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.


How Blue Can You Get? – B.B. King

Just had to share this one with you.. a terrific clip of B.B. King in blazing form, electrifying festival goers at the Medicine Ball Caravan, Placitas, NM, in 1970. I’ve seen Mr. King live a few times in his later years, and whilst his star is now waning, videos like this emphasise just what a vital blues force he was.

New Music

At Home With King Of Limbs

Pre-order, wait until Saturday, log in, press the download button..

..and hey presto, here’s the new Radiohead album, following the virtual trip home from the record shop. Anticipation at a peak, it’s time for the first listen, track-by-track. Let’s put the word atmosphere to one side before we begin.

Shuffling samples, drum and bass-led.. ah, here’s Thom pulling it all together. Pretty. This wasn’t written, it evolved.

Morning Mr Magpie
A guitar riff scuttles. Quiet funk and a terrific sinuous bassline. Fade. Mean Mr Mustard it’s not.

Little By Little
Trying to resist using the word motorik, but I can’t. That’s three tracks of intriguing rhythms. Plucked riffs as Thom croons and gets a little cheeky.

OK, let’s get further out there. Vocal and instrumental samples fade in and out. Tape loops across the studio. A relationship-breaker if played on repeat. One for Radio 2? Maybe not.

Lotus Flower
Some say Thom sounds like Prince. Hmm. Lyrics wrap round the song structure like honeysuckle.  Here’s the video, see for yourself.

Break for cup of tea and quick game of Mousetrap.

The classic,  right here. Beautiful. A liquid production, glorious piano and strings fade in. Must see that one in live performance.

Give Up The Ghost
Pastoral feel, over the first few bars, and in comes Thom, swathed in effects. Lovely acoustic moods from Jonny. Is this Radiohead?

Phil kicks out another spattering rhythm. Thom’s lost in the effects, it’s almost a suggestion of a vocal, voice as instrument. Beautiful.


No big crunchy Jonny moments for you Bends fans, but you know in your heart of hearts: that was then, this is Radiohead now. King of Limbs feels slighter, moodier, more soulful and certainly more understated than In Rainbows, but I am just as immediately captivated by it. Depth and intrigue.

Press play. Again. And again.


Black Postcards – Dean Wareham

Nothing caught my eye in the pulpy crime fiction section of the library the other week, so I mooched over to the music books and borrowed what turned out to be one of the best rock and roll biographies I’ve ever read.

Dean Wareham was the frontman of cult indie proto-shoegazers Galaxie 500, a band I thought were just fine, but were no great heroes of mine. The best thing I liked about them was their fantastic cover of Joy Division/New Order’s Ceremony. They did, however, have a decent and incredibly dedicated following. As did Luna, Wareham’s subsequent band, praised by Rolling Stone as “the greatest band you never heard of’ (though that line may be a little over-used).

Black Postcards is a brutally honest account of life in the music business, detailing in plain terms the tightrope walked between artistic integrity and commercial acceptance, independence and corporate control. He tells us just what it means to be penniless when unsuccessful and following a dream, then skint when successful but in debt to a major label, and how that affects relationships with the people around you: bandmates, soon to become enemies, tugging in opposite directions. The burn-out. The break-up of families, the infidelity, the bitterness, the wounds. Friends and relations trail in the wake, lost or forgotten.

And the life affirming moments when, all too briefly, the hype and the music and the effort and the desire coalesce and bring the rewards.. world tours, critical acclaim, high living and commercial success.

If you’ve been in a band, at whatever level, you’ll recognise the moves, the infighting and the frustration described here as the depths are plumbed, but this makes it all the more enjoyable when Wareham and company pull it off and scale the peaks. If you have any interest at all in human nature, you’ll find this book a worthwhile read too – you don’t need to know anything about the music.

If you’re not a fan and would like an intro to the sounds, Wareham notes that Galaxie 500’s debut Today“..made for $750, including sixty minutes of one inch tape” – and Penthouse by Luna are his favourites, Penthouse being “the first difficult album Luna had made, where we fought and were set against one another. Where things took longer than they should have. Where we went over budget. But it was also clearly our best album.” So here’s a track from each, bracketing Ceremony.

If you see the book, grab it. Five stars.

P.S. Dean Wareham continues to perform today, with his wife and former Luna bassist Britta Phillips, as Dean & Britta.

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.


The Rest Is Noise

Classical music.. how do you approach it? There’s so much of it. How do you find out what you like and what you don’t, where to begin, which direction to go? There may be a temptation to just ignore it. Don’t get it, never will.. which would be a big mistake.

Classical music is boring? How about The Rite Of Spring, music by Stravinsky? At it’s premiere in 1913, there were riots worthy of a Sex Pistols or Jesus And Mary Chain gig. Arguments, fistfights in the audience, the Paris police failed to restore order, chaos reigned. Anything but boring.

Classical music is highbrow? Let’s take the tritone, for example, a musical interval that spans three whole tones, the augmented fourth or diminished fifth. It’s an unsettling and unstable noise. Not interested? Well, it’s also called diabolus in musica, the devil in music. Remember the intro of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze? It’s a tritone. You’ll hear it in the music of Black Sabbath. And you’re going to find it in classical works by Saint-Saëns, Benjamin Britten and many more, from the Middle Ages onward. And in jazz. And in film music.

So you could pick up a book or two to help you along.. start with Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise, which will tell you about 20th century music and how modern composers pushed the classical music envelope, creating an array of sounds as yet unheard. The book looks back for references to the late romantic period of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, and tips its hat to The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

I was lucky. My much-missed old friend Gillan Meek prompted and gently pushed music in my direction. “Try this”.. “Did you like it? Great. Here’s something a little different.” That’s how I discovered beautiful sounds like the Tallis Fantasia by Vaughan-Williams (1910), Arvo Pärt‘s Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977, modern music indeed) and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bartók (1936). Try them for size.

It’s easier than ever to try classical music.. Alex Ross’ web site has iTunes playlists and the majority of MP3 download sites will let you grab just one movement of a symphony, say, to sample it.

And if I had to recommend just one place to get you started on a classical music odyssey, let’s pick something from a time before Alex Ross’s book begins. Take fifteen minutes out of your day to listen to Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic play the fourth movement from Gustav Mahler‘s 5th Symphony. There’s no finer interpretation of the Adagietto.

Here’s Part 2. Did you like it? Good. There’s a whole lot more to discover.