Monday, 31 October 2011

Lovesong: Throw Your Arms Around Me by Mark Seymour

Having found out how to copy and post YouTube might be my downfall. I'm bog eyed with it so I'll lay off for a bit after this...
With my recent trawling of Neil Finn I did discover this song.
It's pretty meat and potatoes on the surface, but there's something within the song that transcends; elevates it to something close to classic.
Here is Neil Finns rendition of 'Throw Your Arms Around Me', then listen to the raw, powerful version by the song's writer Hunters & Collectors Mark Seymour who is incidentally brother of Nick Seymour, Crowded House's bassist. 
It's interesting how certain lines can entrance. 
"I will kiss you in four places" is both sexy and resonant...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Baby Panda

You know how sometimes something just tickles you and you want to share it with your mates...?

Skeletons: Early Songs (Demos: Late 80s): Stay

Crikey, this is a jolly little tune.
'Stay' is another early MM song from the late 80s that never saw the light of day.
You can hear Phil Smith's increasing influence with the solo sax and brass arrangement.
I'm skipping around the kitchen to this as we speak.
Go on, give it a go but watch your head on that cupboard.
Hurts doesn't it?

Friday, 28 October 2011

Lovesong: Video Games by Lana Del Ray

You've probably heard this by now.If not have a look and a listen. Some say it's all a little too manufactured. Maybe so, but it still stops me in my shoes every time I hear "it's you, it's you, it's all for you."

This is great also; although I'm not sure how 'live' it is.
The guitar is almost as beautiful as Lana...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Vulture: Adams; the First Man; Gabriel let down raises an eyebrow while Finn offers love

It's been a pretty barren week; no time for reading so I listened to the new Peter Gabriel album in my car as the engine exploded on the M40. After the high quality of last year's covers album 'Scratch My Back' Gabriel has used the same orchestral template to reinvent some of his best loved songs. Yet every time I hit 'play' I smell burning oil; maybe that's coloured my judgement but I just can't get into 'New Blood'; it's all a bit too sonorous and heavy.
I hope I'll learn to love it but at the moment I prefer the originals.
Ho hum...
I seemed to watch a lot of TV.
Too much I think.
I witnessed the French getting reffed out of the Ritchie McCaw show which was a borderline disgrace, swiftly followed by Man Utd's embarrassing defeat to City (1-6) then the now controversial QPR v Chelsea game.
He's a great defender but I always thought Terry was an unsavoury character.
Not my choice for national icon/captain.
It was all getting a bit ugly; but then I switched to Sky movies...
I re-watched 'Let the Right One In' and then the American remake 'Let Me In' which was surprisingly true to that brilliant original. Both are quite chilling with stone cold captivating performances by the two young leads; don't be put off by the vampire tag; this is fine film making.
On Later with Jools I was smitten by Lianne La Havas.
Have a look at this; a star is born methinks...

The best TV moment of the week by a mile was the Songwriter's Circle series on BBC4.
This one featured Neil Finn (his usual reliable quality) Janis Ian (a surprisingly good guitarist) and one of my favourite writers, Ryan Adams.
I was a big fan of his band Whiskytown and then his excellent solo debut 'Heartbreaker' from which the last two of these three featured songs are taken (although his best album I think might be the double; 'Love is Hell'.
His new album 'Ashes & Fire' sounds great but I'm still looking for the songs.
This one 'Dirty Rain' is pretty good.

You don't need to squint to see the quality of these other two though; both spellbinding performances as you can tell by the look on Mr Finn's face.
We have 'Come Pick Me Up' from Heartbreaker:

'Oh My Sweet Caroline' also from Heartbreaker (so buy Heartbreaker!)

