Captain Misery's Miserable Mishaps

It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

Special K

10469728_10152254959811378_1715836080619826648_nThe K series engine. It’s a bit of a misunderstood and maligned beast really. Talk of it on internet forums or “daaaaaaaaan the pub” and it will it will be met by OMGHGF (Oh My God, Head Gasket Failure in internetz speakz) and OMGALLROVAZISSHIT. This is because Armchair and Pub Mechanics know more than anyone whatsoever.

True, they have their issues. Yes, some suffer from head gasket failure but the way you hear the so-called experts harp on about it, you’d think the K Series is the only engine to ever suffer from head gasket failure. Aren’t we forgetting certain VW, Vauxhall, Renault, Fiat and Peugeot engines enjoy blowing them for a past time? The garage I worked at for ten years used to look after a lot of K series Rovers. Cornwall is retirement country and there are lots of people who probably should be dead already bought these K series Rovers. I found them as reliable as anything German that we looked after, but like anything they need routine maintenance. Keep on top of them and take care of them, they’re fantastic. Caution should be applied if no maintenance has been carried out.

A brief history of the K series
It was launched in 1988, fitted to the brand new Rover R8 200 series, then later powered the 400 and the Roverised Metro that appeared in 1990. Available in 1.1 single overhead cam and 1.4 twin cam versions, but later the range increased to 1.6 litre and 1.8 as Honda began to limit supply of their engines to Rover. The K series lumps were held together as a sandwich of components using long bolts which which held the engine under compression. The 1.8 was available with a Variable Valve Control (VVC) device that allowed more power, torque and performance. The VVC unit allows some form of witch craft to happen which allows the engine to be incredibly flexible and gives it a pretty much flat torque curve. And it red lines at 7,250 rpm! Later additions included the KV6 in 2.0 and 2.5 litre, 24 valve quad cam variants. Both the K and KV6 are still in production today, following the sale of MG Rover to China corportation SAIC, though they have been revised and renamed N Series and NV6, respectively.

My K-Series
My particular K Series, pictured above, is a 1.6 16v twin cam unit fitted to a Rover 25 of varying shades of blue and black. Today it clicked over to 119,000 miles and was treated to a service, its first service since 98,000! When I bought the 25 just over a year ago it was on 103,000 miles and has pretty much been neglected ever since. But to be fair, it has wanted for nothing. Up until today, the only attention the engine has needed is a tightening of the alternator belt. The cooling system is in fine fettle and the rest of the car has fared pretty well too, needing precious little to keep it going. It has performed brilliantly and reliably – it genuinely hasn’t put a foot wrong in the time I’ve had it. It’s a revvy, peppy, responsive engine and the service it had today has made it just that little bit better. I think the K series, especially the one in my car, is a cracker.

Really, if caught in time, a head gasket is not the end of the world. If repaired properly with good quality materials used, these units will soldier on. Like all cars there’s good and bad, but I still see a heck of a lot of K series Rovers on the road. Would I buy another? You bet your bottom booby I would.

OMGALLROVAZISSHIT? I won’t hear a word of it, thank you please.


July 6, 2014 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Second listen: Split Enz – Conflicting Emotions

conflicting-emotions-504c7be878820Split Enz – one of my favourite bands of all time. They’ve had some fantastic albums, songs and singles whether head of creativity were the brothers Tim and Neil Finn or original co-founder Phil Judd. Early Enz takes a few listens to appreciate, later Neil-inspired work is more melodic and immediate. Conflicting Emotions falls into the latter camp. Largely claimed to be the Enz’ poorest album release throughout their long and ever-changing career, it’s also an album I always left on the shelf and never bothered to play more than once. I’d generally play a couple of the songs that were available on the excellent “Spellbound” retrospective compilation instead and basically ignored its existence. However, when looking for something different to play in the car on a journey this was one the LPs I picked up for a spin.

Conflicting Emotions would become the final Split Enz album to feature Tim Finn, and the album title was decidedly apt. Earlier on in 1983 Tim had released his debut solo album “Escapade” to commercial and critical acclaim. With some rumoured resentment over Tim’s solo success and tensions between band members, cracks were beginning to show. Tim had kept back most of his songs for his solo album and as such saw a shift toward Neil Finn as primary songwriter. Neil had already proved himself a pretty nifty writer with hits such as I Got You, One Step Ahead and History Never Repeats. However, this album seemed to lack focus especially when compared with the fabulous Time and Tide released in 1982. It also failed to crack the Australian Top 10

None of that really came to mind when I put the disc in the CD player. The album starts off with Strait Old Line and I’d forgotten what a funky little opener that song it is, and how catchy it is. You WILL be singing it for days after. And let’s not forget that this album also contains Message To My Girl, one of Neil Finn’s finest songs ever. It’s a heartfelt love song that McCartney would probably have wished he’d written. Another Neil-penned song The Devil You Know happens to be one of my favourite songs by anyone. So with that in mind, why did I bloody ignore this album?

