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)

Week 11 : 13th March 1995 : The Bends




Accompany music : Black Star

Going start by jumping ahead to now 2017. All the way through this early part of the year, I have been going through a turbulent time at work, regarding job security, and naturally it made me consider other options. As part of destressing process, I looked for inspiration in the things around me and got away from it by writing this blog. A few weeks ago, in the middle of the maelstrom, I re-read the 10 pieces so far, and I was shocked to see that the one linking element the majority is change. It sort of confirmed my thinking, defined the radical options ahead and gave me a new found belief that no matter what happened, I had the resilience to ride the change and I would try to make best out of it. In the end, I kept my job… but thats another story. This period was tough, but I was prepared as I had went through a lot worse. Welcome to the mid-nineties.

I will (as usual) not go into the grand details but the mid-nineties was one of the most radical parts of my life and defined who I became. A huge rollrcoaster of a decade which had some amazing high points but some awful downfalls into the water chute of despair. It saw me start the decade with a newly found belief system but by the end see me struggling to square faith with life. I started in 1990 newly becoming unemployed, desperately volunteered for something and then via going to University finding my then life defining vocation of a Youth Worker by the late 90’s. My relationships were also ever changing, with some great moments, followed by craziness and emotional turmoil. A series of un-Billy like choices would transform mine and others lives forever. At the time, I was lost in the story, living the dream and having to cope with the consequences.  Friendships also changed but luckily the bonds stayed constant. The main thing that changed was my own perception of myself, in 1990 I wasn’t too sure of who I was, with my views generally reflecting how others saw me. By the end of the decade I had learnt my faults and how to deal with them, but I also learned I had positives and I started to appreciate who I was. I also learned not to regret anything that happened as it made me the person I am today and helped shape the great life that I would have.

My music in the mid 1990’s had also hit a bit of an issue. the extravagances of 80’s Rock/Metal had been absorbed by grunge and Nu-metal. Progressive rock had taken a back seat, with only a few bands such as Dream Theater pushing forward. People were obsessed with Brit Pop which generally passed me by. There was some great rock music around that was more indie and less metal. The music I bought at the time was either very melancholy and  shoe-gazzy or very quirky which reflected the ups and downs of this time. But what didn’t change was was appetite to find something new. Around 1995 I asked one of my friends Riverdance Steve (all friends had nicknames. Steve by the way river danced seemingly to all types of music, including Metallica) to do me a mix tape of his music. What I got back was a mix of early-mid nineties indie/rock bordering a lot on grunge. I remember on the tape were Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains and Cowboy Junkies amongst others. All of these I loved alongside a couple of tracks, by a band called Radiohead. A song called Creep and another called Bones.

Creep is an excellent track of its time, that 90’s self doubt through the seemingly garbled lyrics of Yorke, interrupted by grunge power chords became an anthem for the disposed and uncertain. It became a massive hit and subsequently was numerously covered. There is an episode of the excellent podcast Coverville where every song is a cover of Creep. After hearing it on the tape, I bought the album, 1993’s Pablo Honey… and I was kind of disappointed. One massive hit within a mediocre shoe-gazing bunch of tracks with light grunge guitar. The track Bones followed a similar structure but was far more intense and darker. With some hesitation I went out and got The Bends, hoping that i wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

After a lot of publicity over Creep, a massive promotion and touring schedule followed, Radiohead had returned to studio (reluctantly) to record a potentially difficult album. What they made was an album of tracks that are experimental, emotional and strangely radio-friendly. It becomes a perfect bridge album between the personal shoe-gazing post grunge of Pablo Honey to the Wider Societal soundtracked scope of OK Computer. The Bends brings together these concepts, recognising the continued personal recollections of Thom York but also transposing them into the wider society. Songs are deeper, darker and move between grunge guitar, indie pop structure, beautiful songwriting and electronic doodling. One of Radiohead’s great qualities is that idea of moving forward and not conforming to what the record companies or their fans expect, whilst always holding onto that concept of challenging inequality and issues in society usually more experimental music. OK Computer, Kid A took this on and their still doing it in 2017’s Moon Shaped Pool. Lets remind ourselves of this genius work, the Bends.

