zaterdag 15 december 2018

Music in raves and rants. A conversation for three

Recently Gary, Mark and Wo. started a discussion online following Wo.'s 2nd hand purchase of The Beat's first album from 1980. Not only did the discussion. once posted, get a retweet from The (English) Beat, apparently fully back in existence, Mark, for the rest unrelated, received an e-mail inviting him to purchase tickets for the 2019 The Specials tour, announcing a new album as well. All this led them to a new discussion. 

Mark, 27-10:
Following on from our dip into ska memories recently!

I check out local charity shops from time to time; 20 years ago when vinyl was on the way out they used to be a good source for finding records at very cheap prices. However, although there are many more charity shops on the typical British high street as regular shops close down with the unstoppable online retail revolution, I rarely find anything of interest these days amongst the dross of Boney M, Bread, Brahms and Bert Kaempfert. There is a greater awareness of the monetary value of records now and I suspect the more interesting records are creamed off by the charities for sale on e-bay. Still I can't resist popping in for a shufty in the racks and boxes and yesterday I did come across - in a "care home for cats" shop - an original  mono copy of the Beach Boys Best of Vol 2 from 1966: closing track is the amazing Good Vibrations (which my mother bought for me when it was in the charts). The "flipback" lp sleeve was in very presentable VG/excellent condition - i.e. barely a crease - so I could not resist it for only a quid. I've now also cleaned the record (the usual sponge job) and it plays incredibly well - only a few odd crackles here and there, no scratches, while the heavy vinyl mono gives the record a warm sound all round. There is a signature on the back of the sleeve which shows it has done the round of parties (a practice that has presumably died out with technology change) and the label shows a lot of spindle marks (another tell-tale sign of heavy use) so I was surprised it sounds so good. It's not hugely valuable - maybe £8 or so  - have to knock off a few quid due to that signature on the sleeve -  but I was very chuffed with that find and glad to add it to my somewhat limited Beach Boys collection: it has been saved for the nation and I've chipped in to save a stray moggy or two! Segue to..... Pet Sounds I've got of course (everybody should have a copy of that) and also the subsequent but somewhat cobbled together Smiley Smile lp (original copies now going up in value by the way). As you probably know, the intended follow up to PS, "Smile" (sic), was shelved and did not see the light of day until an archive issue eventually came out in 2011 which I've also got.  So the Best of Vol 2 tells a tale of a rush job release by Capitol frustrated by a wayward Brian Wilson and the absence of a new album. Similarly, the Beatles Oldies but Goldies compilation was pushed out by EMI for Christmas 1966 while the group were still stuck in the studio working on Sgt.Pepper. Unlike the Fab Four, however, the Beach Boys were pretty much washed up by this time and Capitol were not able to cash in on Brian Wilson's genius at the height of psychedelia. Hence the issue just one year later of yet another Best of (vol 3) when Brian was still trying to get a grip on things generally and he was not performing with the band anymore: problems all round for the Beach Boys at that time.

Gary, 27-10:

Gary, 28-10:
By the way, I have always liked the band Bread… besides the mainstream 70s hits some of their album tracks are worth a listen… David Gates’ solo album First has the track ‘Suite: Clouds and Rain’ which is also one of my favourites… a novel musical construct but also maybe a guilty pleasure?😁 

Mark, 28-10:
Aaah…..probably me being harsh again and I admit I hardly know their records - a few of their big hits just hazily remembered. However, they epitomize seventies "soft rock" and all-white AOR that is well-crafted and impeccably played music but lacking guts, grit, messages or rough edges, and so I lump them in with other famous names that similarly just do not cut it for me and have no place in my otherwise, I would say, quite diverse record collection, like Genesis, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, Elton John, Queen, Doobie Brothers, Z Z Top......

Borderline (or should I say on the border!) are The Eagles because they were country rock pioneers with some oomph courtesy of Bernie Leadon who is linked to the great Gram Parsons:  they were both members of the Flying Burrito Brothers. So The Eagles just about cut it for me until the point he left which was when the band became bloated with stadium-rock success and increasingly bitter personal rivalry. As punk raged across the music scene  I sold my original copy of Hotel California - but bought it again after visiting the hotel on the album sleeve during an ICANN trip to LA! 

Another possible case for acceptance are the Allman Brothers Band: the thrilling guitar prowess of Duane Allman provides the pass into my record collection I guess. 

Of the solo singer-songwriters of that era, I've got lp's by Jackson Browne (whose voice certainly sounds very soft) and James Taylor (more edgy) who are both arguably vulnerable to negative AOR tagging. However, at their peak they were top notch writers so OK for me on that scoring. Carly Simon is also safe on the shelves until she went mainstream in the 1980s. Paul Simon wobbled a bit in terms of relevance but who can dare dismiss his achievements in the 1960s (some very political songs then too)? Great credit also to him for sticking his neck out with his engaging South African and Brazilian music in the 1980s. Never any risk of Joni Mitchell or Neil Young falling into the AOR trap. 