Simple – Tim Finn! His songs on this album are bloody rubbish. I’m used to him belting out stuff such as Charlie, Bold As Brass, I See Red and all his songs on Time and Tide are superb. That and his solo album Escapade that came out before this album is very good. But here, with the exception of the bouncy Working Up An Appetite, which is a catchy number with an interesting rhythmic beat going on, they’re nonsense. I despise the title track, especially the introduction. Bon Voyage is equally hateful, and I Wake Up Every Night is okay to a point, but the brass sounds reek of cheap Casio keyboards. Neil isn’t exactly safe from criticism either with No Mischief being rather annoying, though through repeated playing I found myself warming to it and quite enjoy it now. Same thing happened with Bullet Brain and Cactus Head. Our Day, though, is brilliant.

So, to conclude, this is one of the most frustrating albums I have in my collection. Upon fresh listening, I absolutely love just over half of it but the rest of it isn’t even good enough for B-side material. However, there is a turn of events that make me appreciate this album a little bit more. To promote the album, The Enz needed to tour and to inject a bit of life into the band they held auditions for a new drummer. They ended up hiring the bloody wonderful and very sadly missed Paul Hester. Tim left shortly after, leaving the Enz in the control of Neil. The album See Ya ‘Round was released which had no content from Tim at all, and it wouldn’t be long before Neil disbanded Split Enz. Neil took Paul with him and formed a band which would later become Crowded House. Tenuously you could say that without this album, there wouldn’t have been Crowded House. I can’t (or won’t) imagine life without Crowded House, quite frankly.

Incidentally, the album artwork was created by Phil Judd, co-founder of Split Enz who left (for the last time) in 1977.

Enjoy Strait Old Line:

Enjoy Message To My Girl:

March 8, 2014 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

French car in “reliable for a year” scandal

A Peugeot named Edgar, literally some time ago

A Peugeot named Edgar, literally some time ago

I own a French car, so rather predictably I get the “all French cars is well shit lol don’t buy them cos dey break lol how many times your car broke LOL”, which is utter bollocks. The fact of the matter is, my French car is 26 years old, still on the road and is showing no signs of giving up yet.

The French car I’m talking about is Edgar. The name was chosen by my wife, and some friends have agreed this car is definitely an Edgar. I am, of course, talking about my 1987 Peugeot 205 Junior. I’ve had to tax it today, which means I’ve had it for a year now. It’s been a good year with the car. I love it to bits, it’s fun to drive and puts a smile on my face, is reliable and very cheap to run. It’s in fantastic nick for its age and is kept as much as possible in that condition. However, it is also a daily driver and first and foremost a work horse.

Quick it ain’t, only having 45bhp from its 954cc suitcase engine, but it’s lively enough around town and will cruise at about 65ish. But bloody hell is it economical and cheap to run. Sod all insurance costs, next to nothing on fuel and running repairs? Ha! Bugger all.

In fact here is a break down, if you’ll pardon the expression, of what has been done to Edgar the little Pug in a year:

– First week of ownership, it got a new set of wiper blades all round and a small engine service – cost £30
– Nothing until Christmas where for the first time it wouldn’t start. Damp HT leads and a fouled spark plug were the culprits. Nothing serious, no time to fix and zero cost.
– January: MoT time. Pretty much mate’s rates at the garage, so £25 for the test. It failed on one rear wheel bearing and one brake pipe. However, the other rear wheel bearing was an advisory and another brake pipe was getting a bit crusty. I had both brake pipes done as the fuel tank had to be lowered anyway. Whilst they were at it, the other wheel bearing was sorted out. A perishing CV boot was advised. Cost: £150
All quiet on the western front until April where for only the second time ever, it wouldn’t start properly. A new distributor cap and rotor arm sorted that at a cost of £11.00
Had a puncture a week later, hardly the car’s fault and whilst the wheel was off, had the CV boot done. Tyre: £25, CV boot: £30.