You'll be able to pick up the You Tube links for the rest of the show which is brilliant.
Janis Ian is all nervous ticks and tension, but plays and sings beautifully, while Neil does that Finn thing with consummate grace and skill. It reminded me what a beautiful song 'Distant Sun' is.
On that record does anyone else get shivers when he sings "still so young to travel so far" and "I don't pretend to know what you want, but I offer love..."?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Skeletons: Early Songs 'Rain or Shine'

'Rain or Shine' is another track taken from the early MM years when Steve Smith was the singer
(boy does he croon here) and I was more pre-occupied with my Flange/Chorus/Echo pedals and the jingle jangle of semi-acoustics. Phil Smith is featured quite prominently on this; it may well be the first thing that he played with us. He had just left Haircut 100 and was looking for another vehicle for his considerable talents;  He played sax and keyboards for the live Miracle Mile line up which might explain why he stuck with us for so long; I think that he was a bit fed up with his instrument at the time and was getting into keyboards. His forte was always going to be the the sax though and I have many dodgy recordings embellished by his sublime playing.
You can see Phil fresh faced and fringed, at the top of the young Haircut pile (left) and on the right at a fairly recent reunion gig for the VH1 TV series 'Bands Re-united'. Phil is far left with the 'comb over' and wearing a pair of curtains, Les Nemes (ex MM bass player) is second from right in the beige.
I was at the gig and it was a... fantastic day...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Happy Birthday Di

Today is Di's birthday.
This will be the 24th birthday that we've shared.
25 fretless years together on December 20th.
She's in pretty good nick for an old bird.
What a beautiful neck.
Look at the curves on that body.
Happy Birthday my darling...

Skeletons: 'Tune In' (part three)

Here are the final pages from Bazza's 'Tune In' magazine. 
Remember that you can click on the pages to magnify them.
For you delectation we have:
* An imagined Mojo cover
* A brief insight into the 'other life' of the scientist...
* 'Pop Goes the Miracle'; Bazza trawls our maudlin past to make an 'upbeat' album...
* The Sunday Times interview revisited
* The lyrics to Bazza'a favourite MM song, the now infamous 'Morecambe and Wise' 
(See: Skeletons: Barry's 50th)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Skeletons: Early Songs (Demos: Late 80s): I Swing

Although co-credited as a Smith/Jones composition,
'I Swing' is a song that in truth was written by Steve Smith (left).
Steve Davis and I spent a lot of time on the backing track and when it was ready we phoned Smithy to get him in to sing, only for him to inform us that he'd left the band and had formed his own unit 'Molly and the Moonbeams' with drummer Phil Sands. I'm sure that the writing had been on the wall but I'm buggered if I can remember the vagaries of the messages. Initially we were miffed, a lot of hard work had gone into preparing several tracks that were meant to be the MM debut with Steve as our figurehead (I'm hoping to unveil some of those soon) but came to understand Steve's move. We scratched our heads for a while and then Steve Davis had the bright idea that I might sing. We really had no choice, so, what you hear is my first ever vocal attempt (with the exception of an old 'Stacks' B side 'Maybe Monday')... I remember that we had brought in a backing vocalist Miriam Stockley (Queen/Mike Oldfield/Jason gulp Donovan), whose powerful voice dominated the track; I couldn't compete so... didn't bother.  It still sounds a bit thick tongued to me but I guess it has some historical significance to those interested...
Great song from Steve Smith though; he has developed his musical career Stateside in the guise of The Delta Boy. You can hear his undiminished pop sensibilities here on his MySpace page. His fine debut 'Automatic Pier' is also available as a download here on Amazon. Although a true original, think Lilac Time/Marc Bolan and a gentle Lennon and you are in his ball park...