Who would you never buy? Maybe you're more tolerant and easy-going than me! "We may lose and we may win, Though we will never be here again
………... so take it easy!"

Gary,  29-10:
Oh Mark, I think you have just asked me that question that you will have wished you had never asked!😂

As you may recall Mark, within in our past frequent work-time discussions this is a subject that has irked me over so many years and may explain why I love (for a better term) ‘Prog Rock’ so much.

I have always listened to ‘music’ for what it is, an artistic medium that means something to you as an individual, music should produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. But that could also be in the form of excitement, aggressive or negative emotions or feelings. I have never been one to listen to music because it is associated with a social movement or ‘scene’. Indeed, the latter apparent attitude taken by many people when ‘attempting’ to enjoy music is illogical and potentially missing out on a greater gift and experience, because “its not cool to enjoy that scene”! You can exchange the latter quote to whatever common vernacular you wish to choose or may have heard😉.

In my view it is a big mistake, although I grant you convenient, to classify and compartmentalise music as it should always be experienced or appreciated for what it is, not because the musician has blue hair, wears his baseball cap on his/her head back-to-front or has strident fashionable, political or cultural views. To me this has been what is so terribly wrong with the music scene since the mid-70s, too much focus on what is ‘cool’, fashionable and more widely prevalent homage to the media’s Cult of Celebrity! Although there is a valid connection between music and dance, in my view, dance now is considered to be the only reason music exists…. This view is oh-so-wrong! Music is so much more, to me the purest form of music has little or no vocals and most certainly is not just a song! Of course, I enjoy ‘a good toon’, meaningful and inspiring lyrics and even a cheerful whistle as I walk along, but today in our culture that seems to be more the norm and not (in my view as it should be) the exception!

Rap is also an incredibly limiting medium (or at least to my ears)… I have no problem with anyone enjoying it, but it seems that it now excludes other musicians and writers from gaining access to public exposure and inspiration.

You mention the terms AOR, Stadium-Rock, Punk and I will infer Country and singer-songwriter, this is where I believe the core of our cultural problem is, the very action of classifying excludes valid and exceptional pieces of art. This why I love ‘Prog’ (if you have to put a title on it) so much because eclectic, taking inspiration and borrowing from all areas of music and culture to produce music at what I consider its highest levels of quality and experience. I am not saying you have to like what is produced, but to dismiss it without understanding what has gone into producing it or the levels of potential appreciation and enjoyment from listening to it is unfair and actually very negative.

You briefly mention ‘Punk’ and what is today considered to have broken the 70s music industry as being a positive effect. I disagree completely with this view, it had negative affect on music as an art form, because what came with Punk and commercialism thereafter killed the creative process. In my view Punk was nothing more than a fashion statement, very little true musical value was produced (not to say there were not some gems amongst the dirt). There seemed to be a confusion between what is music and what is fashion, to me the two should not be merged as music usually comes off worse! In my personal view Punk’s popularity was an early manifestation of what is today's Populist culture, it could be described as being a reactionary movement instigated by clever manipulators like Malcolm McClaren that ended with global success but basically was just another version of the 'Emperor's New Clothes’… sadly people do not learn from mistakes like this and now we have degenerated into getting a US president like Trump… all talk but no thought!

Back to my original point, much valid music has been ignored, dismissed and potentially not been created because it is easier for the media, commentators and even Joe Public (wasn’t he in the Sex Pistols 😆?) to look like they know what they are talking about without any real effort or risk of being outside the clique!

My philosophy has always been enjoy music on its own merits and not be swayed by someone in the media that tells you its uncool or rubbish as the chances are they themselves have been told to think that way!

Rant over!

Wo., 30-10:
Having enjoyed a few days off hiking the north east of the country and visiting the in-laws in the south west and then doing my company's taxes there's some time to enter this new discussion.

The Specials back in action?! I bet the tickets will be quite steep and the new music a lame version of what they were able to do? Or maybe not and it will be a good album? We'll have to wait and see. All in the original line up, so with Jerry Dammers?

It's years ago that I've gone through the endless baskets with old records filled with the kind of hopeless releases that I tried to avoid as much as possible 40 years ago, in the hope of finding that one album. For one I'm too lazy, for two my knees are far from what they used to be when I was 16 or something. These baskets are usually on floor level, so I leave them for what they are. Nice alliteration by the way, Mark, all those B's.

