Sunday 31 March 2024

Snapshots #337 - A Top Ten Resurrection Songs

For Easter Sunday, here's ten songs about coming back from the dead... along with a chap who's been resurrected many, many times over the years...

10. They grew up in the Concrete Jungle.

What else rose in a concrete jungle, but stone flowers?

The Stone Roses - I Am the Resurrection

9. Hooch & Walters.

Turner & Hooch, Frank & Walters...

Frank Turner - The Resurrectionists

8. Tight police department.

The Vice Squad - Resurrection

7. Steen, Donna, Forever, Edgar.

Springsteen, Donna Summer, Forever Autumn, Edgar Winter.

The Four Seasons - American Crucifixion Resurrection

6. TV channel that only shows Desperate shows about woodwind instruments.

Desperate Dan and Reed instruments are all you'll find on this network.

The Dan Reed Network - Resurrect

5. Heavy remains, horticulturist without the MDMA, Greg from the BBC.

A ton of ash, a gardener who's missing an E and Greg Dyke...

Ashton Gardner & Dyke - The Resurrection Shuffle

4. Heaven's Gate.

Heaven's Gate was a particularly nasty cult.

The Cult - Resurrection Joe

3. Bewildered Klan manager. 

"Klan manager" was an anagram...

Mark Lanegan - Resurrection Song

2. Oscar could have been a member.

Oscar was born to be Wilde... just like these guys.

Steppenwolf - Resurrection

1. Snooty email confusion.

"Snooty email" was an anagram...

Alison Moyet - Love Resurrection

Snapshots is reborn next Saturday morning...

Saturday 30 March 2024

Saturday Snapshots #337

Oh my god - you killed it again last week, guys. No matter how hard I try to make this quiz, you generally have it all sussed out before I'm even washed and dressed for the weekend.

Let's see how you get on today. Ten artists to identify - but how are their songs connected?

10. They grew up in the Concrete Jungle.

9. Hooch & Walters.

8. Tight police department.

7. Steen, Donna, Forever, Edgar.

6. TV channel that only shows Desperate shows about woodwind instruments.

5. Heavy remains, horticulturist without the MDMA, Greg from the BBC.

4. Heaven's Gate.

3. Bewildered Klan manager. 

2. Oscar could have been a member.

1. Snooty email confusion.

Come on down to South Park tomorrow morning, for the answers...

Friday 29 March 2024

The List #2: Good (Friday) Tunes

Generation X - Listen

I'm currently enthralled by the book Listen, by Michel Faber, one of my favourite fiction writers who's now branched out into non-fiction with a fascinsating analysis of how and why we listen to music, and all the benefits we gain from doing so. Faber describes Listen as the book he's wanted to write his whole life... and guess what? It's also the book I've been wanting to read for a similar length of time. 

Lambchop - Listen

Even though Michel and I don't exactly share the same taste in music (he was brought up on pop, but more recently his tastes tend towards the avant garde), we share the same passion for music as a form, and so much of what he has to say resonates with me.

Wondermints - Listen

This is especially so when Michel touches on one of this blog's favourite subjects - "tribalism". 

Holly Golightly - Listen

"Music is a battleground of identity and allegiance," the writer tells us (far more eruditely than I've ever managed to express the same notion), quoting Peter Gabriel who once said that, music is "part of the artillery with which you announce yourself to the world". "Liking the right music," Faber adds, "wins you recognition and approval from your peer group... liking the wrong music provokes alienation and exclusion".

Al Green - Listen

Here is another selection from The List, that neverending pressure cooker of tunes constantly on simmer in my mind. How much of it will win me recognition and approval... and how much will have you throwing cabbages?

Let's start with some Hirth Martinez, a singer-songwriter from the 70s whose debut album was produced by Robbie Robertson (on Bob Dylan's recommendation). I particularly like the track Altogether Alone, which reminds me of Gilbert O'Sullivan and Dean Friedman (put those cabbages DOWN), so Hirth has gone on the list to investigate further...