Excluding fuel, insurance and tax, the little 205 has cost me £671 in a year. That includes the purchase price of the car – that’s cheap. Factor in zero depreciation and it’s a winner. I’ve known people pay more than that for MoT repairs (usually on German stuff). Not bad for a French car, you know, the ones that continually break and fail. A French car that has got under my skin, become rather endearing and if it carries on like this will be with me for a very long time. I’m quite attached to it really.



August 3, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Top Albums: Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre

armchair theatre_2_jpg

The Preamble

Ah hello! Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and welcome to my latest blog post. This week I have been mostly listening to Armchair Theatre, the debut solo album by Jeff Lynne. It has been given the remaster treatment, a freshen up in the packaging department and available on CD for the first time in well over ten years. Never heard of Jeff Lynne? Where have you been? Multi-instrumentalist, singer, song writer, producer and collaborator with some of the biggest names in music. More than that though, he was the creative force in the Electric Light Orchestra. He wrote, arranged and produced all the songs.

As we’ve established, this is Jeff’s solo debut. While there may have been a little over four years since the Electric Light Orchestra quietly disbanding after contractually obliged final album Balance of Power and the release of this album, Lynne was far from idle. He had written and produced with George Harrison on the Cloud Nine album which led to him becoming a Traveling Wilbury along with George, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Co-writing and production duties on Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty’s fantastic first solo offering, beckoned soon after.

Upon its original release, Armchair Theatre contained eleven songs. Eight original compositions – one of which co-written with Tom Petty – and three cover versions. It also featured a stellar cast of musicians. First and four-most we have Jeff, who plays guitars, keyboards, bass, pianos and drums. In addition, George Harrison guests on a few numbers playing a cracking slide guitar and providing backing vocals. Ex-ELO band mate Richard Tandy appears throughout the album providing keyboards, guitars and backing vocals. Jim Horn provides saxophone on a couple of songs, Mette Methiesen drums on the songs Jeff doesn’t and Del Shannon crops up on backing vocals. And it was all recorded in Lynne’s home studio in Warwickshire, England.

My regard for the album is incredibly high. I originally bought the album over a decade ago on vinyl and had been searching for a copy on CD ever since. I had to “back up” the vinyl copy onto CD as the record became very, very worn as it became one of my most played albums in my collection. I’d spend many hours in second hand record shops (when they existed) looking for a copy to no avail. So, Christmas came and the gifts bestowed upon me included Mr. Blue Sky (I’ve already reviewed that) and Long Wave (I will be reviewing that). Within both of these was an advert card for forthcoming Jeff Lynne related releases. ELO Live, a remaster and re-release of Zoom and, at long last, a fully remastered Armchair Theatre. Release date here in the UK – 22nd April, the day before the birthday of yours truly. Excellent!

The package arrrived containing Armchair Theatre and Zoom (I’ll review that another time) and it’s been repackaged in a gatefold card sleeve more reminiscent of an old LP with a picture disc and full booklet. It also includes two extra songs that were recorded around the same time as the rest of the LP but didn’t make the cut.

What I do like are the sleeve notes by Eric Idle. Well, I use the term “sleeve notes” in just about the loosest term possible. It’s actually Eric Idle recalling a story about him trying to write the sleeve notes, coercing Billy Connolly into helping while all the time trying to convince Lynne that they had really done them. All whilst the three of them are having a meal in a restaurant eyeing up the waitresses.

One little quip from the liner notes: “How about we say originally it was a Virgin record? It had no hole in the middle.”

The songs

It’s a typically Jeff Lynne sounding album, with his trademark production sound, which is something I’m a big fan of. It’s more of a stripped back sound than many of the earlier ELO songs. The album kicks off with a bang. Well actually, it kicks off with Every Little Thing, which is a fantastic start with powerful drums and bass and then kicks into the verse with an effective saxophone refrain throughout. Good choice for the first single, too, though commercial success for the album and singles was never great despite the generally positive reviews received at the time. If the miracles of modern technology are, by some miracle, actually working then you should be able to see the video placed above. The real life and animated video contains cameo appearances by George Harrison and Tom Petty.

Next up is the first of three cover versions on Armchair Theatre, Don’t Let Go. Catchy, short rockabilly number originally written by Jesse Stone and featuring some great saxophone by Jim Horn. The other covers are excellent versions of September Song and Stormy Weather, the latter of which was recorded as a tribute to Jeff’s late mother. Both of these feature George Harrison at his slide guitar playing best and all three covers demonstrate that Lynne can do a decent cover version, simultaneously keeping the mood of the original but adding a little something.

