Saturday 22 June 2024

Saturday Snapshots #349

Here's a confession: I didn't have Sky TV when I was younger either. When the BBC stopped showing The X-Files, I had to save up and buy the DVD box sets. I didn't have a big fancy camera like Rishi to take my snapshots with either...

Who are the stars of popular music pictured below?

How are their songs connected...? 

10. The cast of Lost.

(Lost was another show I had to watch on DVD, Rishi!)

9. Don't suck old sweets.

8. Cabernet Sauvignon.

7. Keep drinking and you'll become one.

6. American G.I. gets lost in the subtext.

5. Deano takes it easy with a brand new key.

4. Proving Del Amitri wrong.

3. One Frou, near the top of Frank's New York ascent. 

2. Straight out of The Bible.

1. Big Daddy, found near the Statue of Liberty.

Fortunately, you won't need Sky TV to get the answers - they'll be here tomorrow morning.

Friday 21 June 2024

The Past Is Another Blog #4: Billy's Back

Below is another post stolen from my old blog, this one dated...


It's a review of a Billy Bragg gig at Holmfirth Picturedrome the previous Saturday (2/12/06). I might not have run it again but for the fact that Billy returned to that very venue this Saturday just gone (18/6/24), so I figured it would make for an interesting comparison...

"It's Saturday night in Holmfirth - yeah!"

Hardly a rock ‘n’ roll capital, even of West Yorkshire, but it’s Saturday night in Holmfirth and Billy Bragg is rocking the mid-renovation rafters of the Picturedrome, not a venue at which I ever expected to see one of my musical idols perform. Still, it’s a rare pleasure that after the gig, I’ve only got a ten-minute drive home.

Five minutes these days: I've moved closer! I think they completed the renovations of the Picturedrome some time in the past 18 years too.

Billy Bragg - The Warmest Room

There’s a certain irony to watching the definitive working class hero (move over, Mr. L.) play a little Yorkshire town where the Green Welly Brigade rules; where – thanks to Compo and co. - locals are being forced out by wealthy comers-in; and where the average house price is now comfortably past £200k, far higher than anywhere else in the surrounding area. Just the weekend before, Bill Wyman came here to turn on the Christmas lights - and a multi-millionaire ex-Rolling Stone seems a much better fit in Holmfirth than a BNP-baiting Bard of Barking.

£200k would probably buy you a garden shed round here these days. 

Billy Bragg - Levi Stubbs' Tears

This is the second leg of the Hope Not Hate Tour, and Billy is more aggressive than ever in his anti-fascist stance, particularly since the BNP recently took seats in his hometown. 

Billy told the same story about the BNP this time, with the update that they're no longer around. These days, his biggest threat comes from Nigel Farage. Although he was also gleefully anticipating the kicking the Tories are about to get in a few weeks time... and talking about his resignation from the Labour Party over Kier Starmer's stance on Israel. 

Billy Bragg - Handyman Blues

I’ve never been all that politically driven myself, but I’d be more than willing to vote for any candidate who displayed half as much intelligence (his lyrics include words like ‘recidivists’ – I have to dictionary it when I get home), wit (“People said to me, Bill, you’ve got to go to Holmfirth - do you know what they filmed there? Most of the new James Bond film…”), and passion, as Councillor Stephen William Bragg. Some might say he’s preaching to the converted, and yes, it’s true that the few skinheads in the audience probably chose their haircuts through necessity rather than right wing statement, but that’s missing the point. As a performer, Billy both entertains and educates, yet not once do I feel lectured to. Inspired? Definitely. It’s the kind of gig you wish everyone could experience, because it recharges your batteries. I truly wish I had half his passion, his conviction, his commitment to social equality… but for a couple of hours on Saturday night, I do… and I’ll try to carry that with me into the weeks ahead.

Towards the end of last Saturday's gig, Billy spoke bluntly about the inspirational quality of his gigs (which he puts down to the passion of the audience as much as anything he does). He also spoke about the apathy and cynicism many of his generation now feel towards politics, and how us oldies should look to the youth to recharge our batteries. I'm afraid to say that apathy and cynicism may be all I have left - the inspiration I described above is not something I felt this time round.

