‘Ascension Day’ by Talk Talk
I don’t have an actual *favourite* Talk Talk track but this is the one that I can’t stop playing today.
Once the home for 2012's photo a day project, now the place I put stuff that won't fit on Twitter (@fennerpearson). My daily blog is at http://www.blipfoto.com/fennerpearson
Day 181 [KATE BUSH SPECIAL] : King of The Mountain by Kate Bush from Aerial
You’ll have been hard pressed to miss the hype around KB’s return to touring after a 35 year absence. I will be forever indebted to Rob for getting me first night tickets. It was an amazing performance, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. It started simple then got very theatrical (and occasionally a bit am-dram). As well as Rob, I went with Ash and Fenner. Fenner wrote a great review of the gig so I won’t bother doing that here.
I’d call myself a casual fan - familiar with her early “hits” (“Wuthering Heights”, “Babooshka”, “Wow” etc), very very familiar with her middle period (“Hounds of Love”, “Running Up That Hill” etc.) and quite familiar with everything after. KB’s always been part of my music listening in some shape of form since I was a kid, but I haven’t really paid that much attention to her for most of her career. And to be brutally honest I can take or leave her theatrics, but her music can be sublime.
Anyway, the highlight for me was “King of The Mountain” which was masterfully played by her supporting band and rose to a powerful finale, bridging the “simple” part of the show with the “theatrical” stuff to come. So it gets a forced entry in my #morningmusicshuffle playlist, and thereby scoring low on serendipity.
Serendipity : 1
Love : 10
If you liked pop music in the late 70s it was a given that you’d watch Top of the Pops each week and, if that was the case, you’d have found it impossible to avoid Kate Bush and her music. She had a string of hit singles from her first three albums, ensuring that she was a regular on the show between 1978 and 1980.
I wasn’t really a fan although I did like ‘Sat In Your Lap’, the lead single from her fourth album, which is when she drifted commercially off-piste. But then, in 1985, she released ‘The Hounds of Love’, with four corking singles: ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘The Hounds Of Love’, ‘The Big Sky’, and ‘Cloudbusting’. And much as I enjoyed those songs, what ensured that I’d still be playing the album nearly thirty years later was the second side, a song cycle called ‘The Ninth Wave’, which I still listen to once every few weeks.
Since then her releases have been sporadic as she appears to have simply followed her muse, getting on with life and music, releasing albums only when she was good and ready. And, since 1979, she has never toured, making only rare live appearances to sing a song and, as far as I am aware, never a complete set. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I’d have been quite confident that she would never play live again.
And then, incredibly, she announced that she was going to play some dates! All in London but not at the O2 or Wembley arena but rather at the Apollo, which was where in 1982, when it was still the Hammersmith Odeon, I saw my first gig (and that was three years after Bush retired from touring!). Amazingly, a friend of mine, Rob - a lifelong and passionate Kate Bush fan - managed to get us tickets for the opening night.
At this point, of course, I started to wonder what she might do. My darkest fear was that she’d simply be on stage with a piano, performing all her hits in a stripped back style. Then, on Friday, my dad gave me a characteristically mean-spirited Daily Mail article which at least reassured me that she had a band playing with her. It also contained some surprising comments from David Hepworth, expressing doubts about her ability to satisfy an audience used to bands that tour regularly.
On a Facebook group, the four of us who we’re going along - me, Ash, Rob and John - chatted about the forthcoming gig and I joked that I hoped she’d play the whole of ‘The Ninth Wave’ but, truth be told, none of us knew what to expect. By the time we met up at the pub, yesterday afternoon, just a couple of hours before the gig, Ash was saying, quite rightly, that really it didn’t matter what she did, even if she came out, took one look at the audience and ran for cover; we were going to the first Kate Bush gig for 35 years!
Arriving at the venue, I was surprised and delighted by how cosy it was. Even from near the back, we had a great view of the stage, which was kitted out with music equipment all along the back, leaving plenty of room at the front. When the band walked on and started playing, the auditorium erupted in an frenzy of excitement. And then, Bush strode out, leading her troupe of backing vocalists and an audience I thought was at the peak of its excitement went completely crazy. Bush’s own delight was evident as she grinned broadly at the audience. “Where have you been?!”