I've become obsessed with the Kate Bush song Army Dreamers lately. It was the third single from Kate's third album, Never For Ever, in 1980... though it was rather overshadowed by its predecessor, Babooshka. Now I loved Babooshka, and not just for the video... which is the maddest thing Kate ever did... but I never paid much attention to anything else from that album. 

I'm not sure why I started listening to Army Dreamers after all this time, but this simple tale of a young soldier coming home in a box has really struck a chord in recent weeks, especially the call & response chorus. Now I think I might even like it more than Babooshka. (Shh. Don't tell anyone.)

(What could he do? Should have been a rock star)
But he didn't have the money for a guitar
(What could he do? Should have been a politician)
But he never had a proper education
(What could he do? Should have been a father)
But he never even made it to his twenties
What a waste, army dreamers
Oh, what a waste of army dreamers

Also, the video. Sigh.

Last week's Snapshots featured Swedish Brit Pop band Grass-Show. (How can you be a Swedish Brit Pop band? Ask the 90s.) I was very fond of their 1997 album Something Smells Good In Stinkville back in the day, and I've been listening to it again recently. I'd completely forgotten their rocky cover of this fiendishly catchy 1993 Number One from their countrymen, Ace of Bass. I always hated this song. Until...

Finally today, here's a new tune from a Cinicinatti indie band called HARBOUR. They insist on the capitals. (Don't start me.) This is from their album To Chase My Dreams, Or To Just Lie Down? Extra marks. It's the sort of song I'd love to put on one of Sam's in-car mix CDs, except for the fact they frequently sing "Just fucking run me over", which I'm not sure he's ready for yet. Still: I am. Must check out the album...

Thursday 28 March 2024

Memory Mixtape #29: Man In A Shed

View from inside one of the newer, better quality sheds.

Nick Drake - Man In A Shed

My Dad loved a good shed. 

When I say that, you probably picture an average garden shed, maybe 6 foot by 8 foot or a little bigger… well, let me stop you there. My dad was both a farmer and a joiner, so when he built a shed, it was often bigger than the average house, certainly big enough to house half a dozen cows for the winter or to store enough bales of hay to keep said cows fed while the grass wasn’t growing. Such incredible buildings regularly sprang from the earth as if by magic when I was growing up… and I took them in my stride. 

Besides, a proliferation of outhouses became especially necessary when I was 19 and our family moved into the barn. 

The old barn, with mistel / cowshed attached. That was demolished when the barn was converted. Pictured is my nephew Gary, stood on the muck midden, and some random builder nicking the asbestos sheets from / mending the roof.

Wait, let me clarify that. My dad was in his early 60s back at this point, and had walked away from the car auction business. He’d started working as a joiner again, for my brother (the house builder of the family), but Dad didn’t have much of a pension and was worried about financial stability for his retirement years… so he decided to sell the big old rambling farmhouse I’d grown up in and downsize us all into the barn next door. He handled this conversion pretty much by himself (calling in my brother and a few other tradespeople for occasional assists) and within a year, the old hay loft I’d played hide and seek in as a child was now my teenage bedroom. It was a lot smaller than the house of my youth, but my brother and sister had long since flown the nest and my parents figured I’d soon follow (although that didn’t happen quite as soon as they’d expected). Anyway, with the barn out of action, other cattle sheds and hay storage buildings soon appeared to replace it… and again, I took it all for granted. Looking back now it seems miraculous, particularly given how much of this work my dad did on his own… with only the occasional assist from Mr. Bagley.

The house that replaced the barn.

A memory came back to me earlier this week of a journey Dad took us on one misty Saturday… to buy a shed. For this expedition, he borrowed a truck from my brother, and drove me and my mum halfway across the country… I can’t remember exactly where, but it took a good few hours to get there. When we arrived, we met a man who was selling a huge wooden outbuilding that would soon become my dad’s joinery workshop (home to a table saw that would one day almost sever his thumb). This building must have been at least thirty feet long, by about ten feet wide. We set about dismantling it, piece by piece, then loaded it onto the back of the truck and drove it home. I’m guessing this would be some time in the mid-80s, so I’ve no idea how my dad found out about this shed for sale, in the pre-internet days… perhaps there was a classified ad in the back of the Farmers Guardian newspaper I picked up from the local Newsagents along with my weekly stash of comics. Likewise, I’ve no idea how much he paid for this enormous wooden edifice. All I remember is, he needed our help to get it on and off the truck. Beyond that – taking the shed down and reconstructing it on a long concrete foundation he poured and flattened a good three feet above the ground (with steps leading up to it, to keep it from flooding)… he did all that himself.  

