Tuesday 26 August 2008

The Only Ones - Peel Sessions

One of the great things about working in a record shop (along with thinking that life couldn't get any better - I was 18, in a band and had a job that meant I could dress how I liked) was that I got to hear music that might otherwise have passed me by.

A case in point would be the Only Ones. At the time they were a forgotten band and their back catalogue deleted, but in 1989 they were afforded a Peel Sessions release. Guitarist John Perry says on the sleevenotes that they were his favourite Only Ones recordings, and to this day it tends to be the album I play most often. The original release kicked off with a great version of 'Oh Lucinda', which bears little resemblance to the Baby's Got a Gun recording and alone makes the album worth hearing, the picked chords having been replaced with Pete Perrett at his amphetamine-fused best (think of the energy of 'Another Girl, Another Planet').

I was eventually able to track down their three LPs in various branches of the Record & Tape Exchange, and The Immortal Story helped to fill in a few more gaps in their output and in 2004 their complete recordings were released as Why Don't You Kill Yourself. More recently of course 'Another Girl, Another Planet' (by now a staple in indie clubs) was used in a Vodafone commercial and the band reformed shortly after. Seeing them at Shepherd's Bush Empire last year meant that along with the New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks I finally got to see a band that I thought would never grace the stage again (and unlike the others with all original members in place - Pete Perrett having survived despite certain lifestyle similarities to Johnny Thunders).

(For similar reasons Perrett has also been referenced as a forebearer to Pete Doherty - flattering for the ex-Libertine.)

The Peel Sessions have also resurfaced as Darkness and Light: the Complete BBC Recordings, along with a second CD of live recordings (although much of the Peel Sessions can be considered 'live', recorded as they often were in one take) and I'd recommend this as a great starting point to anyone intrigued by the Only Ones - no longer the forgotten band.

See also:
Johnny Thunders - So Alone

Monday 25 August 2008

Redd Kross - Third Eye

I first heard of Redd Kross when they were referred to in connection with Jellyfish around the time of the latter's Bellybutton album. Even though I was working in a record shop I was unable to track anything down - Redd Kross's most recent album, Third Eye, had been deleted almost as soon as it was released due to the presence on the cover of a naked female body. Disguised with a mask, the body in question apparently belonged to someone famous who had not granted permission for the photo to be used (Cher and Brooke Shields were both rumoured to be the complainant). So I was surprised not just to see that the album has recently been reissued but that it also has the same cover (and to be honest, a very quick google search has failed to reveal any evidence of the above story and I have no recollection of where I first heard it).

Regardless, it was a long time before I got hold of a copy of Third Eye, eventually picking it up in a second-hand shop in Bristol. Gene Simmons called it right when he said that Redd Kross were the perfect mix of KISS and the Beatles (in fact, isn't that one Mr Paul Stanley supplying backing vocals on 1976?*), for even when the band rock that little bit harder they do so without losing their pop sensibilities.

The album's hit that never was - Bubblegum Factory - was notable for the fact that Redd Kross rarely played it live; the one time I saw them attempt it (at the now defunct Subterranea in Ladbroke Grove, bowing down to requests/demands from the audience) they struggled to make it to the chorus and eventually abandoned it. To effectively throw away a song that good illustrates the strength of their repertoire.

There followed a surge in interest in the UK around 1993/4 but, like Jellyfish, Redd Kross never made the jump to the next level and remained a 'cult' band, finally splitting in the late 90s (around 15 years after forming when the MacDonald brothers were aged 11 and 14) before reforming a couple of years ago, hence the long-awaited reissue. Don't let it get away this time.

*No! It's guitarist Robert Hecker doing a fine impression. Thanks to 20Eyes for correcting that .... (29/10/08)

Friday 22 August 2008

Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds - self-titled

Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds

When wearing a black velvet cap I was often told I looked like Izzy Stradlin. Most bizzarely someone once congratulated me on a great show when I was in the toilet of the old Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, immediately after Izzy and his band had left the stage. Quite why this bloke thought Izzy would have raced off stage, changed his clothes and made a beeline for one of the customer toilets I'll never know.

We managed to end that night by blagging our way into the birthday party of Vikki from Fuzzbox. Charlie Quintana (the drummer in the Ju Ju Hounds) put in an appearance and when during a conversation a friend asked him for a cigarette, Charlie apologised profusely for not offering him one in the first place - not bad for a long-standing member of Bob Dylan's band.

