Sunday, September 24, 2006

Susanna & The Magical Orchestra

I have some kind of weird love affair with the cover version (see my earlier Better Beatles post) and thus I always enjoy the postings of Liza on the consistently excellent Copy, Right blog.

Last week I was introduced to the work of Norway's Susanna & The Magical Orchestra and their "Melody Mountain" album of covers. It's pretty much all I've listened to for days..

A beautiful voice and laid-back arrangements that don't seek to change the original melodies, but still manage to add a completely individual touch (compare and contrast with Kathryn Williams' completely ordinary covers album - played too straight for words and Tori Amos' haywire covers album - unrecognisable anti-midas versions that made pure shit from gold).

A great song selection too - Dylan, Joy Division, AC/DC, Depeche Mode - and here is my current favourite..their take on "Crazy, Crazy Nights" by Kiss (watch out for more Kiss-related posts as I relax into my blogging and stop caring who I admit to being a big fan of..)

Susanna & The Magical Orchestra - Crazy, Crazy Nights (NB - mp3 removed as at least 3 sites were remote linking to it without asking..sorry! BUY THE CD - it's great!)

Hear some more tracks on the aforementioned Copy, Right mp3 blog - including the slower than slow version of Leonrd Cohen's "Hallelujah"..

Flash-based Official Site
Ubiquitous MySpace Site

Melody Mountain buy on Amazon

Friday, September 22, 2006

Best Gig I Ever Done See #2 - The Edsel Auctioneer

The Edsel Auctioneer
The Duchess Of York, Leeds 1989

It was Thursday October 5th 1989, I was a wide-eyed student in the first week of my first term, away from home for the first time in a strange big city called Leeds, in a pub called The Duchess Of York...

I'd be lying if I said that my choosing Leeds as a seat of learning wasn't based on the fact that The Wedding Present, Cud & Pale Saints were amongst my favourite bands at the time (and yes my memory has blanked out the likes of Bridewell Taxis, Parachute Men & er...Esmerelda's Kite..OK?)

Also, a few months earlier I'd heard (and loved) a Peel Session by a then unsigned Leeds band called The Edsel Auctioneer. I knew there was some kind of vague Pale Saints connection (turns out they shared a drummer and a live guitarist) and upon my inaugural visit to the legendary Jumbo Records I saw a poster announcing that they were playing at The Duchess the following day.

Obviously being my first week and me being a shy indie loner, I went to the gig alone (It's what Morrissey would have done..)

It was a weird feeling to be at a gig on my own, all excited and trying to look cool with my big floppy fringe, paisley shirt & pint of Tetley, and I suppose that's really why I remember it as one of the best gigs ever. I'm sure the band didn't even play that well, but they looked like they were enjoying it and it was as loud as it was sweaty. One of those magical nights that by definition will only happen the once and you never ever forget.

The story got weirder the following day when the bloke in the next room told me their bass player was at the art college with him. One year later and I was sharing a house with both of them, not quite so awestruck when I realised he wasn't actually a pop star - just someone who got up every day after Neighbours, told the most ludicrously far-fetched stories about children in the jungle being raised by Gazelles and ate all my food when I wasn't looking. Hi Phil!

Here's that first Peel Session in full

Birdpoo's excellent Edsel Auctioneer Mini-site with full discography

The Edsel Auctioneer on Amazon

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ted Chippington - update

Further to my post about Ted Chippington a couple of weeks back it's now been confirmed that he's BACK (and now he's a Reverend apparently..) with a few support slots on the new Nightingales tour!

Oct 7 2006 The Junction, Bristol
Oct 8 2006 Joiners ,Southampton
Oct 9 2006 Cavern Club, Exeter

Sadly I won't make any of these as they're way down south, so fingers crossed for some more dates soon

He's now also got a MySpace here

A 4 CD boxset of Ted's collected work is still due to come out but no scheduled date yet.

Also, cheers chief to Tom at the (always excellent) IndieMP3 blog for the link

Friday, September 15, 2006

Frank Sinatra - Watertown

For an artist who established himself in the 1950's, it might seem that I'm being wilfully obscure by choosing the 1970 concept album "Watertown" as my favourite Frank Sinatra record, but bear with me..