What would I never buy? Certainly classics, jazz, pre-1964 pop albums, not to speak of all the albums I never should have bought like the non-greatest hits albums of Golden Earring, new wave stuff with one to three good tracks on them, 70s AOR like Rod Stewart, 70s, early 80s West Coast artists like James Taylor, Crosby-Nash, Carly Simon. I just can't listen to these too difficult songs with a jazz tinge in them. Sorry, Gary, most prog-rock is just not my thing. Too difficult and elaborate for my ears. Those solo albums by band members of famous bands. Soul, disco, dance, rap, trance, trip hop, C&W, (nu) metal, AOR and hardrock. Yet, they all have their exceptions. Some great singles or a great album track that make me blur the lines for a short while.

On the other hand, I am open to all music that appeals to me, speaks to me or downright floors me. On so many days I am surprised by music a band sends me or a label/promoter that, in most cases, I otherwise would never have heard. Among them are several albums that I consider among my all time favourites, by obscure bands, working in the margins of an industry, with me wondering how on earth it is possible that I have to listen to all this pre-fab crap as soon as my girlfriend turns on the radio, while there is so much fantastic new music out there of which I am fairly sure that given half the chance, today's youth would also like. What they are presented with by the dozens of radio stations is so one dimensional it is possible to fall through this music. With hardly any exception. There's so little I like here. Perhaps the only exceptions are that couple of hits by Lilly Allen of a while back, including 'Fuck You' and, what's in a title, the hit by Cee Lo Green. Everything the music industry pushes these days doesn't hold any value to me. Me being old? Of course and certainly, but not because my ears are abused, like my father's generation in general thought their ears were in the 60s, while seeing a generation growing up in danger of failing utterly and completely. No, it has nothing to do with that, but all with the lack of inventiveness, good hooks, great melodies. It simply all seems to sound the same.

I have to give it to the youngsters I know well. They speak of the latest rappers, rap together every once in a while and watch videos, I think, on their smartphones, but enjoy the oldies, from the 60s to the 90s, just as much and gladly join me at an The Analogues show to listen to The Beatles' music live. My influence? Yes, of course, but a lot they find themselves on Spotify.

And for punk. No, I've written it before, it was nearly not for me in the 70s. That started with Green Day and The Offspring in the mid 90s for me, when I started to look back and found great music. Yes, The Sexpistols were a pre-fabbed lot, but the New York scene was more original in my opinion. The scene that gave us Patti Smith, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, etc. was far more original and honest. On the other hand, every generation needs something to kick on and at. Perhaps that's what's wrong with today. No youngsters kick anything any more or their parents were, even are, so bad, there's nothing to beat or kick against. We have done it all and boasting about it as well.

I played that record by The Beat again today. "Oh, what fun we had...", to quote that other ska heroes of mine.

Over the past days I've discovered several records that deserve a 4,5 or 5 * review. There's some great music being released in the fall of 2018.

Mark, 4-11:
There's so much music around these days - as you report at regular intervals in your blogs, Wout - I see it in the magazines too and hear just a fraction on the radio in the evening on BBC Radio 6. It's obvious there is so much new talent around and that so many people in the countries we know see music as the way to express themselves in an artistic and skilful way, it's very reassuring. I think it helps to restore your faith in humanity at a time when it seems we are on a downward spiral with political divisiveness and aggression everywhere, and the global environment suffering and fear growing that we are running out of time and we are not going to turn all this round for the sake of our children and grandchildren. 

When you consider all the history, roots and evolution over the last few decades of the music we love and the incredible variety today of different styles of music, I think the availability and access to music is much more balanced now than what it was back in the 1970s. For example, if you listen to Radio 6 on a typical evening it draws on much of this rich heritage switching from rock to ska to African to country to reggae to progressive to folk to blues to Cuban to electronic to rock'n'roll to jazz-rock to heavy rock - not much gets left out really - plus new records and sessions in the studio. If you stop by one of the bigger newsagents and scan the music section, in addition to the big monthlies like Uncut, Mojo and Q (which each cover most kinds of music), you see individual magazines that have sprung up in recent years specialising in folk roots, progressive, heavy metal, rock'n'roll, punk, electronic, jazz....quite amazing when you remember 40 years ago in the UK it was basically the NME, Melody Maker or Sounds - all weekly newspapers. There is much less snobbery I think  that one kind of music is superior to all others; or that folk is only for a particular kind of rustic intellectual; or that progressive is for hopeless hippies and weirdoes...… Instead it seems the panorama of music is much more connected up and people who love and consume music are much more tolerant and willing to diversify their musical interests.  The changes in media technology have been a great help - especially with opening up the archives and keeping in the musical consciousness of many more people what was originally considered to be ephemeral, worthless and soon to be forgotten. A lot of John Peel sessions going back to the late 1960s are now being played again on Radio 6; the tapes could so easily have been wiped because I don't think anybody then would have expected that 30 years later we would have time to listen again to all those sessions, never mind have an interests in doing so.

