Feb 152011
 


I’ve never seen this clip of Elvis Costello & The Attractions playing “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” before. It’s from a 1980 appearance on England’s Kenny Everett Show. I’ve never heard this version before. Is it an outtake or recording they made especially for lip-synching on the show?

We ran the following clip, also from the Kenny Everett Show, some time ago. If memory serves it was another video-only mix. I’d love to find a straight audio clip of this version of Nick Lowe‘s “So It Goes”: Continue reading »

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Mar 232010
 

In a recent thread someone wondered aloud if there was anyone in rock who has actually gotten better with age. Mr. Moderator offered up Nick Lowe, who I think falls short but A for effort. I can’t find which one of you said it but for you I offer up Robyn Hitchcock.

A bit of my history with The Man Who Invented Himself. I got turned onto the Soft Boys when a DJ at my college station spun “Millstream Pigworker” from Can of Bees. Couldn’t find the album version on YouTube but this is close.

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Mar 232010
 

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3‘s Propellor Time is an understated release that was recorded, mostly live, in a week’s time in 2006, between the recordings for two prior Venus 3 releases, Ole Tarantula! and Goodnight Oslo. Never having been the world’s greatest Robyn Hitchcock fan, I can’t be sure of the pulse of his fans today, but if anyone’s expecting a collection of jangly songs about the sexual lives of insects and fishes, prepare for a letdown.

Hitchcock does not abandon his silly, creepy crawly motifs, such as the verse in “Afterlife” that describes the monarch butterfly’s secretion of “royal jelly,” but he seems more willing than usual to scratch beneath the surface, to the true themes of his work – love, sex, death, and all that good stuff – and address them directly. In “Star of Venus” he provides the image of a skeletal couple driving well beyond the point when death has done them part, the man’s arm around his wife’s shoulders: “And that’s true love,” he sings, “they’ve still got the radio on.” It’s a sweet image that he resists spraying with 10cc of jelly.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, “Star of Venus”

For years Hitchcock played in trios and jangly quartets that had the musical range of his jangly trio: high end to higher end. I’ve got a nasty, thoroughly unfair theory about musicians who spend too much time leading trios: with the exception of an unmatched talent like Jimi Hendrix, it tells me the bandleader does not play well with others. This is what I figured was the case with Hitchcock until the mid-’90s, when Young Fresh Fellows mastermind Scott McCaughey (who also serves in the Oliver role for REM) recruited Hitchcock to be part of the pop collective The Minus 5. McCaughey and the other American, Minus 5 collaborators who make up The Venus 3, Peter Buck and Bill Rieflin, help Hitchcock swim with the current rather than against it. Propellor Time is loaded with other cool contributors, who sound like they’ve simply “dropped in”: Nick Lowe, John Paul Jones, Chris Ballew, Morris Windsor, and Johnny Marr, among others.

Perhaps Hitchcock’s been getting to the heart of the matter for a lot longer than I’ve paid attention – sorry, Robyn, if that’s the case – but with one exception whenever I revisit the albums Hitchcock released in the ’80s and ’90s I quickly recoil from the dimestore Syd-isms and sophomoric, cosmic observations. Sonically, the high-end jangle of his band-oriented albums never helped, and for some reason it felt to me like he was laying on the British accent a little thicker than necessary.

Element of Light has always been the exception for me. Hitchcock isn’t so nervy, sly, and hectoring. The music is more lush. He makes more references to John Lennon than Syd Barrett, and with the richer-than-usual backing tracks his multi-tracked vocals sit atop the mix like Brian Eno. I can listen to tracks like “Winchester” and the funny/sad “Ted, Woody, and Junior” a half dozen times a day – and often I do.

From an interview on his website, Hitchcock mentioned that he couldn’t have made this album 10 years earlier:

I didn’t have the stew of people, or the philosophy in the songs. Perhaps I had the wrong kind of wisdom then. You lose speed and you gain depth.

No wonder I like about this album more than most Robyn Hitchcock albums I’ve bought. He’s got a supportive stew of friends who keep him from rushing ahead and offering glib, shorthand observations on the order of the cosmos. As with Element of Light, there’s more Lennon at the heart of this album than Syd, and a little Dylan. If you’ve lived this long you can aspire to Lennon and Dylan. Syd was fantastic in his own way, but he’s a dead-end. Maybe Hitchcock has figured this out. “We love you, sickie-boy,” he and his sickie friends sing toward the end of an album, rallying around each other – and us.

