Week 12 : 25th March 1972 : Machine Head is 45 years old


Accompany music : Smoke on the Water

As you will have seen this blog, is running about 3 weeks behind the album date, due to outside circumstances whether its the work or social life or a lack of materials or music. The delay gives a little time to plan (I always have two blogs playing in my head at same time, and probably designs for the creative elements of the next two) and also recover after a mistake. I had planned out week 12 meticulously, created a stonking pop-up and was about to write a post regarding live albums and the wonders of ACDC…. the only problem was I had the wrong date completely. So hopefully ACDC will follow later into the year.

So I had to come up with a replacement and Deep Purple Machine Head became an obvious choice. I could make a card easily and I had a copy….. or I thought I had. Searched high and low and couldn’t find it, so ended up buying a new vinyl copy to play. It was the night of a Mr Draytons record Player (For reference it was Arctic Monkeys) and as usual people ask about what I have bought, sharing the ACDC/Deep Purple mix up story with a friend Christian we discuss the grand British Hard Rock/Metal trio of Sabbath, Zeppelin and Purple and wondered why neither of us had that much Deep Purple.

I was kind of stumped by this. I have all the Led Zeppelin albums and all the Sabbath albums that appear in the timeline below. But I have only ever owned 4 Deep Purple albums. In Rock, Machine Head, Made in Japan and Perfect Strangers. All three bands are so influential to the music that becomes British Heavy Metal, all brought out influential albums and created tracks with amazing unforgettable riffs that are amazing to air guitar to and impossible not to hum along to. All this starts late 60’s/early 70’s.

I am going to take us back to week 7 blog about Black Sabbath debut and the birth of Heavy Metal and start adding Zeppelin and Purple to the mix. We will go into Zeppelin in much more detail in a later. For now I will concentrate on the period 1968 when all three bands emerged to 1972 (Purples Machine Head). I have created a  timeline detailing their albums and some of my favourite tracks which happen to have one distinct feature, Amazing riffs.

Lets start in 1968, all three bands form in one way or another. Deep Purple release their first albums of mainly Psychedelic music but contains a version of the song Hush. By 1969, Zeppelin release their first two albums with tracks such as Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown, Dazed and Confused and Ramble On, taking Blues rock to a far more heavier place. Purple are experimenting with orchestral pieces.

As you may have seen in the week 7 post, Black Sabbath thunder into the scene in 1970, release their debut (with their eponymous track and NIB creating that heavy metal sound), closely followed by Paranoid (with the classic title track, Iron Man, War Pigs). The third Led Zeppelin album appears with the small but loud Immigrant Song and the heavy blues of Since Ive Been Loving You. Deep Purple release ‘In Rock’ which starts to define their sound to a harder edge with tracks BlackNight, Speed King and Child In Time. This coincides with the reshaping of the band and the creation of the classic Deep Purple Mark II. Featuring Blackmore (Guitar), Glover (Bass), Paice (Drums), Lord (Keyboards) and Gillan (vocals). This 5 piece would help shape rock for the next 3 years.

In 1971, all three bands again bring out albums, Led Zepelin IV will become an all time classic mainly due to Stairway to Heaven, but also the other high quality tracks such as Misty Mountain Hop, Black Dog and Rock in Roll. Sabbath release Masters Of Reality with the stunning Children of The Grave on it. Meanwhile Deep Purple release Fireball with the explosive title track and the mercurial hard blues of Strange Kind Of Women.

So we reach 1972, Sabbath release Vol IV with Wheels of Confusion and Snowblind and Zeppelin have their first year off. Purple meanwhile have been through a turbulent process in 1971 on Lake Geneva recording their Machine Head album which is released on the 25th March 1972.

Starting with one of my favourite Deep Purple tracks, after the initial warm up, this track delivers exactly what the title Highway Star promises. That build up of acceleration at the start of guitar, bass and drums is built upon my Lords keyboards and Gillians first screams. The whole drive of the song is that of power and speed, with the stop start riffs and screamed choruses seem to add bursts of acceleration. Blackmores solo at the end, on top of Paices constant powerful beat gives the impetus to race towards the chequered flag. Maybe, Im a Leo is a lovely little downbeat track featuring a big blues riff, a great vocal performance by Gillan and opportunity for all the band whether it be Blackmore, Glover, Lord or Paice to show their skills.

Pictures of Home, Paices drumroll seem to ignite a sweeping rock track which seems to float on amazing Hammond organs, driven by drums and Blackmores guitar. Gillans vocals take on a progressive/psychedelic feel. Lords and then Glovers solos are excellent as well as Blackmoors stop start solo. Never Before, starts with disjointed blues riff but it is given urgency by Gillans vocals. The choruses are very 70’s pop/rock whilst the harmonised bridge is a nice surprise. Once again the combination of Blackmores guitar and Lords Keyboards add so much passion and groove to this song.

So side 2, and Smoke On The Water. That unmistakable legandary guitar riff is given enough space on its own to sink in, rising in volume with drums and keyboard. But its Glovers bass line that moves the song on and makes this one of the best intro’s of all time. Once we get into the verses, its brilliant storytelling of the problems of making of this album. Lords Hammond organ plays alongside Gillans vocals, and solid bass and drums throwing fills. The returning riff is never far away at the end of each verse. Blackmores solo drifts backwards and forwards, sometimes intersecting with the other musicians but mostly not. I love the breakdown at the end where confines of the riff are lost. This song is played far too much (almost too comfortable with it) but it is epic.

Church like organ heralds Lazy, changing into  pulses and distortion. Soon the keyboard is exchanging notes with guitar, and then Blackmore is away with a jaunty blues riff, supported by Hammond organ, and stepping out bass and driving drums. It takes about 4 minutes for Gillans first vocals and harmonica to appear. Its a track that swings right to the end.

This album is bookended by two great driving tracks. Space Truckin is just a little bit madder. Big bass line up front, joined by power drums and chugging keyboards and guitar. The verses have an awesome huge riff which all components play their part to create. Gillan really lets himself go in this track, whether its the powerful menacing vocals in verses or the choruses that get more shouty and then screamy at we reach the crescendo at the almost hypnotic end.

And there we have it, stunning musicianship and vocals abound. Its interesting that the thing most people know about this album, is that opening riff of Smoke on the Water. It is so much bigger than that, riffs play a huge part in this album,. Blackmore of course is epic at creating catchy bone-crunching riffs in tracks such as Highway Star but then can experiment at will on a blues riff or spiral off into his own world on a solo. The role of Lords keyboards especially the Hammond organ creates a stunning backdrop creating the mood and groove of this album. Paices drumming is powerful, driving tracks along but also delivering clever fills when required. Glovers bass does the same, as I said above the bass line in Smoke of the Water moves that track along, like so much on the album. Every so often, you can catch little pieces where the bass trickery hiding in the mix. Finally Gillans stunning vocals are measured when they need to be or at Gale Force 9 when expected.

So why have I not got more into more Deep Purple. To be honest I think its possibly because the classic Mark II period didn’t last much longer. There is only one more studio album with Gillan and Glover in this period, Who Do We Think We Are. Until they come back for Perfect Strangers in the 1980’s. I have brought the majority of Mark II albums but never really felt enthused to explore early or later reincarnations. There are some great tracks but there isn’t the consistency I would like. It says it all, that many years later I saw modern Purple play without of course Blackmore and Lord (Morse and Airey took their place). It was nice, but very safe and we walked out before the end. It just didn’t feel right…. now Rainbow thats a different story

Alright, my replacement card project turned out to be very easy. At Christmas I created a series of cards based on Christmas based themed place names in America. Of course there was a north pole, a santa claus, a reindeer hills and half a dozen places named Christmas. But there was also an elf and an eggnog. I  looked for a map of the area, with the name highlighted, cropped the picture and then added it to the front of the card. I then added an appropriate christmas item to the front above the place name creating a quirky yuletime card.

