(What's The Story) Morning Glory - reflections on its twentieth anniversary

It's barely believable that twenty years have passed since (What's The Story) Morning Glory was released.  It's also funny how memory plays tricks  on you.  If someone had asked me, I would have argued til the cows come home that it was a warm Summer day when I stood in  a queue in the now defunct Selectadisc in Nottingham (where,  incidentally, every other person was buying the same album) in anticipation of my new purchase.  Maybe it was the "summertime's in bloom" line in Don't Look Back In Anger that did it.  But what is undeniable is that the whole mood of Morning Glory is bound up in my kind with sunshine, optimism and a positive sense of contemporary Britain and it's immediate future.

It takes years - perhaps decades - for an album to attain seminal status. There have been a few since the mid nineties (Up The Bracket, Is This It and Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not are three that come to mind). Morning Glory is definitely in that category. The sheer timelessness of the songwriting and delivery,  together with the cover photography, taken in Berwick Street at a moment that was unmistakably "now" (with another Selectadisc in the background) featuring style that had its roots in the sixties but which had been updated to be totally of its time.

Back in '95, the whole album seemed to shed the weight of recent recession- laden collective depression and point towards a bright, optimistic future. More than anything,  looking back it pinpoints a moment in recent British history where the party was new and anything seemed possible. Some of those dreams we had as children came to fruition, others could only Fade Away (John Harris' The Last Party is an insightful history of Britpop and it's legacy) but, in a sense, that doesn't matter.  After twenty years Morning Glory still sounds fantastic, as alive as ever, a blast of hard-edged,  adrenalin - laden sunshine in a world of increasing uncertainty.

Favourite tune? There are many to choose from but, for me, it's a toss up between Some Might Say and Don't Look  Back In Anger. The latter edges it on penalties.

The Spitfires

 With a blast of feedback and "1-2-3-4" we're off, launching into the debut album from The Spitfires.  They're a band who have promised much over the last couple of years with their guitarist/vocalist Billy Sullivan leading from the front.  They've produced a fistful of singles since Spark To Start powered its way into our consciousness, constantly gigging and honing their sound.  Response is the result.

The lyrics in the opener Disciples indicate the direction of travel.  They are socially aware, painting a picture of Great Britain in 2015 as effectively as any that came before did for their time.  It is followed by anthems Tell Me, complete with infectious hook, and the full on Escape Me which showcases a wonderful blast of brass.  "You've been living in my head for ages" sings Sullivan, just one of many lines that jump out and seep their way into your mind.  Spoke Too Soon is perhaps the most ambitious tune on the album, pushing forward into new territory and incorporating melodies that will stay with you.  Relapse is classic Spitfires, a hard, sharp guitar sound, blasting out chords and basslines and keyboards with edgy, powerful vocals.  Top class.

Stand Down is more social commentary for our times - "get a job and fight to keep it" - delivered with passion and attitude, a kind of musical equivalent of an episode of Play For Today from the 70's.  Serenade Part 1 (Part 2 comes later as the penultimate tune on the album) offers an instrumental insight into the musical depth of the band, offering an interlude that provides a moment to catch your breath before you are again blasted away by the sheer power of the anthem that is I'm Holdin' On.

The remainder of the album is packed with classics.  The newly recorded first single Spark To Start has a more prominent ska edge this time round, which suits its melody and delivery perfectly, getting the feet moving and the adrenalin pumping.  The original b-side Words To Say is also on fire here, complete with strings, more ska and raw energy.

When I Call Out Your Name is, from where I'm sitting, one of the best things the band has ever recorded, a plaintive yet confident slice of beauty, forged from hope that emerges from the despondency of contemporary life when all is laid bare.   After Serenade Part 2, comes the finale, the achingly real 4am, where there's damp on the walls, an ultimatum to buy a tv and the realisation that your "friends don't care because they'll make sure they're never there".  Its a top quality slice of realism, as accurate a portrayal of life as That's Entertainment was in its day.

With this album, The Spitfires have produced a classic of social realism, combined with musical accomplishment, diversity and a hard-edged approach that blasts out of the speakers.  It is the sort of album that will still be played in thirty years time, the subjects are so true to life and universal, the lyrics poignant, the melodies infectious.  It will retain its urgency for a long time to come.

Stone Foundation

A warm August morning.  Driving through rush hour crowds, windows down,  letting the delicious Hammond on Pushing Your Luck saturate and educate, the Curtis Mayfield percussion and Ron Isley guitar unleash their wonder.  It's a foot mover and hipshaker.  A blast of upbeat consciousness.  The mood runs across every tune on the album. With guests Nolan Porter,  Graham Parker, Dr Robert Howard, The Four Perfections, Janet and Samantha Harris and The Q Strings, this record is packed with moments like this.