Planet Telex, sets the agenda for the album. Early on, the spaced out reverb electronics and distorted guitar set the atmosphere. The track builds throughout with drum and guitar fills with restrained vocals running alongside. Slight sound effects are taken over with anthmeic chords at start of the title track, The Bends. Yorkes opening slightly sneery verse with responsive chord. The song is beautifully disjoined with almost talking elements and full on rock solo’s exchanging with melancholic elements. The beautiful High and Dry follows, acoustic start with guitar and delicate vocals up front break out into calming anthemic chorus. There is a steady increase in intensity but there is a real restrained feel to this even in the wonderful guitar solo.

Another subtle classic follows. Fake Plastic Trees, again starts with the acoustic guitar and Yorkes vocals this time with atmospheric keyboards giving space in the background. I love how this track builds in volume and adds elements but doesn’t loose any of the delicate impact of the sublime lyrics. The other track on that tape, Bones is next. From the opening echo chords and heavy bass, I think theres a certain relentless brutalism to this track. The chorus especially, has a riff that feels should be in a happy 70’s glam song, but the distortion alongside Yorkes almost spitted desperate lyrics add a distinct heaviness.  (Nice Dream) finishes side one with a almost calming finish. Acoustic guitars and delicate approach again are up front, this seems do much more orchestral. I like very much the choral approach before it kicks off with soaring guitar in the bridge before returning to peace.

The excellent Just starts side 2. The initial kickstart of drums, bass and guitar into the first playful verse sets the tone. The interplay between Yorke and guitar makes this song almost a playful conversation. Then the solo spirals off into its own direction before kicking into a staccato like acoustic section. The final guitar solo with shouting finishes off a great manic song. I love the slow build up of Iron lung, starts very restrained until the power chords suddenly kicks in verse 2. At the end of each verse the dip into madness is unexpected and shows an almost prog inkling. Probably the most melancholy song of the album, ‘Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was’ is beautiful, dark and a fine interlude.

The distinct reoccurring riff at the start of the Black Star builds in volume. We jump straight into a verse Yorkes sublime mournful lyrics about relationship breakdown, beautifully backed up by the band (especially the haunting bass line). The Chorus is anthemic and sad at the same time. I love after the second chorus the use of the reoccurring riff. The final verse with its lovely use of backing vocals both paired back and heartbreaking before an anthemic end with that riff throughout. I love this song, it makes me teary and happy in equal parts.

Sulk, with a staccato guitar opening into another emotional personal anthem of a song. The choruses have a strange-sing-along quality and as most of the songs on the album moves from the quiet to the loud. The final track Street Spirit (Fade Out) is a wonderful peaceful track, reminds me a bit of REM with a bit of menace. The beautiful ongoing riff alongside Yorkes vocal performance sets this up. Again the track slowly builds in intensity but none of the tranquil delicacy is lost. Stunning finish to a stunning album

When asked in one of those on-going Facebook questions (which I never usually answer) for the 12 albums that will stay with you forever, The Bends was one of the first I put down, mainly for how it captured my mid-90’s. The uneasiness with oneself, your actions and consequences. Added to this is recognising the wider world is not so great either and that it also needed a lot of work. It paints a dark (some would say depressing) picture. But Yorke and the band, make songs that are strangely uplifting and in the majority of tracks, provide a battle cry to improve oneself and/or society. That acceptance of the negatives and then the acceptance that you have to do something about it, I feel comes out from this.

In 1995, I had decided to go to University to become a Community and Youth Worker. In the summer, I was lucky enough to visit friends in Berlin. It was 5 years after the wall came down and 50 years after the end of World War Two. With every exhilarating and fun moment came another time of self reflection and deep thinking. Walking around the streets of East Berlin and seeing bullet holes in walls was shocking. A trip around the German national museum following the timeline of German culture, inevitably led to a 20th century of conflict, hatred and a room showing the films from the concentration camps. A sign above the door, implored people to spend time there and watch, saying that this can not happen again. An adjoining room showing the first photographs from Allied journalists in the camps, reinforced this in stunning un-nerving quiet contemplation. In the Check Point Charlie museum we saw displays of stories regarding the wall, of the families divided and of daring escapes across the wall. The role of peaceful protest was rightly highlighted in changing the beliefs in 1990 and helping bring down the wall.