When she started singing - sounding fantastic! - everyone politely sat down. The first song was ‘Lily’, a surprising but great choice from ‘The Red Shoes’ and I loved her band immediately. I recognised David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel’s long-standing guitarist) and John Giblin on bass. They played brilliantly, taking the complex arrangements and making them sound almost easy.
'Lily' was followed by 'The Hounds Of Love' and 'Joanni', both fab, and then 'Top Of The City'. Five tracks in and they'd all come from 'The Hounds Of Love' and 'The Red Shoes'. The she went into the first real highlight for me, 'King Of The Mountain' taken from 'Aerial'. It's a song I love anyway, but an extended finish to the song gave the band a chance to take it somewhere powerful and new.
And then a curtain came down. When it came up again, we were into ‘The Ninth Wave’! The programme, the bit I’d skim read, had implied it would be played in full but I couldn’t quite believe it. And it was just extraordinary. A mixture of film, theatre, dance and, of course, music, the piece was brought to life in a way that in all the time I’ve been listening to it, I had never imagined. Despite her absence from live work for thirty-five years, it was the best show I have ever seen, the sort of thing that, I think, Peter Gabriel has always aspired to. There was a even a mechanical device - pumping out dry ice and brilliant lights - that descended from the ceiling over the audience that Pink Floyd would have been envious of. It finished with a gorgeous drawn out version of ‘The Morning Fog’, for which the band, singers, and dancers all came out onto the front part of the stage and it was quite breathtakingly beautiful.
At the interval, it’s no exaggeration to say that I was completely stunned by what I’d just seen. I messaged the Minx, bewildered but also inspired. I think I spent the whole of the twenty minute break simply trying to digest the show so far.
The next part of the show consisted of the second part of ‘Aerial’: ‘A Sky of Honey’. Although the second track, ‘Prologue’, is pretty much my favourite song by Bush, I find the piece as a whole a bit MOR. This combined with the high of the first half meant that I didn’t enjoy this part of the show as much, although it was still amazing.
The concert finished with two songs. The first was ‘Among Angels’, the last track on ‘50 Words For Snow’, and it was a manifestation of my earlier fears; Bush, alone at the piano, singing something interminable! But then she chose to finish with ‘Cloudbusting’, which was, appropriately, storming.
So, David Hepworth couldn’t have been more wrong; after three and a half decades away, Kate Bush came back with a bloody amazing show. Who would have believed she’d only play tracks from four of her last five albums and completely ignore the first four? And never in my dreams did I honestly think she’d play the whole of ‘The Ninth Wave’. I feel very blessed to have been there for the first show and I’m very grateful to Rob for organising that. And I’m also delighted that I was able to go with Ash and John. I only wish I could take the Minx along.
You know what kind of book people really like? One with ghosts and stuff in. The really big sellers; The Exorcist, Dracula, The Bible – they’ve all got somebody coming back from the dead and causing hi-jinks of one kind or another.
Look at that Stephen King. He’s been banging out spookiness of varying quality since the early Seventies. Sometimes he dips into his bottomless well of ideas and fishes out an absolute cracker. Sometimes he just pulls up a slimy mess. But either way he publishes his spooky jottings and by and large the books sell by the skipful.
And books that sell by the skipful is – I think we can agree – what we both want. Stephen King is my kind of chap. And so are ghosts.
"Waiting for Bill"
Nearly two months ago, my friend Jon and I went down to see Bill Drummond’s exhibition in Birmingham and sought out his graffito under Spaghetti Junction. I wrote about it in a Tumblr post here.
Somewhere - possibly on Bill’s website, maybe at the exhibition itself - I saw a note encouraging people to send in photos of any of Bill’s graffiti they saw, so I sent in my photo and also a link to my blog. I didn’t hear anything back and that was fine; I didn’t expect to. I was happy just to take part.
