I didn't know quite what to expect when I booked my tickets to see Ringo Starr and the All Starr Band live. Ringo's had a tough couple of decades and fuss made over his refusal to sign anything else for fans and comments about Liverpool suggested that he'd become rather curmudgeonly since hitting 70.
What I didn't expect was the figure who bounded onstage tonight, full of boyish enthusiasm, slim and grinning and looking about 25 years younger than his 70 years, buoyed up by (seemingly) unforced glee at his latest tour.
And he was certainly in good company. The All Starr Band consisted of Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Gary Wright, Richard Page (of Mr Mister) and Wally Palmar (The Romantics).
Launching into It Don't Come Easy, Ringo seemed to be having a whale of a time and it was one of those gigs where it's hard to keep the grin off your face and where the enthusiasm of the performers rubs off onto the audience, even if almost every one of us remained glued to our seats, restricting out enthusiastic displays to polite rounds of applause. British reserve apparently seemed to be leading the way, although there was a good bit of banter between Ringo and the audience at some points, as he joked self-depreciatively between songs. Almost uncomfortably at one point, where he obviously thought an off-the-cuff remark about having his bedroom decorated with a picture of a cheering crowd on one wall fell a bit flat and he remarked, "I don't really. I just made that up. I thought it was funny. Apparently not." He looked so momentarily dejected I was surprised no-one jumped on stage to give him a big hug.
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It's been a while coming, but here's another bunch of covers that have caught my eye over the past few weeks.
For anyone that missed out on previous entries, parts 1, 2 and 3.
The usual mix of the sublime and the odd in this entry, including the traditional Lady Gaga cover, some Killers, Animals and Katy Perry. Sounds like a normal weekend in the Brand household.
Inactive Messiah – Beat It (Michael Jackson cover)
Take one Greek death metal band. Throw in a full orchestra. And an epic classical choir. Sprinkle lightly atop a Michael Jackson song and you get this. I don't know what it is, but I like it.
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I've fallen deeply in love with the Pet Shop Boys again since seeing them live the other night. It occurs to me that if you crossed New Order with Pet Shop Boys you'd have an almost perfect synth pop band. New Order always had the indie credibility and Pet Shop Boys have the tunes. Mind you, despite having one of the coolest men in pop in the duo, Pet Shop Boys distinct lack of street credibility was always one of their most endearing features when they played the whole ironic detachment card. I'm kinda glad that they embraced the theatrical aspect over trying to be relevant.
On the other hand, I admit to being disappointed with the new Divine Comedy album. It contains flashes of genius, but where previous albums had balanced the whimsical humour and tongue-in-cheekness with solid tunesmithery, Bang Goes the Knighthood is almost exclusively humour based tracks without any solid base. It's fun and funny, but more like listening to a Flight of the Conchords album than anything remotely serious.
Hannon still retains some of the ability to pick a tune up by the scruff of the neck and shake it, but there's none of the epicness or tunes-from-a-Broadway-show of previous albums. It's interesting to contrast it with Regeneration, which was the Divine Comedy album that downplayed the comedy.
This album goes to the opposite extreme, with a large number of Noel Coward-esque spoofs like The Complete Banker, Can You Stand Upon One Leg or the title track. There's some gold in them thar hills, but what's entirely lacking is Hannon's razor sharp wit - instead it's the rambunctious and bumptious japester that's on display. Which works wonderfully for a sing-a-long party song like their biggest hit, National Express, but becomes an irritant when it's the tone for an entire album. Instead of perceptive humor, it's cheap laughs and it's hard not to feel disappointed when you know what Hannon is capable of in his perceptive moments.
That said, the comedy songs are still a step above most efforts and if you're looking for an album that's essentially just a series of harmless spoofs, you could do a lot worse. In amongst it there's tracks like When a Man Cries, Down in the Street Below or Have You Ever Been in Love? to raise the tone, but a lot of the album remains trite and lacks the potency of his best work. Hannon seems a little too content with what he's doing and himself and it was the slight bitterness mixed with the sweet that always made his earlier works stronger.