Apparently it only sold a few 100,000 copies and was universally panned by the critics at the time. Lord Google doesn't offer much in the way of positive reviews either with most people retrospectively dismissing it as Frank's failed attempt at a Rock Opera and/or a desperate ploy to appeal to a younger audience.

It seems that even Sinatra himself lost interest in it (a planned TV Special based around the story was canned) - so what's to like about it?

Well, this is the guy who INVENTED the concept album and I've always preferred his sad collections (Only The Lonely, Where Are You? In The Wee Small Hours etc) rather than the swing records (Songs For Swingin Lovers, Swing Easy, Swing Along With Me..) or the tenuously themed ones (Come Fly With Me..all the songs are about foreign places geddit? Moonlight Sinatra...all the songs have the word MOON in the title..genius!). Within that illustrious canon, Watertown is quite possibly his saddest album EVER.

Also the music was penned by original member of the Four Seasons, Bob Gaudio who's songwriting pedigree can't be argued with ("The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" to name but a few).

Upon first listen it's the story of a man who has been deserted by his wife and left to bring up their two kids alone. Pretty much every song is addressed directly to the absent partner and the simplistic style of lyric reads like a series of letters. As the story develops, the Father receives news that she is coming back to them, but ultimately he's left stranded at the Railway Station as it becomes apparent that she was never aboard the train and won't ever return.

Admittedly I have listened to this album far too much and I started to think about the bits of the story that didn't add up.

Firstly, she has not only abandoned him but also the two kids - I know this DOES happen but is not exactly common behaviour amongst women. Secondly, he mentions that her Mother still comes by to help with the children and along with other friends they encourage him to move on and find a new love. Surely any Mother would concentrate on getting her wayward Daughter back on track and try to orchestrate a reconciliation? But he's not ready to move on, he's not over her and he can't understand why nobody sees this. Lastly I just don't get why she would say that she is coming back and then just not turn up, breaking his heart a second time. Then it dawned on me..

She's not coming back because she's dead.

The story would have you believe that she is just a troubled soul that couldn't settle and had to leave, but I'm convinced that the subtext is that she's actually passed away. At this point you begin to hear the songs as the painful wailing grief of a broken man - continually writing letters to a much loved deceased partner, refusing to accept that their perfect life has been torn apart - until eventually his state of mental collapse leads him to hallucinate that she has actually written back to him and promised to return...(he even admits in "The Train" that he never sent any of his letters, they're all still piled in the drawer..classic behaviour for a grieving widower) the liner notes of the CD play it straight and stick with the simple interpretation that she has just upped & left him, but that's from the writers - I'm sure Frank knew the REAL meaning. The track "Goodbye (She Quietly Says)" is the part of the song cycle that is meant to explain why she left - but it doesn't offer any answers - "Good-bye, said so easily, Good-bye, said so quietly" - is as much explanation as he can muster. Even "Lady Day" the bonus track that they added to the reissue hints at the fact that the girl is dead - "Her morning came too fast too soon and died before the afternoon".

And so as he stands alone on the platform at the end - awash with the realisation that none of it is true, you can almost hear the thud as he slumps to the ground in cruel despair, his world sharply coming back into focus.

So what if it has a few rock orchestrations here and there, it's a masterpiece & Frank Sinatra's voice could express more emotion in one phrase than a million Chris Martin's trying REALLY HARD to sound emotional over the course of a really LONG song.

The opening verse of "Michael & Peter" still brings a tear to my eye each time I hear it, and the track "I Would Be In Love Anyway" is another howl of bereavement - "Though you'll never be with me, and there are no words to say, I'll still be in love anyway".

RIP The Voice.

Frank Sinatra - Michael And Peter (intro)
Frank Sinatra - I Would Be In Love Anyway

Wikepedia entry for Watertown
Buy Watertown on Amazon

Friday, September 08, 2006

Best Gig I Ever Done See #1 - Man Or Astroman?

