I hear the sirens calling
As the rain is gently falling

RIP Joe Maher

Flowered Up Weekender film posterI’m sad to hear the news that Flowered Up guitarist Joe Maher has died. It’s only three years since the death of Liam Maher, Flowered Up’s singer and Joe’s older brother.

Click here for an interview I did with Liam for Melody Maker around the time of the release of the band’s “Weekender” single, one of the greatest records ever made. That’s not an opinion, by the way, that’s a simple statement of fact.


The psychedelic elephant in the room

I’ve been looking at old copies of Billboard magazine on Google Books (I owe fellow former Melody Maker journalist Rob Fitzpatrick a shandy for telling me about these) and I’ve been especially enjoying the adverts. The three examples above – for The Who, The Move and Marvin’s Circus, an obscure psychedelic beat band from Ohio who put out two singles on MGM before melting into oblivion – all appear in the 24 June 1967 edition. Click on the images for larger versions and click here for the full magazine.


Another bloke called Push

Yes Or No by PushI’ve been called Push since forever. I won’t bore the details of how I got that nickname. It’s a very dull story. I first used it as a byline when I started writing for Melody Maker in 1985 and I was pretty miffed when Bros titled their first album “Push” a couple of years later. Especially when one or two people asked me if I’d named myself after the Bros record.

Anyway, I’ve just found out that there’s another bloke called Push. I really don’t mind sharing my name with this guy, though. He’s an artist from Los Angeles and he’s been doing his art thing since the mid-1990s, exhibiting across America and also in Europe, Australia and Japan, as well as working for The Seventh Letter, one of the dandiest art and design collectives around.

At the top of the post is a Push triptych entitled Yes Or No (acrylic on wood, 43 feet by 9 feet) and below is Birds Of A Feather, a spray paint mural at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art. Push doesn’t appear to have a website or a blog (which is a pity because I’m sure he would love to have posted something about me), but you can read more about him and see other examples of his work at the website for Known Gallery in LA, where he is currently exhibiting.

Birds Of A Feather by Push


Won’t get spooled again

If you bought the NME during the 1980s, you’ll no doubt remember some of the compilation tapes given away free with the paper throughout the decade. I’ve got a tall and wobbly stack of NME tapes sitting on a shelf somewhere, but I haven’t heard any of them for yonks – not least because I don’t own a tape player these days. So I am very pleased to have discovered Press Play And Record, a website with digital rips of many of these superb compilations.

“C86” is perhaps the best known NME tape, its title briefly giving a new name to the jangly guitar music it featured (The Wedding Present, The Mighty Lemon Drops and The Shop Assistants, to name just a few), but my favourite has long been the wildly eclectic “C81”. The highlights include Cabaret Voltaire, The Specials and Robert Wyatt. It’s brilliant to hear the NME‘s jazz, blues and R&B collections again too, especially “Stompin’ At The Savoy”, a neck-jerking assortment of belters and honkers which first appeared on Savoy Records back in the 1940s.

The NME tapes were compiled by journalist Roy Carr, who’s never really got the credit he deserves for these spooled delights. Roy began writing for NME in the late 1960s and put together tapes and later CDs for all the IPC Media music magazines – Melody MakerMuzikVox and Uncut as well as the NME – for around 30 years.


Harold Pinterest

I’ve joined Pinterest. I’m really not sure what I’m expecting to achieve by this, but I’ve been and gone and done it all the same. I’ve created five “boards” so far and I’m pretty pleased with the way they look, although I’m not sure that being pleased with the way your boards look is the point of it all. You can see my boards by clicking here. I’ve put up some old Melody Maker and Muzik clippings from my archive site and a few bits from this blog, but my favourite board is called Harold Pinterest, which consists of photos of Harold Pinter. LOL, eh?

Anyway, I’ve been “pinning” for a couple of weeks now, but I haven’t got very many followers yet. In fact, I have precisely zero followers. Then again, I’m following precisely zero people myself. I have had something “repinned”, though, which means somebody has pinned one of my things on one of their boards. Well, I think that’s what’s happened.


This is no laughing matter

The Hysterical InjuryThis is a tad embarrassing. I mean, you all know what a hip and happening guy I am, right? Come on, come on, speak up at the back. Hmmm. Well, anyway, having included “hysterical injury” in my mighty hilarious post about some of the unusual search engine terms people have used to find my blog, I’ve just found out that there’s a band called The Hysterical Injury. They’re based in Bath (so they’re local to me), they’re pretty bloody good, and my one-time Melody Maker colleague (and former flatmate) Ngaire Ruth wrote about them on her blog six months ago. So much for me being plugged into the contemporary music mainframe, then.