Lift Me Up is a contender for one of the best songs on the album. The second and final single from the album, it is a piano and guitar-led ballad  and again showcases George Harrison’s soulful slide guitar. Hopefully, by the miraculous miracles of modern miraculous technological miracles, the video should appear at the bottom of the blog entry. If it doesn’t I’ve wasted my time writing this.

Nobody Home is, as far as I’m concerned is a bit of filler. I like it, but I do find myself reaching for the skip button every now and then so I shall cease writing about it. Now You’re Gone is an Indian tinged song, complete with Indian percussion and harmonies and a fantastic violin solo. Don’t Say Goodbye is a pleasant song that could have quite easily been recorded in the early 196os.

What Would It Take is, along with Lift Me Up, my favourite track on the album and is a fairly straight forward guitar-led song. Simple bass, simple drums, great vocals and a smidge over two and half minutes long. Blown Away was co-written with Tom Petty and wouldn’t have been out of place on Full Moon Fever. Has quite a hint of Beatles about it. Final song on the original album running order is Save Me Now which is a very short ecologically-minded acoustic number which did end the album perfectly. However, there are two bonus tracks that were recorded around the same time. Borderline is an acoustic strumalong, and would have made a welcome addition in the original album line-up. Forecast is, rather predictably, a song about the weather and is more than just a little Beatlesque. This too sounds too good to have been left off the album in the first instance.

I’ve bored you for long enough now, but it’s great to hear the album fully remastered and not just a “back-up” of a very worn out record. It rates in my top ten albums ever, and I haven’t grown tired of listening to it yet. My rating out of ten? Well, I have to skip a song so I’ll be fair and call it nine. I’ve kept you for long enough, go and make a cuppa and watch the video for Lift Me Up, below.

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Electric Light Orchestra – Mr Blue Sky

mrbluesky_300dpiI’ve been meaning to write about this for quite some time now, as it was one of two albums bought for me for Christmas – the other being Jeff Lynne’s Long Wave LP. I’ll deal with that one another day.

Now, I already own at least one ELO Greatest Hits compilation, the original releases from the seventies and eighties on vinyl and one from the late nineties on CD. Since then, a million and eleventy seven Greatest Hits compilations have been released. So why do we need yet another? This one is a little bit different as Jeff Lynne has, almost single-handedly, re-recorded the songs because the old ones didn’t sound as good or as tight as he remembered. Which started alarm bells ringing straight away. I’ve never really liked the idea of artists re-recording their earlier work. Indeed, this collection already has its detractors who have stated that this is nothing but a cynical marketing exercise. Would I think it to be the same upon listening?

I’ve always been more of a Jeff Lynne fan rather than out and out ELO fan and I find myself listening to less early ELO than I used to. The later synth-driven and stripped back stuff appeals to me far more. ‘Secret Messages’ and ‘Balance of Power’ are two criminally underrated albums, as is Jeff’s debut solo album ‘Armchair Theatre’. Same again with ‘Zoom’, which despite being released under the ELO banner, is essentially Jeff’s second solo album with help from fellow ELO bandmate Richard Tandy, George Harrison and Ringo Starr among others. I find the production of the earlier stuff a bit too over the top these days, especially the orchestral arrangements. Whereas I like the latter day “Jeff Lynne sound”, and the production work he has done for the likes of George Harrison (Cloud Nine), Tom Petty (Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, Highway Companion), The Beatles and as a member of the Traveling Wilburys.

Anyway, back to this compilation.  The running order: Mr Blue Sky, Evil Woman, Strange Magic, Don’t Bring Me Down, Turn To Stone, Showdown, Telephone Line, Livin’ Thing, Do Ya, Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, 10538 Overture and new song Point of No Return. A line up of classics, basically. I’ve listened to this collection a couple of dozen times now, which must be testament as to what I think of it as if I hated it it’d be in the bin. I should have trusted Lynne and his production know how really, as the re-recordings are amongst his best work. Remember how bad the demo tape of the Beatles Free As A Bird was? The job Lynne did with the surviving Beatles was fantastic. He’s managed similar here.

