Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Anyone Can Play Guitar and the best of the Oxford music scene

Joe writes: Anyone Can Play Guitar, a film by Jon Spira, is possibly the definitive document of a local music scene, with all its passion, small-mindedness, resentment, jealousy, good fortune, ill fortune, stupidity... and some truly great music.

Ed O'Brien and Colin Greenwood from Radiohead, one of the biggest and best bands in the world, appear alongside people who are unknown in the wider world, but were legends in a world of their own creation - the Oxford music scene. The film's thesis is that Radiohead and the rest might not have happened without the scene from which they came; Ed and Colin seem to agree with this thesis.

The film features a series of reverential anecdotes about Mac, one-time booker at key Oxford venue the Jericho Tavern, but he refused to be interviewed, which makes him the star of the piece by giving him an air of mystique and leaves the viewer with the lurking suspicion that he has died (the truth is here).

The minute bands become successful - as Ride, Radiohead and Supergrass all did - they disappear from the film's narrative and we return to the stories of those left behind, who provide several moments of wince-inducing pathos. The Unbelievable Truth were hamstrung by their singer Andy Yorke's fundamental dislike of being in a band, and were almost inevitably overshadowed by his brother Thom (on the other hand, they released an album on a major label; would they even have had their shot without the connection to Thom?). The iconic Zodiac venue eventually sold out, literally, and became a Carling Academy. The town's great white hopes Dustball came within a whisker of signing a big record deal but instead stayed with local label Shifty Disco and were never heard of outside Oxford (the same fate might have awaited them on a major label, but at least they'd have had an advance to show for it).

Then there were The Candyskins, who signed to Geffen Records at the start of the nineties. When they began their first US tour, British bands EMF and Jesus Jones were topping the US charts and the climate seemed great for them. By the time the tour finished, their Geffen labelmates Nirvana had released an album called Nevermind, and suddenly no-one was interested in British indie pop bands.

They then signed to UK label Ultimate Records, just before Ultimate's major label funding came to an end. Nonetheless, Ultimate released several Candyskins singles, one of which, Monday Morning, crept into the UK top 40 after a rare moment of good fortune - a record audience saw them on TFI Friday because its presenter Chris Evans had just been fired from Radio 1.

Geffen capitalised on this mini-hit by putting out their previously unreleased second album and marketing it as the new Candyskins album, the week before their actual new album came out (the film offers no hint that The Candyskins' manager and lawyer might have been complicit in this series of failures and ill fortune).

Car Crash was their glorious ballad and live favourite; I was one of the people who had been lobbying for Ultimate to release it as a single. Then Princess Diana died in a car crash, and with her died all hope of getting media exposure for a song called Car Crash. What the film doesn't say is that the follow-up to Monday Morning was the not-quite-good-enough Hang Myself On You. This was released before Diana had died, and it charted at 65. So there was a window of opportunity in which to release Car Crash, and it was missed. This is a lesson that has always stuck with me - if you have one great, standout, breakthrough song, release it as quickly as possible, because you never know how circumstances may conspire to prevent it being successful later.

The Candyskins - Car Crash:

Next, The Candyskins signed to Walter Yetnikoff's new label, only for Walter to shut it down when he contracted cancer, at which point The Candyskins gave up.

Gaz Coombes from Supergrass appears in the film and displays the star quality that Mark and Nick Cope from The Candyskins sadly lack, but sometimes artists develop charisma as a by-product of experiencing success, and success never truly came for The Candyskins.

Supergrass - Alright:

Could Radiohead have ended up in the same boat as The Candyskins? They were on the verge of being dropped by Parlophone when Creep became a surprise hit in Israel, then San Francisco, then across the USA, until finally it was re-released in the UK, becoming their first top ten hit. But still they were seen as grunge copyist hacks in some quarters (not mine - my brother bought Creep on cassette single first time around, and we went to see them supporting James; I still have the Pop Is Dead t-shirt I bought on that tour). They weren't truly established until their outstanding second album The Bends.

Radiohead - High and Dry on Later with Jools Holland:

Incidentally, the track that opens the film is one of the best pieces of music in it, the 1977 hit Romeo by Mr Big, which pre-dates the era when Oxford had a "scene":

Finally, Dustball's best song was It's Not My Day, a sort of anthem for all those Oxford bands who didn't make it:

Monday, 14 November 2011

Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay - 212

Joe writes: I saw Azealia live recently and she was great - a natural born performer and she can really sing as well as rap. 212 is unquestionably her breakthrough track - and what a great video.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

all four members of Queen were amazing songwriters

Joe: I heard a bit of a Freddie Mercury documentary on Radio 2 yesterday and learnt that These Are The Days Of Our Lives (one of the best Queen songs) was written by Roger Taylor.