Some more random, ramshackle sheds I grew up around. Not pictured: the fancy joinery workshop shed 
we travelled so far to buy. That replaced the hen-hut shed on the right of this picture.

But this was just my dad, and it was what he did. I just presumed everyone else’s fathers did exactly the same thing.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Self-Help For Cynics #28: Writing To Reach You

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Everyday I Write The Book

I was up in my mum's attic a few months back and I found a load of my old writing. Novels, TV scripts, comic book scripts... all things I wrote before I owned a PC, so I guess it dates back to the late 80s and early 90s. Everything I've written since getting a computer has been saved on memory sticks and external hard-drives, but back then all I had was a crappy word-processor with a tiny screen that used an early form of floppy discs to save my work. (Prior to that, I wrote on a huge, clunky old typewriter... those really were the glory days.)

Fionn Regan - The Underwood Typewriter

I've been scanning these old texts (many of which are not very good at all, though they still mean a lot to me) so that I can keep them digitally - I haven't got room for all this mouldering old paper that's been stuck up in an attic for 30+ years... but I wouldn't want to throw any of it away without preserving it somehow. 

Father John Misty - I'm Writing a Novel

This process has reconfirmed for me the fact that writing has always been something I've used for Self Help (therapy!): to help me work out my feelings, deal with life experiences, try to make sense of the big mystery. 

The Good Rats - Writing The Pages

Back when I spent hours and days and weeks of my teenage and twenty-something life writing all this fiction, I told myself the goal was to be published (or produced)... the mental health benefits I received by putting my words down on paper were an unwitting bonus. I didn't realise how much writing was helping me, but clearly it was - everything I wrote had my own thoughts, feelings and life experiences as its core (no matter how fantastical other elements of the plot might have been), and the sheer amount of time I spent on it speaks for itself. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd - All I Can Do Is Write About It

The University of Bolton tells us...

Writing can be a self-care method for many; helping to unwind and de-stress. 

Writing about difficult situations can help us release our feelings in a healthy way. In a study conducted by psychologist James Pennebaker, researchers encouraged individuals to write about their darkest emotions and thoughts regarding a terrible incident. The findings revealed that individuals who wrote about their encounters had considerably fewer physical problems, such as migraines and gastrointestinal issues than those who did not write at all.

The Rare Earth - When I Write

This makes me wonder what might have happened if I hadn't spent so much of my youth writing. Would I have been significantly more depressed? Would in turn that have led to physical symptoms? Or... might I have spent more time with friends, trying to build more of a social life and immerse myself in the tribe? Would I have pinged off on a different tangent altogether? 

Paul Simon - Rewrite

Creative writing forces you to arrange your ideas and put them into words. This can assist you in putting things into perspective and making better judgments. Writing also assists you in becoming more conscious of your own ideas and emotions. 

It's worth pointing out that while I was doing all this writing, I wasn't a complete hermit. I did have friends and a facsimile of a social life - just not as wild/busy/varied as many teens and twenty-somethings enjoy. I even stumbled into a couple of romantic relationships. I fit the writing around all that. But I definitely lived in my head - and on my pages - far more than the average bear.

Lloyd Cole - Writers Retreat

However, the boffins from Bolton continue...

Some may also use creative writing as a way of connecting with others. Sharing tales and perspectives while also learning from, and supporting one another.  

Stevie Nicks - Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?

Back when I spent so much of my life writing those stories, they were rarely read by anyone else. Occasionally I'd submit one as part of my English degree (the tutors weren't my biggest fans) and one or two other people might have read something I wrote. 

John K. Samson - When I Write My Master's Thesis

And then there were all the agents, publishers and production companies I collected rejection letters from. But I'm not sure they count - clearly they didn't read my submissions in the correct way, otherwise I'd be talking to you while sitting on a huge pile of cash right now.  