Billy Bragg - Walk Away, Renee (Version)

Though famous for his outspoken political activism, a Billy Bragg gig never gets heavy. It’s an enviable trick, best summed up after an amusing monologue regarding his last American tour. “I’d just like to apologise to anyone who brought a friend along tonight to hear a trenchant critique of the Marxist dialectic… and here I am discussing the merits of watching talking cats on Youtube.” I suppose it must be a similar experience at a Mark Thomas gig… only Billy’s funnier.

I've seen Billy play live a fair few times over the years, and he often speaks at gigs about how there are two types of Billy Bragg fans - those who connect with the politics first, and those who are more fired up by his clever, witty relationship songs. I've always belonged to the latter camp, and this time round I felt a bit short-changed. Serves me right for going to see Billy three weeks before a General Election, I guess. 

Billy Bragg - Way Over Yonder In A Minor Key

As for the music…? Spot on. “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” will always bring a lump to my throat, and his briefly adopted “Johnny Clash” persona – singing ‘Pinball Wizard’ to the tune of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ - is a stroke of genius. Ending the night with a sing-along ‘New England’ – “let’s do a verse for Kirsty!” – sends everyone home with a smile. On losing all but the lowest register of his voice whilst touring the US, his manager allegedly consoled him, “Don’t worry, Bill – no-one comes to hear you sing.” We do though, of course we do – we just get so much more besides.

Maybe I've reached the age where I do just want to hear Billy Bragg sing. I had a half-baked notion after the gig on Saturday that he should do two gigs in future - one for the politicos and one for all the sad-sacks like me who just want to hear him sing The Warmest Room, Tank Park Salute and Handyman Blues. Sadly, we only got one of those this time... though it still brought me to tears.

Thursday 20 June 2024

The List #5: Fake Tans & Styrofoam

More random stuff that I've been listening to and feel I ought to write about...

Bilk are from Chelmsford. The lead singer's nasal Essex accent remind me of Jonny Itch from The King Blues, if you remember them. They have a similarly in-your-face 21st century punk style, but they're not as political. They mostly just sing about girls, having fights, and taking the wrong drugs. Oh, and a little bit of social commentary...

I spend too much time, getting too deep
I'm laying in this single bed, but I can't sleep
There must be more to life than tinder swipes
And posting shit on Instagram for meaningless likes
Where I'm from there's teen mum's sipping booze
Whilst the babies takes twos from her B&H Blues
The boys are in gangs
The girls push prams
To spend all their money on some shitty fake tans

Since he produced the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? in the year 2000, T-Bone Burnett has become a legend of the Americana scene. He also put Robert Plant together with Alyson Krauss, and going further back in time was a huge factor in the success of Counting Crows, Los Lobos and Gillian Welch. 

Before all that though, he played played drums on this...

The Legendary Stardust Cowboy - Paralysed

...don't ask...

...and he played guitar on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. After that, in 1976, he joined with two other stragglers from that tour to form The Alpha Band. They released three albums which iffypedia tells me were "particularly notable for their intelligent cultural critique". Which might be why I've getting into their songs, although I've no idea what this one is about...

I'm not sure whether they still publish the Encyclopaedia Britannica, or whether it's just been replaced by the aforementioned iffy website, but if they do, and you manage to snag yourself a copy, I imagine you'll find a picture of New Yorker Joanna Sternberg under the entry for either "lo-fi" or "bedroom recording studio"... 

The Tyla Gang were on Stiff Records in the 1970s, which is how I came across them on a Stiff compilation I've been working my way through. Lead singer & songwriter Sean Tyla was also the driving force behind Ducks Deluxe. Here's their song about Styrofoam, which I wasn't surprised to discover was the only song about Styrofoam in my collection, although I do have an album by these guys...

The Styrofoam Winos - Stuck In A Museum

I don't know why, but I was compelled to investigate if anybody else had ever written a song about this particular brand of closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam, and I was rather horrified to discover this...