So for Deep Purple, I took the most played classic element of this album and used the same methodology as above. I searched for a map section of Lake Geneva in Switzerland with the city of Montreux highlighted. This was cropped, printed onto write card and cut out leaving a small white border. This is stuck onto a purple card. A purple pin is printed, cut out and stuck using an adhesive riser above Montreux. Above this the opening chords to Smoke on the Water are stuck in the same way. So we have a map with the riff attached to this… maybe this can become a trend…. Johnny be Goode riff in Lousiana anyone.

Billy (aged 4 at time of album release)

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Week 10 : 11th March 1975 : Welcome To My Nightmare



Accompany music : The Black Widow

Its one of my earliest TV memories. It’s June 1974, I’m six years old, at my grans, it’s Saturday teatime and I am so scared. I have spent the last half hour hiding behind cushions and parents, as the Dr Who took on giant arachnids in The Planet of The Spiders. I was so frightened of them climbing on peoples backs and the huge queen spider, every time they appeared I let out a shriek and hid away. At the end of the episode, I hid again as the doctor transformed from a grey curly haired melodramatic actor to a brown curly haired melodramatic actor (who I would later become obsessed with). This was my Doctor Who epiphany and I would stay frightened for many years to come. As many of my age, I would hide behind the sofa, from the Daleks and especially the Cybermen. To be honest not much has changed, when the Weeping Angels start attacking now I find myself reaching for a large cushion or look at my phone in case someone has called.

I am even worse with horror films. I quite like the idea of horror, and I love the atmosphere and the mythology. Vampires don’t bother me (I love Buffy The Vampire Slayer on TV or Near Dark/Lost Boys/Fright Night on film), Werewolves are kind of cool ( I quite like American Werewolf in London) but I struggle with gore and especially suspense. I think thats why I struggle with Zombie based things with their slow meandering stumble towards an inevitable gruesome ending. I can’t even say I have watched a whole horror film without looking away or seeking sanctuary behind some upholstery. I “saw” Nightmare of Elm Street, 3 times at the cinema and saw 60% of it (and jumped at the same bits). I used to go to all night horror movies at the ABC cinema on Westgate Road, five films a night spent hiding behind legs or closing eyes.

I looked up the horror movies of 1974/75 around when this album came out. I struggled with both the big hits, I have never got through 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as its far too gruesome. The horror film of 1975 was Jaws, which I have watched (80% of) but the music freaks me more than the action.  I do have a soft spot for older Hammer House films with fab actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Also the 60’s Roger Corman films of Edgar Allan Poe, which were equally dark and ridiculous, mainly because of its charismatic lead actor, Vincent Price. By the 70’s, Price had continued to appear in the odd horror movie (Theatre of Blood) but now appeared regularly on various TV series and specials. One TV special in 1975, found himself reprising the role he had carried out on an album (long before Michael Jacksons thriller). This mock shock horror concept album  of dreams of a boy called Steven, would become one of Alice Coopers biggest hits (and my favourite of his).

Opening with the title track Welcome to My Nightmare. An acoustic and whispered start builds in it’s sleaziness and more deranged vocals. There’s a fab jazz horn section before Alice ramps it up even more. It’s a fab start to the album.

Devils Food, hits with big riff and shout out lyrics. Suddenly leaping into spaced out effect bridge and into the one and only chorus. The breakdown follows into Vincent Price’s moment. His speech as a museum curator overseeing his prize collection of spiders is simply amazing. Price’s turn of phrase and pronunciation of words is the star of the show. The way he takes great delight in how the Black Widow ‘kills and eats’ her partner is both funny and creepy. The way he stops starts sentences also is great. The sentence ‘causing intense pain, profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, loss of consciousness, violent convulsions and finally ………..err  death’ is worth playing over and over again. This introduction fits perfectly into Alice’s spoken response at the start of Black Widow. The song rolls on, in sinister fashion with grinding riff and guitar interjections. The star of this is Alice’s creepy and held back delivery of the story and the warnings about the creature. The marching drum beat and the guitar fanfare riff that herald the ending of the song are great.

Alice Cooper albums always have these weird quirky tracks. Clicking fingers, piano and cabaret style performance and rousing singalong pop chorus make Some Folk a great song. Then even better, it kicks off, tumbles out of control with a deranged Alice and spiralling guitar. Makes it even better. Only Women Bleed, is a truly beautiful song about a truly awful subject. It’s a great emotive delivery by Cooper, retelling the terrible situation but sadly stops short of being a true protest song.

There is something kind of ironic listening to ‘Department Of Youth‘ at this time. Being associated with Youth Services for a long time, this song makes me happy as it sums up some great elements that sum up youth peoples participation, how they should be listened to and their role in society. In the state of the country at the moment, it is much needed now. With its 70’s glam rock groove it’s a really uplifting track.

Another brilliant rock song Cold Ethyl is next with a subject matter not needed on this blog. Strange relationship preferences innocently sang out against great riffs and song structure. Less said about the sound effects in the breakdown before the final verse the better.

The wind up organ effects of Years Ago, start the real concept element of the album. Sinister nursery rhyme lyrics herald spooky noises and Stephen. An Exorcist/Tubular Bell starts, Alice’s child like voice goes into musical territory broke up by the Exorcist piano riff. The choral element when it arrives screams Stephen. The track builds in structure through the guitar solo and brings us back to Stephen soliloquy and further choral responses. Stephens story continues in The Awakening. starting sparingly the track builds in intensity and then gives way gently to a quiet end.

The last track is another  great example of an Alice rock standard. Cue great riff, song structure, shouty lyrics and singalong choruses. The guitar solo and xylophone elements are so happy. Escape probably follows on from the story but does seem a little out of place. In the end it leaves a happy smile on the face at the end of a great album.

So why do I love this album so much with some of its dodgy subject matter and weird concept elements. It may not have the hits of Billion Dollar Babies or the overwhelming concept of From the Inside, but somehow it combines both of these to some extent. Fab songwriting and great performances wrapped up in a Hammer House like black veil which never takes itself too seriously. Only wish I was reviewing this at the end of October, as it’s perfect Halloween fare.

Alice is one of my favourite artists. I first saw him in the mid-eighties and I was genuinely scared. I wore a red jumper to the gig, in case I was splattered by blood and was worried of the big balloons which were rumoured to contain live spiders. I don’t think he was in the greatest of places at that point, seemed genuinely angry and on edge which added to his performance. I would see him many more times, where he seemed more mellowed and content with life but the shows did not lack intensity and were far more coherent.

Of course his shows are legendary. Stage sets like haunted houses, monsters straight out of Doctor Who, ghoul roadies, ridiculous weapons plus there’s the character of Alice. One part psychopath, one part ringmaster, one part cheerleader and one part misunderstood. Every gig follows the story of the character falling on the wrong side, is mistreated, ‘accidentally kills’ someone/thing, is judged, dies in a various way and then comes back to life. I have seen the “death” in numerous different forms. Guillotine, hanging, iron maiden and electric chair. All expertly carried out. On one very mad occasion the story cycle played out 3 times with 3 different endings. All this stagecraft is only as good as the songs and Alice can call on a huge number of excellent tracks which are instantly recognisable and strangely singalongable. That combination of great music and theatrics makes Mr Cooper (& welcome to my nightmare) frighteningly good.

The art for this had to be a little scary. So what better than make the Black Widow within a card. The numerous times above I have discussed spiders, shows I am not exactly happy with them. I should be fascinated by them especially their amazing web making but there’s something about their legs and random motion which is unsettling. Take for instance an incident at a Steven Wilson gig a couple of years ago. Half way through a very long track I felt a smack on top of my head as through I had been hit with something. Suddenly I felt something crawling across my hair and then my face, it was a big spider (not as big as the Queen one btw), after fantastically swooshing it away it seemed to disappear. I went back to the music only for a few minutes later for it to reappear and attempt to get back on my face. Frantically I waved my arms, trying to get rid of it (may have looked like I had went into a psychedelic dance from on stage) and again it disappeared. Worried it was still on my person, I left the auditorium, went to the toilet and took off my shirt…. nothing there and assumed I had got rid of it. So I took the opportunity to use the urinal, only to turn around to see the spider walking away from me. My skin still crawls thinking about it.  I used the actual spider image in this bunting piece from a Misplaced Childhood post and creating a spider card again would be a challenge.

