Friday 29 March 2013

Two Ghosts

Famously, Doris Duke was soul music evangelist and scholar Dave Godin's favourite singer.  One of the finest and most moving songs on her "I'm A Loser" lp was "Ghost Of Myself":

Its lyrics recount a tale of pure heartache:

You laugh
I cry
You live
I die
I made you happy
You made me hurt
I gave you honey
You gave me dirt
Now, I look at myself
And there ain’t nothing left
But a ghost of myself

Don’t want to live
But I’m scared to die
My tears are all gone
When I’m sad I can’t cry
Met some other people
That weren’t good enough
Cos what you left me to work with
Sure made it rough
Now, I look at myself
And there ain’t nothing left
But a ghost of myself

If another man were to come along
I couldn’t even give him a sincere smile
You took away my womanhood
Stripped me of all my pride
When you left you didn’t give a damn
Whether I lived or died
Now, I’ll just wander from pillar to post
Don’t nobody want to love a ghost
You’re the winner
I’m hanging up my gloves
Cos I’m through fighting
Trying to win your love
Now, I look at myself
And there ain’t nothing left
But a ghost of myself

There ain’t nothing left
But a ghost of myself

Since receiving Kent's Doris Duke cd for Christmas 6 or 7 years ago, I was fairly certain that I'd never hear it performed better.  That was before I heard Sandra Phillips' softer, richer, even more sobering interpretation:

Like Duke's it was produced by the song's writer, the legendary Swamp Dogg,  Admittedly, there's not a lot in it, but I'd say Phillips delivers the key lines - listen to, say, "You took away my womanhood / Stripped me of all my pride" - with just a touch more emotion and overall her version flows a little better.  Dogg's production is more lush on Phillips' take on it, too.  Each guitar note in the intro unfolds like a rose petal and the swell of the strings moistens the eyes.  As if to underscore just what a monopoly they have on top quality soul music, it's available once again through Kent, this time on their impressive  "Swamp Dogg's Southern Soul Girls: Sandra Phillips & Bette Williams".  Incredible music from an amazing time and place.


It's just as well for me that Camperdown & Out came with Did Not Chart's seal of approval as without it their name would probably have ensured that they didn't earn an inquisitive spin. "Manly". the lead track on the group's debut lp, has such a great informal feel; jangly without approaching precious.  Singer Nathan Roche delivers the lyrics like a sleepy, less feral Iggy Pop.  Here's hoping Pebble Records or some other astute distro brings a few copies into the UK.

There's another slightly perkier track to enjoy here.

Update: Hear the whole record here.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Mad Scene "Blip"

Maybe it's silly, but I've been feeling guilty for most of the last 12 months for not heralding the Mad Scene's tremendous "Blip" (Siltbreeze).  It's a feeling which intensifies a little each time I see an unsold copy in the racks of a record store.  Had Not Unloved's favourite lps of 2012 list been fairer and more accurately reflected the amount of turntable time that the records actually got, "Blip" would have been placed near the top.  In many ways it was the archetypal Not Unloved 2012 record given that it features The Clean's drummer Hamish Kilgour and for a period it seemed like every second record I bought featured musicians from New Zealand.  Albums by The Great Unwashed, Gate, The Pin Group, Roy Montgomery, The Clean, David Kilgour etc. were all snapped-up, devoured and loved.  From memory, "Blip" is the most enjoyable Velvet Underground echo I've heard since Royal Baths' "Litanies" a few years ago and there's a discernible musical kinship with groups like The Pastels, Yo La Tengo  (not too surprising, I guess, as Georgia Hubley was part of Mad Scene for "Blip"!) and even Sonic Youth (or is it Versus?) on "Fontaine".  Nothing is over-cooked and most songs are approached with an endearing naivety, although"T Rex" - the album's most rollicking song - rattles along with a purposeful curled lip and benefits from some pleasingly snarly lead guitar work. In the main, Kilgour handles vocal duties but the album's most beautiful moment "Quiet Day" is sung by Lisa Seigel and rivals Kendra Smith's finest work for sorrowful, slightly psychedelic beauty. Saying that it's my favourite song on the record feels akin to sheepishly confessing that the cover song your friend's band just did was the highlight of their set but, I guess, it's true so I shouldn't feel shy about saying it.  Curiously, "Cupid 2", which opens the record with a few 'To business!' drum cracks, features some Edward Lear-style nonsense rhymes (Cupid with a big nose / Knows which way the wind blows / Knows how my garden grows etc.).  The woozy, innocent groove of "Dear Air" is utterly beguiling.  Even the way it peters out leaving the tambourine shaking like a rattlesnake's tail is just brilliant.  If only I still traded mixtapes - it would've killed in that context.  Nearly a year after I bought it, there's not a second of "Blip" that I don't adore and look forward to hearing. That doesn't happen all too often and it feels good to have finally said so here.