The title says it all.  A Life Unlimited. Don't compromise,  don't limit your ambition, don't let anything hold you back. Whether you write or play or simply want to live the dream, do it on your terms. The music sums up that inspirational world view.  From the first strummed chords of Beverley through the horns that blast through the funk-tinged grooves of Learning The Hard Way, this is an uplifting cocktail of delights that cascade from the speakers in their soulful glory.

There are the jazz-fuelled moments at the opening of Speak Your Piece, evoking the mood of Kind Of Blue to these ears, the glorious hammond on The Night Teller, the uplifting acid house vibes of A Love Uprising.  The powerful moments of soulful joy on Something In The Light will have your feet moving.  The finale Old Partners New Dances will enrich more reflective moments, with its haunting piano and brass refrain.

They hit the heights a year ago with seminal To Find The Spirit.  This record us just as strong, transcending their work to date and taking it to new levels.  From the Horace Panter sleeve art to the horns and the guitar and the harmonies, they have it nailed. A Life Unlimited is a pot poirri of soul boy reference points. Get it, turn it up and live it.

The Moment - new album

So, I get home and its sitting there on the side, a white envelope containing one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. The Moment returned a couple of years back with the single Goodbye Tuesday on Heavy Soul and the 4 track ep on Plastic Pop. Now they're following up that creative peak with this brand new album, where Adrian Holder and Robert Moore are joined by Brett Buddy Ascot of The Chords.

Put it on the stereo. First tune is entitled LOY and the first thing that hits me is the guitar sound, which jumps out at you in a distorted, straight ahead rampage of adrenalin, along with a catchy tune that will be rattling around your head in a day or two.  It's a sound that comes through throughout the album, most noticeably on She's A Modern and Queen Of Battersea, which for me are two of the key tunes on the album, delivering a hard edged vibe and attitude.
There are plenty of distinctly danceable moments.  Dance Your Dance, Now You're Staring  and the wonderfully titled Payday Loan will have you grooving round with their Motown-esque vibe, sharp Rickenbacker chords, horns and Hammond.  Penelope Wood threatens to surprise, with a more acoustic, almost folky flavour.  Then there's the conclusion, the anthemic title track that will pull you in with its irrepressible hook and Kerouac-inspired soul.

The Only Truth Is Music. It's a phrase to live by. The Moment's return lives up to the title. Do yourself a favour. Grab a copy while you can

The Sons Of Mod

You know the feeling. You're travelling the highways and byways of what the ordinary world calls social media, and you suddenly come across a band that makes your rhythm and soul antennae start to buzz. That happened to me the other night, in the midst of what has become, at long last,  a glorious English Summer.

There I was, sitting on the terrace, approaching the midnight hour with a glass of suitably chilled lager, and I opened up a video from a band named The Sons Of Mod.   They're an Australian band, from Adelaide, fronted by guitarists Andrew McCulloch and Stephen Di Girolamo, bassist Amir Zaid Abdallah and drummer Hayden Wackerman.  On their Facebook page, they describe their sound as "original awethentic 60s style Maximum R'n'B MODern Sykodelia".  Nice description.

There was a clip on their page which was filmed at a recent alldayer at Bobby Dazzler's in Melbourne and they played a solid brand of hard edged freakbeat, not dissimilar from how The Creation might sound if they formed today.  From what I saw, the clip tells you all you need to know about this band, complete with go go dancers, it seemed to sum up their sound neatly.

I started exploring and found other tunes from them. One called This Is Sound, which is a full on instrumental, and this, Who The XXX Are You.  It was recorded a while back and is another example of the sort of music they're producing. I like the upfront, in your face approach and that guitar sound. This tune is strongly recommended.  Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

The Spitfires - When I Call Out Your Name

There's a buzz growing round their forthcoming album. The Spitfires' debut, Response, is out on 21 August. By all accounts its a little bit special,  which is what we've come to expect from the band over recent years.  You can get your pre-orders now. But, for the time being, we'll have to make do with what we've got, including this gem, which is something of a taster for the big one. There are infectious melodies here, jangly guitars, full on keyboards and individualist, subjective lyrics, not dissimilar in perspective from certain tunes on The Modern World and All Mod Cons. And there's a new video to go with it - nice selection of shirts lads. Check it out.

Paul Orwell

After two sell out singles on Heavy Soul, Paul Orwell has released his limited edition debut album. Blowing Your Mind Away was only released on vinyl and the 500 copies that were pressed sold out within hours.

The album deserves it's success. From the opening bars of Like I Did Before it is jam packed with instantly memorable tunes, harmonies and the sort of guitar refrains you might have encountered at Haight Ashbury, or the Kings Road, in 1966.