I decided to make a pop-up spider and wanted it to be about the correct size. So I used a place name card as the background for this to limit the largeness. The spider is created from 2 black shapes cut out for the abdomen and the head. These are made to pop up via v-folds which lift the body and head as the card opens and because of their closeness seems to suggest they are a whole piece. I made numerous attempts to make legs pop up, which proved difficult. So there is one set of legs which v-fold behind the head which raise up whilst the other six are stuck loosely to the card, allowing the ends to rise a little. A metallic red skull like shape is stuck on the abdomen to signify the Black Widow. Although it doesn’t pop fully, it does give a suitable fright when opened. I added a front cover as though it was a 50’s b-movie or a pulp fiction horror book and on the back the lyrics Alice speaks at the end of Prices monologue.

Billy (aged 7 at time of album release)

Week 7 : 13th February 1970 : Sabbath debut and Heavy Metal turns 47

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Accompany music : Black Sabbath

As week 7 takes in Valentines day, so let’s start with a beautiful love poem ‘NIB’ courtesy of Geezer Butler.

‘Some people say my love cannot be true, Please believe me, my love, and I’ll show you
I will give you those things you thought unreal, The sun, the moon, the stars all bear my seal

Follow me now and you will not regret, Living the life you led before we met
You are the first to have this love of mine, Forever with me `till the end of time

Your love for me has just got to be real, Before you know the way I’m going to feel
I’m going to feel I’m going to feel

Now I have you with me, under my power, Our love grows stronger now with every hour
Look into my eyes, you will see who I am, My name is Lucifer, please take my hand’

Ahh it must be time for Paganism, with a powerful clunking steel background wrapped up in a Brummie accent. Welcome to Heavy Metal.

img_2120So does where you come from affect who you are and what you do? I was born and brought up in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. A large town on the southern bank of the Tyne. Perpetually overshadowed by the neighbours across the river. Historically seen as an underachieving place, sometimes a backwater and worse. Even in literature, the view of Gateshead is not favourable. The site Study.com wrote an excellent piece on such a work. In “Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, ….  Jane learns at Gateshead the terrible power of economic and social status, or the expectations, opportunities, and restrictions placed on people based upon who they are and what their background is. ” But this only tells a very small part of the story….

Gateshead is a resilient place that has went through many changes, from forest and fields to industrial heartland, from the destruction of medieval structures through the Great Fire to the destruction of 60-70’s town centre. Gateshead always evolves. In my lifetime alone Gateshead adopted different styles. First becoming a centre for sport through the development of the International Athletics Stadium, which encouraged my generation to get fit. Later they would embrace art, with statues popping up around the town, building a sculpture park and culminating in the erection of Gormley’s Angel Of The North and the establishing of the Baltic modern art gallery. All these inspire the art I do. Growing up within this, I was inspired by the green spaces and ‘faux’ structures of Saltwell Park and fascinated in the Brutal Architecture of the Multistorey Carpark and Dunston Rocket. All of which I’m sure are homaged in my doodles. Growing up in the area, there was a real shared experience, of community, of being fair and friendliness (which I hope I bring to my work and life). There is also a determination to be better, to strive forward and look to the future… Just walking along the Gateshead side of the Tyne and seeing Baltic, Sage and Millennium Bridge is testament to this. I hope I have got a few of these qualities. Gateshead has had many great people residing here and who were hopefully inspired in the same way, among them Writers (Defoe), Artists (Bewick), Inventors (Swan) and footballers (Gascoigne). Although there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of Musicians, bar the excellent ex-ACDC vocalist Brian Johnson and the Blaydon Races Geordie Ridley. At no point did my home town become a centre for a musical style.

img_2118If you were Memphis in 1950’s you were most probably playing Rock ‘n’ Roll. In Liverpool in 1960’s you were part of the mersey beat, In late sixties California you were probably grooving to flower power/psychedelia. In late 70’s New York you were either at the epicentre of Punk, New Wave, Disco and Hip Hop or in the 1990’s Seatle you would be part of the grunge movement. Assume if you are based in California in 1970 you will probably create sunshine music like the Doors. Whereas if you are in a dark working class city in Britian away from the streets of swinging London you will create something very different. A band based in the Midlands in 1970 are surrounded by Steel Works, imagine the affect of heavy industry on the sound, the clanking and vibration of machinery, the dust in the air, the darkness and elemental forces. It’s not hard to see where Heavy Metal evolves from. How this environment affects the people mentally and in belief is one thing but when it physically changes your life is another different matter.

Tony Iommi on his last day at work before joining a band, has an accident at a steel works cutting the tips of two of his fingers. With extraordinary resilience, Iommi finds a way for him to continue his career, by creating metal finger tips, loosening strings and detuning his guitar. Thus creating a distorted, powerful, droning effect which becomes the template for metal bands to follow. After numerous bands, Iommi finally joins Ward, Butler and Osbourne and forms the band Earth. Because of another band of the same name (or as Ozzy explained once that Earth sounds like someone vomiting), they change their name to the title of a film playing across the road staring Boris Karloff… Black Sabbath.

Their debut album is recorded in one 12 hour spell in mid October 1969, with only the sound effects and the odd guitar solo re-recorded and overdubbed. This cleverly captures a live feeling and the band being in unison. It seems that this is an elongated jamming session, which allows Iommi to be impulsive with his style and solo. As discussed above, the changes to his playing the heaviness, the distortion and the use of power chords define the style of the band. Butler’s bass following suit being detuned and following Iommi’s lead, makes the album heavier. Ward’s drums uncompromisingly boom out during the heavy elements but also utilises space with delicate jazz-like fills. Ozzy, even at this early stage is the performer, with his vocal performance moves from the innocent to the deranged. The album itself feels like two distinct sides, the second side is more of a heavy blues rock album (like Cream, Led Zeppelin 1) whereas side 1 is the template for Metal to come. Heavy elemental music, distortion, power chords with lyrics leaping from Horror to Fantasy.

img_2119In one opening track Black Sabbath, the genre is defined. From the thunder, pouring rain and desolate bell to the opening power chords and loping menacing drums and bass. Ozzy’s first words boom out ‘What is this that stands before me, figure in black, that points at me’ are stunning, followed by the first melodramatic screams. The power chords are interspaced with enough space to give tension, the final speed up is a release with drums, bass and guitar in unison, moving towards the dark mystical pagan imagery.

The Wizard, moves the subject matter from Dennis Wheatley/Boris Karlov to Tolkien. A few blows of Harmonica quickly forms the basis and riff of this track joined by bass, guitar. Rolling drums and bass set the pace. Ozzy’s delivery plays alongside Iommi’s power chords exchanging couplets, with the interspersed harmonica and odd cowbell.

Behind the Wall of Sleep, is a far more spaced out track. Initially jarring almost progressive and then power chords return for verses with Ozzy’s responses. There is a far more relaxed experimental approach to solo’s with fills from bass and drum.

Butler’s Bass solo at the start of the NIB, is iconic along with this sublime off kilter love song lyrics seen from the side of the devil. What is immense about this, is Ozzy’s innocent delivery and the great structure of the track. Relatively straightforward with a killer riff, meandering solo and Iommi’s spiralling solo at the end of the track.

img_2112Evil Woman, a cover version of a track by Crow. It’s very blues rock which heralds side 2’s approach. It’s structured almost like a pop song with a very accessible chorus. The detuned acoustic start to Sleeping Village, and Ozzy’s paired back single verse of lyrics are reminiscent of the Doors, but quickly moves to a number of styles, some very Zeppelin, old elements of Cream, The Who, some older blues and other bits are what will define Sabbath. Dark, doomy power chords which seem to shake the earth.