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Bliss of Solitude: Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell's early work was fierce, with a bitter beauty that reflected the early 60s when he was an antiwar activist poet and, before that, a field worker for the Congress of Racial Equality. Not only a humanist, his view of the natural world reminds me of Ted Hughes; he looks at nature to better reveal human nature, often revelling in the unpleasant details of this wildlife.
 "I've tried to carry my poetry as far as I could, to dwell on the ugly as fully, as far, and as long, as I could stomach it. Probably more than most poets I have included in my work the unpleasant because I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events."
Here his young self reads 'The Bear'.
He does not consider himself a 'nature poet' though:
 "I don't recognize the distinction between nature poetry and, what would be the other thing? Human civilization poetry? We are creatures of the earth who build our elaborate cities and beavers are creatures of the earth who build their elaborate lodges and canal operations and dams, just as we do…Poems about other creatures may have political and social implications for us."
As he's aged his work has softened and re-focussed on homely things. Tenderness, beauty and a love of family seem to have rooted him; his writing is less angry, less expansive; more specific and home grown. His children appear in his recent collection from 2007 'Strong is Your Hold', including "Everyone Was in Love" (read here by the poet himself) which recalls the delight of seeing his kids Maud and Fergus transfixed by snakes; they seem as fearless and keen eyed as he once was.
The children intrude themselves into his most private moments: 'After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps'.
With this more meditative stance Kinnell remains ever compassionate and, like Keats long before him, focusses on the transience of things and how their passing impacts on his everyday existence. He recognises the importance of bearing witness and being seen to do so:
"It's the poet's job to figure out what's happening within oneself, to figure out the connection between the self and the world, and to get it down in words that have a certain shape, that have a chance of lasting." 
It's interesting how a writer's defining work is invariably that which is their most direct; often their least ambitious; possibly because All of Us respond to immutable truths; oftentimes all of the wise words have already been spoken and rest between the borders of the saccharine and the sonorous. Just listen to Louis Armstrong's 'Wonderful World' or Mancini's 'Moon River' to wonder at the power of the platitude; I love the inclusivity of "we're after the same rainbow's end, waiting 'round the bend, my huckleberry friend; Moon river and me." even though I don't quite get it (what is a 'huckleberry friend'?
The weight and wisdom of words well placed can make us feel connected to something within and beyond ourselves; to a greater society. Poetry's balm might even help us towards humility and understanding; our feelings and failings endorsed when the penny drop moments are articulated well for us; they connect us to the ground and to each other. Although more than ever it's a dog eat world I hope that we have moved beyond 'survival of the fittest'; it's not the strengths that bind us; it's the weaknesses; we recognise our vulnerabilities in others and love them for it. 
Mmm, I need to step down from the pulpit and get back on topic: words and music as epitaphs...
It wouldn't be hard to imagine 'Promissory Note' as the world's favourite eulogy. 
There is a heartbreaking urgency to these simple words, written for Galway Kinnell's wife Bobbie:

Promissory Note

If I die before you
which is all but certain
then in the moment
before you will see me
become someone dead
in a transformation
as quick as a shooting star’s
I will cross over into you
and ask you to carry
not only your own memories
but mine too until you
too lie down and erase us
both together into oblivion.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Skeletons : Early Songs: (Early 90s): 'Not For This Boy'

'Not For This Boy' was the first MM song that ex Haircut 100 bassist Les Nemes played on.
We had already been introduced to Phil Smith (sax) by our then A&R man at Zomba,  Mark Fox (ex H100 percussionist) and those boys were pretty tight back then; rallying against Nick Heyward and the disappointments of the Haircut's enforced split just before the potentially money spinning 2nd album was about to be released. The music was in the can; Nick only had to commit his vocals; he chose instead to go solo; producing the very fine 'North of a Miracle'. Mark Fox threw his hat in the ring as lead singer briefly, before realising he best rest with his bongos; the album never saw the light of day, which was a shame; I heard a few of those mixes and they elaborated on the early sound of Pelican West with an urgency that reminded me of a poppy Talking Heads.
Here's a Nickless promo shot of the boys at the time (seemingly caught on CCTV) waiting for a bus.

Les and Phil recorded with Miracle Mile extensively and stayed with the gigging band , working not only on these early demos, but also on the debut 'Bicycle Thieves' and the follow up 'Candids', both leaving the band when we stopped gigging, just before the release of 'Slow Fade'.