Daniel Powter - Styrofoam which point I went back to the Tyla Gang for succour.

Finally for today, Richard Hawley has a new record out. He's one of those artists whose work I'll buy without having to listen to it first, because he's never let me down. Nothing's changed there...

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Self-Help For Cynics #38: Mr. McGee, Don't Make Me Angry...

I believe I've passed the age of consciousness
And righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too
I had my pointless point of view
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right

OK, it’s time to grasp the nettle.

So far in this feature, I’ve looked in detail at all manner of negative emotions, including sadness, anxiety, low self-esteem and paranoia. But there’s one emotion I’ve danced around confronting face on, possibly because it’s the one that scares me the most – in other people and in myself.


Anger, can make you old 
Yes it can 
I said anger 
Will make you sick children, 
Anger - destroy your soul 

Marvin Gaye - Anger

I knew this was going to be a big one, and I knew it was going to take some serious investigation to understand and… well, we’ll have to see whether management is possible. That’ll come further down the line, I guess. Let’s start with an attempt at understanding. And who better to help me get to grips with this most unpleasant and destructive of emotions than our old friend, sweary Dr. Faith? Her book Unfuck Your Brain certainly made my grey matter less opaque, so I figured she might be able to offer similar insight with one of the follow-ups…

fiREHOSE - Anger

Almost straight away, Dr. Faith pointed me in another direction, towards the work of Dr. R. Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist who sought to find an answer to the anger inside him after he beat up a pickpocket who tried to steal his wallet while he was on holiday in Barcelona. When I read about his research, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this guy…

Since his creation in 1962, the Incredible Hulk has remained one of the most consistently popular comic book characters because he appeals to our most primal emotion: the desire to have a big tantrum and smash the shit out of everything when life isn’t going our way. Unlike most other superheroes, the Hulk doesn’t want to save the world, avenge the death of a loved one or help those less powerful than he is. All he really wants is to be left alone.

Spearmint - Leave Me Alone

And when he doesn’t get what he wants?

Talk about comic books as wish-fulfillment fantasies! You don’t get any more rudimentary than that.

Bill Callahan - The Ballad Of The Hulk

But… Dr. Faith say: “Hulk Smash: BAD!”

As I tell my clients, “you are allowed to be crazy, but you aren’t allowed to act crazy. Being irritated as fuck because someone jacked the parking spot you were waiting for? Totally legit. Going postal over it? Not so helpful. Not so helpful to everyone around you, not so helpful to greater society, and – for purely selfish reasons – not so helpful to you.

Editors - When Anger Shows 

As we've discussed in previous installments of this series, emotions are just the brain's way of sending us information designed to make us take action. However, our brains were designed for the primitive world - a world where everyone thought and spoke like Hulk, and fighting or fleeing were pretty much the only responses available if we were faced with saber-toothed tiger or another neanderthal from the tribe down the track who carried a bigger club. Sadly, we don't live in those times anymore, much as our brains might like to think we do...

Technology has evolved faster than humans, so we have bodies adapted for simpler times. Instead of hunting, gathering, cuddling, and napping, we are crossing more terrain on a daily basis, interacting with more people, and taking in far more information than we are built to manage. It’s a continuous overload.

Gina Birch - I Am Rage

How do we deal with that overload and stop Hulking out at every little thing that doesn't go our way? That's what I'm going to try to figure out over the next few weeks (though it could actually take months - there's a lot to digest). Because I don't want to be angry all the time, for the reason Bill Bixby explained in the simplest terms possible, back when I was a kid. "You won't like me when I'm angry." And we all want to be liked, right?

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Namesakes #90: Wizard

For a brief time in the last century, the word "wizard" was used to denote something that was truly excellent. How many of the Wizards below fit that description, I wonder. Let's find out...


Our first Wizard dates back to 1970. This Canadian band got together after working together on a kids TV show called Crackers. Discogs tells me they "only managed one single before self-destructing in 1972." Guitarist George Bowser would go on to achieve "international success" as part of the duo Bowser & Blue. In 1997, they had a big "hit" with Polka Dot Undies.


