Category Archives: mix tapes

We’re here because we’re here

One

At the beginning of it all it was so exciting and intriguing just to gaze and to wonder.

My morning read of The Guardian newspaper website reported numerous sightings of army personnel appearing en masse in various public places across the UK. Sometimes in groups of one or two soldiers, sometimes many more, each occupying public space in their vintage green military uniform.

Two

They did not speak as they gathered, not to each other, nor to curious passers by, but merely arrived silently in places of hectic rush as people headed into work. Apparently there were a thousand of them all told. If approached by intrigued commuters they would hand over a small card bearing a detailed inscription of a fallen soldier who was killed in battle during World War 1.

Today marks the one-hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme in France, during which eventually more than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. But this was not a typically fitting bereavement or commemoration of events, it felt more like an art installation of the unusual or perverse suddenly appearing without fanfare into modern everyday life, and for that reason I found it so much more compelling because of it.

For most of the day in my workplace the intrigue still lingered around me as I went about my typical routine, and I was keen to tell as many people as I thought would be interested of what an unusual and powerful statement I had seen. As a tribute to remembrance this felt more like a Banksy sighting than an event at a cenotaph.

And so I had songs of war on my mind for most of the day. This is just how my mind works most of the time. I can distract myself so easily with this stuff and I just love it when I do. But in truth I don’t have many records that could be considered songs of war, in fact very few at all, and even less that might reflect or represent the first World War.

But there is this one great song I have by a four-piece band called GoodBooks, and that’s no typo there, folks. They really did write their name like that on their records. They represent that frequent recurrence in my record collection of bands that barely extend themselves beyond a couple of singles or maybe an album or two if they’re even that lucky.

GoodBooks came from Kent in the South-East of England, arriving with their first single in 2005 and leaving with their last in 2007. In between they put out a total of six singles and one LP. (They also issued a CD-only remix album of the one LP which for me doesn’t count at all because those things are usually a rubbish idea.)

With two years of total activity and one of those on a major label, they released their sole LP, Control, in 2007, and five songs had come from it as various singles throughout their short time. If my memory serves me right, because the internet yields virtually nothing about their releases, the song I was singing all day long was the fourth single from that LP, and its name is Passchendaele.

Three

Also named for a first World War battle as well as the name of a rural village in Belgium, it’s a simple but emotive tale of lost love and heartbreak fought on the battlefields of Northern Europe by young men who may well have had no choice but to be there. Towards the end of the song a lone trumpet pierces the rising music and never fails to send me off to somewhere else as it plays.

He carried English bayonets in an English way. he smoked German cigarettes on Christmas Day. He never made is past twenty-five, he died at Passchendaele. Fighting for the cause in a war to end all wars…

GoodBooks singer and Harry Potter doppelganger Max Cook refers in part to a scene immortalized in the 2005 French movie Joyeux Noel, about a Christmas truce between the warring nations, when soldiers from France, Germany, and Scotland declared a truce on Christmas Day, playing football together and exchanging cigarettes and stories.

Four

Later in the day as I returned  home from work I learned that the event of soldiers appearing throughout the UK was in fact a work by a Turner Prize-winning artist by the name of Jeremy Deller.

With a Twitter hashtag of #We Are Here it employed volunteers from all walks of life; from farmers to flight attendants, shopkeepers to schoolboys, all sworn to secrecy, and rendering the occasion that much more fantastic because of it.

Deller said he didn’t want to take the people to a memorial, but instead took the memorial to the people, who would not know that it was happening as it arrived. Such a simple idea rendered so effectively by secrecy. His idea was to avoid sentimentality. He named the event We’re Here Because We’re Here, a title which marked the one and only time that the soldiers’ voices would be heard today, singing those words along to the familiar tune of Auld Lang Syne, as sung by the wearied soldiers back in the dark trenches of the Somme.

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Emotional Response

Sleaford cover

                              A Little Ditty // I’m Shit At It (Emotional Response Records 7″ single, 2015)

Doing beak like that with a kid at your mums, paramedics, ya shoulda thought about that one, heart stopper, BOOM! CLEAR! What happened to Richard? All I can see is gear…

 

 

At six months to the day since my last post. There’s no real stellar significance to that though. I just stopped by the other day and noticed that it would be half a year gone on the 15th and so thought it should be time. I can’t remember how to do it now. It all seems to have changed on me, and some bits seem weird, but I’ve got this feeling that’s still here and not fading and that’ll be enough for now.