So all four members of Queen wrote amazing, massive hit songs. Is this true of any other group?

Freddie Mercury wrote Don't Stop Me Now, Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody To Love, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and We Are The Champions.

John Deacon wrote Another One Bites The Dust, I Want To Break Free and You're My Best Friend.

Roger Taylor wrote Radio Ga Ga and A Kind Of Magic as well as These Are The Days Of Our Lives.

Brian May wrote Fat Bottomed Girls, We Will Rock You, and Who Wants To Live Forever? So I'd say he's the weakest link in terms of songwriting, but he'd still be the best writer in just about any other group.

What about Under Pressure? A genuine collaboration between all four members and David Bowie. See Wikipedia for more info.

Sandy Denny - Who Knows Where The Time Goes? as heard in the play Jerusalem

Joe writes: Last night I saw the Jez Butterworth play Jerusalem for the second time. It is brilliant, and Who Knows Where The Time Goes? plays throughout a crucial scene. The intro to this song is enough to set the pulse racing, then when Sandy Denny sings "all the birds are leaving", the magic is undeniable.

The Platters and the Lettermen

Phil writes: When I was a lot younger, I often heard great standards in what I later realised were versions very different from the originals. Here are two by artists who, in my view, had considerable influence on what came after them. I think these compare well with any of the more orthodox takes on the songs.

The Platters - Smoke Gets In Your Eyes:

The Lettermen - The Way You Look Tonight:

Any Trouble

Phil writes: If you've listened to Radio 2 recently, you'll probably have heard this song - not the only instant classic on Glen Campbell's new album. For those who don't know, he's recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's which makes the lyrics particularly poignant. As the song has been written for him by Paul Westerberg that must have been the intention.

Abandoned Luncheonette - Hall & Oates

Joe writes: I've never seen Hall & Oates' second album Abandoned Luncheonette in a "best albums of all time" list, and I used to study these things closely. But I really think it's one of the best albums of all time. I guess Hall & Oates are still primarily associated with the bombast and brazen commerciality of their eighties hits (which I also love). This album has none of that - it is impeccably cool and soulful.

It's produced by Arif Mardin. The musicianship is incredible and the songwriting even more so. The first five songs are flawless, including the only one that's really well known, She's Gone. The album came out in 1973 and it took three years for She's Gone to become a US hit (it reached no. 7 in 1976). It was their first UK hit the same year, although it only reached no. 42 here. Opening track When The Morning Comes is my favourite, so simple and concise, with a lyric full of yearning and intrigue.

When I first wrote about this album, it was only available in the UK on import and there was one track missing from iTunes. Fortunately that has now been remedied.

Hall & Oates - When The Morning Comes:

Hall & Oates - Had I Known You Better Then:

(update of post original from 10/06/08)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

the original versions of all the songs on the Birdy album

Joe writes: I wanted to try making a YouTube playlist so here is one of the original versions of all the songs on Birdy's eponymous debut album (apart from Farewell and Goodnight which is on Birdy's deluxe iTunes album, but the original version by the Smashing Pumpkins isn't on YouTube).


1. 1901 by Phoenix
2. Skinny Love by Bon Iver
3. People Help The People by Cherry Ghost
4. White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
5. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight by The Postal Service
6. I'll Never Forget You by Francis & The Lights
7. Young Blood by The Naked & Famous
8. Shelter by The XX
9. Fire and Rain by James Taylor
10. Without A Word by Birdy
11. Terrible Love by The National
12. Comforting Sounds by Mew

Another one that passed me by

Phil writes: But I'm sure I'll be listening to 'The Last Resort' a lot in the future. There's a great live performance of this brilliant song on the 'Hell Freezes Over' DVD but sadly the publisher seems to have removed the live performances from YouTube.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Rebecca Ferguson - Nothing's Real But Love

Joe writes: Good song written by Rebecca and Eg White, good lyric for the times, good direction, and a really good vocal from Rebecca.

Monday, 7 November 2011

a year in New York set to the music of James Vincent McMorrow (We Don't Eat)

Joe writes: I love New York and We Don't Eat is my favourite James Vincent McMorrow song so naturally I enjoyed this video made by Andrew Clancy

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Every Time We Say Goodbye

Phil writes: The first time I heard this wonderful song it was in this version. I still find it brings out the goose pimples (or, as we must apparently say now, the goose bumps).

Steve and Stacey Earle

Phil writes: 'When I Fall' is another of those great duets which is even more emotional when you know about the relationship of the singers. Steve Earle has clearly lived the song and Stacey, as his younger sister, must have as full an understanding of many of the words as anyone apart from Steve Earle himself. This gives both performances great poignancy.