For this track Les listened through once and then nailed the song first take. His big hero at the time was Ronnie Lane of the Faces and I think that you can hear it in his playful fretwork. Our Les was no backseat bassist... I believe that he currently resides in Spain and still plays with the Haircuts when they get together for the odd 80s review tour with T'Pau, Howard Jones and other lesser talents...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Skeletons: 'Tune In' (part two)

Here is 'part two' of pages taken from Barry Cross's fine MM fanzine 'Tune In'.
Just to endorse the fact that Marcus and I are in fact one dimensional, Barry caught that lack of depth in these two candid portraits. You only have to read the Q & A pieces beneath to recognise our vapidity.
Click on the pages to magnify our personalities...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Skeletons: Early Songs: Early 90s Demos: 'Tap Room Tales'

One of my favourite albums at the time of recording 'Tap Room Tales' in the early 90s (sorry that I can't be more specific, that decade remains a blur) was 'Rattlesnakes' by Lloyd Cole. I love the guitar solo at the end of the magnificent 'Forest Fire' and tried to emulate it here; failing pretty miserably as you can hear. I guess that you could call the song a pean to the muse; a nod to my then fledging musical career that brought me to London, all the way from... Skipton. In the song we replaced the (not very rock and roll) Skipton; Gateway to the Dales, with the city of Manchester, partly to affiliate ourselves with The Smiths or any number of shoe gazing bands from that fair city that were hogging the musical headlines at the time, but mainly because I needed that extra syllable.
My main memory of the song's recording (at Steve Davis's Brixton Studio) was my vocal, done whilst demolishing the prop of a bottle of Jack Daniels with Steve. We were going for a relaxed Tom Waits and ended up with a pissed poor Pogues/Shane MacGowen drawl; so much for 'the method'...
After finishing the vocal that you hear here, I stumbled back down Acre Lane towards the tube and thought I'd celebrate with a Chinese. Sitting on the last tube home, I used my guitar case as a picnic table and tucked into my sweet and sour chicken/prawn fried rice combo. As we went through the first tunnel nausea struck; I would surely puke. Being a good citizen and not wanting to soil the carriage I did what any like minded Londoner (who'd just imbibed a pint of bourbon) would do: I dutifully took my guitar out of its case and used the case (beautiful red velvet lining) as my... receptacle. That guitar was never the same again. It currently rests under the stairs in Corsica, a silent reminder of my rock and roll years; it still gently hums in a soiled velvet embrace; lending a unique resonance to the term 'feedback'...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lovesong: Gavin Bryars: 'Jesus' Love Never Failed Me Yet'

Sometimes 'ugly' can break your heart. 
When I play this Di ducks under the quilt (every cloud...) so it's a bit of a 'marmite moment' I guess.
There are many 'takes' available but I've included an 'easy' version with strings and an alternative, lengthy but worthwhile version with Tom Waits singingalong...
I couldn't describe the genesis of this 'song' better than its creator Gavin Bryars (or maybe he's better described here as an 'archivist'), so he's quoted extensively below: 

"In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one. When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping. I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism."

Friday, 14 October 2011

Skeletons: Bazza's 50th

All bands need a Barry Cross in their lives. Barry has been a fan and friend of Miracle Mile for a long time.
I first became aware of him when unsolicited he mailed me a MM fanzine that he had compiled.
It was a fantastic little magazine, lovingly created and realised, called 'Tune In'. We liked it so much that we printed ip up in the hope of giving it away with CDs (that never sold) or at gigs (that we never did).
I'll feature pages from 'Tune In' later...
Barry has since become a firm friend and has done much for MM, often for nowt (or less); he has designed and printed all of our press releases since 'Limbo'; designed the 'Diary' booklet that went with Glow and did the album artwork for my two solo releases 'Hopeland' and 'Keepers;' as well as working closely with Marcus on some of the non MM musical projects that he's been involved with, particularly his recent collaboration with Lucinda Drayton as 'The Gathering'.
Marcus and I dusted ourselves off recently to play at Barry's 50th birthday bash, something that we'd promised to do on his 48th and then forgot all about... It was all going swimmingly well until, towards the end of our set, Barry invaded the stage and announced that he wanted us to play one of his favourite MM songs, 'Morecambe and Wise', a pre Marcus song that the scientist had never heard but, hell, it was in the key of C (no black notes) so he'd give it a go.
Barry then revealed that he'd be accompanying us on the drums; he'd been having secret lessons apparently (two in fact) especially for the occasion. How could we refuse?
We started the gentle ditty tentatively and it went quite well; my acoustic, Marcus' piano, Barry gently keeping waltz time with brushes. I even remembered the words.