(samples from the whole lp can be heard at allmusic)

Monday 25 March 2013

Good Vibrations

Some people whose taste I trust have said some very complimentary things about new movie Good Vibrations and I read only yesterday that it reduced film critic Mark Kermode to tears.  The signs, therefore, are most definitely good.  It dramatises the story of Terri Hooley and his Belfast-based, punk era record shop and label, Good Vibrations.  It's on general release in the UK from this Friday, March 29th.  Glasgow Film Theatre is showing it this weekend, as is the Edinburgh Filmhouse.  From the trailer, it looks charming and just the thing for a Bank Holiday weekend:

To prepare for seeing it, The Undertones will occupy a fair amount of stereo time this week.  I'll also be sure to blast a few tunes from some current groups who share a spirit and sound with the early Good Vibrations bands such as Dublin's power pop belters The #1s:

Sunday 24 March 2013

Ghost Train

Very few music videos I've seen in recent years have had any staying power. I watch them for a few minutes, primarily on YouTube, and then, well, forget them almost immediately.  Seldom have they added anything to the music.  This was certainly not the case, however, with The Creeping Ivies' video for "Ghost Train":

(download the e.p. for free from the group's bandcamp)

I've returned to it again and again and each time it seems better and better.  For what is essentially just a performance video, it's remarkably inventive and makes the music seem that bit more unhinged and jittery.  If I'd wandered into a room in the Tate Modern and seen it playing, I would've been transfixed and wouldn't have questioned whether or not it was deserving of its place there.  Events have conspired to prevent me from witnessing their thunderous mania in person but they're making the trip from Dundee on April 9th to appear at Mono with notoriously rude crash helmet wearer Bob Log III.  I recently likened the experience of watching Fritz Lang's "Woman In The Moon" with a live soundtrack by Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills to being shut in a metal bin and dragged along winding country roads behind a Land Rover.  I've a hunch that the evening of April 9th is going to be similarly bruising!

Monday 18 March 2013

Our Other World

Former guitarist with both The Gun Club and The Cramps (amongst others), Kid Congo Powers, is touring the UK this week with his group The Pink Monkey Birds.  Unfortunately, however, he's not playing in Scotland.  That's a real shame as I'd love to hear these words sung live; they're like little time-faded vignettes from an undiscovered John Waters movie:

I was a teenage punk working at a Hollywood Boulevard record store
Rick James came in
He was irritated at Glory Halle-stupid
He broke the records
In the jazz section, some shoplifting drag queen was ODing in a pair of rollerskates
5 albums under her T-shirt

(ooh ooh ooh aah)

It was our other world

When I was a teenage punk me and some freaks took an a LA Greyhound bus to New York City
There was Darvocets
A mono cassette player
Crazy color
Dancing in our seats
People were pissed
We couldn’t help it

It was our other world
It was our other world

From the "Gorilla Rose" lp on In The Red

There's an excerpt from "Our Other World" here

Sunday 17 March 2013

Girl One and The Grease Guns

The sound of Mute Records circa 1980 comes to Squirrel Records in 2013.  It's not often that I get it together to pre-order records but I was determined to make the effort for the confident debut 7" from Girl One and The Grease Guns.  "Driving Without Headlights (Once Again)" is a total thrill ride which is especially noteworthy for the tremendous vocal from the chucklesomely named Sissy Space Echo (aka Caroline McChrystal of The Blanche Hudson Weekend and formerly of The Manhattan Love Suicides etc.) and that tidy little keyboard melody which could've been rescued from Vince Clarke's cutting room floor.  Let's hope indie discos around the world eat it up and turn it up - it's about time their walls shook to something new!