The Hysterical Injury are siblings Annie and Tom Gardiner. Annie sings and plays the bass. At least I think there’s a bass somewhere deep within that grumbling whorl of distortion. Tom plays the drums and particularly enjoys smashing the hell out of his cowbell. It’s often unruly stuff, but they also have some very delicate and fragrant melodies twisting through their songs. They vaguely remind me of Throwing Muses. Having performed over 200 live shows during the last two or three years and won support from the likes of Steve Lamacq and Tom Robinson, The Hysterical Injury have recently released their debut album, “Dead Wolf Situation”, which has been partly funded by Strummerville, the Joe Strummer Foundation. Click here to listen to “Dead Wolf Situation” at Bandcamp and use the player below to hear “Maths”, which I’d say is one of the best tracks.

Don’t ask me if these guys are the future of rock ‘n’ roll, though. To be honest, you’d be better off asking a tree.

The Hysterical Injury photo by Jamie Worsfold


My favourite album of 2011

Everyone’s doing their end-of-year lists at the moment. PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake” seems to be a lot of people’s choice for Best Album of 2011 – which makes sense even if it is a little predictable. If I were to write out an Albums of 2011 list (which I’m not going to do because I’m too old for that sort of carry on), PJ Harvey would most likely appear quite high up. I’ve also really enjoyed this year’s efforts from Roots Manuva, James Blake, Alphabet Saints, The Fall (natch) and the utterly daft Master Musicians Of Bukkake, but the album I’ve played most and liked best in 2011 is “Bye Bye… We’re Melting” by The Millipede Engine.

“By Bye… We’re Melting” picked up some great reviews here in blogland but was largely ignored by the mainstream media, which is a shame. Maybe it’s because The Millipede Engine – Brill Nudie and Honey Lane – don’t fit easily into any musical category. I guess they’re kind of art rocky, kind of edging on proggy pop (or poppy prog). They like guitars and synths in equal measure, they’re not averse to brass and strings, and Brill Nudie’s vocals have been compared to David Bowie, Pete Shelley and Hurricane Smith. Brill and Honey are clever lyricists too. “The Cup Of Unconditional Love” is about a Jonestown-style mass suicide, while “Magic Robot” and “The Planet Tasters” delve into Ray Bradbury-esque sci-fi territory (and I’m a huge Bradbury fan). My old Melody Maker pal Mick Mercer described the Millipedes as “a bit weird, but in all the right ways” and you’ve only got to take a cursory glance at the sleeve of “Bye Bye” to see what he means.

You can hear every track on “Bye Bye… We’re Melting” at The Millipede Engine’s website (typically oddball of them, it scrolls across the page rather than up and down). Just click here and fire up their steampunk jukebox. If you don’t have time to listen to more than a couple of songs, choose from numbers 1, 3, 4, 9 and 11, and get ready for some multi-coloured dreams.


A bit of Guns N’ Roses for your wall

Guns N' Roses at The Marquee in London (1987) by Richard Bellia

My old buddy Richard Bellia has a small selection of his photographs available as prints at Yellow Korner, a website specialising in affordable art imagery. The prints include Joe Strummer (The Clash), Robert Smith (The Cure), reggae idol Lee “Scratch” Perry, two different photos of Nirvana, and the above shot of Guns N’ Roses, which was taken at The Marquee in the summer of 1987, on the band’s first trip to London. Each print is numbered, comes with a certificate of authenticity, and costs €69 – a bargain at twice the price.

I worked with Richard on loads of jobs for Melody Maker in the late Eighties and early Nineties. One of my most vivid memories was when we covered the 1988 Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington, an event marred by the tragic death of two fans in the crush of the crowd during Guns N’ Roses’ set. You can read my review of the festival here and a Guns N’ Roses piece based on a couple of interviews I did with Slash (one of them backstage at Donington) here. And if you’ve not had enough of clicking, you can read more about Richard Bellia here. This last link is an extract from my book Rat Scabies And The Holy Grail, in which Richard plays a leading part (although I’m sure Scabies and I would have found the bloody thing quicker without him).


