.

Butterfly and Margo’s Waltz are  quite simply beautiful tracks, Butterfly is a very sexy, three minute, piano driven number with strings which once more, whenever I listen, transport me back to my late teenage years and actually to a very transitional period of my life at the age of 20 when that first, very innocent relationship ended to be replaced by one less innocent and less happy.

Margo’s Waltz is sublime in every way, but once more reminds me of when I teetered on the back end of my teenage years and stood on the edge of my twenties, which became far less happy times. The weeping strings and equally sad lyrics remind me of a lot of loss at that time. Yet, never actually makes me feel sad. Just reflective.

From the same album are what I call the ‘story’ tracks: Tell Your Sister and Half Of Everything. Tell Your Sister doesn’t employ the same orchestral feel of Margo’s Waltz and Butterfly, at all. Very different. In fact it is more reminiscent of the Rattlesnakes album; upbeat and guitar driven.

Half of Everything, on the other hand is like a score from a film. It opens with a long orchestral movement before the story kicks in through the lyrics. “You walk in my house, with her lipstick over your face/ you tell me you’ve got news for me, well do you think  can’t see straight?”  The added complexity to the lyrics being that Cole sings from the viewpoint of both characters (at least that’s what it’s always seemed like to me, and I love that added quirkiness.) Add thumping drums and  the guitars and you literally have everything in this track. (Ironic given the title!) It’s essentially about a break up of course and the ‘chorus’ (in inverted commas because again the track does not follow the usual structure, but does repeat later on) has sweeping strings and wispy female backing vocals layered over Cole’s own refrain of “I don’t need for you to tear me down again.” 

His eponymous debut solo album from 1990 is quite possibly my favourite, though I change my mind regularly. It certainly has more swagger and more sexiness added to the great lyrics which all seep out of every track. From the opener What Do You Know About Love? (indeed, nothing), my all time favourite Sweetheart (“Cos when I saw you I just knew/ I always would belong to you”) to Downtown, it’s all a little bit dirtier, a little bit grittier, a little bit naughtier. The songs are more conventional in structure (and why I do sometimes change my mind about whether it’s my favourite), but it ends with Mercy Killing, which finishes with an attack of sliding guitar and drums, quite fitting for the whole tone of the album I think.

Am I going on too much? If so, it’s because I cannot believe there would be anyone out there who hasn’t discovered Lloyd Cole and some of this music. Also, the music just doesn’t seem to date, simply for the fact it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre or even musical time period especially, and many of the tracks could quite easily have been written now, or even as far back as the 60s. You wouldn’t know.

So, yes Lloyd Cole is another artist who was listened to on loop on long coach and train journeys  on my Alba walkman on cassette as I shuttled back and forth to Leeds or playing in the background of many a romantic evening in. Ah, young love. There’s really nowt like it.

Just be careful not to get their name “written there in blue,” because, as life itself and Lloyd Cole’s lyrics testify, it rarely lasts. :)

The cynic will shush now!

Thanks for reading.

Tomorrow…we’re half way through! (Phew…still not sure I can finish!)

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: K

In this series of blog posts for the A-Z blog challenge I have been writing about music bands or artists who have played a big part in my life, whether that be as a soundtrack to youth or something else.

Today it’s something else. Today’s post for K is to show how music can define a time in your life, how it can be something beautiful to hold onto in the darkest of times and how even though it may be something discovered in dark times, the music itself is so uplifting it can transcend through time and overcome those dark times, serving as a reminder that the bad times do end. Nothing lasts forever, even when it feels as though it may. For today’s post we travel back to Scandinavia, though this time to Norway rather than Sweden.

Today K is for…

Kings of Convenience.

Kings of Convenience are an indie folk duo whom I discovered quite by accident at the back end of 2004/early 2005.

The circumstances under which I discovered them are not the happiest, but then this is called Sing Your Life and so I think they are a fitting addition to my musical memories, because the memory of discovering them is so strong.

I first heard of them upon hearing a remixed version of the track Toxic Girl on the album Versus. I first heard it when visiting Brother Number 2 in a psychiatric hospital.