Introducing then my 7″ single physical product entry point to Sleaford Mods; two forty-something been-around-a-bits from the Nottingham area in England. This is the first of no way too many by them. Unconcerned with image, melody, some might say commerciality or radio-friendliness even. No compromise, and presently laying waste to the UK media on three or four LP’s and a fistful of singles in even less years.

Jason Williamson writes the words, talks and shouts and of late even sings a few, is often very funny too, like you can see up there. He is married with a young daughter. Said recently he used to practice his expletive-heavy delivery in front of the kid. She’s used to hearing it in our house, he said. Had been trading the Sleaford Mods moniker for several self-released CD’s done solo, and then one night he met this other fellah at a gig.

Andrew Fearn mostly just presses the start cursor on his laptop when they play out, and then stands there swaying a bit, swigging on a bottle of ale, taking pictures of the crowd, sometimes just grinning, as you would too if you were a part of this. The laptop has his beats and music inside; repetitive, pulsing, mostly beats and bass lines, twisting around the words, not changing much, but just endlessly shoving Jason along.

Sleaford card 2

They’ve become so popular since I bought this my first record by them in January that the BBC showcased a thirty-minute live set from this year’s Glastonbury festival in June, and when criticized about the band’s incessant use of the F and C words, said on their website; “It’s not pretty, they’re not pretty, but we don’t live in pretty times and Sleaford Mods are deserving of the bigger audience.” I was so proud of the Beeb for that.

I’ve watched that full 37-minute Glastonbury performance a few times now, courtesy of You Tube, and can’t resist going back again and again. Seeing them in surroundings like that is bizarre indeed. The camera crew doesn’t know what to do with them. They’re front and centre and tiny on a fairly large stage; with one microphone stand and one flight case supporting one laptop and that’s all you get. It’s all you need. But what to do if you’re a camera crew?

The band don’t mug to the camera, or tell jokes, do routines, swap instruments. None of your standard raise the bar antics here. It gets to be hilarious watching the crew try to frame them just that little bit more intriguingly for what the viewers are accustomed to. Everyone seems to be trying just that much harder to reach over at BBC Glastonbury. But there’s really no need to with Sleaford Mods because the intrigue is all in the act itself. How does Jason remember all of the knotted detail in song after song of scattershot and complex verbiage, and all without autocue. It’s totally bewildering and utterly infectious.

Which basically means that I have tried to buy everything that has this band’s name on it since I came on board, and they’ve done a good few since I arrived. So far they’ve released three albums in as many years of this line-up, plus a compilation of their singles and b-sides, and another fistful of seven-inch singles that the band farms out to various tiny independent labels. I like how they do that too.

Which brings us to A Little Ditty.

I read about this one through social media and bought it straight off. It just felt like a great starting point for me. Something about it. At the time I had seen or heard very little of them because I don’t like to overdo it or saturate before the stuff arrives. It makes for more enticing an experience that way.

When the record arrived I also got included in the parcel an ad sheet for the label, a lyric sheet of the two songs included, three postcards, a fridge magnet, the typical download code card, and a couple of beer huggies!

Sleaford card 1

Sleaford magnet

Sleaford huggies

Sleaford back

Jen and Stew run Emotional Response records out of their home in Flagstaff, Arizona. They’re married to each other, have kids and pets, and are apparently in a couple of bands each. I went to the website and saw they also had for sale a copy of the song Tied Up in Nottz on grey vinyl 7″ single. This was the song that played the first time I saw Sleaford Mods as a moving image, after reading about them in the press.

I went to You Tube and clicked on it, and honestly not knowing what to make of them at all, found it was dark in there, and not to say impenetrable too in the lyrical drive of it. I didn’t understand quite a bit of it. Still don’t. Must have been away from the North of England too long. I left in 1993 to live in the deep South and never went back. It’s like with Nigel Blackwell in the equally wonderful Half Man Half Biscuit, another favourite Northern English band of mine, you often don’t have a clue what he’s on about but you can’t stop listening and buying and trying and even laughing all of the same. Got a shelf full of them too.