What Lynne has basically done is use modern production techniques, modern tools and equipment to reinvigorate these old tunes. To my ears, and I’m not expecting everyone to agree (though granted, those who disagree are stupid) , he’s done the best possible job he could. He hasn’t buggered around with the arrangements at all, they are as you would remember them from years ago. There’s just an added clarity and they seem more focused. The production is brighter and clearer, which would be what Lynne was aiming for. With the exception of the strings and a piano bit here and there, Lynne plays all the instruments and to be honest does as good a job as the members of ELO did back in the day. The bass sounds more pronounced, the guitars are far clearer and the drums sound tight. His voice has matured a great deal and seems better on these recordings now he’s older. Christ, he sounds good for a 64 year old. Most of all, the orchestral arrangements don’t overpower the songs. Watch the promo video for Mr Blue Sky:

Mr Blue Sky doesn’t seem totally over the top anymore, though hasn’t lost any of its charm. Don’t Bring Me Down seems to pack a bit more of a punch and the guitars seem rockier. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, a fantastic song that I always found spoilt by its production is given a new lease of life here. Same with Livin’ Thing, a song I never got on with that much before has somehow become my favourite Lynne-penned song. Then there’s 10538 Overture, the song whose main riff Paul Weller pinched for his song “The Changingman”, really has been given a good buff and shine as it sounds clearer than you could have imagined. And if anyone thinks Jeff Lynne’s creative juices have run out, there’s new song Point of No Return hinting at what we can expect in the future It’s a cracking little pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on A Hard Day’s Night.

Whatever you may think of this collection, it’s put ELO back in the public psyche and that’s a good thing. We need songs and musicians like this, something that isn’t a load of pre-packed nonsense. Lynne has managed to score three top ten albums in one week, with his solo album Long Wave, this compilation and people buying the old compilation, presumably to see just how much difference there is between the songs.

Still not convinced? Watch Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy live from Bungalow Palace Studios (Jeff’s house) here:

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terry Hall – Home

This is the first in a series I intend to keep up and write about and will probably never actually get around to, well, keeping up. I intend to write about some of my favourite albums. When I mean write, I mean waffle on endlessly like I normally do and the material within will be of no interest to any living being at all. So, with that in mind, I shall continue.

There are albums that are accepted as being some of the greatest albums of all time. I agree with most of them to be honest and some I think should be included. Some of what I write about won’t neccessarily be brilliant, revolutionary albums. They’ll just be the ones I like the most. This issue deals with an album that slipped under just about everyone’s radar. The album is Home, Terry Hall’s debut solo album. This is an album that upon release gained lots of critical acclaim but alas stalled in the charts. But if sky-high melodies, towering choruses and jangly guitars are your bag, which they are mine, then pray read on.

Now, most people know Terry Hall as co-front man of The Specials and The Fun Boy Three, then onto The Colourfield and then part-time collaborator with the Lightning Seeds. He has done so much more than that, but it’s Terry’s involvement with the Lightning Seeds that interests me the most and it set the scene for this album. Terry’s involvement began with the Lightning Seeds during the recording of the 1992 album Sense. Ian Broudie, chief Lightning Seed, had cited Terry as one of his favourite lyricists and requested to work together. Terry co-wrote a few numbers on the album one of which, the title track, became a top forty single. Terry even made a cameo appearance in the video. Fast forward a couple of years and we see yet more collaborations between Broudie and Hall. Hall co-wrote and sung on what would become Jollification, which included the co-written single “Lucky You”. We also see the recording of Terry’s debut solo album that would become Home.

A band of musicians, which included Ian Broudie on production duties and some guitar work, was assembled. Chris Sharrock (Lightning Seeds) on the Tupperware, Craig Gannon on guitars (The Smiths) and Les Pattinson on bass (Echo and the Bunneymen) provided the noise from the instruments. Add to the mix a select few co-writers such as the aforementioned Broudie and Gannon, but also Nick Heyward (Haircut 100), Andy Partridge (XTC) and Damon Albarn, and the album sounds intruiging.

Essentially, the album is ten (eleven on the 1995 re-release) well-crafted, well polished pop/rock songs. Now pop is a dangerous thing. When done properly, pop is fantastic. However, sometimes pop can turn out to be nothing more than pap. Throwaway nonsense. Thankfully Home is an example of pop music done properly. There’s little in the way of filler. Terry’s voice, which let’s be fair isn’t the most versatile in the business, is on form on this album thanks in large to songs with arrangements that suit his range. The dynamics and production work exceptionally well throughout. Yes it’s a well polished production, but it wouldn’t have worked any other way.