This trip was the perfect introduction to my University course. It built upon my ever-growing belief system that society was not fair and that I had  to change it, even in some small way. It also made me aware of myself, my strength’s and those points I have to improve. Most of all, it helped put into context who I was and that I wasn’t afraid to develop and change. And that stays with me today.

So for the creative element, I was always going to make something based on my favourite track, which is Black Star. So I decided to make a 3D star. I certainly haven’t got the skill to design this as yet, so I used a design for the excellent book, ‘Make Shapes 1’ by Gerald Jenkins and Anne Wild. Its a great resource of mathematical models and used the one for Small Stellated Dodecahedron. The design is made up of 4 separate pieces (laid out on two pages of A4), these are cut out, folded and joined following a numerical order. Initially the first two pieces form separately and then are joined. The third piece starts to be set up and then added to the larger piece and a similar process happens for the fourth and final piece until the complete ‘star’ is made.

As this was to be a black star, I initial photocopied the first design onto black card, which of course I couldn’t see or read. Subsequently I printed the designs onto white card and carried out the process. In the end I ended up with a stunning White star which seemed a little larger than expected (12.5 cm in height). It was a pity that this needed to be coloured in black. First on a few spires I tried with Permanent Marker which faded to a dark grey colour and had a matt finish I didn’t like. Ended up painting in in Acrylic which not only gave great coverage and consistent gloss colour but also strengthened the shape. The final touch was adding a few mirrored embellishments of different sizes to give a little sparkle.

Billy (aged 27 at time of album release)

 

Week 9 : 2nd March 1987 : Through the Looking Glass

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Through the Looking Glass is 30 years old

Accompany music : This Wheels on Fire

In 6 days time it will be International Womens Day, so what better time to play a strong female fronted album and review it with my wonderful partner, Steph.

We met 16 years ago, in a small rock club called Cuba Cuba. I headbanged and air guitared my way through nights to Classic Rock in my Levis and grandad shirts. Steph dressed in black but glowing like a beacon with UV makeup and reflective bits, would be swaying to the more Goth and Ska influenced music. Over the years we have meandered into each others musical territories, sometimes finding common ground and sometimes not. Every so often we find ourselves at each others gigs which we would never have thought of going to. Steph going to numerous Prog rock gigs, has struggled with some and loved others. At other times I have been to Goth gigs, some I really didn’t understand (EBM Goth) and others I have really enjoyed. One such night, I started recounting in week 2 in the David Bowie Post.

It’s 2013, and we are in London. Initially down for Akram Khan’s Desh at Sadlers Wells, we planned a visit to the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but the trip was extended to take in a gig by one of Steph’s favourite artists, Siouxsie Sioux. It was at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown festival, that year curated by Yoko Ono. I remember wandering around the hall before the gig, and being amazed at the committed fan base a lot dressed Siouxsie style. After a very good support from Viv Albertine, the atmosphere built highly until Siouxsie took to the stage and instantly she was in control and one with her audience. Her movement was so purposeful, as her PVC dress swayed to the music as she danced. The hits were played one after another, Siouxsie’s voice boomed out over the increasingly loud musicians. After each song her stage presence held everyone. It was seeing a master performer at work. Steph continues “I loved the dialogue as Siouxsie reminisced, and even though her voice doesn’t quite hit the notes and extraordinary range of her youth, she can still deliver a powerful concert for her loving fans. It was great talking to the people sitting near us, hearing their experiences of seeing her in concert in the early days. This was one of the best concerts I have ever been to.”

I knew little about Siouxsie before I met Steph. Of course I had seen her on Top of the Pops and found her always intriguing, slightly dangerous but strangely beautiful. Liked a lot of the singles, but never felt compelled to explore further. I also knew that she was part of the Punk scene, hung around with the Sex Pistols and appeared in the infamous Bill Grundy interview.  Like I said I didn’t know that much, over to Steph for her recollections….