So I realized after I’d put in the order for A Little Ditty that I fancied Tied Up in Nottz too, but had already paid for the first one including shipping. Would they mind doubling up with the extra record?

When the package arrived Stew had written a note inside with it. It was so great I took a picture of it.

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He didn’t know how to do a partial refund and so he stuck a couple of dollars in there instead. I loved that. I’ll bet you wouldn’t get the personal touch like that with I-tunes. I wish I’d kept them stuck inside the sleeve for a souvenir but I needed the money to get my salad for lunch in work, just like you would if you were in one of their songs.

Listening to my Versus tape

Bright Light // Forest Fire (Pop Narcotic Records 7" single, 1992
Bright Light // Forest Fire (Pop Narcotic Records 7″ single, 1992)

I can’t seem to get it straight, stay up late and sleep all day, listening to my Versus tape is still the same…

 

 

 

I came to America and got to hang out with bands.

Small Factory from my previous post has a song on the first CD that I bought by them and it’s called Versus Tape. It seems to be about the singer trying to get his life into some kind of shape, and listening to the Brooklyn band Versus clearly helps him a lot. I love it when singers of songs mention other singers or bands in their lyrics, and especially if the singer is a fan of the particular act in question.

(There are probably hundreds of examples of artist references in songs that I sure would appreciate y’all adding your own versions to in the comments. Right now I’m stuck on Versus Tape and something by The Who that mentions drinking himself blind to the sound of old T.Rex. Patrik Fitzgerald in another of my posts mentions listening to Bowie and riding with him out through the stars. That’s just breathtaking. I love that namedrop thing.)

I liked Versus Tape so much and the way he sang about them that I went and bought a Versus CD without ever hearing them. This was back in the day when you couldn’t just key up a song on any device you happened to have handy to see if you liked it or not. (Writing this post I tried to find songs by Small Factory and Versus on the net and they weren’t easy to track down either.)

As I’ve said on here I was living in a town that didn’t have much going for it and so I just had to take a chance on a band I’d never heard. I bought the first CD Versus released – which was fairly new at the time – because even though I didn’t know the singer in Small Factory personally I trusted him implicitly. The love of a good band can do that to you.

As I found out Versus are very good and didn’t sound a million miles away from Small Factory. On their debut album Versus also consisted of two guys and a girl, like Small Factory, except the girl in Versus plays the bass and she’s called Fontaine Toups; another excellent name to rival that of Small Factory drummer Phoebe Summersquash. The other two guys in Versus were that rare thing of being Filipino brothers in a rock band in America; singer and guitarist Richard Baluyut and his brother Ed on the drums.

I guess you’d call Versus ‘indie rock’ if you were looking for a safe house. I recall being pleased with my risk purchase for the way that they played their guitars being somewhat different and more melodic to grunge and hard rock which I didn’t particularly care for. Don’t get me wrong Versus can certainly belt it out with the best of them too.

Over the years I bought everything they released up to a point, and all on compact disc as records were hard to find in lower Alabama at that time. I would do this thing to liven up or personalize CD packaging by replacing the grey back plate that typically holds the disc in place with a clear plastic back plate, which I would then store stuff behind, such as reviews and bits of receipts and such. Anything to make it seem more mine as I found the compact disc format rather impersonal and clunky and I never really got to care for it.

I recall seeing Versus one time only at a venue called Howlin’ Wolf in the warehouse district of New Orleans. The venue is still going strong in its new location in the French Quarter of the city. I say this because I don’t recall much about the show that I saw or even what year it was but I do recall that my ex-wife and I got lost attempting to locate the venue in the warehouse district, ending up driving through a poor and run-down ghetto area of the city; with huge potholes in the road, street lights smashed out or broken, and large numbers of gathered people staring in at us as we drove past, and with a cop car following us with its lights on full beam to guide us both safely out.