Powerfully kicking the album off is the lead-off single, Forever J. Written about Terry’s ex-partner Jeanette, it’s a highly infectious number and starts the album with a bang. Myself and She Who Must Be Obeyed have kind of nabbed it for ourselves, thanks in part to the lyric “She’s a bee with honeyed thighs, a living hell, a slice of heaven”. We’ve often joked about that. What’s more she’s called Jayne which is handy, quite frankly. Watch the promo video for the single here:

The next song is the first of two co-writes with Ian Broudie. “You” features an unmistakable Broudie guitar to introduce proceedings, and the song also features my favourite lyric of the entire LP. “If ifs and ands were pots and pans, you’d be a kitchen.” The next Broudie co-write comes next in the form of Terry’s version of Sense which is, if I’m honest, a better version. It’s a bit heavier and more guitar based than Broudie’s original even though Broudie’s presence can be heard quite distinctly on this. Watch the promo for the single here:

No No No and First Attack of Love are as good pop songs you’ll find on a record anywhere, and I Drew A Lemon is worth a listen if not for the lyrical content alone. Moon On Your Dress slows proceedings down a little, but plods along nicely with a bouncy bass line courtesy of Les Pattinson, galvanised as ever by Chris Sharrock’s drumming.

My favourite moment on the whole album must be track eight. Grief Disguised As Joy remains the most played song from the album. When I bought the album back in 1996, it was the song that stood out then and remains the song that sticks out to me now. The song has all the right ingredients. I love the mood, the sound of the guitars, the lyrics and Sharrock’s drumming (as always). It’s just the best song on the album by a country mile. End of.

However as much as I love this album, it isn’t perfect. The original 1994 release just about is, but in 1995 it was re-released with an extra song. A collaboration with Damon Albarn resulted in the song Chasing A Rainbow, which was initially found on the Rainbows EP. It did later find its way onto the reissued version. To be honest, the record company needn’t have bothered and should have kept it as an EP. It’s by far the weakest song and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the songs on the album. And whilst we’re on the subject of weaker songs, What’s Wrong With Me is pleasant. It’s not a bad song, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t really get going.

If you’re a Lightning Seeds fan, this album should already be in your collection. If you like well crafted, well performed pop/rock songs, you need a copy of this in your collection. That is if you can get hold of it as it’s long since deleted. It won’t be in your local Tesco. It won’t be in HMV. You’ll need to go to a good second-hand record shop (if there is such a thing still in existance) or look on the internet to find it. Trust me on this though, once you’ve found it, it’s worth it. Not many people really know about it which is a crying shame, as it peaked at 67 in the charts back in 1994.

So, to sum up: Home – pop done properly, and remains one of my favourite and most played albums.
Final rating: 9/10

March 2, 2012 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Electronic – Getting Away With It

Whilst I still have the chance to do so I shall continue my oversupply of blog writing that no-one wants to read. And for this entry I shall return to the world of music and for what I see as one of the best pop songs ever written, and for that I will accept no argument. The song – Getting Away With It by Electronic.

Electronic started out as a solo project for Bernard Sumner as he was frustrated with New Order’s lack of reception to his synth and programming ideas. Deciding not to go it alone, he but enlisted the help of Johnny Marr (The Smiths) with whom he had previously worked. Signed to Factory Records, who Sumner was already signed with New Order, the first creation of their collaboration was Getting Away With It.

It was released in 1989, a full 18 months before the debut album. It was written by Sumner, Marr and Electronic’s occasional collaborator Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys). Sumner and Tennant wrote the words, Sumner and Marr wrote the music. It received critical acclaim and was certainly popular, selling around a quarter of a million copies on its initial release. There were many versions of the song on a multitude of formats – different 7″ and 12″ vinyl versions and CD versions were available with remixes and instrumental takes of the song, scattered here and there. Two different videos were made, once of which you can watch at the bottom of this page. Don’t go there just yet, I haven’t finished boring you! Get back here! Thankyou.

With lead vocals sung by Bernard Sumner and backup vocals from Neil Tennant, it is quite a simple song with a piano and synthesized bass intro with live drums kicking in a moment later. Johnny Marr adds a lovely bit of understated rhythm guitar, and also gives us a rare guitar solo. The production is very glossy and is pretty typical of late 1980s/early 1990s. There’s also a full orchestra on the record, conducted by Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley. It has to be said though that the song and its sound has dated very well indeed.