The new single, I Like, pretty much sums up what's great and also a little irritating about the album. It's genuinely funny and entertainingly ridiculous in parts, lacks a focused tune and is ultimately forgettable. But still endearing enough that you can't write it off entirely.
So, The Pet Shop Boys. It's daunting to think that they've been going 30 years or so now. And one thing they've always been renowned for the theatricality of their live shows.
Last night they played the BIC, my local venue, to a packed house. And to say they didn't disappoint is an understatement.
I had slight trepidation when I booked the tickets. I'd seen footage of their show at the Glastonbury festival and thought they looked and rounded a bit tired.
However, last night's gig demonstrated the opposite was true. Neil Tennant might be packing a few extra pounds around the belly which made his ludicrously tight trousers all the more comical, but they delivered an amazing fresh and vibrant performance.
The main strength? Well, apart from the deadpan ironical humor that's always been part of the Pet Shop Boys' mythos coming through, they resisted the main temptation of gigging bands when they have a new album to promote - push the new tracks at the expense of the hits the audience has come to hear.
Last night the Boys did the opposite. A few new tracks were interspersed with the classics, but the main thrust of the show was playing hit after hit and classic tune after classic tune. From the opening Heart through to the closing West End Girls, they hammered almost every great tune from their decades in the business, be it Always on My Mind, What Have I Done To Deserve This (with a great tribute to the late Dusty Springfield), a barnstorming It's A Sin, complete with confetti cannons, Suburbia, Kings Cross, Being Boring, Jealousy, New York City Boy, Go West, Love etc, Two Divided By Zero, even a Coldplay cover slipped in, mixed with Domino Dancing and many medleys of classic tunes.
The staging was equally brilliant. Employing a stage covered in stackable white cubes, which alternately become video walls, dance platforms, or makeshift set pieces and barriers for performers to escape for costume changes. The duo were ably supported by four dancers (including a twins) who did and amazing job of filling the space with some amazing costume changes and the cube motif continuing as all the performers went through much of the show in box themed costumes, with boxes on their heads that looked both hilariously daft and amazingly stylized - a balance that the Pet Shop Boys have always deftly managed. The genuinely brilliant sense of design offset by the fact that it might be brilliant but it's also totally ridiculous too. It was one of those gigs where it was impossible to keep the smile off your face. And certainly when Chris abruptly stepped out from behind his bank of keyboards to do a brief dance routine. Or when the Boys entered with boxes on their heads to perform the first number. Brilliantly daft.
This all combined to create an amazing party atmosphere for the gig. I'd definitely rank it up there as one of the best live experiences of my life (although not quite up there with Madness and the day we made tower blocks dance).
Anyway, I've started irregularly listening to Mark Radcliffe's show with Stuart Maconie and they've also had some gems. I've already waxed lyrical about Hafdis Huld. I challenge anyone not to bop around the room to this anti-love song.
Even more randomly, last night's guests were Coope, Boyes & Simpson, an a Capella trio from northern England who sing traditional folk as well as their own compositions. What I didn't expect to hear was an a capella folk trio singing a tribute to Kurt Cobain from Nirvana, but they do, and slip in their own take on In the Pines, covered by Nirvana in their Unplugged session, in the process.
It's... unique. And just the kind of stuff I love. Something I'd never have heard anywhere else.
So, a glass raised to Mark Radcliffe. Providing ear worms for me for 16 years.
Poking at covers of Billy Joel's New York State of Mind earlier with skalja has prompted me to revive my "great and… not so great cover versions" feature again.
Previous entries saw stuff like Lady gaga covered by Faith No More, the Theme from Shaft played on ukuleles, rockabilly ACDC, a cappella Nirvana, Marillion covering Britney Spears and more…
Under the cut, stripped down New Order, Shirley Bassey covering Pink, truly unique a capella Coldplay, punk Banana Splits, more Gaga, gratuitous lesbians, sea shanties and more.
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After a few years when I've probably only listened to Neil Hammond's group intermittently, I rediscovered them when I was doing that covers thing a few weeks back. And now I can't stop listening. Pop meets a 30 piece orchestra with Hammond as the Cowardeaque frontman and possiblyt he only band with songs inspired by influences as diverse as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Michael Caine, Fellini, Steve McQueen, Anton Chekov, quantum mechanics and William Wordsworth. And provided songs for Doctor Who, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galazy and Father Ted.