At the venue I met two of the members of Versus and they signed their names on a compilation CD of theirs called Dead Leaves, a detail of which I include here alongside an image from their debut CD The Stars are Insane, complete with its adjusted back plate;

Dead Leaves

Stars are Insane

I spoke to Richard from the band as he signed the inside of the CD case, and was thrilled that he referred to me as The King of England. That’s a landmark memory right there. Also behind the back case of The Stars are Insane there’s a small torn corner from a newspaper upon which Richard wrote a note to me about bringing the band to perform in my then hometown of Mobile, Alabama, thus;

Richard writes

No way was I capable or connected enough to be able to bring Versus to perform a show in Mobile as I just didn’t know how to go about doing that sort of thing. It was different in the USA to how it was when the band I’d been in – at that time in my life nary five years ago – had been given lots of opportunities and varied venues to play in England. In America I could but dream and hope that a band I was interested in would one day play in my part of the world, which at that time was a rare thing.

Speaking of dreams, one of mine eventually came true when I came across Versus on vinyl at last, via the single featured here, at a record fair in my new home town of Winston Salem some years later. I paid $6.00 for the 7″ 45 on the Pop Narcotic label based out of Boston, MA, and was chuffed that it featured Bright Light, my favourite song on the Dead Leaves CD that Richard from the band had scrawled on back there.

“Amazing!”, says the handwriting on the small white sticker that was affixed to the front of the 7″ record sleeve. “Brooklynesque pop on Brack’s candy vinyl… I (heart) dese guys!”

I enjoyed the handwritten colloquial play on the word ‘these’ written there, even if I still have no idea what Brack’s candy actually is or even looks like. Let’s look at the actual record, shall we, and see if it reminds y’all of the candy brand and colour that my sticker refers to;

Vers6

Chances are good that the white background of the scanner I use at work is not doing the vibrancy of the plastic featured here any justice at all. It really is a lovely thing; a wonder found purely through a chance meeting with another band on MTV 120 Minutes, who were singing about a cassette tape that featured another band who were so good they just had to write a song about the feeling it gave.

And now I wonder if any song on my many cassette mix-tapes had that same effect on those I sent them to.

When I first came to America I discovered so much new music so quickly that I just had to share it with my friends I’d left back home in England.

At first I couldn’t work here until I was legalized and so days would turn into months listening to music and compiling tapes at a large circular wooden table in the dining room in Mobile, Alabama. I would keep scrupulous notes of which mate got which song, notes I still have, so that I wouldn’t duplicate music that may even pass between the two. It was a light industry of creativity and entertainment and variety that I sorely miss in these digital days, when music doesn’t seem to even want to have a tangible form anymore.

At first my tapes were just songs played consecutively one after the other, until one day I decided to add a faux DJ element to the mix with a microphone I plugged into the cassette deck; my dreams of being a real radio DJ peering into the light. I even invented a name for my pretend radio station; Radio Cheezwiz, the subtle vocabulary difference allegedly separating me from the popular US cheese spread brand of a similar name.

I’d get a six-pack of beer, a full night stretching ahead of me (later with a day off from work the next day), and records and tapes stacked around as I began my journey. There was no template or plan other than the desire to belt a song over the imaginary tennis net to the receiver on the other side.

I had little or no specific response about songs from the many subscribers I had on my yellow legal pad lists, but just to do it was enough for me, and I loved it.

In return I’d get tapes from the same mates in Old Blighty, a selection of which I’ve photographed here alongside one or two of mine, to wrap this show up.

I’d make covers from magazine ads and such, double-stick taped to the label inner of the Maxell XLII 90, (Radio Cheezwiz cassette tape brand of choice. You can’t buy them in stores anymore.)

Often I would give the entire shebang a title – one pictured here that my mate Greg photographed for me from his own copy is named Search: Go To just because I liked the sound of the phrase.

Then off it would fly in the post, its destination varied, hopefully to invoke a similar reaction upon its receipt to the Frazier Chorus song String that I have previously written about on here. Same words, different feeling.

I am still dreaming and I keep listening, even if  I’m not taping anymore. Some of the cassette tapes featured have specks of dust on them, and I like that.

You can’t get dust on a digital file. I’m fairly certain you can’t even own it, and at no point does it ever seem like it’s being used. My creased up card and worn down plastic buzzes and creaks like something mechanical, and I will always rejoice in that difference.

 

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