So it's a year when your heroes are dying and your ideals are trashed. Then, nearly at the very end, it redeems itself. Four blokes whose music you've loved since you were fifteen, and who are long overdue their bus passes, release a new album that was reputedly recorded over a couple of days, live in the studio. And guess what. It rocks, big time. The sleeve notes tell the tale, that they were planning to records some new songs, when they decided to play a blues cover to "cleanse the palate". The result was stupendous, so much so that the new material idea was abandoned, in favour of a return to their early-sixties roots when they blasted out full-on sets of Chicago blues in the underground clubs of Soho and beyond, making audiences go wild with frenzy at these animal boys and their twelve bar workouts and magnetic stage presence. Fast forward over half a century and the line-up may have been a through a few changes but the magic is undiluted. Stick on the record and twelve tunes of dirty, hard-edged, nonchalantly-delivered blues covers blast their way out of the speakers and blow away the cobwebs and downbeat vibes that emanate from this year of disillusion. The Stones are back, with perhaps their rawest release since Exile On Main Street, exuding a style and swagger that tells you they've still got it and they still mean it. It sounds like a bootleg from The Crawdaddy, 1962. But it isn't. Its from now, the year of the Lord 2016. Time to turn up the volume kiddos and realise that the world is indeed wonderful and alive and full of surprises. Stick it on and immerse yourself in its dirty licks. This is The Rolling Stones today. This is Blue And Lonesome.
The arrival of the new Spitfires album has enriched the last days of Summertime. Two albums in the space of a year is an ambitious project. You have to have belief and inspiration to pull it off and those are qualities which are in abundance on this record. The opener, the title track A Thousand Times, follows on from the conclusion of last year’s Response with a subjective look inside a relationship that is falling apart and, in so doing, sets the tone for the album where the disintegration of human relations in contemporary society of minimum wages, financial pressures and generation rent is a key theme. These issues are explored from a first person perspective, almost as if each song is a short story or an episode of the celebrated and sadly long departed Play For Today. Musically, the band are on fire, gelling brilliantly, with hard-edged guitars which interplay with infectious keyboards. Day To Day is a particular standout, with its immensely danceable bassline, and Return To Me is seven minutes of heartfelt beauty, while the hook of On My Mind will be running around your brain all day. I love the keyboard break on The Last Goodbye, the guitar on Day To Day and the slowed down section on The Suburbs (We Can’t Complain). Right across the album, Billy Sullivan is at his angry and inspired best, with witty and visceral commentary on life in modern Britain. This is one of the most important albums for a long time and you know somehow that its influence will last.
I can’t believe its forty years since the release of The Saints I’m Stranded. It must have been one of the first punk singles I bought, all gleaming black vinyl and paper pic sleeve in black and white with them leaning against the wall with the song’s title spray painted and the band’s name underneath. I can remember now how I felt, as those guitars blasted out of the speakers in my bedroom and ricocheted off the walls and Chris Bailey’s snarling, distorted vocals came through and the lyrics sunk into my teenage head, telling me about alienation and being stranded and riding on a subway train where everybody looked the same and living in a world that was insane. And I remember knowing that they were the sort of thoughts I had each day and here was a band, on the other side of the world, who thought and felt just like that. All around the world, I’ve been looking for you, that’s what I thought, or maybe there must be someone, who thinks like I see. Though not as eloquently as either of those sentiments, of course. I played it again tonight, and the b-side No Time. They sound just as relevant and biting in 2016 as they did in 1976. Like Pretty Vacant and Garageland and In The City. Universal lyrics about life and existence and how you view the world. Stuff like that doesn’t have a sell-by date. In fact its still utterly stunning and hasn’t dated a day.
In a year which has seen more than its fair share of musical losses, it is sad to read of the death of Prince Buster. He who Madness famously described as having “sold the heat with a rock-steady beat” and gave them their name, was born Cecil Bustamente Campbell in Orange Street in 1938 and forged a trail for ska and blue beat. The Prince was a pioneer, influencing early sixties modernists and providing a soundtrack that was just as influential as R&B and Motown. “They could have been perfect if they'd played Blue Beat as well", wrote Pete Townshend in the short story contained in the sleeve notes to Quadrophenia in 1973, illustrating perfectly the significance of Jamaican music to the mod dancefloor and mindset. His hits included Madness, Al Capone, One Step Beyond and Enjoy Yourself, deeply influencing the ska revival of 1979 and being covered by The Madness and The Specials. You can far worse than mourn his loss by a play of one of his finest, in this case Madness.