I happily roam around quite a lot of this diversity of music and find new kinds and artists young and old to check out. It is almost too much to handle now though and I find myself having to draw the line somewhere. I realise, Gary , that that can be quite arbitrary as it is usually done by deciding which artists I'm not interested in or dislike for some reason regardless of what he/she/they might have done. I named several in my previous e-mail and was curious only if you and Wout were also having to draw lines and how our thumbs down might compare. 

Jools Holland's "Later...." show was on TV this evening and I was interested to see Terry Reid again. The last time I saw him perform on the box - or anywhere - was on the Whistle Test in about 1973 which I remember because on the strength of that appearance the next day I went out and bought his "River" lp which I still love and is now something of a cult collectible. After another great album "Seed of Memory" recorded with Graham Nash, he disappeared from view in the 1980s after dropping out and moving to LA. Now he has re-surfaced on TV, alarmingly as an old man with specs but he still proves himself to be an energetic acoustic guitar player and the voice that could have been the voice of Zeppelin (he turned Jimmy Page's offer down) is still quite strong, swooping impressively from loud to soft within a single phrase. Almost a forgotten figure who goes back to the sixties British R&B scene, it was great to see him again. As I say, there seems to be an opportunity now almost for everyone and it is a little easier for old rockers to keep going: just have to dump the drink and drugs, get someone to remaster the best of the archive, see if Record Collector will do a feature, and seize the right moment to step out into the new media spotlight.

I've just bought on e-bay a shiny original copy of The Best of The Beach Boys Vol.3: 

Well I've been thinking 'bout
All the places we've surfed and danced and
All the faces we've missed so let's get
Back together and do it again.
Wo., 4-11:

Thank you for this very thoughtful piece, Mark.

Where the thumbs down is concerned, I find with being sent music regularly by small press agencies and smaller and bigger labels my mind is so much more open to other forms of music, in the sense of open to the unknown. My preferences have not so much change a lot, although I have been surprised several times. It is more that I find beautiful music made by obscure musicians, even by bands that are nearly 100% DIY and are only able to perform a few times a year and for small audiences at that. All this huge dedication to a muse almost no else seems to find of interest, is so admirable. With me cheering at the side line. Yes, this way I have discovered a few truly ***** LPs almost nobody else seems to know or appreciate. For that reason alone I'd wish more people read my blog and become inspired by it.

Of all that new music I at least try to listen once. Sometimes it stays there, it is impossible to please every one, sometimes I return after a while and find to have had my ears screwed on wrong at the first attempt. One thing has changed, thrice over. First with all the downloading, which was legal (or said to be by leading politicians) in this country, I found that music starting to lose all value. There was no way I was able to attach myself to a MP3, secondly with all this new music I am listening for the blog all the time and writing about it, I also lost connection to the music in the longer term. Yet, closing in on 6 years blogging, the attachment to music certainly has returned. Several bands truly have become favourites and albums very much cherished. This has to do with the first change, the fact that I started buying LPs again. This really changed my connection to music for the positive. Albums are expensive, so I better buy one I really like playing. Friday I spent € 50 on a double album, 'Komma' by broeder Dieleman. Look it up, it is a true work of art this album. (Of course) the music is super special as well.

So, a real stop at this point in time is price. I refuse to pay more than €25,= for an LP. If I really want the record then I settle for the cd. For the rest I receive so much music that there is nearly no a need to buy anything else, except the ones I really, really want to have. And sit down and play them while really listening. Something I had not really done for years with all the "free" MP3s flying around the house. Since several years downloading is formally illegal here as well and I've stopped doing it. Not even being tempted any more.

Summing up, I have become a fan of Bands like Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Kaizers Orchestra, Blood Red Shoes and Band of Skulls in the 00s and a host of bands and artists in the 10s, with most recently truly fantastic albums by Belgian TMGS, Austrian Cari Cari and U.S./Belgian/Dutch/Slovenian Distance, Light & Sky, all 4,5 to 5 star albums in two weeks' time.

Music, I love it. And in the band one of the guys this week said he wants to play Sade's cover of 'Why Can't We Live Together'. The result I hear Tina Turner's 'Let's Stay Together' and Joe Cocker's version of 'You Can Leave Your Hat On' the whole day in my head. Music? I love it.

BTW, The Specials were advertised here last week. A new album is underway. Tickets go for € 43,=. I wish them all the best but won't be there to listen.


P.S. Playing Sade turns out to be a load of fun. The timing is extremely hard, so a great challenge and fun, but I'd already mentioned that.

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