There's a certain genius about taking a glorious anthem to the rather crap intercity bus company and creating a video for it set in an asylum. Neil Hannon's a comedy genius in the video for this.
The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count
A joyous, summery pop anthem about one drawback of the season. Oh yes.
( More songs about love, Alfie, birth control methods, bungee jumping, horses and Sweden under the cut. )
Following on from my previous post, I continue my exploration of what's weird and what's wonderful in the world of cover versions. I think there's gold in them thar mountains, despite the last post not getting any comments. I LOVE this stuff, so I guess that's all that matters, right?!
Beneath the cut, covers of Lady Gaga by Faith No More, Japanese Carpenters, French Bowie and much more.
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I was thinking about the death of Malcolm McClaren earlier and how he was so influential shaping an entire generation, while slipping on my vintage Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine T-shirt and also wound up slipping 1992 - The Love Album onto my ipod as well. Maybe it was to get the whole theme going, so I could pretend I was a 16 year old indie kid again, or something.
And then started thinking about music. I've always had a love affair with music. Not a crazed stalker, obsessive vinyl collector type relationship, but a comfortable, regular love affair with occasional kinky sex.
And listening to 1992 again, it made me realize that it was one of those albums that helped shape my relationship with pop music, back when I was still flailing around trying to work out just who I was and what music called to me.
There's probably a few of them. Rubber Soul by The Beatles was probably the first album I ever owned, and you can do a whole lot worse when your musical tastes are being formulated. But 1992 was probably the first album that I came to myself as a teenager, during that time when personalities and tastes are just reaching the boil, and acted as a huge stepping stone towards other artists.
Oh, maybe it wasn't the greatest album ever. In fact, it's definitely not, in any way, shape, or form, despite Carter's tongue-in-cheek claim at the time that they were the most important band in the world. It's all machine gun drum machines, politics and puns, ropey, snarling vocals that struggle with sensitivity before the kitchen sink crashes in and vague guitars.
But without it I never would have got into Ian Dury. I'd have never been introduced to The Jam, Billy Bragg, The Smiths, The Clash, The Sex Pistols. I probably wouldn't have listened to The Pet Shop Boys beyond West End Girls. I wouldn't have leapfrogged into a whole indie scene, Britpop, punk, electronica - I'd have been stuck listening to light rock. Hell, I wouldn't have even listened to The Man from La Mancha.
So, what was it for you? What was the pretty album that turned your head and seduced you? Maybe not the most striking one at the party, but the one who took you home and did strange and exciting things to you in the dark?
I was stuck at work today and kicked up Spotify to mix up my background music again. I'd forgotten until then about the playlist of cover versions that I contributed to that Torchwood writer James Moran had set up on there. It made for fun listening while I was working.
I love cover versions. From the bonkers to the brilliant, there's just something about hearing an artist take someone else's work and mix it up a little. I can't bear the cover versions that are pretty much chord for chord identical to the original. I want insanity or uniqueness.
So, I present a collection of some of my favourites. From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Under the cut, unique takes on Pulp, Queens of the Stone Age, The Beatles, The Killers, The Smiths, Nirvana and others…
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So, er, enjoy?
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For example, Miki from Lush, one of the reasons I have a fondness for bottle redheads in black tights, now being, in her words, an "office worker" and mom. (Apparently she's an assistant editor for some magazine or another.) Or Myles Howell from Kingmaker, who went from working at Homebase to the Hull Daily Mail. Or the members of Elastica (Justine Frischmann - an abstract artist somewhere in the US. Donna Matthews, a student at Dartington College of Arts and head of the Christian Union.) Or more depressing, like Martin Gilks from the Wonderstuff, dead in a road accident at 41 or Liam Maher of Flowered Up, also dead at 41 from a drugs overdose.
On the other hand, it's quite nice to know stuff like Ian Dench from EMF winning an Ivor Novello Award for co-writing Beyonce's Beautiful Liar. Or Clint Mansell from Pop Will Eat Itself going on to score a bunch of movies, including Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Moon and Golden Globe nominated for The Fountain.