Jerry Leger - She's the Best Writer You've Never Heard Of

(That was a joke, by the way. Even when I was an aspiring writer, I was aware that published writers often don't make a lot of money. That never stopped me, so clearly financial reward wasn't high up my list of aspirations. I just wanted to earn enough that I could keep on writing, and make it my life.)

Joe Henry - I Will Write My Book

The exception to the "Nobody reads my writing, but I keep on doing it anyway" rule that I lived by back then were the small press comics I put out. These did have a readership, and a particularly vocal one too. I had about 30, 40 regular readers from all across the country, having made a name for myself in the small pond of amateur comics and used the limited outlets available for self-promotion in the pre-internet days to the best of my abilities. 

Deborah Harry - Comic Books

Many of these readers would provide written feedback - I use the term "fanmail" very loosely, but a few folders of glowing handwritten correspondence was among the treasures I discovered in my mum's attic. I even ran a letters page in my most successful book,The Jock, and this would often run to 5 or 6 pages of tiny-typed feedback and discussion. By contrast, when I returned to making small press comics in the new Millennium, though the internet made it far easier to promote your wares and the print quality was far superior to the grainy black and white photocopies of the 90s, I hardly received any written feedback on my work. I sold more copies, but hardly anybody had anything to say about what they'd read - even though an email would have taken far less effort than posting a handwritten letter... such is the world we live in now. 

The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten

Back to the University of Bolton for one final word about the mental health benefits of writing...

It can make you feel better about yourself as it allows people to see what's going on within your thoughts. You may even earn praise from friends and family after sharing anything you've produced with them. If you don't share your writing, then writing about yourself and the events in your life provides an artistic outlet to express your thoughts without fear of criticism from others. Writing about yourself allows you to ponder on who you are as a person and how much importance each human being has.  

Stars - Write What You Know 

Which all sounds great, doesn't it? This writing malarkey sounds like a true panacea - the cure to all our ills! Why isn't everybody doing it?

Gilbert O'Sullivan - I'm A Writer, Not A Fighter

And this is where we have to take a step back, to last week's post, and the week before's. Remember our old friend Tiberius? Remember how worried he was about other people's opinions? Remember how we discussed "externalising his self-worth", how Tiberius received a tiny little feel-good dopamine hit every time someone smiled at him or complimented him on his work? Remember that article from the Harvard Business Review that advised Tiberius to Stop Basing Your Self-Worth on Other People’s Opinions? Well, here's a little more from that...

Externalizing our self-worth, when it works, can yield short-term benefits. We get emotionally and chemically rewarded when we succeed. Our hypothalamus produces dopamine, often referred to as the feel-good neurotransmitter. Our self-esteem gets lifted, leaving us feeling safe, secure, and superior.

But dependency on external validation and social approval has a dark alter ego that reveals itself over time because outsourcing our self-worth undermines the basic human needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

If, as a writer, you live for your readers' responses, that way lies madness. Because what if they don't like what you've written? I was lucky back in my small press comic days, because almost all the letters I received were positive or at least offered constructive criticism. The folk who didn't like my writing, frankly, couldn't be bothered to go to the trouble and expense of mailing me a kicking. Meanwhile, the rejection letters I received from publishers and agents... while every one of them was a heartbreaking kick in the balls... most went out of their way to be bland, neutral, faintly encouraging and inoffensive. 

Nowadays, the only writing I have the time, energy or inclination for is this nonsense right here. I still get all the mental health benefits mentioned above, along with the added dopamine hits of a tiny group of discerning readers who occasionally drop me a kind word in the comment's section. But if I was in a small pond when I was self-publishing comics, I'm in a miniscule lagoon right now... though it's a relatively safe and warm lagoon, compared to the vicious, unforgiving ocean of the internet at large. Many people - especially young people - are living their whole lives on the cruel seas of social media, desperate for a bright wave of dopamine, but ever too often pulled down into the murky depths of... well, you get the picture. I extended that metaphor much further than I intended to. Hack writing.