“I think I first paid attention to Siouxsie and the Banshees when we were living in Sheffield in 1977, Hong Kong Garden was playing on Top of the Pops and because of mum and dad and my grandparents having spent time in the far east I was always interested in anything that hinted at eastern influences. Watching this extraordinary person sing and dance on the screen was thrilling for an 11 year old shy and sheltered girl. I loved everything about Siouxsie, her vocals, her style, her punk attitude, but I never tried to copy or emulate her myself. I just quietly admired.  The next time I really discovered Siouxsie again, was when we had moved to The Netherlands and I was at boarding school in Germany, this would be between 1979-1981. There was a sponsored 24 hour disco in Chatham House, the girls boarding house I lived in. One of the 6th form girls came dressed as Siouxsie, with back-combed and crimped hair, outlandish black eye make-up and a black bin bag. It was awesome. I must admit I did try and copy the dancing style and loved the few tunes the dj put on for Karen. That was when I rediscovered my love of the music. But I would need to wait until I had money of my own before I could buy and play her songs. We didn’t buy tapes or LPs very often in those days, so I never owned anything by her until I had started working. I settled for a compilation album which had most of the tracks I love, playing them over and over. Once upon a time….the Singles”

As part of the writing process we thought we would pick 10 of our favourite songs. We came up with Hong Kong Garden, Happy House, Dazzle, Swimming Horses, Peek-a-boo, Stargazer, Sea of Tranquility, Helter Skelter, Spellbound and Into A Swan. We played these whilst discussing our recollections.

Strangely we forgot to include  ‘Dear Prudence’ which I would have named if I had remembered. This version of the Beatles ‘White Album’ classic, utilises psychedelic guitars and Siouxsie hypnotic drawl to give a 60’s atmosphere whilst the power of bass and drums place it directly in the 80’s. It is said that after creating this single, the band felt compelled at some point to create an album of their favourite songs and so on the 2nd March 1997, ‘Through the Looking Glass comes out’. We will give it a spin and both myself and Steph will comment.

1. This Town Aint Big Enough For The Both Of Us:
BH: Love this Sparks cover, the fab manic Mael brothers songwriting and lyrics is carried off superbly by an intense demented Siouxsie performance.
SL: Rhythmic drumming, pulsating, magical, eastern exotic excitement.

2. Hall of mirrors:
BH: From Kraftwerk’s TransEurope Express. The electronic keyboards background replaced cleverly with hypnotic guitar and drum. Siouxsie’s delivery of the ‘Alice’ like lyrics is paired back and almost Teutonic.
SL: Perfect pitch and pace for Siouxsie’s throaty, gravelly vocals. With a melodic weaving refrain. Love the lyric “Even the greatest stars”.

3. Trust in me:
BH: This performance moves the track away from the dangerous threat of man-eating snake to a totally different type of domination. There is a huge amount of harp on this song including some mad fills. Needs More Harp…. only kidding.
SL: From the zippy, discordant harp opening to the hypnotic and suggestively lilting phrasing, we are coaxed into a slumberous somnambulistic state of serenity.

4. This wheel’s on fire:
BH: Always thought Siouxsie is having a ball on this Bob Dylan song. From the fanfare start, juddering guitar and uplifting chorus. Feels so much movement and fun in this track.
SL: This upbeat and exciting song is one of my favourites, setting toes tapping, hips shaking and head nodding. I want to leap around the room like a whirling dervish.

5. Strange fruit:
BH: One of the greatest protest songs originally sung by Billie Holliday and written by Lewis Allen. This version is great with violin and Siouxsie’s soulful delivery. The ‘New Orleans’ brass section adds to the atmosphere. Can’t replace the original but adds a different version to the canon.
SL: Powerful pathos and a bonus trumpet open the sheer magnetism of this song, which builds to a slow crescendoing finish. Boom. Bang. Crash. Whoosh.