To put this musical event into context, first a little background.

For those of you who have never entered a psychiatric hospital, the experience is surreal. More scary and surreal as a patient I know, nevertheless as a visitor it is an experience one wouldn’t wish to have to ever repeat. However, at the back end of 2004 and into 2005 I found myself driving the forty or so miles  on many a dark winter night after a day’s teaching to visit my brother, for this is where he was.

Visiting someone in psychiatric hospital is not like visiting someone in a ‘regular’ hospital. In a regular hospital you walk in, find the ward and sit next to their bed chatting away and the person is happy to see you. Generally. But when you visit someone who is very mentally ill, (for he was at the time and had had received no diagnosis to explain the psychotic episode he had been through which led him to be there), firstly there are bells to ring and you have to be let in and let out by a nurse or carer so as to ensure none of the patients get out. You have to sign in and out too. If you bring anything for the patient it is checked. (I recall for example my brother wanted some headphones to listen to music on his own but they were not allowed, for probably obvious reasons.)  There pervades a false atmosphere of everyone trying to be happy for the sake of the ill people, even though your loved one often doesn’t want to talk or even for you to be there. Sometimes they are crying. Sometimes they are depressed. Sometimes they are manic.  You don’t know what you are going to be faced with each time you go. And you have to try and pretend the other patients don’t worry you (after all if they were a danger they wouldn’t be allowed to roam the ward you’re visiting on but it doesn’t stop you wondering). Some come up to you and start chatting about stuff you don’t understand and that can be disconcerting. Some sit staring into space or blankly at the TV screen or even rock back and forth. It’s not a stereotype. It’s quite real. You as a visitor have no idea why these other patients are patients for you are not told, naturally. I’ve even been visiting my brother in one hospital when there has been an emergency and they put the ward on lock down. However, although I remained wary on the ward (it is natural to feel so) I was never frightened as such because here was my brother. My little brother who had been fine, but something had gone terribly wrong in his brain and that made me see the other patients the same. They were someone’s son or daughter (I saw more men than women by far) or brother or dad even. There were some patients who never had visitors and I found this terribly sad. Visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital is depressing. Truly. Though you have to be upbeat and positive as much (as is appropriate for walking on eggshells often felt order of the day.) It is emotionally draining, especially after a full day at an emotionally draining job. The environment itself is depressing, with those plastic high backed chairs in salmon pink and baby blue. The walls clinical and cold, in pale blue or insipid green like all NHS facilities. I always remember thinking whenever I went: “How on earth does this environment help someone to put their mind  back together? To try and regain some normalcy after a trauma or if severely depressed? I don’t know. But however hard it was for me as a visitor I knew it couldn’t even come close to how hard it was for my brother.

Anyway, I clearly remember one  visit in particular. We were in the communal room as always, (unless in a private room with a nurse as was the case on the particularly bad days). We were playing table tennis as this was the number one facility there. I think there may have been a pool table too but I can’t remember for certain. I’m sure there must have been, as I am having a vague recollection of having to ask nurses for pool cues…then again that could easily be bar staff at a pub, so!

Anyway, there was also a sound system in the room (I say sound system, think 80’s/90’s Hi Fi type thing probably with numerous broken buttons/tape decks!), and my brother had put some tunes on. I think he must have been there a good month or so by this point as this was one of the better days. Some of the other patients were in the room chatting to us too.

That’s when I heard Toxic Girl playing. And I remember it because here we were in this quite frankly depressing place, in the most depressing situation a family can find themselves in, with this wonderfully happy, optimistic little guitar ditty playing.  (The lyrics are not so much, it’s kind of juxtapositional in that sense, just as this situation seemed to be.)

And it was so gentle and soft and mesmerising that I thought for a moment “This is what heals: Music, not cold clinical hospital walls. Oh and love; just being there even when they don’t want you to be, or don’t want to talk. Oh and medication. And doing things with them that are ‘normal’ like chatting and playing ping pong.” It was that day that I remember my brother smiling for the first time since he’d been admitted. There were still years more to come on the road to recovery, but that visit felt a little more normal than any of the others. Like there was a light at the end of the tunnel for him.