It’s also got pretty dry lyrics too. As mentioned previously they were written by both Sumner and Tennant, but the story goes is that they are an attempt to parody the public persona of Marr’s old musical collaborator, good old fun-loving, smiley-smiley Morrissey.

So, we’ve established that it’s a pretty simple pop song with simple ingredients and dry lyrics. But that’s what makes it so compelling. I’ve played this song so many times since I first heard it and I have never, ever grown tired of it and never likely to. The verses are memorable and the chorus makes you want to play the song over and over. Which I do, probably to the annoyance of everyone around me but I’m not particularly arsed about that. Listen to it once and I defy anyone who won’t sing along with this song, or have at least the chorus stuck in their heads for weeks, maybe even years after. I still am twenty years after I first heard it.

The version to listen to is the original version. Don’t bother with the remixes, although the instrumental version is good to just hear the music. Original is best, so here it is ladies and gentlemen (why I’ve pluralized there I don’t know, that should read “so here it is my one regular reader”), the video for Getting Away With It. Enjoy…

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

>Fleetwood Mac – Gypsy

>And so it is back to me waffling on about my favourite tunes, once again. This time I’m looking at a song from the lighter end of my record collection. It is a pop song, and this particular song is as good as a pop song gets. No ifs, no buts. It has all the right ingredients.

It’s called Gypsy. It’s by Fleetwood Mac. I’ve always had a soft spot for Fleetwood Mac, regardless of the lineup, though it has to be said the band in my eyes was at its best when it had Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks at the forefront of the group. Peter Green’s lineup is blues orientated and there is so much good stuff there. But for me it’s the aforementioned “Rumours” line up that is my Fleetwood Mac of choice, and certainly the most commercially successful.

The song I’ve chosen here is an overlooked single (it reached no. 46 in the UK charts) taken from the 1982 album Mirage. Mirage, which is probably their weakest effort, came after the more experimental album Tusk, which alas didn’t sell in the same quantities as Rumours so was instantly branded a flop (I’d love a flop that sold in excess of five million copies, thankyou very much). So Mirage saw the band revert back to a more rock / pop sound.

Gypsy was written by Stevie Nicks back in 1979 during the height of her fame and was initially going to be included on her debut solo album Bella Donna. However, it was held back for Fleetwood Mac. To understand the song itself, if you are so inclined, we need to understand the inspiration behind it. Put simply, it took Stevie back to a time before the height of success and fame. In fact, back to a time when Stevie and Lindsey Buckingham were still a couple with no money, just an apartment with a king size mattress on the floor. According to Stevie in an interview in 2009:

“To this day, when I’m feeling cluttered, I will take my mattress off of my beautiful bed, wherever that may be, and put it outside my bedroom, with a table and a little lamp”.
Add to this the name of the shop where she bought her clothes (as did Janis Joplin, incidentally) and you have the opening lyrics of the song –
“So I’m back, to the velvet underground
Back to the floor, that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was
To the gypsy… that I was”.
The lyrics were pretty much complete back in 1979. However a small section of lyric including the line at the end “I still see your bright eyes” was added on as a dedication to Stevie’s best friend Robin who died of leukaemia.
If, however, you really aren’t that bothered by the lyrical content of this song (and if not, why not?) then all you have to do is focus on the musical part of the song. It has a melody you’ll be whsitling or singing to yourself for weeks. The wonderful lead vocals by Stevie are helped by some excellent harmonies from Christine (McVie) and Lindsey. Mick Fleetwood plays a steady but rock solid drum beat throughout and John McVie plays a reliable bass line that bounces along and compliments Mick’s drumming. But the real icing on the cake for me is Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar work. Understated throughout the song, there is nothing that isn’t needed. The last part of the song features a melodic guitar break that finishes the song perfectly to the fade-out. Lindsey must be one of the most overlooked guitarists in the business. He knows what to play, when to play it.
You can find Gypsy on Mirage or any of the hits compilations. Which versions are my favourites? The original and also the live performance from 1997 DVD “The Dance”. If you can find a copy of this concert, get it. In the mean time, watch the promo video for Gypsy:

February 9, 2011 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

>New Order – True Faith


The next installment comes from one of my other favourite bands, New Order. New Order were formed from the ashes of Joy Division. After the suicide of Ian Curtis, the surviving members of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris decided they would carry on. Without a front man they took it in turns to see who could sing. As it turns out none of them could, but Bernard drew the short straw.

