So what do you do, when you have a chance to meet your heroes, either fleetingly, or if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room with them for a goodly period of time? You’re in a quandary, there are too many questions unanswered, there’s no time to think. Will I look like a gushing fanboy twit? Can my hero be arsed with the attention after so many years in the spotlight? Will my hero dash my expectations to the ground, because despite all my doubt, deep down I do really really want a word or two from him or her, and gad, they might be too tired, it might be the first few minutes they’ve had to themselves all day, and it might be the eightieth time that day someone’s pestered them, and.. what to do? What to DO? What to SAY?
Well, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s.. strange.
(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.
(#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.
(#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.
(#7 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)
Punk didn’t really hit the English northern industrial city of Sheffield as hard as it did elsewhere. “Rebel? What against? I’ve been doing it all my life, mate, every day. I work hard, I play hard and I’m nobody’s fool. There’s only one person in this world who looks after me.. and that’s me. Spotty London w*nkers with cheap guitars? What do I have to listen to that racket for? I want something a bit more glamorous, mate, something that takes me away from grey skies and the noise and heat of the steel furnace, takes me to a different place. Get away from it all, like. Dream a bit.”
1980 – The Human League had come to a grinding halt. A couple of albums of austere arty electronic noise, some critical acclaim but also a fair amount of ridicule from the mainstream, they stalled, unsure of a direction. At a time when virtually anybody with a synthesiser could get a hit (Numan, Foxx, OMD, Ultravox, Visage..) the League couldn’t get past first base.
The major players split. Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware (perceived as the creative core of the League) went to pursue their electronic music ideal. Singer Phil Oakey, and director of visuals Philip Adrian Wright wanted to move in a purer pop direction, but how? Less than half a band, a tour looming, promoters insistent..
Down the Crazy Daisy one night, Oakey saw what he thought might be the League’s salvation. Two teenage girls on a night out, happy, dancing, they looked good together.. Phil took a deep breath and invited them to join the band and tour. Complemented by local musician Ian Burden covering on a variety of keyboards, the second line up of the League took its first few faltering steps.
1981 – New boy Jo Callis knew the value of a good tune, veteran producer Martin Rushent knew how to arrange. The League were a band. The accent was on songs, not style, and finding their soul, they produced one of the most extraordinary albums of the 80s in Dare. Rushent pulled all the strands together: listen to the album today, pick on any stray squiggle or bleep from the electronics, and it works in isolation as a hook, as music. As pop.
Three UK top 20 singles released before the album. The totally bonkers weeping and wailing of ‘Sound Of The Crowd’, the insistent miaow of the opening bars of ‘Love Action’. A semi-autobiographical song about relationships with an irresistible pulse beat? Made for the charts, just made for them. And the teaser for ‘Dare’ in the dreamboat chorus of ‘Open Your Heart’ – a ‘Blue’ song, for Abba fans (according to Phil – ‘Red’ songs were for Spandau Ballet fans).
Then the album, plus a massive hit and Christmas #1, no less, in the days when that actually meant something. ‘Don’t You Want Me’ racked up sales of more than a million, with its classic noirpromo. Everyday girls, Joanne and Suzanne, not superstars. Top Shop and Woolworths. Roxy Music and Donna Summer. Dance round your handbag, get off your face on Southern Comfort and lemonade, and have a major hit record.
You can’t ignore the power of popular music. Not when it’s as completely lovable as this.
(#6 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)
1979 – I was still loving the blues, more often than not blasted out by a rash of speedy punky British R&B merchants like Nine Below Zero and The Inmates, so what’s a music fan to do but go back to the source, to find out where all that stuff came from?
I was lucky, as it happened, to find Muddy Waters at a time in his life where he was given license to do what he did best.. play the blues, of course.. unencumbered by studio chicanery, no pigeonholes, no commercial considerations (other than to put him back in touch with his fans), under the watchful eye of an empathetic producer and guitarist in Johnny Winter, and backed by like-minded souls sensitive to every on-stage and in-studio move of the Godfather of the Blues, the Man himself.
Muddy electrified and defined the blues for the post-war generation, and over the course of four late-period albums, put himself back in the spotlight for an amazing swan song. The live album was the one I bought first, quickly followed by Hard Again and I’m Ready, Grammy winners all.
Undisputably the real deal: I’d heard nothing like it before: the swarm of angry bees that was Johnny Winter‘s slide guitar, the unmistakeable tone of the slide of the King Bee himself.. Muddy, the black Buddha, pouring out the deep, slow blues (because that’s “where the soul is”, right?). The tasteful restraint of Bob Margolin and Luther Johnson, the contrasting bass styles of Charlie Calmese and Calvin Jones, the rumbling piano of Pinetop Perkins, the literal pattering economy of Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on drums.. and James Cotton and Jerry Portnoy, who showed me that you could really play harmonica (rather than just breathe in and out of one and make a good noise). That’s quite some roll call.
And perhaps for the first time, the music I was listening to had space: it was concise and crisp. Not so much about what was played, but what wasn’t – creative tension, undertow, timing.. what ever you like to call it. Soul, most certainly. The unvarnished truth.
Muddy Waters was my conduit to a world of blues and soul music, past and present.. a path I’m still walking. Muddy passed away in 1983, but those six years with Blue Sky Records displayed him at full power – an essential final portrait of a legend.