When SHFC returns after its Easter break, we will finally confront THE MENTAL HEALTH TIME-BOMB of Social Media. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Because my inside is outside
My right side's on the left side
'Cause I'm writing to reach you now
But I might never reach you
Only want to teach you, about you

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Namesakes #78: The Four Seasons

Not a lot of people know this, but when Neil Finn wrote the song Four Seasons In One Day, he was talking about the time he was visited by four different bands called the Four Seasons in one 24 hour period. I know, the title should have been Four Four Seasons In One Day, but that didn't scan as well.

I'll leave it up to you to decide which band weren't invited to Neil's gaff...


We start today in 1959, Pittsburgh... though this one is anything but the pits. A infectiously joyful little doo-wop story from the quartet of Bill Stammer (who doesn't stammer once), Ched Mertz, Dan McGinnis and Don Fanzo. It might be the best thing you hear today.

Apart from the next lot, obviously.


One year later, The Four Seasons everybody knows (surely!) formed from the ashes of a band called The Four Lovers. When they decided to change their name, they stole Four Seasons from a local bowling alley in New Jersey, having just failed an audition there. 

Lead singer Frankie Valli had been knocking around the music studios since 1953, when he recorded his debut solo single, My Mother's Eyes. The other key players were producer Bob Crewe and keyboardist Bob Gaudio, who together wrote the majority of the bands biggest hits, including Sherry and December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) and Can't Take My Eyes Off You. Even when the hits were promoted as Frankie Valli solo recordings, these guys were usually involved. Gaudio retired from performing in 1975 but continued to write songs for Valli (and others) for the rest of his career. Bob and Bob also wrote one of the greatest pop songs ever, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, originally recorded by Frankie & co. 

At 89, Valli is the only original Four Season still performing - currently on an extended farewell tour called Last Encores - though he hasn't ruled out the occasional comeback once that tour is done.

The Four Seasons were responsible for many, many wonderful records, but I still think this is their finest hour...


Or, to give them their full name, Robert Lloyd & The New Four Seasons. I might well have skipped this bunch for that reason... had their song not been so wonderful. Also, if I'm allowing Frankie Valli &..., I can't discriminate.

Robert Lloyd was the lead singer of two punk bands - The Prefects and The Nightingales - both of whom could well feature here at a later date. This is what Bob was up to in the late 80s.

The line-up for this particular Four Seasons also one Cara Tivey, who went to the top of the charts in 1988 with some bloke called Bragg.


And now, how about some Greek Power Metal from 1999? 

You know you want to...


"You know what your blog really needs, Rol? More Ukrainian Polka!" said no-one ever (though I wouldn't put it past George). 

Here's some Ukrainian Polka from a record that was released in Canada, 23 years ago. Or 2001 as Arthur C. Clarke used to call it.

Which of the Four Seasons is your favourite?

Monday 25 March 2024

Title Fight #9: Jam After School

Welcome back to my appreciation of song titles that leap off the record sleeve and demand to be listened to. The songs themselves might not always live up to the hype, but they're usually worthy of at least a little consideration.

Diana Ross is clearly one very tough cookie - and not someone I'd get in a boxing ring with, since she has a history of taking few prisoners. Whatever personality flaws she may or may not possess, there's no denying the power of her musical legacy. The Supremes, for me at least, were supreme... and her solo years are full of gems too, with a little sifting. Title-wise, this is probably my favourite song she's performed on. It makes you wonder why a certain Manchester Miserablist never thought to cover it...

Another seemingly indestructible woman from the world of pop is Skin from Skunk Anansie. She always looks like the type to knock you down as soon as look at you... though she also possesses a welcome self-awareness, as demonstrated below... 

Skunk Anansie - It Takes Blood And Guts To Be This Cool But I'm Still Just A Cliché

Makes you wonder if Skin was channeling the late Poly Styrene...

X-Ray Spex - I Am A Cliché

When it came to self-awareness, Poly was definitely ahead of the pack...

X-Ray Spex - I Am A Poseur 

...though you can take that self-deprecation shtick a little too far, Poly...

X-Ray Spex - I Can't Do Anything

Especially when, if we're talking about song titles, you go down in history as having written one of the absolute greats...