The 10 minutes of the Ainsley Dunbar Retaliation band song Warning flies by. I love Ozzy’s singing/talking over some blues standard. Solid bass and drums allow Iommi to creating slow soulful guitar. Ward’s drum solo, changes the song and pace where Butler’s bass takes a more prominent role alongside Iommi’s guitar, which now has been released throwing fills at every opportunity. An experimental solo takes the track via delicate acoustic elements to blues power chords finally dropping back to the original blues riff and Ozzy’s last desperate verse of lost love.

Wicked World, initially feels like the band trying to find their way, experimenting with starts from sixties TV shows. From snare drum shuffle, jingle like riff on guitar to cliffhanger stop/starts. Again a drum solo heralds the proper start to the track, grinding dark verses in which Ozzy sings about the ills of the world, war, poverty, to family values.  It feels downtrodden with only little flourishes as we return to the 60’s theme music. Finishing with a final distorted chord.

img_2117And so Heavy Metal starts… well it probably started before this. The first song to mention Heavy Metal, Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ was out in 1968. I see discussions where the Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ is seen as the first song with distortion (although this is also disputed). The heavy sound of the album is not unusual either with bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Mountain and Hendrix all releasing albums by 1970, utilising loud blues like riffs. But Black Sabbath’s debut captures in one place, an elemental heaviness which with it’s subject matter becomes a template for Metal and inspiration for generations to come. Sabbath would build on this 8 months later with the album Paranoid and continue for the next 9 years together producing influential albums which continue to build the genre. Amongst them Vol 4, Masters of Reality, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage. Ozzy would get sacked in 1979, but then produce a stunning solo debut ‘Blizzard of Ozz’. Meanwhile Sabbath employed a very different vocalist, Rainbow’s Ronnie James Dio and they brought out 2 outstanding albums ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ‘Mob Rules’. The former is up there with the best of Ozzy. From the mid 80’s, they got a little lost with varying vocalists and they seemed to have been overtaken by the genre they had created. In the last decade or so, there has been a comeback with first reunion gigs, a tour with Dio and then a full comeback with Ozzy for one final trip around the block. The album 13, their last album is decent enough and has echoes of their debut. They embarked on a final world tour, finishing fittingly in the place that inspired them, Birmingham on February 4th 2017, a week before the 47th birthday of their debut.

So cheers Sabbath for the memories and this landmark album in Metal. Happy Retirement

Always thought that this card would have to reflect the industry and workmanship that created the influences for this album. I wanted this to be tooled, but I really don’t have any skill in metalwork or woodwork. In fact the only chisel type tools I have are for lino-cut and it just so happens that the week before I had attended a lino cut course.

img_1796I had tried lino cutting before, I was given a set for Christmas 2 years ago which included a handle with the various blades, some lino, some ink and a blotter. There were very few instructions, so I had a play and made one card of a penguin. In the process, I had a few slips, one of which sliced my finger… luckily it wasn’t too deep. A year later, I got a japanese wooden block printing set with 5 separate tools but didn’t dare touch them until I knew how I could do this safely. So this Christmas, I asked for Art classes and got two courses, a screen printing one I will do in the summer and a lino cut course which I did in February.

The course was delivered at the excellent Northern Print in the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle. They state on their website ‘At the heart of Northern Print is a printmaking studio that anyone can register to use. It’s a welcoming space with professional facilities and technical support. For those that want to learn printmaking or develop their skills we have a programme of printmaking classes and courses. Our gallery showcases the very best in contemporary printmaking with a huge selection of prints to see and buy. We love printmaking and are passionate about sharing our enthusiasm, knowledge and skills….’. We have regularly attended Northern Print activities on art open days in the area, and they always have fun activities for kids (and adults) ranging from block and Letter prints, embossing, printing etches and screen printing. All free and always cool works of art to take away. They also have some stunning old printing presses which you sometimes get to use.

img_2085So I sat at the studio with another 6 pupils with little or no experience of the medium. The first hour was spent learning about the process, how the tools are used and how to do it safely. I quickly realised where I had went wrong the last time, I needed a non-stick mat so I could control the tools with 2 hands. We produced a small test piece trying out the tools and learning about cutting pressure and then printed using this test. We then went onto our main piece of work. We were all asked to bring an A5 picture which we would like to reproduce. When this album project arose, I had decided to incorporate the design around the album that week, but I realised for a first attempt, a complex image was a little mad. So I went for something I am very comfortable with, doodles of boxes. The design was traced and then copied onto the lino. It took at age to cut out the lines and using the other tools to create patterns within. My first print was pretty good but had too much ink in one section. Removing the excess allowed me to work of the design a little longer and produce a print I was happy with. This was done on a old press with a large wheel which was turned to push the inked design with the slightly wet paper through the roller. It gives a real embossed effect to the print. It was great to see everyone else’s designs and what they could create in a couple of hours, birds and flowers seemed very popular. Most of all it felt so traditional, kind of industrial to do and gave me a lot of confidence in trying it again.

img_2113I said above the Black Sabbath Cover is a little daunting to make as a whole lino cut. So I blew up a black and white version, and picked a 8cm square close up of a particular scene. The obvious bit is the watermill and the woman standing in front. this was traced and then transferred onto the lino. And I started cutting safely on my newly acquired mat. To be honest after a couple of hours, I feared the worst as it didn’t look great. I couldn’t visualise what it would look like and I thought I had mucked up the figure at the front. I did a test print, and I was pleasantly surprised that the print looked vaguely like the cover. There were a few little elements to cut back, and by the third attempt had a folky resemblance. I particularly like the lines on the mill, giving detail and even the figure looks good (although it’s very Spirited Away). I tried printing onto different media and in different ways (no 19th century press in the house). Once dry, the print was cut and placed onto a slightly larger white card square. Then both were attached with raisers onto the front of a black card. Finally the words from NIB were placed inside to create a sort of gothic Lovecraftian valentines card.

Billy (aged 2 at time of album release)

Week 6 : 9th February 1993 : The last Jellyfish album is 24

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Accompany music : New Mistake

When I started doing this album a week madness, I knew I would be weeks, where a number of contenders would appear and I would be faced with impossible choices. This week 05-02-17 to 12-02-17 contains special celebrationary anniversaries for Jethro Tull ‘Songs from the Wood’ 40th birthday and Ben Folds ‘Whatever and ever Amen’ 20th birthday. Both I would have done but I am revisiting these bands later on. To make things worse, I also said, I would pick albums which I consider important, of these Van Halen 1 and Carol King Tapestry also fall into this week…. But there was one album which I couldn’t get out of my head, even facing such classics. Not only does it move away from the 1970’s, and the melancholy nature of the last two albums but moves us into another strange facet of my musical taste. I love quirky music.

img_2093What do I mean by quirky? Sort of strange music that stands out from my standard listening. Music can be simple (or complex) but usually develops across genres and themes. Lyrics usually colourful, imaginative, sometimes surreal but in a lot of cases sublimely captures a moment or feeling. Tracks feel throwaway, heartfelt and intelligent all at the same time. A lot of the bands also seem kind of geeky. Yeah, I know this doesn’t make sense but let’s name some bands and see if we can develop this. The 1990’s were a golden period for this music for me, the aforementioned Ben Folds Five released 3 stunning albums (including Whatever), Eels released Beautiful Freak in 1996, They Might be Giants starting in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s produced catchy tracks, Crash Test Dummies release God Shuffled his Feet, Cake release Fashion Nugget and late in 1999 Flaming Lips release Soft Bulletin. These are bands with an edge, hang somewhere between rock and pop, kind of nerdy American and are distinctly different from other bands in my collection. By the time the majority of albums came out, the band Jellyfish had released their last album and would be no more.