And then, last Friday, I received a reply to my email: “And I think I will be back there this coming Wednesday at some point”.
I was quite taken aback by this response, presumably (and excitingly) from Bill. So I wrote back: “At the exhibition or the canal? Is there something happening?”
“I will be doing my next layer under Spaghetti Junction. But it is not a public performance. I am just passing through Birmingham on the M6 as I drive from [somewhere in Scotland] to London. Thus no fixed time.”
“If you don’t mind a small audience, I’ll bring a book and a picnic, and hang around to see if I can catch you in action.”
There was no reply to my last email.
I had a ponder.
I sent Jon a text to see if he wanted to come to Birmingham for the day. He did! But he couldn’t :-(
On Saturday, I mentioned it to Dan and Abi, who, it transpired, were both interested and keen to come along. It turned out that, characteristically, the Minx was enthusiastic about it, too. Hurrah! All we needed now was a plan.
I figured it was going to take Bill just over five hours to get to Birmingham. If he was an early riser, that meant he’d be there around eleven. If he decided to leave after a late breakfast, it would be more like four o’clock. So we aimed to get there around midday on the basis that an early-rising Bill would still be there and busy.
So, just before twelve o’clock, we arrived in Birmingham, got out of the car, gathered up our picnic things and headed down to the canal, beneath spaghetti junction. It was immediately apparent that someone had already covered over Bill’s posters with a new phrase, “Let your lone ranger ride”. Hm… Had Bill beaten us here? I’d assumed his next layer would be posters but could this be it? It didn’t seem very Bill? But then, my inability to predict or second guess Bill is a significant component of why I admire him so much.
After some (mildly) hazardous manoeuvring, I managed to cross the canal and make my way along to the exhibit. The paint was completely dry: it hadn’t been done today. Here is a picture of me that the Minx took at the scene and here is one I took of the dead flowers in jars on the ground in front of it.
Thus, (sort of) reassured that we hadn’t missed Bill, we went on to set up our picnic. And then we waited for Bill. While we waited, we read our books, did some drawing, had a couple of walks up and down the canal and, between the four of us, made a small artwork for Bill.
I have to say I enjoyed every moment. It was so relaxing, sat there in our odd little picnic spot, grazing on our lunch as bemused cyclists, pedestrians and even a boat went past. Eventually, though, we required some facilities that this unorthodox spot did not provide and, just after four o’clock, we struck camp and headed back to the car.
Am I disappointed that we didn’t see Bill? Well, yes and no. We went there to see him, of course, not least because of the oblique and possibly misinterpreted invitation to see him at work. But I’m not mad on meeting my heroes; a handshake will do me, which would have been tricky across the canal. Meeting Bill could - as my daughter, Izzy, would say - have been “bare awks”.
But I’m grateful for the situation that Bill created. We had a lovely day, the stuff of memories.
Day 153 [VANITY SPECIAL!] : Travel, Climate, Industry by The Zane Gray Incident
Forty years ago today, in Canada, a young, shy bookish drummer called Neil Peart joined prog-rock pioneers Rush and started four decades of musical excellence, revered by musicians the world over.
Coincidentally, 10 years later to the day in Clydach Vale, South Wales, four young musicians spent their first ever day in a proper recording studio
The track was hastily added with a few home recorded ones on to a cassette titled “Music for Operatives” and enthusiastically sent off to muso mags and record labels. The result?
"Four excerpts from TZGI’s "Music for Operatives" (terrible title) tape show, from a band with a surfeit of strong melodies and a healthy imagination. They handle the combination of sung and spoken vocals particularly well: the opening "Travel, Climate, Industry" is like a synth based Gang of Four, if you can imagine what that might sound like." E&MM, Jan 85
"TZGI enclose excerpts from "Music for Operatives”, “Music for Industry…Music for Dance”. Now where have I heard that before (at least 17 times)? It must have been in my penthouse or down on the pavement below.