Also in attendance was Rob Newman, then at the height of his fame and also around the time that his relationship with David Baddiel was in decline (this was late 1992) and we spent a long time talking. He left, and a few minutes later so did we. Rob was outside and called to me, correctly remembering my name and wishing me well ... my reply? "Cheers David .... um, I mean Rob."

Not my finest moment.

See also:
Guns 'N Roses - Appetite For Destruction

Thursday 21 August 2008

Ramones - self-titled

For some reason I was often offered records at school, usually ones that belonged to the seller's older brother. One such offer was the first two Ramones albums. Aged about 14 at the time, I'd only ever heard 'Bonzo Goes To Bitburg' on a Beggars Banquet sampler LP, but keen to hear more and knowing that the friend was an Ultravox fan I offered him my copy of their Quartet LP. I thought this was slightly cheeky (it was 2 LPs for 1 after all) but he couldn't agree quicker.

The next day the swap was made. A mutual friend urged me to reconsider, citing examples from the lyric sheets that he thought would put me off. Knowing that Quartet was a terrible album I of course had nothing to lose and the deal was sealed.

(A later deal I made from a different person's older brother's collection saw me acquire a copy of Ultravox's 'Young Savage' single from their pre-Midge Ure-era - if you've never heard this I suggest you trawl download sites for it immediately - or buy Ha! Ha! Ha! - as it's a bona fide new wave classic that will make you wonder how they 'progressed' to Vienna is less than two years.)

My first reaction to listening to The Ramones was to be amazed at how fast the songs seemed, both in terms of tempo and in the way they just kept coming, one after the other. 20+ years on they no longer have that effect on me, though my toddler-aged son has developed a keen ear for Blitzkreig Bop - I think it's the simple 'Hey Ho Let's Go' refrain that sees him stop and restart the CD.

Monday 18 August 2008

Hollywood Brats - self-titled

Back in the pre-internet days discovering new music - particularly new, old music - was pretty difficult. Record Collector could be useful once in a while but other than that? Fortunately there were record fairs and one stallholder in particular (Tony McCrory I think his name was) supplied me with some fantastic records.

The self-titled Hollywood Brats album was one such treasure. Recorded in 1973 the album languished in the vaults until Cherry Red picked it up for release in 1980 (by which time two members had achieved some success as members of The Boys, who re-recorded two Brats songs on their own debut album).

Supposedly unaware of the New York Dolls, the Hollywood Brats had much more in common with their Manhattan-based equivalents than anyone on the British glam scene (Slade, Gary Glitter etc). Like the Dolls, the Hollywood Brats were one of the precursors to punk (their cover of Then He Kissed Me turned up on a compilation of punk covers called We Did 'Em Our Way) - a classic case of right band, wrong time.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Johnny Thunders - So Alone

Johnny Thunders released a phenomenal number of albums in his time. Unfortunately most of these were poorly recorded live albums comprising the same set of songs he'd been relying on for years (or in the case of Live at the Lyceum, a very slick sounding live album due to overdubs that he might have got away with had the concert not also have been available on video) .

1978's So Alone was his first solo album, and contains much of what formed the backbone of his setlist for the next decade, including Pipeline and You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory (the latter could have been a hit in the UK but a strike at a pressing plant meant there was never enough stock in shops).

But even this early in his career Thunders had to plunder his own back catalogue - Leave Me Alone is the Dolls' Chatterbox, and Subway Train also puts in an appearance; Great Big Kiss was also part of the Dolls' live show. That said you also get London Boys, a riposte to the Sex Pistols' New York (and who should feature amongst the guests on this album, but none other than Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Others, not necessarily just there for the music but perhaps a shared love of something else, include Phil Lynnot, Steve Marriott and Peter Perrett).

The title track was excluded from the original release but has been reinstated for the CD. Pick this up, along with LAMF, Que Sera Sera, Hurt Me and Copy Cats and avoid pretty much everything else.

See also:
Nina Antonia - The New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon
The New York Dolls - One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This
The Only Ones - Peel Sessions

Friday 15 August 2008

Jacobites - Robespierre's Velvet Basement

Another one of those albums (and bands) I have Tony McCrory to thank for.

Formed by Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps) and Dave Kusworth (guitarist in an early line-up of the Dogs D'Amour, who played on the once highly-collectable The State We're In), the Jacobites were a distinctly lo-fi band. Acoustic-based, songs would often be enhanced by cheap Casio keyboards and basic recording techniques. Three chords were the order of the day.