Such is the quality of the tunes that every track has the potential to be a hit single. You're Nothing special was trailed from the album on the Fred Perry Subculture website in the weeks before release, complete with monochrome, models and authentic Blow Up references.

All in all, this is an essential purchase, one that should be (taking the advice from the reverse of the sleeve that "this music should be played loud") blasting out of discerning stereos across the rock and roll world, or 500 of them.

This is You're Nothing Special

Saturn's Pattern

There's normally some anticipation for a new Paul Weller album. Saturn's Pattern comes  three years after Sonik Kicks and has been trailed on the web and various TV appearances.

The album's opener White Skies heads into psychedelic territory. Its followed by the title track which has a distinctive and very infectious 70s vibe that puts you in mind of  raft of almost forgotten bands of the era (such as Curved Air,  Atomic Rooster and Family). Then comes the glororiously melodic Going My Way, which Weller connoisseurs are agreed is one of the finest tunes he has ever written. Yes. It is that good.

Next up is the Stoogesesque Long Time and the sheer unadulterated funkiness of Pick It Up. Then the record moves into the more hypnotic Balearic beat of I'm Where I Should Be and the epic Phoenix, In The Car and the conclusion of These City Streets, which puts me in mind of his first solo outing from 92.

All in all, this is anaccomplished return to top form. In some ways less extrovert than some of its predecessors,  the album covers the full range of the current Weller repertoire.  Some are saying it's his best since Stanley Road. And you wouldn't argue with that.

Stone Foundation - Beverley

Stone Foundation have been working on a new album over recent months. A Life Unlimited Is released later in the year. One of the new songs - Beverley. - is the signature tune for a short film set in Leicester in the 80s. We haven't seen it but if its anywhere as good as the single, it should be well worth a look. 

For now check out Beverley.

Swinging Japan

Sometimes something jumps out and catches you by surprise, while you were, to all intents and purposes, looking the other way. It doesn't happen often but, when it does, the effect can be breathtaking. Take this record as an example. I mean, the Tokyo mod scene has been well documented online but, sitting here in Europe, you could perhaps be forgiven for not appreciating entirely the vitality of the scene.

There are no excuses now.  Acid Jazz have put together this selection.  It, by all accounts, showcases the cream of the underground bands currently strutting their stuff in Tokyo. From the in your face opener of 6, through the hard edged freakbeat of a raft of bands such as The Marquee, The Furs and The Scarletts, to the dance floor inspired groove of Les Cappuccino (perfect reworking of Blow Up) and others such as The Weekend and The Hair, this compilation will mash up your dance floor,  living space or car stereo.  What matters is that you put this on and turn it up - loud.

The album is available on Acid Jazz. If it whets you appetite for all things Japanese you might also find Emma Rosa Dias' DVD For The Love Of Mod Tokyo (and accompanying For The Love Of Mod London and Faces In The Crowd) of interest.

Here are Les Cappucino

The Spitfires - Stand Down

The Spitfires have a new single out on 2 March. Stand Down is a slice of pure powerpop adrenalin which showcases the band's development as they move things forward musically and lyrically, whilst retaining the sharpness and punk-tinged anger of their early singles. Alongside the uncompromising attitude, there is a definite pop sensibility, along with a distinctive keyboard sound and an ear for a hookline that takes the band into interesting, original territory.

This is a record that flies in the face of the mainstream, with a panache that is attracting followers right across Britain, as well as socially aware lyrics that reflect the state of the nation right now. In short, its probably the most relevant record you'll hear this year. 

They have an album Response out in a few months, which has to be worth the wait.

You can order a limited edition 7 inch copy of Stand Down here here  Check out their Facebook page for more information.

And here's the tune itself, along with another quality video and a tour of their native Watford.

Millions Like Us

Back in another age, the nineteen seventies, there was a feeling among the more perceptive of the teenage population that they were the generation that had missed the sixties, who had reached maturity at just the point when the party was over. The iconography of the time only served as a reminder. Whether it was The Likely Lads on television, or reminiscences of a quickly fading World Cup glory, it was hard not to be reminded of that lost decade. In particular,  a landmark double album, with accompanying picture booklet, brought into focus a particular concept from that era. The  album was The Who's landmark 1973 classic Quadrophenia. The concept was mod.

Many of that teenage generation, with mod in mind, we're waiting for something big to happen, something rebellious, with attitude, streamlined for the street rather than long-haired and dawdling stadium rock. And then, right on time, along came punk.  Bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks were what we had been waiting for, an energetic, dynamic return to a stripped-down aesthetic. They played in small clubs, had short hair and liked reggae. They even covered The Who and The Small Faces. The references were clear enough. One of them - Generation X - was named after an early sixties sociological study of youth. It was, in short, a return to the ethics of mod.

