Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Freemasons ft. Sophie Ellis-Bextor ~ Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)

Sophie Ellis-Bextor's latest attempt to resurrect her 'career' sees her joined by chart-bothering dance production team Freemasons.

EB's plummy diction aside, one could easily imagine hearing this embedded somewhere in the middle of the Eurovision Song Contest, sung by a lovely Hungarian 'woman' or by a teeth 'n tits Latvian.

Summery enough, yet sounds as convincing as me telling you I'm fully clothed as I write this.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Brian Jones 1942-1969

French philosopher Rene Descartes once remarked that the greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues. This is Brian Jones, who died forty years ago on the 3rd July, in a nutshell. His death can be counted as one of the more mysterious rock deaths, but Jones has the distinction of being rock’s first major casualty – and the first member of the idiom’s notorious '27 Club'.

Born Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones on 28th February 1942 into a neat middle-class family in leafy Cheltenham, Jones found himself in and out of trouble almost from birth. Having fathered three children by his early twenties his rebellious, uncontrollable nature was matched only by a dazzling intellect, often excelling academically, as well as a prodigious musical talent which saw him gain an understanding of any instrument put in front of him.

After quitting school (not before getting his then fourteen year-old girlfriend pregnant) and nomadically travelling Europe, he returned to England, relocating to London in the late 1950s. It was here he met Michael Jagger and Keith Richards for the first time; the two of them hearing Jones in a London club, mesmerised by the boy with the perfectly conditioned blonde hair and crystal blue eyes, playing sensual, soaring slide guitar. Their mutual love of the blues drew the three of them together and, accompanied by Charlie Watts on drums, Bill Wyman on bass guitar and Ian Stewart on piano, they became The Rolling Stones.

And it was his band. He came up with the name, attracted all the women to the gigs when Mick and Keith were still just spotty, awkward kids and acted as the group’s manager in their embryonic state (Jones would often receive more money than the others for gigs, something he kept secret from them for years). Jones couldn't write a tune to save his life and it was only when Mick and Keith were forced by the Stones' eventual manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, to write their own songs that Jones lost control on the one thing in his life which seemed to bring him solace.

Alcohol, drugs, paranoia, busts and bust-ups; these were the thing which punctuated the latter years of Jones’ life.

Having been ousted from any position of real authority within the band, Jones found he had little to contribute as Jagger and Richards went about forming their rock-solid songwriting partnership, with each song building on the now runaway success of the last hit. He would often turn up to the studio blind drunk, stoned out of his mind or in a different state altogether thanks to the vast array of pills he used to wash down with bottles of brandy. Just about able to sit slouched on the studio floor he would drift in and out of consciousness, leaving the other band members to slyly unplug his electric guitar, a musical euthanasia which put him out of his, and their, misery.

He seemed to find a degree of happiness with Swedish beauty Anita Pallenberg, yet his capricious mood led him to frequently hit her. She wasn’t the first of his girlfriends he had beaten. When Pallenberg left Jones for Richards during a holiday the three of them took to Morocco in 1967, it appeared that this was the final nail in Jones’ fastly-approaching coffin.

Since he was found face down in his swimming pool, his death has been the subject of many lurid tabloid tales and is firmly located within the stained corridors of rock folklore, yet one thing is certain: Jones was an exceptionally insecure, narcissistic man who could treat people with both vulgarity and sincerity in equal measure. He was one of the first casualties of rock yet one feels he would have burned himself out eventually, rock star or not.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A Glimpse of a Wednesday Afternoon

As I was on the bus earlier I eavesdropped on a conversation with a couple of old ladies. One said to the other, "I'm reading a lovely book at the moment. I forget what it's called but it's about a young woman who becomes pregnant before the war, but then her husband dies. Eventually she begins working in a cinema, and cinemas were privately owned back then mind, and she works her way up to become the manager. It really is a lovely book."

Then I thought about what I was currently reading: A book in which a class of 42 Asian students are selected by their authoritarian government to wage war on one another in a brutal and blood-soaked fight to the death until there is one remaining survivor who is cruelly labelled the victor. The book? Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. And it really is a lovely book.

Monday, 1 June 2009

And last, but not least: Criminally overlooked musicians in the modern era.