img_2099Jellyfish were formed in 1988-89, when Roger Manning (keyboards) and Andy Sturmer (Singing Drummer) left the band Beatnik Beatch and met former Manning associate and XTC liker Jason Faulker (Guitar). Their debut album ‘Bellybutton’ was well received and showed a wide range of influences on their music. I received their single ‘The King is Half Undressed’ on a magazines free cd and I liked it. It had a cross between 90’s indie and 70’s rock. Pounding drums, jarring pace with harmonised vocals and synths. Unfortunately I didn’t hear enough to get the album. Jellyfish toured with an additional bass guitarist Chris Manning who also added sublime backing vocals to the sound. Unfortunately by the end of the tour both Chris Manning and Faulkner would leave the band. The remaining members regrouped with session musicians and Tim Smith (Bass) to record their second album in 1992-93. Building on those extensive influences they produced a far more complex and elaborate album, utilising sound effects, overdubbing, sequencing and harmonies galore. Again I would hear a single ‘Ghost at Number One’ which after the first listen, wasn’t that much different from ‘King is Half Undressed’. Again I thought it was good but wasn’t compelled to buy the album….. and that was one of my biggest musical regrets. It would be a full 7-8 years later, when my friend Chris would put the album on and say ‘Billy, you will love this album’ and I instantly did. And then I go and buy their first two albums and then look for their third…… there isn’t one. I was distraught to find that after the Spilt Milk tour the band broke up because of creative differences a year later in 1994.

img_2090So why do I love it.  I was hooked from the opening notes of Hush all the way through to the same note at the end of the crescendo of Brighter Day. The band were so quirky and had sublime songwriting with songs jumping in style and pace. The arrangements were excellent with the merging of songs almost into each other giving the impression of a surreal concept album. It’s an album of colourful escapism and comforting sentimentality.  Use of language and imagery in the lyrics is inspired and mad. Most of all it was the melding of the influences which impressed. Call it copying, playing homage or paying tribute to your influences, Jellyfish pulled off merging many styles to create their own sound. Throughout the album you can hear Cheap Trick, 10cc, Supertramp, Pixies, Beatles, Queen, XTC, Raspberries, ELO, Wings, Beach Boys and Squeeze all delicately balanced. The majority of the bands which I grew up listening to. The overall effect is an album of colourful themes which take you from happiness to melancholy, from lullaby to rock solo… all in a wonderful relaxing bubble. The album in my opinion, doesn’t date… it feels it should be from the 1970’s but seems still fresh now as I play it in 2017, a full 24 years later.

img_2101The opening elongated note of Hush, travels into childlike lullaby territory with synths and harmonised Beach Boys like barber shop vocals. The beautiful start is shattered with the opening riff of the epic Joining a Fan Club, piano leads into verses and wallowing rock choruses. The change of pace in the bridge into sleazy blues and then Faces like all out solo is one of my favourite bits of the album. Sabrina, Paste and Plato is a surreal mini concept song, taking nursery rhyme like melodies and innocent lyrics of a child lunchtime. It’s a bit like the psychedelic Beatles & Randy Newman.

My favourite track is the amazing ‘New Mistake‘. It’s a sublime journey song following a sequence of life events (a bit like Diary of Horace Wimp). It has sublime sentimental lyrics which sometimes are so visually mad but have so much meaning. I love the line ‘So Father Mason clutching his crucifix, Baptized the baby in whiskey and liquorice, What a lovely way drowning sins in tooth decay’. The music is so reminiscent of ELO and Supertramp, down to the bluesy pop, the string interludes and odd castanets. This track makes me all happy, warm and comforted. Acoustic guitar and vocals herald the start of Glutton of Sympathy. After the opening couple of verses, then follows the glorious choruses with more blues guitar. Lyrics are melancholy but strangely uplifting. Very reminiscent of Squeeze/10cc. Ghost at Number One, starts with drum crescendo, harpsichord interventions and shout vocals (with obligatory harmonised background vocals). The harmonising in the bridge is pure Beach Boys.

img_2097A repeated start of nah, nah nah reflects the title of Bye Bye Bye, we are quickly into an old dance which feels like a polka, complete with tuba. It is complemented by beautiful sentimental lyrics. It’s got a Beatles/Wings like quality to it. Additional sound effects give the impression of a small bar with old people dancing. One extreme to another, All is Forgiven feels like a Distorted guitar and disjointed drumming Pixie like Grunge track , but surreally every so often Queen Harmonised Vocals crashes in. Russian Hill returns to acoustic guitar and gentle lyrics, sliding synth adds to the atmosphere and later flute sounds adds more jazz elements. It’s a beautiful breather of a track reminiscent of XTC.

He’s my Best friend, is a Raspberry like track, where Synth and pianos fill this track with a real 60’s vibe. The great feel is helped by lyrics reminiscent of Nilsson or Newman and a brilliant delivery. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late has elements of Squeeze, Wings and a little of Cheap Trick. From opening guitar refrain, blues/country/rock feel to downbeat lyrics and slightly more uplifting rock/pop chorus. The final track Brighter Day has the Supertramp/XTC/10cc kitchen sink thrown at it, from fairground organ start, dark lyrics and  a stompy march like quality with brass band. Little interludes of madness appear, and build at the end in crescendo until we return to the twinkly notes, Disney like finish and back to the opening elongated note.

I love this album so much. So Spilt Milk, feels to me like a sugar rush. A comforting, colourful candy of an album. Like getting stuck overnight in a Willy Wonka chocolate factory (The Gene Wilder Version) complete with the 60’s split screen effects and oompa loompa interventions (without the scary child death bits). In troubled times like these, its great to have escapism every so often and this album takes me to a time of happy innocence sitting in front of the radio listening to the soft rock of the bands I loved. How I wish Jellyfish had created more experiences like this.

img_2094The art piece for this had to be surreal, but there is so much imagery on this album it was difficult to capture one element. I had initially planned to do Sabrinas Lunchbox from ‘Sabrina, Paste and Plato’, complete with all the ingredints but it didn’t quite capture the madness of the album. I also wanted to somehow represent the bands that influenced (or seem to be featured inadvertently in) this fab album. Inspiration came from the same song in the opening lyric, ‘Far behind the forest of flying paper aeroplanes’. So 12 mini aeroplanes were made of 4 different designs using photographs of Cheap Trick, 10cc, Supertramp, Pixies, Beatles, Queen, XTC, Raspberries, ELO, Wings, Beach Boys and Squeeze. For the record the order shown here (and the long picture above) is how far they flew down the corridor on a test flight, the arrow like Cheap trick plane flew 256 cm whereas Squeeze basic build flew less than 10cm.

So I ended up combining both ideas and placing them in a deep frame. A background is prepared of two shades of yellow, trying to depict the curtain of the album cover. At the top the planes are placed using spacers to attach. At the bottom a pink box was created with silver/gold stars (matching the dress of the cover). Calvin/Hobbes writing is used to declare Sabrinas Lunchbox. Inside of this, objects are placed from each of the songs and spacers are used to build depth. From left to right there is, a Jellyfish T-shirt, holy water, a picture of a bridge coming into view, a sandwich, a chalk dollar sign, a cotton reel, a wedding cake, a clock, liquorice, whiskey, a Death of a salesman script, a barbers pole, a cloud and a five leaf clover.

Hopefully I created something as mad, colourful and visual that pays tribute to such a great album.

Billy (aged 25 at time of album release)

Week 5 : 4th February 1977 : Rumours turns 40

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Accompany music : The Chain

So we are still in 1977, 12 days after Pink Floyds ‘Animals’ is released, Fleetwood Mac release the epic album Rumours. My 9 year old soft rock/pop loving self would hear the singles and fall in love with the West Coast american rock sound, sublime songwrting and what seemed (to a 9 year olds ears) the happy upbeat themes. It wasn’t till much later I would realise the trauma that going on when the album was recorded, and then when own life experiences caught up, how perfect, relevant and bitter these songs are.

“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.” ― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

img_2068Breaking up is a horrendous process. Whether its a first love, a short or long term relationship, the breakdown of a marriage or even a whole country leaving a larger organisation. Inevitably it brings acrimony, hurt, fear, mistrust, grief, arguments and difficult decisions regarding ownership of albums and black t-shirts. The issues are not usually confined to the couple, unfortunately children are sometimes involved, family and friends also feel the pressure. It seems to me a lot of the issues stem from a lack of communication and people’s inability to express themselves on how they feel. Men are particularly bad at this.