Robespierre's Velvet Basement was their second album. Originally intended as double LP, Glass Records decided this wasn't financially viable and so it was trimmed down to a single album. Since reissued on CD in its intended length, the album showcases some of the Jacobites finest moments. For me, these tended to be the Kusworth songs (Sudden's voice, with its impediment, polarised even the most ardent fans of the band) - Country Girl and Son of A French Nobleman are particular highlights, although Sudden weighs in with Fortune of Fame and All The Dark Rags, as well as taking the lead on the Stephen ('Tin Tin') Duffy-penned Big Store. Lyrically both Kusworth & Sudden were romantics at heart, with one eye firmly fixed on the past and aspects of this clearly rubbed off onto Tyla who contributed slide guitar to a handful of songs.

Graham Coxon's 2004 album Happiness in Magazines includes a very Jacobites-esque track, All Over Me - complete with simple song structure, basic slide solo and general Jacobites atmosphere - and given Coxon's appetite for music I wouldn't rule out it being intentional.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Seb Hunter - Hell Bent For Leather

A brief detour away from albums and to a book that I know I'm not alone in thinking 'if only I'd written that ....' - Seb Hunter's Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict.

Seb Hunter was a provincial rocker who graced his hometown streets dressed to the nines before relocating to London in 1990 in search of the band that would realise his dream of rock & roll fame. He instead joined Cat Ballou, regulars in the Kerrang! 'Shrapnel' pages and perhaps mainly noteworthy for being responsible for The Hellfire Club, which ran every Saturday at Oxfords (then a very unfashionable hang-out, but now better known as Metro and home to nights such as Alan McGee's Death Disco).

Already too late in the day to achieve any success on the declining glam scene (eventually killed off according to this book by Nirvana's breakthrough at the end of 1991), Cat Ballou came to nought but the simple fact that this book (and potential film-in-the-making; a 10-minute sample was commissioned by Channel 4) exists means they will never be forgotten.

I made the same move to London in 1991, and in fact first got together with my wife in The Hellfire Club. The three pages dedicated to a typical night there are hilariously - painfully - accurate. Although it might be said that if you can remember a night at the Hellfire Club, you weren't there.

Seb also goes into great detail about the sub-genres of heavy metal, guitar shapes and how he felt insecure when he first met up with Pat & Martin from Cat Ballou as he was wearing fewer bangles than them. A situation many of us can empathise with.

Monday 11 August 2008

L.A. Guns - self-titled

It might seem that I have no interest in the US glam scene - this is not strictly true. Appetite For Destruction pretty much got the ball rolling for me. It's just that much of what came out of the States after that album was, well, a waste of space (I mean come on, Warrant? Johnny Crash?).

Okay so L.A. Guns had Brit Phil Lewis on vocals. Maybe that's why I gave them a chance in the first place, and it was on a pilgrimage to Shades that I picked up LA Guns on import. The obligatory schmaltzy ballad aside (which at least they hid on side two, rather than making it side one, track three like everyone else), the album has what so many bands falsely claim to have: attitude and a sense of urgency. I remember reading an interview with Paul Blittz from Soho Roses in which he said that he hates going to see bands that describe themselves as punk but turn out to be bad metal - I like to think that LA Guns (well, on this album anyway) are not the sort of band he was talking about.

Sunday 10 August 2008

Wildhearts - Earth vs the Wildhearts

I first saw the Wildhearts in February 1992 at the Astoria supporting the Manic Street Preachers.

I thought they were c**p.

I saw them a few months later, again supporting the Manics, this time at the Town & Country Club.

I still thought they were c**p.

Thankfully a fledgling Xfm had recently been granted a temporary licence and it seemed that every time I switched it on they were playing 'Turning American' (in reality this probably happened twice). My opinion began to shift and I was happy to shell out 99p on a white vinyl copy of Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go from the Notting Hill Record & Tape Exchange (they actually had about a dozen copies marked down that far, approximately 1/50th of what it sells for now).

By the time the debut album Earth Vs. the Wildhearts was released I was fully converted. It still amazes me that someone involved in the Tattooed Love Boys went on to something this good (although to be fair it was their vocalist that really let them down - I had the misfortune to listen to their Why Waltz When You Can Rock & Roll single a couple of years ago and that has to go down as one of the worst vocal performances committed to vinyl).

Later releases seemed a but formulaic to me, and I saw little point in their cover of Dogs D'Amour's Heroine on Endless Nameless (the Dogs themselves having already killed that song off when re-recording it for Straight). But this was a British band who for a while looked like genuine contenders - if only certain substances hadn't got in the way .......