Archive for category Music
We all remember those legendary Top of the Pops moments: Boy George’s first appearance which confused an entire nation; Morrissey’s marriage proposal; all those shows presented by Jimmy Savile.
Anyway. My own favourite TotP* moment pales into insignificance compared to most, but that’s the odd thing with favourites isn’t it? Back in 1996 Brit Pop was all the rage, its two behemoths (Oasis and Blur – or was it Catherine Wheel and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? I forget) spawning no end of chancers, equivalents, and superiors. Falling into one or more of those categories came Space. On their debut Top of the Pops appearance, the opening line to Me and You Versus The World (“I first met you hanging knickers on the line”) caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the song; the tragi-rom-com story of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde set the tone for their first album Spiders.
Tommy Scott’s songs of love and hate are full of bizarre, cartoony characters and settings, including Saddam Hussein and John Major, as well as tearing into the popular hate figures of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. His wonderfully, fiercely Scouse singing voice** was backed by a raucous, sometimes messy agglomeration of drums, guitar, keyboards, and odd vocal samples. Their poppy uniqueness came from the band being one part lyrical weirdness, one part guitar enthusiasm, and one part dance, with their first two albums both featuring dedicated dance tracks.
Space’s zenith came as they were promoting their second album, in the afterglow of the three hits off the first. A breakthrough to the big time beckoned, with endearingly daft appearances on mainstream TV programmes: on This Morning the band performed Avenging Angels, with Tommy telling Richard and Judy that he did indeed believe in these protective beings, and in fact had seven of them himself***.
While Tin Planet did give them their biggest ever hit, The Ballad of Tom Jones (which proved ultimately to be more of a platform for Cerys Matthews), it failed to be as successful – or as much fun – as the first album.
Llistening back to both albums, I’m now struck by how much dark humour – and just plain darkness – lurks beneath the chirpy Scouse surface, with spade-loads of anger, murder, paranoia and despair. Exhibit A, the twisted genius of Drop Dead’s “I’m your number one fan and I go to every picture / The more I see you, the more I wanna hit ya”.
From here the band suffered label difficulties and a rapid turnover in members, with the planned album I Love You More Than Football never seeing the light of day. The occasional song popped out, including the enjoyable Diary of a Wimp, later followed by the album Suburban Rock n’ Roll, which was poor fare, even to the ears of this dedicated fan.
The most basic of internet search results in the promise of a new album (worryingly titled Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab), but this dates back nearly two years so I won’t be holding my breath just yet****. The associated live clips on YouTube suggest a move towards ska, which nearly threatens to work – time will tell.
Despite a sad fading away at the end of their initial fame, Space will always be the soundtrack to much of my late teens, and will always put a smile on my face. Nothing sounds quite like them, and ultimately Tommy Scott was right: Felix the Cat was a twat.
*as the show was inevitably re-branded during its final days on palliative care
**Scott described how he became a singer to emulate the singers idolised by his Dad. Whichever style he adopted (including Mexican, Sinatra, and plain old fruitcake) his Scouse twang was prevalent
***sadly I can’t find any footage of this appearance. Tommy made his way through the interview with admirably straight face
****I will be
Of late I have become pretty much completely obsessed with Roxy Music. In the absence of the will or ability to write anything meaningful about them, and in particular Bryan Ferry, (yet), here’s a superb clip of them performing Virginia Plain on Top of the Pops in 1972.
It’s played at a slightly slower tempo than the studio version, making it a little easier to hear (if not necessarily understand) Ferry’s lyrics (“Havana sound we’re trying / Hard edge the hipster jiving, woah / Last picture shows down the drive-in” anyone? Anyone?).
What’s particularly noticeable is an in-cred-ible visual performance by Ferry. Here’s the video:
This is the best thing I’ve seen on TV for a long time: a documentary of the British coastline (both on- and off-shore), soundtracked almost exclusively by re-arrangements of British Sea Power songs.
Gentle, fascinating, touching, and (towards the very end, in something close to modern-day Blackpool) mildly profane.
Just beautiful, and absolutely essential watching.
I have a bit of history with The Last Of The International Playboys, more so than with any other Morrissey song.
I received Now That’s What I Call Music 14 for my 10th birthday (a quick note for non-UK readers, the ‘Now…’ series were compilations of popular songs in the charts, and started off as (I believe) annual issues, becoming more frequent over time. I’m writing in the past tense although I believe they still come out semi-regularly, but I’ve paid little or no attention to them for many, many years, because they say nothing to me about my life (as someone once sang)).