One of my favourite authors, Nick Hornby has written some sublime books which capture mens inability to express how they feel themselves whilst having no problem in expressing their love of hobbies/pastimes. I especially love his book High-fidelity, but it sometimes feels a little too close for comfort. Rob Flemming owns a record shop ‘Championship Vinyl’ and spends his days making top 5 lists of songs and albums, with his colleagues. When his relationship breaks down, he copes the only ways he knows how. Writing a list of his top break-ups, reorganising his record collection and making mix tapes. Some of these are too familiar.

You will be happy to know, I am not going to embark on my own personal list of relationship disasters, but in times of stress I have been known to reorganise the record collection. The worse case examples were, organising from happy to sad (too subjective), organising chronologically (impossible to remember) and organising by the colour of the spine of the album (who knew so many spines were not the same colour as the front). Every time the albums were quickly put back to A to Z. I did the odd mixtape as well, although I never gave them to the target… again these like writing letters are far too subjective. What I do find eases the pain  is to play sad, sentimental songs.

“What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?”― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

img_2087There are tonnes of great examples of heartbreaker music that not only you can identify with, have a cry along to, sing defiantly along to or find strangely uplifting. In 2009, the Guardian published a list of 1000 spotify songs which were divided on 7 subjects, Heartbreak was one. I selected 32 as my own playlist and put them in my music diary. Amongst them, there are delicate songs that have a strange calming melancholy, Aint no Sunshine – Bill Withers, Flume – Bon Iver. Songs that pick up a direct feeling/situation which you can relate to, Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley, Is She Really Going Out with Him – Joe Jackson. Or songs of real desperation, Take for instance, Winner Takes in All – Abba or Harry Neilsens cover version of Without you, which as well as being an impossible Kareoke song, actually makes you feel like things aren’t this bad. There are so many tracks not on here that apply also, including one or two which still cause me a  little discomfort as memories come back of times and places. But this is part of the Cathartic process that listening gives, helping us to move on and make us more happy of our current situation. Writing music/lyrics on such subjects especially about such situations must be a greater release. You see in so many cases, the other person is not involved (other than being a listener/unwilling victim when the song is released). So what happens when nearly all members of the band are involved in relationship issues and all writing songs about each other. Cue up ‘Rumours’

It has been 2 years since Fleetwood Mac released their 1975 eponymous album and the first album to feature partners Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. It was a commercial success and spawned a great single Rhiannon which showed off the qualities of the new members. Entering the studio in 1976, the cracks in the band were beginning to show. Christine and John McVie are getting divorced whilst Buckingham and Nicks relationship was on/off. Even Fleetwood is reportedly having his own relationship issues. The thing that kept the band together was writing and recording music, which considering the majority of the subject matter was based on each other is surprising. Nine of the ten tracks are written by individuals and it is interesting to see their personal approaches. Both Buckingham (B) and Nicks (N) are writing candidly about each other and not pulling punches. whilst McVies (Mc) tracks are further on, considered and conciliatory. Its amazing that when these songs are put together along with the band credited (all) ‘Chain’, that a stunning complete album of human emotions is created.

img_2067Second Hand News (B) – ‘Someone has taken my place’ – Starting with what seems an uplifting song with Jangly guitar. Dig further and it has reflective lyrics about being dumped and moved out of the picture. There also seems to be a little bit of regret in this. Chorus couplets with Nicks are great and fascinating. Dreams (N) – ‘Now here you go again, You say you want your freedom’ – A Beautiful song with soft Nicks drawl. Laid back drums, bass, guitar and keyboards washes over the listener reflecting the mood. Lyrics recounting her partner wanting to move on, her happy to let them go and reflecting on how lonely they will be afterwards. You get what you sow. Going Back Again (B) – ‘I’m never going back again’. Another paired back track, with acoustic guitars and Buckingham jumping from amerciana to children’s nursery rhyme. Lyrics suggests trying to go back and sorting out issues, but giving up in the end.

Don’t Stop (Mc) – ‘It’ll be, better than before, Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone’ – Song about looking forward about the future, moving on, apologising for the past and looking after each other. Wrapped up in a wonderful singalong which has an ear worm of a catchy happy tune. Which belies the sadness of the situation. Go Your Own Way (B) – ‘Loving you, Isn’t the right thing to do’ – This is the song which I thought was the uplifting track as a child. Its musically brilliant, from opening acoustic riffs and Buckinghams verses then into the amazing singalong harmonised choruses. Fleetwoods drumming is powerful and drives the track along. The bridge gives enough space before the last resounding chorus. Buckingham lyrics placing the issues directly at the door of his ex. Songbird (Mc) – ‘And I love you, I love you, I love you, Like never before.’ – Beautiful track, with McVie singing along to acoustic piano. Lyrics show how much the relationship and she has moved on and how much she cares for her ex, wishing them the best for the future. Its delicate and sublime and pure McVie on this album.

img_2072The Chain (All) – ‘And if you don’t love me now. You will never love me again’. Only song credited to more than one writer and rightly in this case, to the whole band. The track seems to show a group of people recognising their issues and fighting that this will not effect the group. The track shows the band pulling together, from the initial drum, banjo, guitar americana start and harmonised vocals. Building in defiant stated choruses, and almost pledge like responses. McVies bass brings in the tremendous change in the song with Buckinghams stretched guitar solo and the rolling pace which was perfect for Grand Prix coverage. The final chorus, the shouts of ‘Keep us together’ is apt for a track the whole group contribute to. Making a stunning centrepiece. You Make Loving Fun (Mc) – ‘I never did believe in miracles, But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try’. Whilst every other song on Rumours seems to be backward looking, this is McVie looking forward and singing about her future and seemingly a new relationship. The whole song is a little more sexy, a little more comforting and uplifting. Lyrics are about renewal and giving love another try. It has a great chorus which stays in your head with angelic voice backing.

I Don’t Wanna Know (N) – ‘You say you love me, but you don’t know’. Another paired back Fleetwood Mac song, acoustic guitars, bass and drum prominent. Nicks and Buckingham singing in unison, about the confusion of love, coping with it and moving on.  Oh Daddy (Mc) – ‘If there’s been a fool around, It’s got to be me’. Dark, slightly sinister and melancholy track. McVie mournful lyrics searches for answers for what should be the end of a difficult relationship, but always end up going back to herself as being at fault. Gold Dust Woman (N) – ‘Take your silver spoon and dig your grave’. Great track in that great Americana tradition of painting portraits of people. Nicks bittersweet lyrics are given centre stage with the easy laid back playing and builds an effective and compelling background.

img_2069And there we have it. Rumours is a classic album that does not date in 40 years. Mostly this has to do with the sublime songwriting, great production and the brilliant musicianship. The songs are beautiful and uplifting it their own right without having to understand the actual meaning of the tracks. The Heartfelt lyrics and their amazing delivery adds another dimension. Here we have musicians writing and singing through major emotional difficulties and these translate to the listeners own experiences. The feelings felt in love and in break-ups do not change over the years. Its difficult to know what Buckingham, Nicks and McVie were feeling when they wrote these songs, I can assume as above but a lot of this is built on reflecting on my own person experience. I especially relate to McVies contributions which moves away from blame and looks forward.

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostagic and hopeful all at the same time.”
― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

Rumours is a classic, full of passion and pain but always leaves me comforted, a little bit fuzzy inside and very hopeful.

img_2073For the card for Rumours I wanted to portray the broken-ness within the band, that gave us such amazing individual songwriting that when it came together makes a stunning collective piece. I took the cover and a heart shape was cut out. This was divided into eleven pieces (one for each track). Then lyrics from each track were printed onto free slightly gothic-y (Stevie Nicks-like) backgrounds. Four colours are used corresponding to the writers of the tracks Nicks-Black, McVie-Red, Buckingham-green, Whole Band-Blue. The broken Heart pieces were used as templates to cut out each lyric, and were then glued together. A small tab placed between the two parts which is then used to attach to the card vis some small openings. And there we have a shattered heart of the album, with the ability to turn over each piece to access a lyric. The 3d stand up nature of the pieces gives great movement and texture to the front of the card. On the back a key is produced showing each writer, the colour of their pieces and a rough indication of the number.