6. You’re lost little girl:
BH: Into the psychedelic world of The Doors, acoustic start builds into sixties (copyrighted) song structure. Siouxsie’s vocals carry the same intonation as Morrison’s throughout. It has a mad, scary fairground section in the middle before jumping back into Sixties pop.
SL: Chaos descending into madness is soothed by the reassuringly measured Siouxsie.

7. The Passenger:
BH: Think this is one of the strongest covers on here, mixing the old and new. Cleverly takes from Iggy’s original, the urgency and vocal delivery and adds the new horn interludes which improve the track. Beautifully manic, uplifting song.
SL: Siouxsie had fun with this cover, her deep, clear delivery matching and meeting the triumphant brass fanfare to perfection. A brilliant song performed with aplomb.

8. Gun:
BH: Stop start guitar, drum, offbeat percussion, introduce Cales ‘Gun’. Siouxsie belts out verses and choruses to this enjoyable track which tilts between the traditional and experimental, with increasingly off-kilter percussion.
SL: Choppy, charismatic tale of murder and mayhem. The harsh beat and nails scratching down a chalkboard vocals from Siouxsie are well matched.

9. Sea Breezes:
BH: Chilled atmospheric start, with limited guitar and percussion, slowly builds in intensity to Roxy track. The finale spiralling drums probably comes too late. Too drawn out for it’s own good. Not one of my favourites.
SL: Peace and harmony abound at the beginning, echoed by the musicality of this song. But this is Siouxsie and songs are not that simplistic. The middle opens the complex, jarring lessons to be learned.

10. Little Jonny Jewel:
BH: Siouxsie’s husky delivery is so great for (this version of the song), half commanding, half whispering. There are great bits where her vocals play alongside the distorted guitar riff. The track feels trapped until it breaks out into an upbeat mid-section and then a more choral section.
SL: Wow, another marvellous mix of extraordinary rhythms to complement Siouxsie’s vocal range. I really like the time changes and switches in pace and melody with angelic harmonies soaring heavenward.

This is a very good album of cover versions full of great performances by the band and Siouxsie. There are some unusual arrangements which fit the style of the band but also stretch their own and the songs capabilities. What’s really distinctive is that this album has such a range of tracks on it from the electronica of Kraftwerk, to the sternness of Television. From a western by Cale to a Disney Jungle scene. All the songs are very different but like many great cover version albums, the songs become owned by the performer.

I understand that Bowies ‘Pin-ups’ is one of the influences of the album but I think its closer in kin to the later Cash’s ‘American IV – The Man Comes Around’. Cash’s album (not wholly covers) has some versions of Witchita Linesman/Bridge over Troubled Water which you expect to be great as they fit his style. The album also throws some amazing curveballs such as Nine Inch Nails Hurt/Depeche’s Personal Jesus which Cash changes and makes his own. In some limited extent Siouxsie manages to mirror this, with songs being very Banshee at the end of it. We will talk more about the art of the cover version later in the year.

In the meantime, I will leave the last words to Steph “After taking part in this shared review, I felt the need to revisit some of the albums I have now collected over the years. Siouxsie remains one of my favourite artists and I should play these songs more. It was great to see the different ways we heard the same song, whilst still following the short review brief Billy wanted for this post. Hopefully we can do another shared session again, it was great fun. And a great bonus is that now I have a Siouxsie mask!”

For Christmas 2016, Steph went to a masked ball with work. We discussed the idea of making a suitable mask but as usual we ran out of time. So to make up for that disappointment I thought, it made a lot of sense for Steph’s Siouxsie album to be celebrated in this way. I think the mask idea also conveys an idea of theatrics and as such is very Siouxsie, whilst the act of hiding oneself is also a good metaphor for cover versions as well.

After measuring Steph’s head, an image of Siouxsie’s eye make-up is manipulated on the computer to vaguely similar proportions. This was traced onto 3mm white foam board and the eyes coloured in using a black Sharpie. I then proceeded to cut out a stylised mask shape and two holes for eyes. Next came the madness of sequins and the glue gun. Black sequins of two sizes are used for the make up whilst one lot of white sequins covered the background. This was my first use of the glue gun, so ended up covered in glue strands, burnt fingertips and sequins found later glued to clothing. From the same foam board, a stick was made by creating a sweeping line and spiral. This creates a sort of ‘Trust in Me’ snake like handle. This is glued into place on the back of the mask.