Cruel but fair, TZGI plough an oversubscribed field, but manage to stay in artistic control…with a passionate and punchy construction. The integrated use of flanger, chorus and phaser still leave a simple sound - you can hear the ideas, despite the soggy mix, and that’s the crucial difference
So often on delving into these cassettes, the immortal twin words of holy intent are brought up as the critical tools of analysis - speak now or forever hold your comparison - OK, OK I hear you. Depeche Mode. Out of their exemplary shadow, so many home-based synth combos fail to crawl. TZGI made it.”
And thus kicked off three decades of lost hopes and un-realized dreams.
Sadly, I’m not Canadian - so that’s me in the rising sun tee in a studio renowned for hit after hit (not). I was stylish as well as musical.
I’m very proud of the track (we were all 17 after all) and it still gives me a small tinge of pleasure when I hear it. You can enjoy it in all its glory here.
If you had been in my parents’ house sometime around the early eighties, you would have two distinct types of music coming from the bedrooms occupied by me and my brother. From mine you would heard a very limited diet of electronic music: Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, OMD, Ultravox,…
Day 142 : Hiroshima Mon Amour by Ultravox! from Ha! Ha! Ha!
I used to read Warren Cann’s drum programming column in some music magazine, and religiously program his patterns into my little old (crappy) SR-88 drum machine. You see I was a big fan of Ultravox (without the !) and remember borrowing someone’s Ultravox! (with the !) albums and thinking how austere, cold and unexciting they were. And that old Midge really helped step them up a bit. Now, there doesn’t seem that much difference between late Ultravox! and early Ultravox.
You see, distance is a wonderful thing in music. That which is too close (as ! was to no !) seems outdated and yesterday’s thing. But give it 10+ years and everything sorts itself out in the classics standings.
In fact ! has more gravitas than no !, probably as they were never forced into chart success.
HMA is a beautiful Kraftwerk/early Roxy Music inspired track featuring Warren’s unmistakeable drum programming. This set the template for many new wave/synthpop songs to come, a la Enola Gay 3 years later. Warren’s TR-77 sounds a lot better here than my SR-88, of course.
Serendipity : 10
Love : 8
Day 128 : Bats in the Attic by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins from Diamond MineI’m all for singers giving up the American pretense and singing in their naturalized voice. Heavy on his Scottish accent, King Creosote’s (or Kenny to his friends) vocals are delicate and beautiful above a simple piano, drums & atmospheric arrangement. Hopkins keeps the electronic acrobatics to a minimum with just a subtle bass tone to hint at his ambient credentials. Serendipity : 10 Love : 7
Day 121: I Tried by Mull Historical Society from Loss
A song that manages to be majestic despite its fragile components. Light production, thin vocals, reedy synths, and fuzz guitar. But MHS pulls it off with aplomb to create one of my favourite songs I’d forgotten about.
The song’s well constructed with lots of peripheral instrumentation. I particularly like the “wedding peel” bells that come in at 2’35”. And all very clever considering MHS is a one man band called Colin.
Serendipity : 10
Love : 9
Day 108 : Is There Anybody Out There? by Bassheads
An Acid House classic - probably the best IMHO in melding breakbeats, 808/303, Italia-house piano and lifted samples. And my, there are a fair few samples in here. Talking Heads, Osmonds, Afrika Bambaataa, Pink Floyd & The Power all make the cut. Back in ‘91 I’m sure the copyright implications were less appreciated so I can’t believe BH got much change after royalties. In fact the Floyd sample, from which the track got its name, had to be removed when this was released as a (much shorter) single.
Serendipity : 10
Love : 9
Day 100 : Basscadet by Autechre from Incunabula
The acceptable side of unlistenable, I love how autechre make chaos, dischord and disharmony come together into something musical.
Artisans of their trade, you can hear the care, attention and love put into these productions. These are not slap-dash, hit the keyboards and see what happens musicians. This is well crafted music where sounds are carefully constructed and layers gradually built.
I just couldn’t see myself sitting in a studio 10 hours a day finessing this stuff. And for that, kudos!
Serendipity : 10
Love : 8