Billy (still aged 9 at time of album release)

Week 4 : 23rd January 1977 : Pigs Might Fly

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Pink Floyds ‘Animals’ turns 40


Accompany music : Pigs (3 Different Ones) Roger Waters – Mexico 2016

img_2058Early January 1977, the governor for Georgia, Jimmy Carter is inaugurated as the 39th President of the USA. A couple of months later, Carter would visit Britain and Newcastle. I went with my family  to witness him standing alongside the Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Cllr Hugh White (who coincidentally was the father of one of my drinking buddies, Paul). Carter would receive freedom of the city and with a ‘Howay the Lads’ would charm the North East. It’s the only time I have seen a President or a Prime Minister in the flesh, and it is strange to think both men would last only one term. History would (unfairly in some cases) see them as fairly ineffectual leaders. Carter would do many honourable things, including striving for peace in the Middle East (and do many more after his presidency) but was viewed as not being strong enough on foreign policy. Meanwhile Callaghan had in the previous year taken over from Wilson, and was shoring the parliamentary party with deals with the liberals. A year later  a continued policy on pay restraint would tip the balance and the Winter of Discontent would cause his downfall. In 1979 in Britain, the public turned towards a very different politician, Margaret Thatcher and in 1981, America would take it a stage further by electing former actor and Governor of California. Ronald Reagan.
photo-16In 1977, (as a 9 year old) I had little or no interest in Politics, I knew who the leaders were and the main people in parties (as you would see them on the news or Parkinson). I didn’t connect them to all that happened in society. I remember 3 day weeks, rolling power cuts and a year later, the strikes during the Winter of Discontent, but I didn’t necessarily link them to the policies of politicians. As I got to 13 in 1980, I started to pull these strands together. I could start to see the policies of the Conservatives were further right and were already causing issues to the North East of England and I feared leaving school and not having a job. In ’81 I remember Reagan being elected, wondering what had America done and worrying whether the world would survive.

I have previous written about a turning point in my political understanding was when I read the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. I summed it up in the post as (in my allotted 140 letters), ‘A dystopian allegory of Russian Revolution, with the slide from uprising to how power corrupts through use of doctrine, propaganda & violence’. Most of all it give me the understanding that political revolution and change  is sometimes necessary…. but beware of who you put in power because they are possibly worse than those you have deposed.

So on 23rd January 1977, Pink Floyd release Animals. A concept album that is roughly based on Orwells novel, with Capitalism instead of Stalinism being the target. This time 3 animal types tell the story, the authoritarian powerful dogs, the ruthless manipulative pigs, and the unquestioning sheep. With the latter in this group rising up to take down the Dogs. The album made up of loosely connected tracks echoing the changes within British Society at that time. As with the Orwell novel, Animals presents a dystopian, dark world of moral decay, of political manipulation, discrimination and violence.  Even when the underdogs rise, the light at the end of the tunnel is not so bright as they would hope.

img_2059The album starts and finishes with ‘Pigs on a Wing‘, which seems a little out place with the dark subject matter within the rest of the album. Waters voice and acoustic guitar reminds me of ‘Wish you were here’ but the lyrics in part 1, seem to focus on loneliness and isolation whereas part 2, I feel, moves towards a more happier place with the importance of working together. Both tracks are sublime and give light to the main dark filling of the album.

The distinctive off beat acoustic guitar riff, and fading organ herald the track Dogs. The subject matter places Dogs as the heads of business with Waters superb lyrics like “club tie and a firm handshake, a certain look in the eye and an easy smile” and the ruthlessness which they show “to pick out the easy meat…to strike when the moment is right”. Takes a moment to realise that this is Gilmour singing with such relish. Surprisingly for a track of this nature, it is so laid back, slow in pace with Gilmour (as usual) not hurrying and stretching every note. Add some Floydesque long keyboard and guitar solo’s and it’s epic.

img_2056Pigs (3 Different Ones) starts with pig noises, electronics and we are into a track similar to that of Money or Have a Cigar. We aren’t told who the 2 of the 3 pigs are directly (the 3rd one is mentioned as moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse) but the lyrics seem to describe those who think themselves as a class above (“Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are You well heeled big wheel, ha ha, charade you are”), of moralising (“You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street”), of digging through dirt (“With your head down in the pig bin”), and spreading untruths. I love the groove of this track that goes along with Waters drawl of lyrics and change in menace in choruses reminiscent of the Beatles.  Theres also some great elements such as the repeated choral organ and Gilmours soaring solo.

Bleets of sheep are interrupted by the opening organ notes of Sheep. The track builds with the organ and a bass line which reminds me of an an old school Doctor Who theme. Then suddenly leaps into desperate leaping verses with Waters lyrics flying towards the listener (‘Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away, Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air…) driven along by Waters bass and spiky guitar and sci-fi organ interludes. Halfway through a vocoder version of Psalm 23 can be heard spoken in the background leading to the final verse of revolution as the sheep rise up “Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream, Wave upon wave of demented avengers, March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream’. The end of the track returns the bleats as the sheep return to normal life.

img_2053Needless to say I really like this album for its grandiose tracks and meaning. It is an album which you can listen to in the background and it is kind of calming with a great groove to the music throughout. But listening closer the additional musical elements and nuances add complexity and the gently spoken lyrics drip with spite, cruelty and resentment. It’s a revelation that took me quite a while to appreciate fully. I think at the time, after Dark Side and Wish You Were Here, a similar feeling was felt about this album. It lacks the variety and length of those two albums but makes up for in meaning and passion and is a perfect lead in to ‘The Wall’. It should also be put into context, that this was a 1977 anti-establishment album in the height of Punk and an full 10 months before for the Sex Pistols NMTB album to arrive. Floyd seem to have had picked up the vibe that people were sick of the current establishment and working systems. As discussed above industrial issues were rife and the establishment were telling people how to behave including censorship by public serving groups. A change was going to happen and the ballot box was the way to do it. So the sheep had their say, bye bye, to Callaghan. Hello Thatcher.

I think voting is really difficult. Too many politicians are corporately similar and when parties start vying over the same policies and the same centre ground, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the good from the bad. I believe in peoples power to get rid of establishment, the oppressors and those who do not listen. I appreciate that sometimes to do this, people may need to side with those, who you may not always agree with (and you will have to live with that afterwards). Popular movements are springing up at every election, challenging the established political system and removing the centre ground. Instead people are stretched out across the whole political scale with greater numbers in the far left and right camps. I am happy in elections when turn outs are high, and people have their say…. I just wish they think of the consequences before doing so. As I said in the last post, change is a good thing but people need to consider what it leads to and who it puts into power.

It is strange how history repeats. In 2017, a new revolution at the polls within referendums and elections at difficult times,  brings new leaders, May and Trump. And now 36 years later, I find myself having those similar feelings as I had as a teenager of a fear of being unemployed and a worry of the world ending. 

Look, it all might be okay…. and pigs might fly.

img_2054The card for Animals is based on one of my favourite rock stories. The classic cover of Animals was conceived by the band with the genius Storm Thorgerson, and depicts a pig flying over Battersea power station. For the shoot Floyd got a giant 30 ft pig balloon made and floated it over the Power Station ready for photographs. A marksman stood by in case in escaped. Unfortunately, the shoot lasted for a 2nd day, someone forgot to book the marksman and of course the pig escaped. It floated over Heathrow causing mayhem and was spotted by planes, went missing and was eventually found in a farmers field in Kent where it had crash landed.

So a sky blue card is used and photographs of the Power Station (faded with pink) is cutout and attached to front and card. There is no pig on the front. Inside there is a pop up consisting of 4 cloud shapes, all v folded and glued in one behind the other. These are all on top of a piece of white card shaped like a cloud. Next a strip cut from stiff transparent plastic is used to support a pink pig and this is glued/taped in behind one of the clouds giving the impression of the pig flying. A guide rope is attached to one leg and additional clouds and a plane is added to the inside.