Of course I asked my brother what the tune was and he showed me the album it came from. I then went and bought Quiet is The New Loud, their 2001 album and loved it, as well as the follow up, 2004’s Riot on an Empty Street.

Both albums are full of melodious quiet, acoustic guitar led tracks which instantly transport you to a quiet fjord or loch somewhere. There’s an Elliott Smith feel but without the angst and with the violins retained. The songs are sad and weepy yet this is overridden by an optimistic feel. (Listen to I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From or Summer on the Westhill.) The lyrics are gentle and subtle and romantic with a heavy dose of realistic cynicism attached. (Listen to I’d Rather Dance With You.)

And the bizarre thing is I may never have heard of them if not for that one off chance play by my brother on that one particular visit to hospital. Not that I’m recommending a trip to a psychiatric hospital to discover new music or anything. No. Not for one second. It’s just odd that it happened in this case.

Despite the melancholic vibe the albums  give in some places, there’s always enough optimism in the beat to keep me from ever associating Kings Of Convenience with the awfulness of that period of our lives. I never picture the psychiatric hospital when I listen to them, but know that is where I discovered them. Instead I picture fields of flowers and water and peaceful places and nights in front of roaring log fires.

Those albums bought peace, not just to me, but I know they did at the time for my brother, as did a lot of other music. The weird thing is, he probably doesn’t remember much of that time at all.  And perhaps that is something to be truly thankful for.

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: J

My namesake letter is proving tricky. You’d think J would offer up a plethora of musical memory material for me. Oh, I know what you’re thinking… This is where I share my secret love for the likes of Jay Z or Jessie J, isn’t it? Haha! Sorry to disappoint. Or perhaps where I prove my cool factor by talking about Jimi Hendrix or Joy Division? Maybe I could write about Jamiroquai or Jack Johnson or Elton John or Jethro Tull? Jet, Justice, Tom Jones? Well no. Although I am familiar with all of their works, there are no massive memories attached to any of the above. So if I’m going to do a blog post for J and have to pick a random artist to do so, really it’s got to be none other than… Jackson, Michael   Jackson was just there wasn’t he? You didn’t have to be his number one fan to know of him, to know his music and if you were a child of the 80’s, as I was, how couldn’t you find something to enjoy? 1980’s Jackson shot into my musical consciousness at around the time of 1987’s Bad album. Everyone had it. Except us. Brother number 1 got it at some point, though probably not until many years later when he did become a big Jackson fan (for a time). I was just starting secondary school when Bad was released, so he’d have only been about 8 at the time. It wasn’t until at least we moved house when I was 15 that he had the Michael Jackson albums, so it was definitely after 1990 that I listened to Jackson properly. In all honesty, I liked Michael Jackson records, even if I was never a huge ‘fan’ in the traditional sense. Remember I was in my Debbie Gibson phase anyway, so poor old Michael never stood a chance. However, I remember my brother had the Bad, Thriller and Off The Wall albums on cassette. (At least I think he had Thriller, now I can’t be sure, but guessing he must have done as I do remember listening to it though defintely not in 1982!) Anyhow, I preferred Off the Wall out of all three, simply because of its slightly more disco feel, with my favourite tracks been the title track itself, Get On The Floor, and Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough. (I am a sucker for a good beat.) The disco vibe was continued on Thriller but really only with the opener of Wanna Be Startin’ Something and that was always my favourite (along with Billie Jean) from that album. Of course by the time Bad arrived 5 years after Thriller, there was a total departure from any disco feel, but I very much liked the upbeat tempo to the album, preferring it overall to its predecessor especially the tracks The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal and Another Part Of Me. I have fond memories of his music just as a childhood/early teens background soundtrack. Upbeat and fun and an epitome of the 80s, even though it was probably the early 90s by the time I really got round to appreciating the songs. I do distinctly remember when the single Black and White came out and the whole Macauley Culkin video thing and being thoroughly disappointed. The single, at least for me, never lived up to its hype or to anything Jackson had done before. I preferred Earth Song, though will always have the hilarious memory of it being done in a ‘club-singer’ style by Vic Reeves on a Shooting Stars quiz CD based on the BBC 2 comedy programme of the same name. I’d bought it for Brother Number 2 for Christmas around 1996 time I believe. Anyway, I can’t hear Earth Song without screeching “What about Chickens?” in an anguished, high pitched Vic Reeves club singer style myself. Or in fact can most of my siblings!