You know the sort of moment I mean. That moment when you’re listening to a song you’ve heard hundreds of times before, a song which has tattooed itself onto your very soul, and suddenly you notice some new dimension to the track; something you somehow failed to notice yet which makes the song that much more revelatory. It happened the other day when I was casually listening to The Smiths’ Barbarism Begins at Home from their album Meat is Murder. The song is up there with the band’s funkiest moments but all of a sudden I found myself physically locked into the groove provided by the bass and drums. Sure, Morrissey’s lyrics are astoundingly astute and Johnny Marr’s slinky guitar gets the limbs a-movin’, but the rhythm section suddenly broke free, demanding to be recognised.

So, here is a hastily assembled list of criminally overlooked musicians who have struggled to muscle past chiselled frontmen or cool-as-fuck guitar heroes. Enjoy. (WARNING: You will have heard of all of these bands)

*Andy Rourke + Mike Joyce ~ The Smiths: Considering it was these two gentlemen who inspired me to write this it is only right that I begin with them. Unable to bustle past Morrissey’s ego and Johnny Marr’s arrangement prowess, these two likely lads provided an unshakeable rhythm section to the 80s most treasured peddlers of glum. From the happy-go-lucky bounce of the band’s more jangly moments to the soft, tender grooves of the more heartfelt numbers, Joyce and Rourke never let you down. They could rock it with the best of them aswell. Take the title track from The Queen is Dead: that rhythm section takes some stopping.

*George Harrison ~ The Beatles: For all the genius of Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting, George Harrison was always on hand to deliver a preposterously cool riff or tasteful solo. Practically inventing the notion of the lead guitarist, his own songs weren’t bad either: just as the band were falling apart amidst petty arguments and messy legal wrangling, Harrison dug deep and wrote some of the bands most iconic songs (While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Here Comes the Sun). Never one to bask in the limelight, he was, as Dave Grohl once put it, “the secret weapon”.

*John Paul Jones ~ Led Zeppelin: You’re probably thinking Who? but Led Zeppelin wouldn’t have been the same without him. The heaviest band of them all needed a special type of bass player to work alongside John Bonham and that man was mild-mannered John Paul Jones. A former session man, his knowledge was as vast as it came. Simply, he could play anything. As quiet as a doormouse, Jones’ basslines made Zep that much heavier.

*Mick Taylor ~ The Rolling Stones: Stepping into a dead man’s pair of snakeskin cowboy boots can’t be easy but when Mick Taylor replaced Brian Jones after the latter had decided to go for an impromptu swim it heralded a rapaciously creative period for the Stones, arguably their finest era. Joining the band as an introverted vegan and leaving as a full blown junkie, Taylor always let his guitar playing do the talking yet it didn’t so much talk as sing the sweetest tune imaginable. His flowing melodies danced a merry dance over Keith Richards’ raunchy riffs to create a string of records not matched by the band since. And Richards will never find a better guitar partner.

*Carlos Alomar ~ David Bowie: When David Bowie put his glitter jump-suit back in his dressing up box and embarked on a romance with Philadelphia soul in the mid-seventies, he replaced guitar legend Mick Ronson with slick sessioneer Carlos Alomar. Alomar’s influence was immediate; steering clear of distorted riffs he instead helped Bowie move towards and altogether smoother sound, taking the occasional co-writing credit in the process. Arrangements were now grander and Bowie found a brand new audience with his album Young Americans. Alomar stayed on the Bowie payroll longer than any other musician and helped the latter push boundaries well into the 80s. Bowie never sounded funkier.

*Stuart Copeland + Andy Summers ~ The Police: Don’t worry, it’s still cool to think Sting a twat, but his cod-Jamaican vocals would have sounded infinitely dafter were it not for messrs Copeland and Summers unique playing style. The former’s drum prowess borders on the genial, providing the clipped, syncopated rhythms to which the foot cannot help but tap to; the latter’s guitar technique was probably considered too technically accomplished in post-punk Britain. The band broke up hating each other, so nothing new there then. Then they got back together in 2008, but who didn’t?

Rest easy dear friend, I’m sure you are raging at that the fact that there are others who should be on this list but who aren’t. If so, then feel free to send me your suggestions. I would naturally be interested to be enlightened to more fantastic musicians.