Moody kids in black eyeliner and warm leatherette can pre-order here

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Thee Bettye Swann

Over time, Betty Jean Champion, better known to her fans as Bettye Swann, has become my favourite female soul singer.  My love for her music started when I first heard Honest Jon's flawless compilation and increased to wild levels when my dad unexpectedly bought me a copy of Kent's compilation of the majestic sides she cut for Money Recordings.  Then came the 7"s.  I've bought a bunch of them.  The one I play most?  Probably this outstanding girl group soul clapper (track 17 on the aforementioned Money Recordings cd):

I never, even in my most wishful daydeams, expected to be able to see her sing live.  Amazingly, thanks to the saints at Kent Records, it could actually happen as she's scheduled to appear at Ady Croasdell's Cleethorpes 6Ts Weekender:

It will be her first performance in Europe.  It's almost too dizzy-making to contemplate that in the space of a week I could see the most significant group in my life, The Pastels (they play Glasgow's CCA with The Wake on June 1st), and the soul singer whose voice I cherish the most.  Goosebumps!  Adrenalin!  That her best known work was released four decades ago doesn't dissuade me from wanting to see her sing in 2013.  After all, I saw Roger McGuinn 30 years after The Byrds cut "Mr. Tambourine Man" and that was unforgettable.  Also, Bettye's vocal performances were never about chandelier shattering or insecurely running up and down the scales to prove her chops like a lot of those less interesting performers who came after her.  They were so much more nuanced and expressive than that so if age has slightly altered her voice, it won't diminish her ability to deliver the songs; it may, if anything, give them even more poignancy.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Virals "Summer Girls"

With snow currently sprinkled over the streets of Glasgow, summer seems a long way away.  When Virals' "Summer Girls" plays, however, it feels that bit closer.  Just why it was tucked away on the flip of the group's recent Zoo Music 7" is a mystery. It's by far the strongest song of the four and should have taken centre stage on the A-side.  An airy melody married to a post-Shop Assistants style thumper with some real heads down surges will always catch my ear and a cute polar bear (he'd be at home in Glasgow tonight!) will always catch my eye.  The volume dial goes up for a reason.  To enhance the power of songs like "Summer Girls" is that reason.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Young Pretender

(picture from

The ole canny shopper instincts kicked-in the other day as I was buying Sauna Youth's latest 7" from Static Shock.  I figured that if I was buying one 7", I might as well buy 2 to save a few bob on postage (that kinda logic'll see me to the poorhouse!) so I went digging around in their mailorder catalogue, a trusty browser to hand for the purpose of music sampling.  "Young Pretender" by Toronto's Dangerloves was the record that set my pulse racing the fastest and which was added to my cart with relish.  As power pop singles go, it's up there with the best I've heard in recent years (it was released in  May, 2008).  It starts off at quite a lick in full Peechees mode but when Zoe Dodd bursts into "Young pretender you don't know who you are!" things go up a gear or two.  Sparky!

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Tracey, Vic & Vini

This week Tracey Thorn is reading from her excellent sounding biography on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.  According to today's excerpt, when she first went to Ben Watt's shared student flat in Hull and ran the rule over his record collection, she was pleased to find that he had both of her then favourites: recent releases by Vic Godard and Vini Reilly's group The Durutti Column.  What fine taste they had in 1981 - no wonder they bonded!  Roll on 30+ years and it's hard not to contrast Vic's situation with Vini's.  Vic seems to be having a rare old time, playing celebratory gigs all over the country to adoring audiences and working with a succession of friends and admirers.  Vini, on the other hand, has gone through a series of sobering, difficult times although, thankfully, the most recent update on his situation was more upbeat.  Hopefully, somebody will do for Vini what Paul Kelly did for Lawrence Hayward and provide a focus to bring his music back to some kind of prominence so that he, too, can feel that he has a future and an immediate connection with his audience.  I wonder if in 1981 they both imagined that they'd still be part of the music industry three decades on.  I'd be surprised if they did; pop seems like such a young person's game when you're young.  I bought Vic's new single in Monorail at the weekend.  At a tenner it wasn't cheap (it's an import on Spain's famèlic) but a) IT'S VIC and b) it's great and a lot of fun, especially "(Oh Alright) Go On Then".  I wonder, too, if Tracey's still listening to Vic and Vini's records.  I hope so as, for my money at least, the music they're releasing and re-releasing now deserves it.  I'll be reading Tracey's book, for sure and it was a lovely surprise to hear even the briefest snatch of Marine Girlssublime music on the radio during my commute to work - it felt like spring had truly arrived.

Tracey Thorn appears in Glasgow at Aye Write! on the 12th of April.  Full details here.  If I can arrange it, I'll be there.