Billy & Steph (aged 19 & 20 respectively at time of album release)

Week 8 : 25th February 1977 : I was feeling part of the scenery, I walked right out of the machinery.

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Peter Gabriel 1 is 40
Accompany music : Here Comes The Flood

After a couple of weeks, we return back to February 1977. In the next month, the previously mentioned prime minister James Callaghan is having run-ins with traditional industry. In March, he threatens car manufacturer, British Leyland with withdrawing state aid  unless it puts an end to strikes. 2 weeks later 40,000 toolmakers are threatened with dismissal as they strike at the Longbridge plant. A week later the final Rover R6 is manufactured and Callaghan is facing a vote of no Confidence.

img_2132As a 9 year old, I had quickly come to terms that we were a family of pedestrians. Everyday travel was done on buses. Our holidays mainly to Scarborough and Filey were done by train. Getting in one of the few cars own by relatives was a strange luxury. In fact, our immediate family would have to wait for my brother to reach his late teens before he would learn to drive and get a car.

I was never interested in cars and even to his day, never learned to drive. The closest I got was sitting in a stationary car with an instructor in a car park.  I spent the whole time being confused by the 3 pedals as Ridge Racer, Pitstop, Pole Position, Hard Drivin’ and the other arcade machines only had an accelerator and brake. I never got Car magazines and really don’t like Top Gear. Subsequently I am useless at recognising cars (expect for the matchbox ones I had as a 9 year old).  I do love my friends enthusiasm about their vehicles, but I get lost in conversations when it comes to technical elements. But I can hold my own about aesthetics and colour. For example….. Me “Wow, thats a very aerodynamic, red car over there”, Friend “Yes Billy, thats a Ferrari 458 with a 4499cc V8 engine and a dual clutch 7 speed Getag gearbox”…. Me “……err., yes”
img_2130So with my extensive knowledge, I can tell you that there is a blue car on this weeks album cover. Its actually a Lancia Flavia, owned by Hignosis designer Storm Thorgersen. Its been hosed down giving the impression of rain across the bonnet and windscreen. Inside sits a figure looking a little forlorn, thoughtful and tired. Peter Gabriel has been out of his old band Genesis for about a year. The previous flamboyant performer has none of his fancy mad costumes instead is paired back with jacket and white t-shirt, as he is photographed by Peter Christopherson. Even the title lacks the complex surrealism of Genesis titles opting for Peter Gabriel. Little did we know that the next three albums would be called the same. So in the following years this album got known as Peter Gabriel 1 or Car.

Genesis  is one of my favourite bands. Specifically the golden period of Peter Gabriel being in the band from their inception in 1967 to The Lamb Lies Down in 1975. I won’t go into too much detail about the early development of the band as my favourite album of theirs ‘Foxtrot’ will appear in week 40. But lets join the story in 1974, and the release of the epic ‘Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’. The Lamb is a concept album based on the everyday tale of Rael, a young punk in NYC who goes searching for his missing brother and ends up on a spiritual quest. He accidentally finds himself in an alternative universe. Throughout the story he faces moral dilemmas (about sex & relationships), faces increasingly surreal challenges such as the Cage and meets varied creatures such the Lamia and the Slipperman. During which he catches a disease, is cured by having his ‘windscreen wiper’ removed, only to find that a bird fly’s off with it. Its surreal, mad, very british version of america, dark, sentimental, funny and I love it. The whole crazy idea was Gabriels and he struggled to convince the rest of the band of its merit. He produced the lyrics for the album and the rest of the band created the majority of the music during sessions where Gabriel struggles to be part of due to family issues. The divisions in the band became clearer as the album developed, during the release and subsequent tour. This focused mainly on the theatrical with Gabriel wearing  increasingly surreal costumes culminating in the bulbous Slipperman. Reviews concentrated on the lead singer and not on the band as a whole and their stunning musicianship which caused further resentment. During the USA leg of the tour, Gabriel announces he will leave at the end, to spend more time with his family as he is disillusioned with the music industry. His leaving is seen with relief in some quarters of the band, who are happy to continue without him.