I had to check to be sure, and it must have been my 10th birthday as the compilation went on sale about a fortnight before the big day (double figures and everything).
Oddly, I can vividly remember listening and re-listening and re-re-listening to the first tape time after time, and almost all those songs stick with me today, but remember pretty much nothing about tape two. I also remember the cover art, and how it came in one of those two-tape boxes which had a hinge in the middle, opening up like some kind of cheap, communist-era eastern European aeroplane toy… Ah, nostalgia…
But worry not about my limited memory of the complete opus, for tape one contained, yes, The Last Of The International Playboys by Morrissey.
The 10-year-old me picked up on two of Mozzer’s cultural references in particular. I didn’t really get what a ‘playboy’ was (international or domestic), but my mate Darren who lived over the road had bedcovers emblazoned with the Playboy logo and name (what the hell were his parents thinking?), not that I had the slightest inkling who Hugh Hefner was, nor how the bunny logo was reflected back in real life. Of course, I did know what ‘famous’ meant, and seem to remember cobbling together an assumption that a ‘playboy’ must be a man who had a good time of things.
But what really stood out for me were the following passages:
“Reggie Kray, do you know my name?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do…
Ronnie Kray, do you know my face?
Oh, don’t say you don’t
Please say you do”
Even at that tender age I had somewhere picked up the awareness that the Kray twins were Very Bad Men. I even remember being aware of the ‘but they looked after their old mum’ line that often seemed to suffix tales about them (and I might be imagining this, but I’m pretty sure I already saw this line as being idiotic in the extreme).
So who was this Morrissey bloke, and why did he seem to want recognition from a couple of nasty men, while at the same time boasting about being the last swinger in town? Also, why had he ended up in prison?
“In our lifetime those who kill
The news world hands them stardom
And these are the ways
On which I was raised…
I never wanted to kill
I am not naturally evil
Such things I do
Just to make myself more attractive to you
Have I failed?”
Ah. That’s why.
I didn’t fully appreciate the attempts at social commentary and derision of the media, and the homosexual undertones passed me by, but the desperate, blame-ducking self-justification seemed to strike a chord. As did the bold, strident guitars and drums, and squiggly keyboards.
I can’t say I loved it, but it certainly intrigued the hell out of me for as long as I listened to Now…14 tape 1 on near-permanent loop.
About 10 years later I had plunged head-long into the complete oeuvre of The Smiths and Morrissey and re-discovered this song. It all came back to me, and, by now much better acquainted with Moz’s worldview, I loved it (I even managed to find the tape at the bottom of my old wardrobe in my Mum and Dad’s house). It’s still one of my all-time favourites of Morrissey’s, and I can now recognise it as the pop-tastic, playful, cheeky, slightly edgy record it was all along.
I watched a lot of ‘Wide Awake Club’ as a lad (back in the days of just three, then, glory be, four channels), but never saw ‘Data Run’, its predecessor in the Saturday morning kids’ TV slot. As such, I saw plenty of Mallet’s Mallet, but not this little gem.
The children of 1984 meet The Smiths – or ‘Paul’ Morrissey (his own fault for gadding about by surname only) and Johnny Marr at least. Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke are reduced to being off-handedly referred to by Marr, appropriately enough given the legal structure of the band which saw Joyce and Rourke reduced to, in effect, session players. Towards the end of the clip, in a weird coincidence, images of two puppets fighting intertwine with shots of Mike Joyce drumming (and grinning inanely), as if foretelling the end of the Smiths and subsequent legal battles.
We see lots of coquettish pointing between Moz and Marr, some half-arsed answers to the kids’ questions (despite it being clear they were never in the same place at the same time), a muddy rehearsal of ‘Hand In Glove’, and a curiously awkward acoustic version of ‘This Charming Man’. Morrissey describes how many of his songs were inspired by “horrible teachers who made life miserable for me” and warns how current pupils may one day sign up to record companies and “get their revolting revenge”. Not too much later, Moz would hammer this point home with The Headmaster Ritual (later, as I’ve already wittered on about, painting a more modern view of the classroom).
The presenter tells us to “watch out for the puppets”, although to be honest I’d rather just ignore them because, taken out of context, they’re a little too sinister for comfort. I suspect they were equally sinister in context to be honest. Why things are kicked off with a shot of Sinister Puppet #1 raising and lowering a newspaper from his face I really don’t know. And this over background audio of ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ which attracted (fairly laughable) tabloid accusations of paedophilia at the time (“It’s time the tale were told / Of how you took a child and made him old”).
If I ever get into TV, that’s how I intend to introduce every item from a primary school.