August begins with a blast of Hammond organ. Paul Orwell's new album Organised Blues, on Heavy Soul, is a selection of full-on instrumentals that have got me grooving round the house as effectively as the debut, Blowing Your Mind Away, from last year. The new record (as with the previous output, available only on limited edition vinyl) was recently described to Merc by Paul as "an album that kids would take to a party in the 1960's". You can't argue with that as a rationale for the album. All the tracks are equally infectious and full of pent up Mod energy and all will fire up the soul shoes on your feet. You have to admire the attitude that led to the recording of Organised Blues. It was the record Paul wanted to make so he went off and did it, eschewing any consideration of making a "sensible" follow up to Blowing Your Mind Away. That's where an innovative and open minded label comes in such as Heavy Soul. An inspired album. What you need to blow the post holiday blues away. The opener, Don't Do As I Do Just Do As I Say, is a perfect taster.
Pleased to see the the posthumous Viola Beach album has been released and reached number one. Listening to it brings disparate emotions - the inevitable sense of tragedy whilst, at the same time, an uplifting feeling from the quality and vibe of the tunes. Here was a band with all the youthful vision and belief that makes music great, with it all ahead of them. The sound is guitar-fuelled, with a vibe that does indeed put you in mind of a beach. A kind of indie surf music for the post-innocence generation. It is worth remembering that this was recorded before the tragedy in February when, as far as anyone knew, what lay ahead were good times and success. It should be listened to in that spirit. Check out the single Swings And Waterslides for a sample. It deserves to be played loud.
Another quality record is one I heard a couple of months ago from Derby band The Telephones. Coming Around/Nothing's The Same were destined for a Summer release. I was impressed by the psychedelic vibe of the songs, which follow neatly on the heels of the excellent Hummingbyrd back in 2014. With Lee Horsley (Spiritualised and The Selector) on keys, these tunes emanate the sound of sixties West Coast pop meshed with nineties Manchester, with a lovely feel of pure groovaliciousness that will get the feet tapping and the head spinning. Imagine the scenario of Roger McGuinn going for a pint with Noel, perhaps, on a day trip to Haight Ashbury and mixing it all up with Ian MacLagan en route. You get the picture. One band who it is definitely worth checking out further.
I'm a big fan of the Mubi film channel that features "cult, classic and indie movies". On returning from holiday, I launched into the screening of Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita from 1960. It features a masterful performance from Marcello Mastroianni as a playboy paparazzi who traverses Rome over a seven day period one Summer. Other notable performances include Anita Ekberg as the glamorous film star Sylvia, Anouk Aimee as Maddalena and Yvonne Furnaux as Emma. The film is notable for thematic elements such as the juxtaposition of old and new Europe, the place of religion within modern post war society, the role of the individual and the choices found between individual goals (such as serious literature) and more immediate needs (financial reward through populist journalism). Lasting around three hours it requires an investment of time but one that is fulfilling.
Back to Minorca. A night of reggae at beach bar at Cala'n Blanes was particularly memorable, featuring Right Time by The Mighty Diamonds, a classic from the Front Line compilation from 1976. The former capital in Cuidedela is also well worth a visit, especially the harbour area which at night has a particular ambience.
Poolside reading featured Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his memoir of twenties Paris, with a cast of luminaries including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, Alastair Crowley and many others. Favourites for me are the portraits of F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald, the former one of my favourite authors since I read This Side Of Paradise as a teenager. Its all written in Hemingway's unique crisp style. Well worth a read.
The sad departure of one Mr David Bowie has led me to check out his early records again. This one in particular stands out. I love the narcissistic tones of the title, hinting at what is to come in terms of Ziggy and The Thin White Duke. In fact, this would have fitted in perfectly on Ziggy, perhaps as the last track on side one. It could be from the perspective of Ziggy before he would make it all worthwhile as a rock and roll star, or of a disaffected adolescent (in the Jimmy from Quadrophenia style) who is just discovering clothes, music and hedonism and is about to encounter his soon to be heroes, The Spiders From Mars. However you look at it, it's a great tune.
Another great garage rock record to savour. Written and produced by Paul Orwell (a favourite of these pages) with vocals by Lord Essien, it blasts it's energy straight into the subconscious like a soon-to-be smithereens Rickenbacker on heat. Turn it on, turn it up , play it loud.
If you want to fill your head with quality garage rock, you could do a lot worse than checking out this gem of an album. The Ace, hailing from Leeds and featuring Jonny Magus of Sohostrut fame, have produced Riot Of Sound, a collection of tunes that deliver power, energy, a heartfelt rawness that come through every groove on the record. Standout tunes for me are Man Out Of Time, Misunderstood and Another Teenage Life Is Wasted. Find the album here.