My choice this week is my all-time favourite single – True Faith. This song saw them work with OMD and Pet Shop Boys producer Stephen Hague for the first time and was recorded in a ten day session along with equally good b-side “1963”. Upon its release it was available as two separate 12″ singles, a 7″ single and CD single and contained a plethora of remixes. Some good, some bad but none really improved on the original version of the song. Typical of New Order releases, the band name, song title and picture of the band were absent from the artwork. The title of the song, like many other New Order releases, was absent from the lyrics.

The song is pretty straightforward, with a great drum rhythm courtesy of Stephen Morris experimenting with machines and live drums together, a synthesized bass line and, thanks to Hooky playing the bass as if it were a lead guitar, some fantastic live bass runs.

Which version is best? There’s only one to go for – the original six minute version is by far the best version. It was remixed in 1994 for the best of compilation entitled “? – The Best of New Order”, but looses some of the sound of the original version. The radio edit versions aren’t worth bothering with and to be honest nor are the remixes. Until 1998, the live rendition of the song would be pretty faithful to the original. However, post 1998 an arrangement based on a remix was used as the template for the live performance to varying degrees of success. New Order were patchy live band, some nights would be bloody awful and some they were on fire. One thing you could be sure of though, Hooky would always put on a good show with the bass.

To promote the release of the single, a surreal video was produced. Starting off with strangely dressed dancers slapping each other on the face to the rhythm of the song, the dancing gets more and more weird. Add in a woman swaying in an upside down boxer’s bag whilst signing the lyrics to the song.

Why do I like it so much? I can’t really put a finger on it, it’s just one of those songs that sounds good every time you play it, no matter what you play it on. It’s great to play along to on the bass guitar. I love the video, it’s just brilliant. It also reminds me of past good times with mates.

Watch the promo video:

November 2, 2010 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

>The Lightning Seeds – Change

>Right, for the second installment of Song of the Week. This week is the first of many Lightning Seeds songs that are likely to feature.

The Lightning Seeds started out in the late 1980s as a side project for Ian Broudie – a respected record producer and ex-band member for legendary Liverpool punk band Big In Japan, a band more famed not for being successful but for spawning band members that would later have a successful career (Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond et al). Initially a low-key affair it allowed Broudie to make some of his own music and continue to help and produce other acts.

The debut single was Pure, a gem of a song that went to number 16 in the charts. Two albums – Cloudcuckooland and Sense – and a trio of top 50 hits – The Life of Riley, Sense and Lucky You all preceded the fabulous hit single Change.

Change was released in January 1995 and was the second single released from Jollification. The album and this single would prove to be the turning point for the band. Firstly it would provide their biggest chart hit to date reaching number 13, but also it could no longer be classed as a one-man’s-side project. Signed to a new label which took the band seriously, they were now a serious proposition and with a touring line-up put together, Ian Broudie would now focus full time on the Lightning Seeds. Touring the US and a new outlook to making videos resulted in the glossy and well produced promotional video for Change. The packaging also signified better promotion and marketing. It was released in four formats – 7″ vinyl, cassette and two CD singles – with unique artwork. Now all the artwork surrounding Jollification-era singles had strawberries of some kind, and this was probably the best example complete with Groucho Marx disguises. The digi-pak had a pull-out section where you could “Change” (geddit???) the strawberry into a disguised one. This is rocket science stuff, this you know!

This was the song that got me into the band in the first place. I’d seen the video on things like the Chart Show and also had a Top Gear compilation where this little gem was hidden in amongst some ace rock songs. This is the song I remember playing the most and wanted to know more about the band that did it. Turns out they made songs I already knew – The Life of Riley and Sense. I found a copy of Jollification in my local independent record shop, which is alas, no more. I’ve never really looked back, as Jollification to date remains my firm favourite album of all time. If you don’t own it, why not? You really, really should.

There are a couple of versions of the song, the album version and the single edit. Don’t bother with the single version as it cuts out a portion of the guitar break and a verse. What remains on both versions is the driving guitar through the song with a distinctive lead guitar sound. A light, bouncy bass line added to quite effective synthesized drums, this makes up a fantastic pop song. Naturally, though, the best version of the song is when played live. After finally seeing them live after a fifteen year wait, I got to see them in April of this year, and the live performance puts a whole new energy into the song.



Watch the video:

October 18, 2010 Posted by | Music | 1 Comment

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