So Gabriel returned to the studio in July 1976 to record his first solo album with the producer Bob Erzin, famous for working with Alice Cooper. A band was assembled which included King Crimsons guitarist Robert Fripp and bassist extraordinare Tony Levin to record an album, which from everything about the cover and his look, seemed to suggest that Gabriel was breaking from his past and looking for a new way.

Strangely, the first track on ‘Car’ is firmly in the past. ‘Moribund the Burgermeister‘ could be from ‘Lamb Lies Down.”. Garbled vocals, changing musical styles and pace, Surreal imagery and non-sensicle lyrics all are pure proggy Genesis. But this has a harder darker edge especially in the choruses. I love this track, so much I put this on over 10 times at a party where the free jukebox had this on as a b-side to the next track.

img_2131If the first track was pure Genesis, the second would show that Gabriel could write  sublime, radio friendly hits. From the jangly guitars, the  journey like tempo and heartfelt lyrics about leaving Genesis. The chorus is so upbeat and glorious. I was at a So gig in the 80’s at Birmingham NEC, a reviewer said that the crowd Boom Boom Boomed their heart out. And we did to Solsbury Hill. Its is a stunningly upbeat and happy song.

The albums producer Bob Ezrin was a long time contributor to Alice Cooper, and that sort of comes across in Modern Love. It is a very Springsteen American rock, has a very sound and stop start with big statement lyrics. Could easily be written by Mr Cooper and the performance wouldn’t be that dissimilar if Alice has done it himself (or even Springsteen). The only real prog different is the opening off kilter chords which are distinctly Fripp like.

Its a far cry from Excuse me, which is very British. Kicking off with a barber shop quartet (always reminds me of Mr Bean) and then gives way to a quirky, music hall like song with what seems to be a harpsichord, banjo,  and Tuba (played by Tony Levin). Its a sweet, innocent and a little disturbing song. Probably too novelty for its own good. The opening whispered vocals and echoed keyboards of Humdrum are so atmospheric, again the track changes with castanets leading to tango sections and flute solos. All 3 elements are interplayed. Before giving way to a beautiful classical section with Gabriel vocals lifting the song till the end. Beautiful track.
img_2134Twinkly keyboards abound in Slowburn, along with power chords, rock riff and spiralling solos. The breakdowns head to quiet classical elements but these are quickly interrupted by rock choruses and harmonised backing vocals. Its almost heading into Meatloaf territory at these points. The final long played out solo is excellent as the song breakdowns to its disjointed finish.

Bar room piano, heralds the start of ‘Waiting for the Big One‘. Slide guitar, purposeful bass and drums pull alongside creating the smokey atmosphere. Gabriels verses of blues singing alongside piano is so atmospheric and lifted at the end of verses by improvising guitar. I like the final blues finish, building in intensity to the choral finish.

Triumphant orchestral classical fanfares , run into an almost Rocky soundtrack. Down the Dolce Vita, plays between these two elements with Gabriels vocal performance shows a deep  intensity.  There are some great bits where all elements come together but for me his vocals are lost a little, a bit echo’y and buried behind the pummelling guitar and orchestral pieces.

img_2133One of the things that is levelled at this album is that it is a little over-produced by Erzin. To my ears he was excellent at his elements, the rocked up bits. When it is combined with Gabriels delicate  approach it sometimes overpowers it. You can see it slightly in the last  track, Here Comes The Flood. Don’t get me wrong this is still amazing, Gabriels heartfelt verses alone with piano and acoustic guitar are sublime. The choruses where the intensity builds are brilliant, as Gabriel goes for it emotionally pouring his heart out. The very good power ballad instrustmentation adds to the volume but Gabriels vocals lose some intensity below the power chords. The Fripp solo in this track is beautiful as well. This song developed over the years. The recording of this on Fripp’s album ‘Exposure’ is different with Gabriel given space to express himself. After this Gabriel, would play this live with just piano, here is him playing it a few years later on the Kate Bush Show and heres him, playing it much later in the last decade (on Guitar Centre sessions). Worth comparing, all four versions (including the studio version at the top). All versions are sublime and each have their merits.