Resilience and determination are also on display from our next lady. Barbara Brown hailed from Memphis in the early 60s, signing a deal with Stax that really was a family affair - sisters Roberta, Betty and Maurice (?) were on backing vocals, while brothers Walter and Richard contributed to the songwriting. 

Barbara & The Browns - If I Can't Run To You, I'll Crawl 

Still in the southern States, but a few decades later, we find a lady called Keri Leigh, presumably helping clean the floor so that Barbara can crawl on it. I couldn't find much about Keri on the web of lies, but this track came from a collection I've been dipping into lately called The Last Soul Company: Malaco - A 30 Year Restrospective.

Keri Leigh - Here's Your Mop, Mr. Johnson

Back up to date - almost, because this is from Dry Cleaning's debut EP of 2019, though it's recently been remastered and made all sparkly. I hope you enjoy the wonderful stream-of-consciousness wordplay and deadpan vocals of Florence Cleopatra Shaw as much as I do. 

Imaginary hot romance with Daniel Day Lewis
Welcome to the county of Hampshire
Jam after school

Dry Cleaning - Jam After School

Here's another southern diva, a lady who's mostly known around these parts for warning you not to mess with her toot toot. Scratch below the surface, and Ms. LaSalle (real name: Ora Denise Allen) had an enviable career as a smooth soul chanteuse, songwriter, producer and record company boss. Here's a great little number from her back catalogue, and a title that raises all kinds of questions...

And finally, we have the return of a band who haven't made music together in 35 years. Back in the late 80s, they released one classic album, then started working on a second... which never really happened. A jumbled collection of b-sides and out-takes appeared in its place, and that was all she wrote. Lead singer Eddi Reader went off to a solo career, while guitarist Mark Nevin co-wrote Morrissey's most underappreciated album, Kill Uncle, and a bunch of other stuff he kept to himself. They finally appear to have patched up their differences though, and the result sounds as though they've never been away. Great title too...

Sunday 24 March 2024

Snapshots #336: A 1960s Year By Year Top Ten

I missed out on the 1960s by just two years. Sometimes I wish I'd been there for the fun.

All I have to console me are songs about the 60s... here are ten, in chronological order...

10. Florentine explorer.

That would be Amerigo Vespucci, the man who gave his name to a continent...

America - 1960

9. Bentos.

George's favourite pie - Fray Bentos!

The Fray - 1961

8. Super, Green, Whispering... must go on.

Supergrass, Green Grass, Whispering Grass... The Show Must Go On.

Grass Show - 1962

7. Hitler's plan for Europe.


New Order - 1963

6. Found confused in the naked aisle.

"Naked aisle" was an anagram.

Neil Sedaka - The Queen Of 1964

5. Big Hearted Fish.

Heart sang a song about a big fish...

The Barracudas - (I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again

4. Jamie Dodger

Jamie Dodger follows in the fine tradition of Gary Baldy and Peter Cookie...

Half Man Half Biscuit - 1966 And All That

3. French writers.

The French for author is auteur...

The Auteurs - 1967

2. In a tizzy, Joe canoodles Vader. 

"Joe canoodles Vader" was another anagram...

Alejandro Escovedo - 1968

Maybe I should have gone with the original, by Chris Gaffney... but I figured you'd have more chance of identifying Alejandro. (I know I would!)

1. Howard, Howard and Fine.

Larry Fine, Curly Howard and Moe Howard were the Three Stooges.

The Stooges - 1969

Back to the present day with more Snapshots next Saturday.

Saturday 23 March 2024

Saturday Snapshots #336

On Saturday morning, it's true... everything I do, I do it for you.

Somebody must be able to identify the ten popular music acts pictured below... and work out which of their songs are linked in a very specific way?

10. Florentine explorer.

9. Bentos.

8. Super, Green, Whispering... must go on.

7. Hitler's plan for Europe.

6. Found confused in the naked aisle.

5. Big Hearted Fish.

4. Jamie Dodger

3. French writers.

2. In a tizzy, Joe canoodles Vader. 

1. Howard, Howard and Fine.

Do I Have To Say The Words?

Answers tomorrow morning.

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