Old Music

Northern Soul – Hits The Charts

Part 2 – a large part of the excitment of the underground Northern Soul scene was provided by the discovery of obscure records and the battles of one-upmanship between DJs. Find a record with that sound that no one else had, and play it at your particular venue? Pure gold. That venue may have been the only place where a punter could go to hear it and dance to it. Best not to let the collectors know too much about the record, either, or they’ll be in the bargain bins and record fairs and rooting out copies for themselves.

But as we have said, these are some of the greatest records ever made, and the greatest records ever made are not going to stay underground for too long on a thriving club scene. What are you going to do: swear 100,000 people to secrecy? Like that’s gonna work.

So when I was a teenager, Northern classics would pop into the charts on a regular basis, and some of them would hit the heights – most memorable for me being R. Dean Taylor‘s There’s A Ghost In My House. Originally released in 1966, given a re-injection of pace by Northern devotees, the re-issue reached #3 in the UK. It sounds alien, it doesn’t sound quite like your regular Motown record.. it’s totally distinctive and leaps out of the speakers even today.

It joined records like Robert Knight’s Love On A Mountain Top and The Fascinations’ Girls Are Out To Get You in the upper reaches of the charts in the early 70s. And there’s a dilemma.. when those records became super-popular, did they lose their lustre? No longer a record for the devotee, but a record that practically everyone in the country with a working set of ears and a transistor radio had heard. Your exclusive Northern Soul club scene just became a little more inclusive.

Note: The Fall covered There’s A Ghost In My House in 1988. Their version is still their highest UK chart placing. Here’s another original Northern Soul stomper from Gloria Jones you might have heard somewhere before. That cover would be Soft Cell’s highest chart placing too. You see, it’s the influence of.. the greatest records ever made.

Read part three of this four part Northern Soul exposition.

Old Music

Northern Soul – The Greatest Records Ever Made?

Part 1 – No music genre more perfect than Northern Soul? Mix a fanboy’s dedication to unearthing obscure record releases, the regimentation of fashion, and a nonpareil club scene, each venue with its own distinctive politics and sound. Songs that were unheralded, failures by any commercial consideration, but songs that had a certain something, that were evocative of a time and a place, songs that felt like they were yours, like they were written just for you to dance to. And because of that atmosphere, that association, for the feelings they inspired in Northern devotees, they were the greatest records ever made.

And there’s no better way to kick off a soul session, if you want to separate people from their seats and get them out on the floor pronto, than a certain track from Shirley Ellis. Not one of her most famous recordings, though the nagging two-four-six-eight-ten hook in this song is rooted in the out and out novelty of The Clapping Song or The Name Game.

But this song means business from the word go: a twanging guitar figure, shuffling congas and a blaring clarion call of a horn riff, the rhythm section fires up and Shirley’s vocals ride in on the back of a terrific rattling drum-driven groove. You’re hooked, you’re dancing.

What time is it here at The Riverboat Captain? It’s Soul Time, with some of the greatest records ever made.

Read part two of this four part exposition on Northern Soul.

Old Music

In The Pines With The Triffids

Australian indie band The Triffids were ruined by a big budget for their fourth album, conflicting ideals from the label and the band leading to a long, drawn-out, over-produced disaster. Well, that’s an opinion, and one I read recently on F*c*b**k. I reckon Calenture is a damn sight better than that, but let’s look a little further back at what the band produced whilst living off the smell of an oily rag in the middle of nowhere. Compare and contrast the making of In the Pines with its successor and it becomes a little easier to understand why Calenture draws flak even now.

Spring 1986, The Triffids headed out into the wilds of Western Australia, armed with an 8 track machine and a mixing desk, to record an LP in a shearing shed owned by the parents of band members David and Robert McComb.

It would be a relaxed affair, completely low-fi, and maybe “not suitable for the likes of Virgin”. If the sounds of the wild found their way on to the tape, no problem.  David McComb wanted all of the atmosphere to be preserved in the recording, and a room microphone was used to capture as many of the noises and as much of the back chat as possible. There was so much leakage across the tracks, it was almost mono. The band made good use of ‘instruments’ found in the shed: water tanks, brooms, floorboards. five days the Triffids and some friends ate one sheep, drank more than several slabs of beer, glimpsed a disappointingly faint Halley’s Comet and recorded 19 new songs – (Evil) Graham Lee

The budget was laughably tiny –

Recording equipment hire $300.
Food from F.E.Daw & Son Ravensthorpe $310.
All sheep from Woodstock.
Beer from Liquorland Coles Nth Perth/Wine & vodka from Hopetown Ravensthorpe hotels $340.
Petrol $240, cars – Datsun 1803/2 Toyota Hiace/ Campervan/ Tim’s Renault

but the results are marvellous, heard at their best in the remixed and remastered version. It’s a fan’s favourite album, precisely because it doesn’t have the adornment of a full on studio: it’s the most honest representation of the band on record. You can feel the isolation in the evocative lyrics of the stripped down melancholy tunes, especially the lilting Born Sandy Devotional and the faux country-soul of One Soul Less On Your Fiery List. If Robert Smith had been born in Austin, maybe he’d have made music like this.