Now, on the record there's a pause just after the middle 8 followed by a Phil Collinsesque drum fill that heralds a full on sax solo. Unbeknown to us Barry's mate Rob plays the sax and he and Bazza had been long plotting; practicing along to the record so... I thought the drum riser had collapsed and that Barry was a goner; I turned in panic only to see Bazza with a joyful grin that proclaimed "it's going well isn't it!"... and realised that the thunderous, clattering cacophony was the birthday boy's exuberant attempt at that now infamous drum fill. The panic on Marcus's face was priceless; we briefly recovered until we sensed another presence on stage; Rob brushed me aside as he strolled up to the mic and launched into that squealing solo, which he played in full, note perfect. Unfortunately, the recorded version that he'd been rehearsing to was in D; Marcus and I were winging it in the key of C.
We agreed to call it a 'jazz moment' and move on...
I've made 'Morecambe and Wise" available here should you wish to practice along and play it at your mate's next birthday bash... the version here has all of the right notes but not necessarily in the right order...
Meanwhile, you can see that evening's events develop pictorially below....

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Bliss of Solitude: Mohammad Ali

The shortest poem in the english language is attributed to the boxing legend Mohammad Ali. 
At the height of his career he gave a speech at Harvard and was asked to recite one of his now famous poems. 
No "float like butterfly/sting like a bee" was offered; what he came up with was to become the subject of much debate. 
Was it: "Me, we."?
If so it could be seen as a kind of 'I am You', 'All of Us' inclusive statement; a recognition that his own popularity crossed all cultural and religious barriers and connected people, enabling folk to discuss what was previously unspeakable.
If it was "Me? Oui!", then that is as succinct and articulate an endorsement of ego as you could get (and boy what an ego.) 
I was in awe of Ali as a kid; he brought beauty, grace and humour to a brutal sport. I had a book on sports photography and remember that the centre spread was a full scale shot of the man's right hand. I'd sit and stare at that huge mitt for hours, wondering what it would be like to be clouted by the mammoth fist.  As well as one of the boxing greats (if not 'The Greatest'), Ali was a cultural icon who challenged and changed many lazy and ingrained prejudices. His questioning of the American presence in Vietnam ("I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me Nigger") and his conversion to Islam opened a dialogue on subjects that might have remained impenetrable or taboo.
There's been so much written and spoken about Ali, but I think that two of the finest recognitions of his presence and power are Norman Mailer's 'The Fight' and 'When We were Kings" a documentary, both are candid observations of the infamous 'Rumble in the Jungle' when, towards the end of a career in decline he fought and beat the strong favourite, George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. It's also got some great footage of musicians (James Brown and BB King in particular) who played a musical festival in support of the fight.  
Why not have a look at the man in action and decide for yourself.
What a man.
What a fighter.
The Greatest? 
For me, oui!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Skeletons: 'Tune In' (part one)

As promised, here is the first part of Barry Cross's excellent Miracle Mile fanzine 'Tune In' that he produced a few years back at the time of Glow's release.
As there's quite a bit to read, I'll reveal it in parts...
Part one has:
* Front and back cover
* Intro from Barry and some badge designs
* An imaginative pictorial accompaniment to 'Secret Fold' and some Q reviews, oddly (he sniffed) the only MM reviews that were ever less than 4****s)
* Song stories from 'Glow'.
As ever, click on each spread to magnify.
Btw, if you want design or printing done, Barry's your man; his company is Hot Cross Designs.

Skeletons: Cover Story (Limbo)

I love the design of Limbo, I think that it's Nick Reddyhoff's finest Miracle Mile cover, although it did include a beautiful but unreadable fold out lyric sheet (above) that you had to rip the CD cover to get at. Designer Barry Cross had already been involved with the 'diary' booklet for Glow and offered a solution; the charming illustrated lyric booklet below. 
We never got around to a reprint of Limbo so it became a moot point...
I've posted 'Love Letters and Long Goodbyes' from the album as a taster...