Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.


The Damned – Peel Sessions (1976/1977)

Foreword – By John Peel.
This may be neither the time nor the place to admit that I never got to see the Sex Pistols play. I did drive to Derby one night to catch them on tour but upon arriving at the venue found only a hand-written note stuck to the door announcing that the gig was off. In a strange way, I wasn’t disappointed – a cancelled gig seemed decidedly more Punk than one that went ahead. I never saw The Clash either, although I almost saw them at one of those 100 Club gigs on London’s Oxford Street but had to leave to do my radio programme before they came on. I did just catch Birmingham’s Nightingales though and thought their song, “VD”, which consisted of little but a second or two of wild-eyed strumming and the shouted words “I’ve got VD” – as fine as anything I heard in all of that astonishing Punk year. It remains one of the few songs I can sing in its entirety.
On the plus side, I did see and hear the subjects of this present volume. The first time I caught The Damned in impressively violent action was at an almost formal concert they played at a theatre in Victoria. That’s Victoria, London. My memories of the event are hazy now (my memories of this morning aren’t too good so bear with me) but I seem to remember the other bands on the bill were Eddie & The Hot Rods and Graham Parker & The Rumour (both these ensembles, but especially the Hot Rods – played their part in unlocking the door that the Punks were about to kick down and they don’t get enough credit for it). I had imagined that The Damned would see me, the compere and a man blatantly working for the BBC, as a tool of an oppressive regime and would, more than likely, give me a bit of a well-deserved kicking before running, snarling like wild dogs, to inflict further mayhem elsewhere. In the event (and they may well hate me for saying this) they were quite amiable, hardly spat at me at all, played a blinder and were quickly booked for the first of seven sessions for the programme (They also did two for Mike Read and one apiece for Janice Long and Saturday Live. They did an In Concert too. Blimey). In a funny way, I thought The Damned caught the true spirit of Punk, as understood by Punks, better than their rivals. They devoted less time to striking attitudes and never forgot, as many historians have, that Punk could be quite funny as well as exciting. I mean, “Stab Yer Back”? Come on.
As a footnote and by a genuine and astonishing coincidence, this morning’s post brought me a CD by a band called Slipper. The EP is called “Earworms” and features, at the drums, Rat Scabies. The beat goes on.
John Peel – 29/05/02.

A very strong twin 12” EP set, recorded live in the studio at BBC Maida Vale in late 1976 and early ’77. The Damned were at their peak and some versions here are as good as, if not better, than the originals. "Neat, Neat, Neat," "New Rose," "I Fall," and most of the other songs that make up their debut are here. The band proves its versatility, going from the raging punk of "So Messed Up," which is as menacing as anything the Sex Pistols ever recorded, to the very Doors-ish "Feel the Pain." A highly recommended listen that proves the Damned were a step above the majority of their punk brethren.


Music For Pleasure

A contender for the most maligned second album ever,

‘Music For Pleasure’ is as unsung as any record can get. Even its creators have condemned it. The Damned – newly expanded to a five piece with the addition of second guitarist Lu Edmonds - managed to record and release their sophomore long player before many of their punk contemporaries had got around to their first one. Naturally it was accused of being a rushed, ill-conceived release, with songs inferior to ‘Damned Damned Damned’ and an over-refined production at dramatic odds with the treble-dominated chaos of that debut LP. I doubt that the producer in question being an A-list prog rock drummer helped its punk credibility, but first choice Floyd member Syd - a true punk in all but his time - was unsurprisingly indisposed when asked to slide the faders.

Personally, I think ‘Music For Pleasure’ is a gas. Sure, it’s far from perfect, but unlike The Jam’s near contemporaneous ‘This Is The Modern World’, it shows a true progression on its makers’ debut album and – to these ears at least – doesn’t sound rushed at all. In fact, so taken was I with its relatively sophisticated, slightly prog-infused vibe that I all but disowned the back-to-basics output that the reformed, James-less Damned spilled onto the masses a couple of years later. And I never went back. As their first record label would say, if it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck, and that applies to The Damned in my book. Two fine albums, a handful of 45s of mostly high quality, and goodbye.

I suspect that a lot of folks’ issue with ‘Music For Pleasure’ may lie with the 45 that opens the album, ‘Problem Child’. Certainly from this punter’s perspective, it’s the weakest track here and doesn’t inspire confidence in what’s to follow. Co-credited between Brian James and Rat Scabies, it may be the drummer who is largely responsible for a one-dimensional tune which, unlike his minimalist masterpiece ‘Stab Yor Back’ on the first LP, hasn’t the energy to save it from yawndom. It drags, and seems to last a lot longer than the two minutes thirteen seconds it actually does.

Once that’s over, the vim is back – and how. ‘Don’t Cry Wolf’ and ‘One Way Love’ are Brian James-by-numbers riff fests with loads of ooomph and choruses that infuse the cranium like acid. ‘Politics’ is faster still, with some well-weird time signature abuse in its verses, a barmy lyric that expounds anything but what its title suggests (“Give me fun, not anarchy”) and an opening guitar lick that floors me every time I hear it. The two guitar line-up really makes its presence felt here. ‘Stretcher Case’, a re-recorded version of one side of a freebie single given away at The Damned’s summer gigs, is another James/Scabies co-write, thankfully blessed with more character and verve than that iffy opening track.