And as this last track shows, Gabriel didn’t stop evolving. Peter Gabriel 2 (or Scratch) was produced by Robert Fripp and presented a far way more stripped back, bleak atmospheric album with great tracks such as DIY, Mother of Violence and Indigo. Peter Gabriel 3 (or Melt) is a stunning album, that not only is ambitious, experimental but obviously political. Featuring songs such as Biko, games without Frontiers and (one of my Favourites) Family Snapshot, delivered by an varied array of musicians. Kate Bush is on vocals, Phil Collins for the first time playing his famous gaited drumming style, Paul Weller and Robert Fripp on Guitar and Levin on bass. Peter Gabriel 4 (or Security) was one of the first to be done on digital tape and use a Fairlight Sampling machine allowing a range of world-beat music. The single Shock the Monkey, is filled with effects and a startling stop/start beat symbolising this album. And that is the end of Peter Gabriel….as an album title.

In 1986, So comes out and Gabriel is less experimental and has created a  set of sublime songs moving between pop, art rock and world music. Big singles Sledgehammer, Big Time, Red Rain and Don’t Give up are all hits… but there are gems throughout the album including In Your Eyes and the stunning Mercy Street. The use of world music alongside the electronic sampling add to the supreme songwriting. As I said above, I saw Gabriel on the So tour in 1987 at Birmingham NEC. Was lucky to get down the front and actually supported Peters leg during his crowd surf in Lay Your Hands On Me. It was a stunning gig for a number of reasons, the support was from Youssou N’Dour was the first time I had experienced World music and loved it, the musicians on stage (Levin, Rhodes, Katche) were amazing bringing the tracks alive, the stageshow was simple but stunning (the crane lights of Mercy Street) and of course Gabriel was the amazing performer we expected. I wouldn’t see him again until 2016 on the 30th anniversary tour, different world music support, same band, same stagecraft and same sublime Gabriel. Many albums followed So, but Gabriel did not lose his tendency for moving forward, experimenting and bringing people together (such as for Real World Music). Gabriel in my eyes, is an icon of music and one of my heroes. I particularly love his Genesis work but his solo career is excellent and it started with this great debut album even with him sitting in that errrr…. blue car.

img_2144The creative element for this is a collaged piece. I had hoped to make a piece shaped like a blue car…. sorry a Lancia Flavia. But considering I am as useless at drawing cars as recognising them, that was given up for a simpler method. I have in the last year, taken to collaging letters for peoples birthdays. In some cases an initial with pictures relating to one of their favourite interests stuck on (this has ranged from books to Cthulthu monsters). In other cases I have symbolised significant birthdays, not by using the numbers but by using the equivalent roman numeral. I have done a few this year using the letter L, one of art deco pictures and another deconstructing Hokasia’s Great Wave of Kanagawa. The letters themselves a bought wooden letters about £2 a go. Pictures are printed onto normal printer paper and a decopatch glue is used to stick and varnish. For the Peter Gabriel Cover, I opted for a single 1 wooden piece and printed pictures of Peter Gabriel from 1977. These are cut out and then stuck onto the wooden 1, creating a striking piece.

img_2128I couple of tips I have found with Collaging these letters and Numbers,

  • You may need more pictures than you think. Remember you are layering images.
  • Try to get pictures of varying sizes (to fit all nooks and crannies). Big images you may think will cover a lot of space, But these may overlap, take over or need to be broken down
  • Sort the pictures beforehand, with the ones you like to be stuck on last, therefore more prominent and not buried under less good images.
  • It is sometimes tempting to layer pictures in the same direction. I find a more randomised approached works better.
  • Finally go for it and have fun. Sometimes you will find yourself stuck, not wanting to cover over images. Trust in the paper and glue – you can always stick more over the top later.

Billy (aged 9 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)