Billy (aged 9 at time of album release)

Week 3 : 20th January 1983 : No Serenade, No Fire Brigade, Just a Pyromania

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Accompany music : Photograph

Its January 1983 and I am 15 years old and should be in the height of rebellion…. Im not. The closest I get is growing my hair long and listening to particularly loud music. I hung around with a bunch of great mates who were all metal fans and (as we would now be classed) school geeks. We were all very pleasant, far removed from the hell raising, drug, drink, satanic, idiot stereotype which was being expressed about Heavy Metal at the time. As I have mentioned before in the blog, I loved soft rock/pop music (ELO, Supertramp, Kate Bush) and these friends introduced me to a range of music which built on these. They showed me that I actually liked rock music and we all started to link to old folk music, classic american rock and music that could get much heavier. And my musical tastes started to change.

img_2020In 1982-83, I was introduced to a number of bands who in the previous years were known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), among them Motorhead, UFO, Tygers Of Pang Tang, Raven, Saxon, Judas Priest, Angel Witch, Girlschool…. What really caught my imagination with these bands were the heaviness, the rawness, the pace and simple hooks (everything I didn’t like about punk). The movement had essentially been going on since the mid seventies and took off between 1979 and 1981. By the time, me and my mates turned up in 82-83, the movement was already declared as finished but some of the bands had become huge. I found myself really liking Iron Maiden. I loved their first 2 albums but was not sure at the time about their new singer. I also had heard a couple of albums by a band from Sheffield called Def Leppard.

I heard first, their debut ‘On through the night’ which I thought was okay, pretty generic metal/rock with the odd catchy hook song like Hello America and Rock Brigade. Their follow up ‘High and Dry’ a year later was a different matter, the band had hooked up with ACDC producer Robert Mutt Lange, and produced an album with slightly more polished rock songs, a lot still generic NWOBHM but also had some great tracks which had started to cross over into commercial  rock. The epic ‘Bringing on the Heartbreak’ I heard first on the Friday Rock show, combined great emotional songwriting with the essential riffs and power chords from Clark and Willis. During these two albums Def Leppard were accused of selling out and targeting an American market, but the band continued to evolve and change.

img_2023In late 1982, Elliot, Savage, Allen, Clark and Willis returned to the studio with Mutt Lange to record their 3rd album. During the recording Willis left the band and was replaced by Phil Cohen from another NWOBHM band Girl. With the changed line up the band continued to build on their previous album with more accessible songs, more polished performances and production. So on 20th January 1983, ‘Pyromania’ came out. I heard the album a week or two later and was blown away. On February 3rd, the single ‘Photograph’ came out and became at the time the most requested video on MTV. Pyromania shipped 6 million sales of the album in that first year, only being held off the top of the US album charts by ‘Thriller’. Def Leppard on the back on this album become household names in America, although strangely less famous at home (well until Hysteria appears in 1987). So why was it special…. lets give it a spin.

To be honest, bar the big orchestral power chords at the start, Rock Rock (Till you Drop) starts from where ‘High and Dry’ left off, solid hard rock track with chanting chorus. But there are differences: the production seems cleaner and the band seems tighter. I can see why ‘Photograph’ was so popular. Its a stunning, breathtaking, fabulous pop rock track. From the opening riff, its a brilliant piece of songwriting with the way it rolls along within the verses and lifts up in the chorus (with added harmonies), I love the bridge and Collens solo and the uplifting finish with that last guitar flourish… Yeah this is still great.
I have always had an issue with the false crowd start to Stage Fright. I understand it links to the songs theme about performance but it is a pity because its another good song with pace, power and unexpectedly emotional choruses. The emotional roller coaster starts to go downhill, with the opening chords of Too Late of Love, Elliots opening lyrics set the scene into slow paced juddering verses and chanting chorus. The choir herald a change of pace and further angsty reflections. The helicopter sound effect at the start of Die Hard the Hunter, on the other hand is well placed. Again Elliot introduces it with opening verse, with the chorused responses. Suddenly we leap into the rolling, galloping structure of this track dragging us through a journey. Especially when the solo kicks in which seems to go off at tangents before returning to the central theme.

img_2024I always thought the track ‘Foolin’ was the heart of this album, as well as being one of my favourite Leppard songs. There is a certain desperation about love in this track which fitted perfectly with the psyche of a 15 year old teenager. I especially like the slow build up with acoustic song corresponding to lyrics that are trying to logically work out what is wrong. As it builds towards choruses, Steve Clark power chords and more desperate expressive rants are evident. Mutt Langes non-sensical “Gunter glieben glauchen globen” introduces Rock of Ages. The songs feels like a close relative of Queens ‘We Will Rock You’ . Elliots spoken bits are fun and the lyrics a little cliched but also very tongue in cheek. The responding chanting sounds like it was fun to do and makes this track into an anthem at gigs.

Comin Under Fire, starts with an almost echo guitar riff, before delving into another slow emotive simmering verses. I love the constant changes of pace in this track from verse, to chorus, to bridge, to solo whilst every so often returning to that initial riff and harmonised responses. Action Not Words, great song which is more upbeat. more pop/rock and for the only time on the album, has stereotypical dubious rock subject matter (Women, Sex, Cameras). The final track Billy’s Got A Gun is a great atmospheric song which builds by leaving space between elements, to start there’s no shredding or riffage just atmospheric power chords and the choir adding harmonies. It builds the intensity and pace  along with the story. The last minute is fab from solo to a beautiful filled bridge with Allen’s drumming to Elliot’s last desperate lyrics to the final choral responses. Only leaving the minutes drum loop at the end.

When I first heard Pyromania I thought it was brilliant. For someone who was changing my music style, this album hit the centre ground between the music I grew up with and the music I was currently listening to. It was safe but had enough for me to go on and explore more rock and metal, whilst waiting for the next Def Leppard album to arrive. It was a bit of a wait, not at least for the band who went through so much trauma to get into the studio. In 1987, Hysteria arrived and again raised the bar in Def Leppards journey.  It lifted production and songwriting quality to new levels making use of new technology to build on the always great musicianship in the band. It would bring more fame in the USA and deservedly some in Britain. I would get to see them on the tour for the first time with Tesla (in my top 10 gigs) and a few more times after. I don’t think they ever achieved the heights of Pyromania and Hysteria again, although the band have continued to be excellent live and have released some great tracks since but not the consistent quality. My favourite band member was Steve Clark, who sadly passed away after Hysteria.  I loved the way he played guitar. He had a great staggering, swaying motion, that every so often produced a kick in time with one of his awesome power chords. I used to replicate it whilst air guitaring at the Mayfair, sort of like pretending to be Michelle Platini whilst playing football in the school yard. Pyromania continues to be one of my favourite albums and I am grateful for it being part of my rock evolution.

img_2021Def Leppard and the Union Jack seem to be intrinsicly linked at this time. Look at the video for Photograph with Joe Elliot wearing his sleeveless t-shirt or the Foolin video with Rick Allen’s shorts. One infamous photo shows the whole band decked out in the same Union Jack t-shirts and shorts. It seems the band were a) proud of where they came from and b) trying to respond to the earlier pro-American criticism.

The Union Jack for Great Britain & N. Ireland has faced criticism itself. At best it represents being together and Union. The flag itself is a combination of England, Scotland and N. Ireland flags. Some see it proudly as a symbol of a true, fair place of many nations, cultures & beliefs. Alternatively others may see it as a flag of oppression and of an old age of empire. In the worst cases, it has been adopted by far right groups as a flag of division, oppression and hatred. Like the use of the flag of St George, it is unfair to blame the flag for the actions of a few idiots.

So a Union Jack card was made. Lyrics for all the songs were printed onto red and blue card. Getting the right colours was really tough,so much so I settled for these darker shades (I really like the toned down contrast). A template was made of the flag and each element is cut out separately (The cross of St George is cut in two). The templates were transferred onto the coloured lyrics at different angles and cut out. Some elements were glued straight onto a plain white card background whilst others are slightly raised. It gives the flag a ripple effect and the effect of something in Britain that’s changing and evolving. For better or for worse.

Billy (aged 15 at time of album release)