This far (ten minutes!) into the album, it’s been Brian James' own songs that have stimulated the grey matter. But then comes ‘Idiot Box’, a Sensible/Scabies affair, that closes the first side and really turns ‘Music For Pleasure’ upside down – in a good way. On the face of it a puerile diatribe against New York new wavers Television (I’ve never understood why), ‘Idiot Box’ is built around a staggering, jazz-influenced riff which is as far away from barre-chord simplicity as punk would ever get. That gives way in turn to a chorus lick which owes more to heavy metal, before moving to an extended coda where James gets to show off some insanely fast, high neck string plucking over Lu’s arpeggio chords. It’s punk, Jim, but not as we know it – and certainly not as we expected it in the fall of ’77. Whatever the genre, it’s fabulous: one of the standout tracks in an already great year. And it’s totally at odds with everything The Damned had released up to that point …and maybe beyond.

The rest of ‘Music For Pleasure’ is purely Brian James inspired, aside from a Dave Vanian co-credit on ‘Your Eyes’, a song built around a particularly adroit, mid-paced riff with I suspect deliberate ambiguity in the way Vanian pronounces the second word of the title (I won’t spoil it for you, but I hear another part of the anatomy… maybe it’s just me!). All five tracks – the last James would write for the band – are well up the standard set by ‘New Rose’, but two – ‘Alone’ and the closing ‘You Know’ – are little short of astounding.

‘Alone’ is as frantic a Damned song as ever existed, its 200mph riff defying all melodic and rhythmic logic while Scabies out-Moons his greatest inspirer with serious cymbal abuse and Vanian infuses another bile-filled lyric with his patented creepiness (Check out how he intones the “You're alone…and I love you” bit at the close – ugh!). It makes The Clash sound like a boyband by comparison and, musically speaking anyway, is a credible precursor to what the likes of Crass and Discharge would subsequently unleash upon the world – and I’m sure I don’t need to emphasise how influential that was.

I’ve always loved fade-ins, and ‘You Know’ has a great one. Yet another superb James riff (on the face of it simple but no one else would ever have come up with it) rises from the depths and roots itself into your consciousness like an alien in John Hurt’s gut. Delivered at a steady yet relentless pace, on and on it goes, relieved only by a not dissimilar lick after each chorus. Towards the end none other than Lol Coxhill enters, blowing some serious free jazz genius over the melle. In fact, he gets the last word as his multi tracked soprano sax closes the record alone. It makes for a close that seems resolved, yet unresolved, at the same time. I find the only way to effectively deal with it is to play the LP right through again (minus ‘Problem Child’, natch) but then the same issue arises half an hour later. Kinda strange, but I like it.

And through it all lies that Pink Floyd drummer’s production which, while unaffected, takes nothing away from the vitality of the songs and, I think, actually makes ‘Music For Pleasure’ sound much more original and relevant today than another Nick Lowe treble-fest would have done (and I speak as a true admirer of Basher in all of his guises). By the time they came to make their second album, the dying Damned had progressed every bit as much as the Canterbury bands that had so thrilled their bassist at the start of the decade and needed, in turn, a producer who could capture that change without losing their ever-present energy. Much as I wonder what ‘MFP’ would have sounded like with a Madcap production job, I’ve never had a problem with Nick Mason’s production skills. After all, no-one to my knowledge has ever criticised the way ‘Rock Bottom’ sounds, and if he was good enough for Robert Wyatt, I’m Damned sure he was good enough for this lot.

Contrary to its critics and creators, ‘Music For Pleasure’ is precisely that. Great sleeve too!

The Light Pours Out Of Me

Come dark music, bring us autumn days...

Howard Devoto had the foresight to promote two infamous Sex Pistols concerts in Manchester, and his vision was no less acute when he left Buzzcocks after recording Spiral Scratch. Possibly sensing the festering of punk's clichés and limitations, and unquestionably not taken by the movement's beginnings, he bailed (effectively skipping out on most of 1977) and resurfaced with Magazine. Initially, the departure from punk was not complete. "Shot by Both Sides," the band's first single, was based off an old riff given by Devoto's Buzzcocks partner Pete Shelley, and the guts of follow-up single "Touch and Go" were rather basic rev-and-vroom. 