The said Shooting Stars book/CD. Hilarious family fun which I recommend to anyone who remembers the show!

Okay, well that went off on a weird tangent I wasn’t expecting when I started writing this post! But this is what happens when there isn’t as much passion as there are for other bands/artists. I find some odd random tenuously linked tangent to spiral off towards… Back to the serious stuff with K tomorrow. Catch you then :)

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: I

So it was bound to happen. I was bound to reach a letter in the alphabet where I had no musical influences/inspiring memories or stories attached to the letter, and on day 11, letter number 9, I have hit the brick wall….Or have I?

Nope, I’m going to cheat! For today the letter I will be for…

Indie

If you’ve been following my blog challenge up until this point you’ll maybe have noticed that other than a couple of pop references, my musical preferences stem from the 1990’s ‘Indie’ music scene. Now of course, Indie is simply a shortened form of Independent label, and it seems that the 1990s heralded a time when bands who were signed to independent labels started to hit the mainstream consciousness. I even remember on The Chart Show (a Saturday morning music jukebox style programme on ITV which never really rivalled the BBC’s Top of the Pops,) even had an Indie chart countdown and that was the part of the show I’d mainly tune in for. Of course many bands that start off on an independent label soon move to a bigger label. Blur, for example started with Food Records and eventually were signed to Parlophone. This is the natural order of things it seems for most Indie bands who want, or inadvertently find, commercial success. However, the term Indie music at the time seemed to become synonymous in Britain with the rising Madchester and, eventually Britpop scenes, even if the band themselves were not signed to an independent record label. It was a convenient way of separating what I suppose we’d term guitar pop/rock from manufactured mainstream pop which was also becoming more prominent during the 1990s, with such groups as Take That and The Spice Girls coming to the fore. You sat in one camp or the other. Well at least you did in our house.

Of course the A-Z challenge will miss out many of my favourite bands/artists from the period simply because they happen to share a letter for the name of their group, and alas I cannot choose three different artists for S (seriously S is a good letter!) OK, I could. After all I made up the rules of this blog challenge, but I’m going to stick with choosing one for each letter. The other reason might be there’s just not an interesting enough memoir attached to them.

So instead here’s an alphabetical line up of so called ‘indie’ bands (read mainly Britpop and er some offshoots I liked which would not be classed as traditional Indie) whom over the period of the 1990s and beyond I’ve listened to a lot and some who define that period best. Some came later, but still fit into that particular mould I think. I’m bound to miss some, but I’m sure if Brother Number 1 reads, he’ll set me straight. (Oh, but of course, some may pop up in the main A-Z, so I’ve missed them off deliberately.)

Here’s a taster anyway:

Athlete; Belle and Sebastian; Black Grape;The Bluetones, (Underrated – bloody fantastic band; first album – Expecting to Fly – find it and listen.); Cast (Oh! I loved Cast); Dodgy; Doves; Echobelly; Electronic; Embrace; Gene; Happy Mondays, (I know!); James; Kasabian; The Kooks; Kulashaker; The La’s; The Lightning Seeds;  Menswear;  Ocean Colour Scene; Primal Scream; Pulp; The Seahorses; Shed Seven; Sleeper; Stereophonics; The Stone Roses (I KNOW, again, shush!); Suede, Supergrass (second choice for S, but most of you may already have guessed what will be there); The Verve.

So there you have it, I is for Indie and a plethora of Britpop/Madchester/Independent bands.

(I’d just like to point out that I do also like a lot of music which is not British made, though from this post you wouldn’t know it!) :)

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