Man Or Astroman?
The NarrowBoat, Nottingham Sunday 4th September 1994

I had an idea to try and document some of the best gigs I ever saw, so that my tired & frail memory can concentrate on some of the more important things in life (like where I left my car keys). I was reminded of this stunning idea when I stumbled across some footage of the mighty Man Or AstroMan? on the old YouTube from 1994. The gig here is in Edinburgh, but it's so EXACTLY how I remember the gig that I'm pretty sure it must have been the same "Your Weight On The Moon" tour where I saw them in Nottingham at The Narrowboat (now flattened and probably a car park or something)

I have to admit to only owning ONE of their records - a cute 5" vinyl single, which I bought primarily for novelty value (in fact I own three 5" vinyl singles - the others being by Big Black and the Edsel Auctioneer)..because if I'm honest their recorded music doesn't really bear repeated listening chez Frankie. Live however, I would go and see them play every week if i could..

The two things that set Man Or Astroman apart in the world of the Surf Guitar Instrumental Combo are their stunning live shows and their rather daft attempts to pretend to be NOT OF THIS EARTH.

So anyway - the gig - the upstairs room of The Narrowboat was small and rammed - I didn't quite know what to expect, but they blew me away. Projectors showed Sci-Fi movies while the band played, and there were backing tape audio samples between songs..the members hid behind silly names like Birdstuff, Coco The Electronic Monkey Wizard, Dexter X & Starcrunch and they just didn't stop moving around the whole time. At one point Coco put a hollowed-out TV Monitor on his head like a spaceman's helmet and ran out into the audience, dancing round nutter from another planet..

Anyway - watch the film cos it catches it better than I can ever describe (watch out for the keyboard players brutal extension of the Jery Lee Lewis technique towards the end..)

Also on YouTube there is a hilarious interview with the band from 1998 when they went on tour claiming to be Alpha Clones of the original members.
Straight faces are kept almost throughout..

Man Or Astro_Man? Official Site
Destroy All Astromen (live CD) on Amazon

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steven Jesse Bernstein

Camden Market in the early 90's, I bought a bootleg video of the last ever Big Black gig. Filmed in a power station, the footage started with the support act - a weird looking tattooed fella ranting at the audience. Kind of like Derby Market Place on a Saturday night, except he wasn't asking for money. He was reciting poetry.

Someone once claimed that the blond haired kid at the front of the stage was Kurt Cobain. Could be true but is probably just apocrypha. They have two things in common though...both great artists and they both committed suicide.

A couple of years after I saw this footage, I heard his album "The Prison". It was on Sub-Pop, had a 60's looking sleeve & was produced by legend of the Pacific North-West Steve Fisk. It was achingly cool before I'd even heard it. Unsurprisingly it was not a happy record...well the lyrics weren't but Fisk's score was incredible & coupled with Bernstein's hypnotic delivery, I think I can safely say this is one of my favourite records of all time.

"No No Man Pt.1" is the opening track and pretty much sets the scene for what to expect over the next 54 minutes. I'm not altogether that big on poetry but if you can't listen to a piece like "Face" and not be moved then you are either clinically dead or Tony Blair.

Steven Jesse Bernstein - No No Man (Part 1)

Great interview with Steve Fisk about the making of "The Prison"

Steven Jesse Bernstein - The Prison on Amazon
Steven Jesse Bernstein official MySpace page (seriously..)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ogurusu Norihide

Dragging myself briefly into the 21st Century...

Japanese acoustic laptop folk is not a genre I claim to know a great deal about but a couple of years back I came across the music of Ogurusu Norihide and fell in love with the gentle melodies and glitchy under-stated beats. It's all instrumental stuff - mostly acoustic guitars with a bit of piano & synth but there is something quite pastoral and almost English about what he is doing - and the numerology of his track titles is always likely to appeal to me!

Ogurusu has released a couple of CD's on American label Carpark Records and done gigs in the US & Sweden (which appears to be the home of EVERYTHING cool at the moment) as well as his native Japan. Not sure if he's ever played in the UK, but I'd love to see him over here one day.

Ogurusu Norihide - 4-46

Ogurusu Norihide Website (in Japanese & English) with more mp3 samples
Carpark Records of Washington DC

Ogurusu Norihide - Modern on Amazon
Ogurusu Norihide - Humour on Amazon