Yet, like many punk bands, Magazine would likely cite David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Roxy Music. However (this point is crucial) instead of playing mindlessly sloppy variants of "Hang on to Yourself," "Search and Destroy," and "Virginia Plain," the band was inspired by the much more adventurous “Low”, “The Idiot”, and "For Your Pleasure". That is the driving force behind Real Life's status as one of the post-punk era's major jump-off points. Punk's untethered energy is rigidly controlled, run through arrangements that are tightly wound, herky-jerky, unpredictable, and proficiently dynamic. The rapidly careening "Shot by Both Sides" (up there with PiL's "Public Image" as an indelible post-punk single) and the slowly unfolding "Parade" (the closest thing to a ballad, its hook is "Sometimes I forget that we're supposed to be in love") are equally ill-at-ease. The dynamism is all the more perceptible when Dave Formula's alternately flighty and assaultive keyboards are present: the opening "Definitive Gaze," for instance, switches between a sci-fi love theme and the score for a chase scene. As close as the band comes to upstaging Devoto, the singer is central, with his live wire tendencies typically enhanced, rather than truly outshined, by his mates. The interplay is at its best in "The Light Pours out of Me," a song that defines Magazine more than "Shot by Both Sides," while also functioning as the closest the band got to making an anthem. Various aspects of Devoto's personality and legacy, truly brought forth throughout this album, have been transferred and blown up throughout the careers of Momus (the restless, unapologetic intellectual), Thom Yorke (the pensive outsider), and maybe even Luke Haines (the nonchalantly acidic crank).
Still it's shameful that Magazine weren’t considered one of the best acts of the post-punk period. Devoto led one of the shortest ever careers with Buzzcocks and then resurfaced ten thousand years away from the punk hooliganism casting a handful of creative musicians to form Magazine. Listening to Magazine it's like being in the presence of an idiosyncratic and exhilarating blend of Peter Hammill's tragedian, Brian Eno's lush quirkiness and post-punk energy.
"Real Life" is like a steely cathedral surrounded by snow. And is also a terrifying study on loneliness. At these times, only Wire has reached the same detailed level of enthralment. At these times, Magazine was not fucking joking...
"Definitive Gaze" and "My Tulpa" are two formidable openers to any album. "My Tulpa" is the best keyboard-driven song from the post-punk years. A masterpiece in nine movements. 


All I Know For Sure

A Numbered Limited Edition LP from Mobile Fidelity Silver Label The Sisters of Mercy - First And Last And Always. Mastered on Mobile Fidelity’s World-Renowned Mastering System and pressed at RTI (best record plant in America): first time any The Sisters of Mercy records have been given the audiophile treatment on LP.

The template for all goth-rock records that followed, The Sisters of Mercy’s First And Last And Always stands as one of the (if not the most) influential albums of its kind ever released. Distinguished by Andrew Eldritch’s ghostly singing, which gives the impression of hearing a forlorn ghoul croon from a foggy English graveyard, the 1985 set is drenched in gloom, claustrophobia, black humour, and dance-ready beats that provide exhilarating contrasts. Fans of the Cure, Depeche Mode, Love and Rockets, Peter Murphy, mid-period Nick Cave, and Joy Division will find it to be a new favourite record if they haven’t already got a copy.
Mastered on Mobile Fidelity’s world-renowned mastering system and pressed at RTI (the best record plant in North America), Silver Label numbered limited edition LP presents First And Last And Always with a fuller, richer sound that positively obliterates the thin, feeble sonic perspectives that have limited the music until now. Every aspect from Eldritch’s haunting singing to the group’s jangling guitars and prancing bass lines finally gain genuine definition. Yet what’s most improved is the sense of atmosphere: The Sisters of Mercy revel in painting tone poems, where the feel and effect are as essential as the notes that are played. This is now an atmospheric tour de force.
Ever since its release, First And Last And Always has been aptly shrouded in mythology. Eldritch pushed the envelope during the recording sessions, literally walking into walls and repeatedly unable to maintain his focus. Strung out on amphetamines, dazed by days of no sleep, upset by a recent breakup, and eating little, the vocalist channelled his discord into sombre lyrics and brooding singing. He’s framed by pulsing albeit lean, spare rhythms, patient tempos, and the clatter of a programmed drum machine that, in spite of its mechanical operation, sounds strangely organic. The songs evoke wet dungeons, walls-closing-in paranoia, and late-night strolls amidst the U.K.’s mysterious underground.
Despite its overall dark character, the records arrangements value spaciousness, putting a premium on room and minimalism that makes each note count. As a result, twinkling pianos and keyboards parallel steel-cutting guitars and low-tuned bass lines that, in combination with Eldrtich’s baritone, suggest glimmers of hope among the decay. Songs such as the shaking “Possession,” dramatic “Some Kind of Stranger,” and desperate “Marian” remain models of the gothic and post-punk disciplines more than 25 years after their debut. It’s no surprise that, given all of the tension and personality that infuse the album, The Sisters of Mercy disbanded just months after its release.

"The lead track, “Black Planet,” showcases the new remastering to full effect. The song features an all-encompassing bass rhythm that, with every strike, infects the tune like mustard gas unleashed in a trench. On a poor master, the bass would threaten to suffocate the rest of the arrangement. But Mobile Fidelity keeps it in check with a distinct, sparkling, upper-mid sensitive guitar; the bass merrily sits on the edge of the soundstage."
--Paul Rigby, TONE Audio, Issue 38, June 2011

It’s unlikely that any goth-rock album has ever sounded this good. This MoFi Silver Label LP will turn your room into rainy, dreary England, circa 1985, and expose you to one of the most harrowing vocal performances on record.

The band's epic Floodland also available on Silver Label LP