I’m a negative creep

It’s 20 years since the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. But you will probably know that already because there have been several “Nevermind at 20” commemorative articles in the press over the past few days. There’ll no doubt be more to come.

To coincide with the anniversary, Rock’s Back Pages have put out an E-book called The Nirvana Electric Omnibus, which is a compendium of Nirvana interviews, reviews and reports published between 1989 and 1994. So these are what-happened-at-the-time accounts from Nirvana’s active years, not looking-back-long-after-the-event overviews. I’ve got two pieces in there – a review of “Bleach” and an interview with the band from late 1990, both originally written for Melody Maker – and the other contributors include Everett True, Keith Cameron, John Robb, Simon Reynolds and David Stubbs. You can download the book by following these links to Amazon UK or Amazon US. That’s assuming you’ve some money left after ordering your 2011 Super Deluxe Edition of “Nevermind”, a five-disc box-set released next week and a snip at £75/$110 or thereabouts.

Yesterday, with the spirit of “Nevermind At 20” upon me, I felt the need to get fully Nirvana-ed up and played the band’s three studio albums in succession. First “Bleach”, then “Nevermind”, then “In Utero”. It took some doing – I had to have a daytime telly break between each one – but the exercise confirmed what I think I’ve always thought. For all the fuss about it, “Nevermind” ain’t that great. Apart from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” and a couple of others, it’s an over-burdened beast, lead-footed and sometimes desperate for breath, like an old packhorse struggling through mud. It lacks the raw exhileration of “Bleach” and the absorbing contortions of “In Utero”. It’s nowhere near as good as either of those albums and it’s also nowhere near as good as Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger”, which came out a week or two after “Nevermind”. I played “Badmotorfinger” yesterday too. That’s still a scorcher, a real high-noon-in-the-desert record.

Many of the “Nevermind” anniversary articles talk about how the album changed popular culture for a generation/the whole wide world and everything in it/the known and unknown universe. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Pffffft. Of course it’s true that Nirvana had a huge impact on the mainstream rock scene – which is actually only a small part of the cosmos – but this was first and foremost because of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and its memorable video. The success of the parent album, a record not universally applauded by the critics at the time of its release, naturally followed on from there. But I guess it’s inevitable the focus falls on “Nevermind”. Rock music is traditionally about albums, not singles or videos. Singles are for pop kids, not serious rockers. Plus it suits the record industry. You can’t make much of a box-set out of a single.

Incidentally, if you are thinking of getting the Super Deluxe Edition of “Nevermind”, please do so via these links – Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon Canada – because then I’ll earn a few quid commission. You really would have to be round the fucking twist, though.


Featherhead

I’m glad PJ Harvey has won this year’s Mercury Prize. I’ve not heard every album that was nominated, but I have heard “Let England Shake” and it’s a pretty special collection of songs. I’m not especially a fan of Polly Harvey as it goes, but my fellow Melody Maker writer and one-time flatmate Ngaire Ruth was one of her very earliest champions. She wrote the first review of PJ Harvey to appear in the national music press – a live review from the White Horse in London in 1991. Click on the clipping for a larger version if the text is too small for you to read.

Ngaire and I were living in Tufnel Park at the time of this review (a short distance from the White Horse and also a few minutes walk from venues like the Town & Country Club, the Bull & Gate and the Boston Arms) and I’ve a vague recollection of Polly popping round the flat once or twice. I seem to recall that she was quite friendly and very polite, but a little on the shy side. I don’t believe she ever wore a feathery headdress thing, though. I’m sure I would have remembered that.


Blog post three

I’ve started this blog as a bolt-on to Pushstuff, an archive website of some of my old scribblings. Most of the Pushstuff stuff was originally written for Melody Maker, the UK weekly music paper, but my site also has a few bits written for other magazines and some book extracts. I have turned the “Pushstuff” in the first sentence above into a handy little link and you’ll find another link at the top of the list to the right, so you’ve no excuse for not heading over there straight away.

I guess I’ll be mainly posting about music on Pushblog, but I’ll no doubt drift off into other subjects every once in a while. I’m easily distracted. Don’t expect too many long essays, though. In fact, don’t expect any. I suspect most of my blog posts are going to be little more than extended photo captions and look-at-this-link things. I’m sure YouTube videos will be featuring quite heavily. All of which assumes I haven’t stopped posting altogether by this time next week. We’ll see.