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Mar 222010
 

In honor of the recent RTH interview with Martin Belmont I want to have a look at his first band, Ducks Deluxe, and the later careers of its members to see what it tells us about the evolution of British rock in the ’70s and afterwards.

The Ducks

The Ducks

As Martin says in the interview the Ducks specialized in rough and ready rock and worked best when focused on frontman Sean Tyla. Mr. Mod already posted the one good clip of the band playing one of its signature songs live, but here’s the studio version of “Coast to Coast.”

It was the opening track of their eponymously titled first album, and I love the way Tyla welcomes the audience with “All right, kids, are you readuh?” We’re going to talk more about him later, but Tyla was a real character, and he specialized in this kind of straight ahead, almost Springsteenian rock. Here’s “Fireball.”

Tyla also liked to write about imaginary Americana, so there are songs with titles like like “Rio Grande” and “West Texas Trucking Board.” The problem with Ducks Deluxe as a recording band is that you can’t really have a whole album of uptempo rockers like that, and they faltered a bit when it came to ballads. Also, there were two other songwriters in the band, our buddy Martin Belmont and Nick Garvey, and the vocals on those songs are much less distinctive than Tyla’s. Here’s Belmont’s “Something Goin’ On,” with later Ducks bassist Micky Groome on vocals:

The different styles of the songwriters just seem to make it a little hard to get a fix on the identity of the band. Live this probably would not have been so much of a problem, and the excellent covers on their albums (Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown,” Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law,” and Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now”) give some other hints of why they were popular on the pub rock circuit. But as usual in this genre their records didn’t sell, and they disbanded in 1975.

They had a decently selected best-of LP named after another of their signature rockers, “Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonight.”

It was issued in 1978, I assume because the members had achieved some fame in subsequent bands. I don’t think it ever made it out of the vinyl era, but you can probably find a copy. Despite their lack of sales at the time, they are now pretty well-represented on CD. Their two regular albums (the second one is called Taxi to the Terminal Zone) are available as a twofer. And there’s a second twofer with their third record, which was an EP, some stray tracks, and then the first album by the Tyla Gang, Sean’s next band, again about which more in a minute. The Ducks have actually reformed recently for some European dates, and they’ve issued a very nice, newly-recorded EP called Box of Shorts, which, except for being much better recorded, sounds pretty much like the original band. Here’s a clip of them performing a song from the EP, “Diesel Heart,” in Stockholm last year:

Deluxe

Deluxe
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Aug 072009
 


We’ve approached this subject from a few different angles in the past and as Townspeople continue to age and try to figure out what it’s all about, Alfie, I’m sure this won’t be the last time this comes up. Recently I was listening to my “best of” CD mix that I made of the last three Nick Lowe albums (no surprise that Lowe is already back in the conversation, is it?), and I was thinking to myself, Although Nick’s music from the last 10 years is nowhere near as original and energetic as his early burst of activity, these favorte dozen songs of his from recent albums are beginning to make me think less of his first two albums. Jeez, I’m beginning to feel like much of his earlier works was “kids’ stuff!”

My conversation with myself continued, as I tried to put these thoughts in proper perspective: Continue reading »

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Feb 042009
 

Here’s a story that’s been told before, in one way or another, but it’s worth telling again.


The whole Pub Rock/Pure Pop for Now People Dream was running its course. Nick Lowe put out an album called Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit. Nick assembled what, on paper, looked to be a band worthy of the legacy of Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile. His Cowboy Outfit included Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont and Ace lead singer-turned-session man and super-sub Paul Carrack. Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner even played on a couple of tracks!
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Dec 082008
 

I love pub rock. There’s no clear definition of the style, but it was a mid-70s British phenomenon, a back-to-basics trend that was never wildly popular, a precursor to punk, and many pub rock musicians carried on into the punk era. Brinsley Schwarz is probably the best-known exponent of the style, which I think of as a mixture of black and white musical genres – rock, R&B, country, folk, and pop. The conversation between black and white is what rock & roll is all about to me, and pub rock was a peculiarly British take on that conversation.

I’m going to write an irregular series about pub rock here, and I want to start with a man who could be called one of the progenitors of the style. He was also a player in what could be called the secret history of rock & roll.

Jim Ford is one of those legends that almost no one knows about. If he’s known at all it’s because he wrote the song “Niki Hoeky,” which was recorded most famously by Aretha Franklin on the Lady Soul album. Here’s Bobbie Gentry doing “Niki Hoeky” on the Smothers Brothers TV show. Note the authentic Cajun mise en scene:

Ford’s other claim to fame is that Nick Lowe has cited him as his biggest influence. But let me back up a bit and give a little background on Ford himself.
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