(Incidentally, during the course of my search, I did discover that I still find Tanya Donnelly from Belly and The Throwing Muses distractingly attractive and apparently 15 years isn't long enough to make a mad crush vanish.)
But in some ways, it's reassuring that there's plenty who are just living normal lives. Fame's fleeting and, at the end of the day, a lot of the people I grew up thinking of as famous are, basically, now doing similar jobs to me, living the same kind of life, the same kind of worries and day-to-day grind. It's a strange way to look at it, but I do start thinking "hmmm, I've not got it so bad. I'm doing as well as anyone else." Sure, I never had that moment in the spotlight, but who wants to be chasing that their entire lives? And when you get it, what happens? It's soon back to the clean up on aisle three.
So, I guess, at the end of the day, I'm quite happy with my lot. I've never really put what talents I have to great use, but I've not wasted my life any more than anyone else either.
I think I'd probably rather be happy with my lot and to have accomplished what I set out to (ie: not much) than be someone who entered showbusiness, made a bit of cash for other people, then retired back to the normal life.
List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your LJ along with your 7 songs.
I'm on a bit of a nostalgic indie kick at the moment. Although not entirely.
The Wonder Stuff - Sleep Alone
From the classic "Never Loved Elvis" album, released in 1991. Damn I feel old. The soundtrack to my teenage years, though. RIP Rob "The Bass Thing" Jones and drummer Martin Gilks.
The Cardiacs - Is This The Life?
I can't remember whether I first heard this track on John Peel or Mark and Lard when they were on late night Radio 1. It was stuck on one of my radio-recorded compilations for years though. I still love how... out there it sounds.
Nirvana vs Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up
Kirsty MacColl - There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis
A little before my time, really. I missed Kirsty's golden years. But I still miss her. She guested on a bunch of albums I did own, whether it was the Wonder Stuff, Billy Bragg, The Happy Mondays, The Smiths, The Pogues. Her tragic death in 2000 was a terrible blow.
Weird Al Yankovic - Hardware Store
Yes, I'm obsessed with this song. Still.
Johnny Cash - God's Gonna Cut You Down
Should I admit that I heard this for the first time a few months back in an Eastenders trailer? Probably not.
Carter USM - Do Re Me (So Far So Good)
Still appropriate, even if it's not 1992 any more. "Where are the songs about boozers and buildings,
banning the bomb and abusing the children?" Fruitbat's shorts and cycling hat, less appropriate.
1. Are you a male or female: "Nowhere Man"
2. Describe yourself: "Here, There, and Everywhere"
3. How do you feel about yourself:
4. Describe your ex boyfriend/girlfriend: "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You"
5. Describe your current boy/girl situation: "Tomorrow Never Knows"
6. Describe your current location: "We Can Work It Out"
7. Describe where you want to be: "I'm Only Sleeping"
8. Your best friends are: "Across the Universe"
9. Your favorite color is: "For You Blue"
10. You know that: "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
11. What’s the weather like: "Rain"
13. What is life to you: "Getting Better"
14. What is the best advice you have to give: "Think for Yourself"
15. If you could change your name, what would it be: "I Am the Walrus"
Thanks John, Paul, George, Ringo, Fred and Jeremy Hillary Boob.
Randomise your playlist. Write the artist and title of the first 15 songs that come up (no editing, no cheating).
1. The Kinks - Wonderboy
2. Lily Allen - I Could Say
3. Nick Cave - Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow
4. Therapy? - Nowhere
5. The Who - Teenage Wasteland
6. Dire Straits - So Far Away
7. Generation X - Kiss Me Deadly
8. Nickelback - Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)
9. Hayseed Dixie - Gin and Juice
10. Super Furry Animals - (Drawing) Rings Around the World
11. Kirsty MacColl - As Long As You Hold Me
12. John Hiatt - Ethylene
13. The Beautiful South - Dream A Little Dream
14. Scissor Sisters - Filthy and Gorgeous
15. Billy Joel - You're My Home
Posting that link to Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine's version of The Impossible Dream has reminded me of something - there were and still are one of my favourite bands.