There’s more than a glimmer of playfulness there too, shining through the gloom, demonstrated best by a singalong cover of Bill Anderson’s country classic Once A Day. And there’s a taste of things to come, with three songs that were held over for a ‘proper’ studio: A Trick Of The Light, Blinder By The Hour and Jerdacuttup Man all feature on Calenture in revised form.

In The Pines is a classic. Every home should have it.

Old Music Sacred Days

The Sacred Days You Gave Me – The Stone Roses

(The final album in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)

Our own particular brand of Northern Soul, the Roses were. Self-belief in bucketloads, strong instrumental ability and a staggering ambition to make their debut the next ‘Electric Ladyland’ or ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’.

The Roses railed against the pessimism of the post-Smiths years, ignored the London trendsetters, and stood up for what they thought was right in the face of media criticism. They had a sense of purpose rare in established bands, let alone those who are relatively wet behind the ears. They weren’t ‘Madchester‘, to me. Their music was, and is, timeless.

From the opening bass rumble and subsequent guitar chord shower of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the closing wig-out of ‘I Am The Resurrection’, the Stone Roses and producer John Leckie pull together the individual threads of spaced-out dance freaking, psychedelia, folk-rock and situationist lyricism and knit them together into something unique. Music for the head, the heart and the soul.

More than 20 years since The Stone Roses was released, and I’m struggling to think of a more significant musical event during that time, or a better album. You’ll find a fair few who disagree with that point of view. But when I find fellow believers, like-minded souls, The Stone Roses brings us together strongly. Nostalgic, yet forward-looking. Brethren.

Precious few bands can do that.

P.S. And a word about Mani..  how good is Mani? The Stone Roses and Primal Scream.. not a bad CV when all’s said and done. Top bloke.

OK, folks, that’s it, I’m all done with listing my favourites.. until another excuse comes along. Find all ten of my ‘Sacred Days’ album selections here. ‘New music’ writing coming soon.

Old Music Sacred Days

The Sacred Days You Gave Me – The Jesus And Mary Chain

(#9 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)

I’d just like to say to all you young folks that if you’re playing in a band and your raison d’être is complete indifference.. if you’re playing that card, “look at us, we’re chaotic and we don’t care about anything, least of all our fans”..

Don’t. Pack it in, think of something else. You couldn’t hope to do it better than The Jesus And Mary Chain, and if you wanted to try, you’d actually have to put some effort in. And of course you’re not supposed to care that much.

For Jim and William Reed, the blistering sound of distortion and feedback said everything they wanted to say. Rank amateur Bobby Gillespie behind the “drumkit”, slovenly vocals, murky bass, amplifier hiss.. an unholy racket.

Penetrating the murk, however, were proper pop songs. Echoes of Phil Spector. The classic sound of The Crystals, The Ronettes and The Beach Boys.

Played by lazy slackers.

Drowned in screeching sheets of white noise.

Lovely stuff. Twenty five years ago, I’d heard nothing like it.

I didn’t see The Jesus And Mary Chain live until much later. Less daunting a prospect.

P.S. The final part of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: 1989

Old Music Sacred Days

The Sacred Days You Gave Me – The Smiths

(#8 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)

We took a deep breath and held it, in the late post-punk era. Not much joy in serried ranks of earnest young men in long grey raincoats poking desultorily at synthesisers. And that’s definitely what we were missing.. delight, glee, abandon. But we got what we wanted in the end.

Seems odd to take joy from a band oft accused of plumbing the depths of miserabilia? You had to be there. It’s hard to imagine the sheer animal hysteria in a Smiths audience, but I’ve never seen.. devotion like it, before or since.

Peals of chiming chords torn from Marr’s Rickerbacker, Rourke tunefully locked in with Joyce. The stage strewn with gladioli, callow youths a-faint with adulation hurling themselves at Morrissey.. Morrissey flailing, arms aloft, dizzy, elusive.

A few short days after the debut album release, they played Brighton Polytechnic. An impossibly long wait for the band (wasn’t there always, in the 80s?). A rapturous howling response and a lucky thirteen songs [setlist], the stage besieged. I was thunderstruck, back out into the midnight air, dazed but euphoric.

Alas, you ruined the first album for me that night, gentlemen. Though the lyrical impact remained, it was no longer the sound of the majestic Smiths I’d seen, it was just too flat.. dry, distinctly un-thrilling. But later that year, out popped Hatful Of Hollow – their true debut, for me.

Each time I listen to it, I’m half my age and back in that audience, rapt.

P.S. Part 9 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: 1985