Florida-based psychedelic band from 1971 who got good reviews but sold very few records. Considering they named their sole LP "The Original Wizard", you get the feeling they knew they were using a pretty popular band name.


By far the most famous Wizzard of all, and the only one I could think of when I started this particular excavation, is the one led by Roy Wood, responsible for one of the biggest Christmas hits ever. After walking out of ELO because he couldn't get on with their manager, Wood formed Wizzard in 1972. They only lasted three years, possibly because keyboard player Bill Hunt kept smashing up the pianos at every venue they played at, and that proved rather costly. 

Yes, this Wizzard has 2 Zs. But they're not the only ones...


An Iowan Wizard from 1975. Sadly, I can't find the A-Side, with its tempting title: Get Off Your Duff. One of the songwriters is called Stratt Flett, a true rock n roll name if ever I heard one. This lot may have changed their name to Bystander.


Californian 3-piece "power trio" who released one album, with a pressing of only 500 copies, in 1979. Through the wonders of the interweb though, we can still hear their music today...


Also from 1979, though these guys appear lost to antiquity. Which is a shame, because discogs tells me they were power poppers, and I can never get enough power pop.

I'm equally disappointed to not be able to find Rockduster, the single by a 1984 Wizard from Cincinnati. I mean, come on, who doesn't need a Rockduster to help housework be more interesting?


More heavy rockers, this time from Pittsburgh in 1980. Clearly, they were Sabbath fans.


Funky music from Gastonia in North Carolina, circa 1982, on Chocolate Cholly's record label. Kinda reminds me of early Prince.


More US "boogie funk" from 1982, led by one Kevin Moore. I need to have a word with his English teacher. And not about using Roy Wood's extra Z...


Early hair-metallers, by the sound of it, from Hayward, California in 1983. They released one album, called Marlin, Grog, Madman & The Bomb, and this was the big single. I wouldn't have turned it off in 1983. When I hear a track like this, and I look at the band photo above, I imagine their dreams of stadium-conquering glory... and I feel a fleeting moment of terrible sadness. It's a cruel world.


Italian synth-pop dude from 1985 who clearly didn't grasp the correct use of brackets. He released a double A-side single with Skizzo And The Incredible Samurai Gang, if you're interested.


Iron Maiden-esque metalheads from Sweden, circa 1986. They changed their name to Charity, but fame eluded them because they just weren't Chic.


Just to keep George happy, here's some psychedelic rock from New York City Wizard aka Gandalf The Grey aka Chris Wilson. This was released in 1987, though the tube of you suggests it could have been recorded anytime between 1972 and then. I'm presuming this is a song about buying a comic because it says it has Free Transfers inside, and then being most disappointed when you get home...


German "Melodic Power" band from Bocholt who formed 1989. They seem rather obsessed with Norse mythology, or maybe they just read too many Mighty Thor comics when they were kids.


I was 19 in 1991. Probably the age that many of my peer group started going to nightclubs. I didn't, because I'd seen The Hitman & Her, so I was convinced that this was what all nightclubs sounded like, all the time. 

These guys were from Italy, but they could have been from anywhere.


Finnish metalheads who started making a right old racket in 1998...


Spanish Euro-Trance / Euro-House ensemble from 2003. Close your eyes and imagine what it sounds like... guess what: you're right! And you saved yourself 6 and half minutes.


Italian heavy rock band from 2014... although they don't sound (or look) too far removed the Wizards we heard at the beginning of this week's list. The more things change...

There were dozens more Wizards listed in discogs - enough to fill Hogwarts, though many were just producers or musicians who've not released records under their own Wizardly name. And there were a few bands called The Wizards too, but none that made me want to run out and compile another post.

Which Wizard casts a spell on you... and which would you happily see turned into a toad?

Here's one final Wizard to close today... aka the old Fantastic Four & Spider-Man villain Bentley Wittman. His nefarious partner The Trapster was originally called Paste Pot Pete. Now there's a band name waiting to happen, if ever I heard one!

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