God knows they were never the greatest songwriters or musicians in the world, but they were earnest and likable blokes from an age where indie music wasn't afraid to be silly and was rarely dreary. Crashing onto the scene in the late eightes, Jim Bob and Fruitbat (aka James Robert Morrison and Lesley Carter, lending his name to the band), the pair, and their pet drum machine and a pocket full of samples, stumbled through their first album, 101 Damnations, hopping onto the indie scene with their own brand of thrash agit-pop, students political sensibilities, a silly name, a flair for daft designs and the dress sense of drunk Australians.
Take, for example, the video for the punningly named Do Re Me (So Far So Good) off their hit number one album 1992: The Love Album. Notice the fringe that recently earned Jim Bob the Most Tragic Barnet in Pop. Notice Fruitbat's adorable little cycling shorts and cap. Notice they both look like total wankers.
But how adorable are they? With their angry punning pop posturing and desire to make music that actually said something and wasn't just love ballad slush, they earned a highly loyal following, a following that saw them a personal heroes as the pair became very supportive and personally involved with their fanbase, responding to the letters they would get from many troubled fans personally. (Inspiring the song Lean On Me, I Won't Fall Over.)
They came from the same school as Madness and Ian Dury (who they were friendly with. They supported Madness more than once and Ian Dury features on 1992: The Love Album as well as the video for The Impossible Dream.) They had the same playfulness, love of puns and dark underbelly as Dury with the same bounciness as Madness. Although often described as "the punk Pet Shop Boys", that's not entirely the greatest likeness, though they may not have helped their case by covering the band's song Rent. Just one of many cover versions recorded for the bands B-sides.
During their time they were, perhaps, flukily successful. Sherrif Fatman was their first big hit, all drum machine, backing tapes, samples, puns and thrashing guitar over cynical lyrics in a tale of abuse in old people's homes. Not the typical pop song then, but it soon became a student favourite.
But then some of their fame came from infamy more than their music. Bloodsport For All, their anthem about bullying in the armed forces was banned by the BBC when the Gulf War started. Another single, After the Watershed saw its controversial subject matter (child abuse) overshadowed by the subsequent legal battle with the Rolling Stones when they took offense at the use of the words "Goodbye Ruby Tuesday" in the lyrics. They didn't really help matters when performing the song at The Smash Hit Poll Winner's Party, they tackled presenter Phillip Scofield live on television in a moment of pure anarchy after he decided to be a sarky bastard.
Of course, they didn't go easy on their subject matter after that either. there was Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere, a diatrade on alcoholism and The Only Living Boy in New Cross about the AIDs virus. And they didn't avoid controversy either. Even when top of the album charts, the band's headline set at Glastonbuty was cut violently short because other bands had overrun, leaving Fruitbat to rant at Michael Evis and get them banned from the festival forever.
That was certainly their commercial peak and post Love Album their next album, Post Historic Monsters, was a lot more downbeat and weary, probably losing them fans in the process. But musically they were improving and their next album, Worry Bomb gave birth to their unashamedly pub pop anthem Let's Get Tattoos and Cheap 'n' Cheesy (a deceptively titled song about an alcoholic screwing up his relationship) saw them flirting with sensitivity as well as powerful, kitchen sink instrumental ballads.
They finally started earning their punk Pet Shop Boys crudentials with And God Created Brixton, another of their later songs that I adore. Ironic that they sounded most like an electronic band on this one, since by this point they'd formed a full band with a drummer, keyboards and another guitarist. But burn out had arrived. I saw them for the third time towards the end and though they were as passionate live and the fanbase seemed as loyal as ever, the hits had dried up. I personally think A World Without Dave, the mini-album this track came from, was one of their strongest, but they decided to slip away gracefully, making the mutual decision to split on the eve of their tenth anniversary and just one more album was released, I Blame the Government, which was mostly comprised of songs in their demo form and was stripped down and raw because of it. And sometimes strangely beautiful.
So that's Carter. They had something to say. Sometimes they were politically naive, but they wore their hears on their sleeves, were unashamedly sometimes stupid and funny, had my same fondness for bad puns and I can't hear the phrase "you fat bastard" without thinking of them.
They're the only band I ever miss.
And Falling On A Bruise can still reduce me to tears.