But enough of repeating the regularly told story of punk. What does it have to do with this box set?
The answer is what happened next. The punk flag flew and some of its most celebrated purveyors became icons themselves. At the same time, and more importantly, there was another demographic, the slightly younger kids, the ones from the suburbs, who felt left out in the cold by the evolving punk vanguard.  Those kids formed bands and - arguably spurred on by the example of the new breed's most relevant purveyors, The Jam - made their references to the mod heritage more explicit. In one of those wonderful moments of chance, the emergence of these bands coincided with the release of the film version of Quadrophenia. The result was a fully blown mod revival.

The revival lasted, in one form or another, well into the next decade. The output is documented here. From the early post punk beginnings to the sophisticated underground conclusion. What's clear is that these bands were not "punks in parkas".  These are the kids from the suburbs recounting tales of daily life. The early morning tea and toast and Modesty Blaise in the daily paper.  The anticipation of the weekend and the potential it brought. The days hanging around a small town, the nights seeking out whatever thrills are on offer.

The mod revival bands forged their own identity.  They are represented comprehensively here, from the early trailblazers,  like The Chords, Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts, through to later stylists such as The James Taylor Quartet, The Studio 68 and Makin Time. The vast majority of the great bands are  covered along the way, including The Cigarettes, The Prisoners, The Moment and many more too numerous to list here.

What jumps out from these tunes is the quality in many of these grooves. Right from the outset, the delivery and social commentary chimed with the bands' contemporaries, whether the subject matter was covered in Millions Like Us, Maybe Tomorrow or They're Back Again Here They Come. As mod went underground in the face of the eighties, the new protagonists developed their sound and outlook, whether that was stylishly reworking classic sixties instrumentals like Blow Up or describing modern life in songs like In This Town.

The mod revival bands have never fully been covered before.  As such, this excellent Cherry Red box set fills a significant void.  Complete with sleeve notes about every band and track, it chronicles a unique and diverse youth explosion that sprung up in the late seventies and has continued, in one form or another, ever since. It is the story of the musical output of a generation that had been inspired by the legacy of the original mods. It is well worth a listen.

Sawdust Caesars

If you fancy catching up on your modernist heritage, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of Tony Beesley's excellent Sawdust Caesars.  It chronicles experiences from "original Mod voices", those who were there at the outset and through the initial heyday in the sixties, through the dispersed scene of the seventies and into the mod revival and beyond.  There are a whole range of anecdotes, which give a wide perspective on the many-textured experiences of modernism.  My favourite has to be section where Terry Rawlings describes his discovery of the Quadrophenia booklet from the original album in 1973 and how those pictures were in a sense his own personal "dead sea scrolls".  It was exactly the way I felt.

You can get a copy of the book from Amazon or via the Facebook page. This book sits with the best of the mod back catalogue, including Richard Barnes' "Mods", Paul "Smiler" Anderson's "Mod The New Religion" and Terry Rawlings' "Mod - A Very British Phenomenon".  If you fancy a late Christmas treat, you could do a lot worse.

French Boutik - Mieux Comme Ca

Back with more Parisien chic come those doyens of Gallic rhythm and soul, French Boutik. Their ep Dans Paris got the thumbs up from connoisseurs last year and this new collection hits the mark just as effectively.

Mieux Comme Ca contains four tunes, each of which resonate with maximum style and finesse. From the opening guitar of the title track, through the harmonies and hammond organ, this is a selection for bona fide movers and shakers around the technicolor world.  Check out the haunting melodies and power chords of End Of The Line, the mood of Spring that emanates from Le Vie En Couleur, the distinctive guitar refrain, piano and vibes of Tiptoes.

There are vocals that remind of Julie Driscoll and Serge Gainsbourg, guitars that would not sound out of place coming from  Revolver or Rubber Soul, a look courtesy of the early films of Jean Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer. If the world out there is dour and grey, these slices of colour add life and hope and sunshine to a barren palate. It may not be Paris in the Springtime right now but that's what's coming through the speakers. Put on this double vinyl package and turn it up.  Loud.

French Boutik comprise Gabriela Giacoman (vocals), Serge Hoffman (vocals and guitar), Jean-Marc-Joannes (bass), Terry Brossard (piano), Zelda Aquil (drums) and Mad Iky (organ and trumpet).  

Mieux Comme Ca was recorded and mixed by Dennis Rux at Yeah!Yeah!Yeah studios in Hamburg and Talent’s River Studios in Paris.  You can buy it from copaseDisques or via their Facebook ordering page.  Also check out their Facebook home page.

And this is the first video from the collection.