The Guitar is the Star

I’ve been mucking around with a playlist on Spotify tonight, on and off. Inspired by my favourite tune of the moment, “Honey” by Pumarosa, which I wrote about recently. Since then it’s grown on me even more. The wonderful tension of the build up to the solo, which then explodes, is inspirational. It’s accompanied a couple of important moments for me recently, positive moments, which I’ll write about in the future, probably. Given me strength. Can a piece of music really do that? Well, for me, yes.

So I was thinking about other epic guitar moments, some of which are the solos, others just the power of the chords accompanying the anthemic melody. Some are hard rocking, others relatively gentle, but with a guitar that leads the way, that sings its own tune. Some are new, others go back to the 70s. They aren’t always the band’s best known songs. But, bottom line, they are all epic!

So if you have Spotify, and are minded to listen, enjoy!

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Mark.E.Smith of the Fall

It was announced tonight that Mark.E.Smith, the leader of the Fall, had died, age 60. The person who told me was Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music, who had actually been in the Fall in their early days. He got kicked out by Mark.E – who was a very curmudgeonly person – as did many other band members over the years. It must have been hard for him to talk about it tonight, because they clearly had not been friends for a long time, and yet they had deep roots together. Marc abandoned his Who’s on my T-Shirt? competition, a Wednesday staple, and mainly played Fall records in the last part of his show.

The Fall are a band that I have always been interested in, without being a massive fan of all their music. There are a few tracks I have really loved, and I wrote about them in my book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey“. This is what I said:

The Fall were – still are – an extraordinary band.  Fronted by Mark E Smith, the band otherwise features a revolving cast of characters. But the basic sound remains the same:  jagged guitar riffs, jerky bass lines, and Mark E declaiming over the top.  He’s gone a bit dancey and electronic at times; he had a short spell in the lower reaches of the pop charts in the mid-eighties; but in the end Mark E Smith has ploughed his own furrow, ranting and sometimes raving, ever obscure lyrics, always interesting. I’ve dipped in and out of The Fall’s music over the years. I’ve bought a few albums and usually found them fairly hard work.  But there have always been tracks where I’ve thought, this is brilliant! So I find the compilations have done it for me. When vinyl was still king, I picked a couple of excellent compilations covering different stages of The Fall’s life. “Palace of Swords Reversed” came out in 1987 and covered songs from 1980 to 1983. “458489 A Sides” (1990) did the same for 1984-89, as the title suggests. These and later tracks have been replicated and extended by a couple of great CD compilations: “50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong” which covers the earlier years, and “A World Bewitched”, which does the same for the 1990s.

My favourite Fall song is “Totally Wired”, which came out in 1980. It’s a pretty basic bit of rock’n’roll in which Mark E tells us how he comes to be totally wired – drugs and coffee basically. He’s angry and worried. It’s a song on the edge.  And it has one of those magical moments, when something kicks in and takes the song onto a higher level.  In this case, after a few rants the bass switches tack and just does a deep dun-de-dun-de-dun at the end of a line.  Then does it again. It doesn’t sound like much on a page, but it hits me every time.  It’s in keeping with a lot of this music I’m including under post-punk – the bass takes on the role of a lead instrument.  Simple – we’re not talking about intricate bass solos – but singing.

From around the same time, I really liked “How I Wrote Elastic Man”. A crazed, almost rockabilly riff, and lyrics which are full of self-loathing and random connections.  I could not tell you what it all means, but it sounds like it means something.  Elastic sometimes sounds like plastic. The newspapers get a mention. So do lots of other things.  But I can’t tell you what. No matter, Mark E still isn’t happy.

The pop period – well, not exactly pop, but close – yielded some of the most memorable songs. This was second half of the eighties. It was probably because they had a bit more melody and coherence.  Not better than the rest, but easier to relate to. Still left field, quirky, but more rooted in the music of the time.  The biggest hit was “There’s a Ghost in My House”, a fairly straight cover of the R. Dean Taylor original from ‘74, which reached No 30 in 1987.  Yeah, biggest hit No 30. I was a bit surprised when I checked that: I’d have guessed it was something like No 8.  It was certainly on the radio a lot. The next biggest hit, reaching the dizzy heights of No 35, was also a cover: a version of The Kinks’ “Victoria”.  Again pretty faithful.  It was just typical that biggest hits for such a distinctive and challenging band as The Fall should be cover versions. The pop period included a number of other songs which invited you to dance and sing along – in an arsey kind of way, of course. Songs like “Hey Luciani”, “Telephone Thing”, “Mr Pharmacist”, “Hit the North”. The latter had a brilliant B-side called “Australians in Europe”. A fast-paced punky thing.  Didn’t say an awful lot more than Australians in Europe, but aligned to the music it conjured up all sorts of images.  And it just amused me that this might be something that Mark E Smith was agitated about.

That was the essence of The Fall. Agitation. Jerky, aggressive music, sometimes danceable. Angry or bewildered or totally obscure lyrics, delivered in Mark E’s shouty fashion. Always issuing a challenge – this is me, take it or leave it. John Peel loved the band and supported them until the day he died. I can see why, and the tunes I’ve described here are real favourites.

As I said in the book, my favourite tune is “Totally Wired”. There’s no official video that I can see, but this one has the studio recording of the song.

Thinking about it, one of my new favourite bands, Goat Girl, sound like the Fall may have been an influence – certainly “How I Wrote Elastic Man”. Mark.E.Smith’s legacy will live on.

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Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries

I was sad to hear of the death, at such an early age, of Dolores O’Riordan this week. The reports in the Guardian suggested that she had had quite a troubled life. But, in their heyday, the Cranberries, for whom she was the lead singer, made some wonderful records.

I wrote a short piece about the Cranberries in my music book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey” in my chapter on celtic soul. This is what I said at the time:

Another band who had a good spell in the early-to-mid-nineties was The Cranberries. In fact, they sold shed loads of records: first with their 1993 debut, “Everybody Else is doing it, so Why Can’t We?” and then the follow up in 1994, “No Need to Argue”. They had an epic rock sound with catchy choruses and a bit of Irish passion – their singer Dolores O’Riordan sang with a distinctively Irish accent. “Linger” and “Dreams” off the first album were memorable singles, and the second featured the impassioned “Zombie”.  Aimed at the supporters of violence in Ireland, it was knocked by the critics as naive and oversimplified; but O’Riordan sang with a genuine rage and angst which I found impressive.  It was easy to write The Cranberries off as U2-lite, but there was a real depth and passion to their music, as well as a light touch to their melodies which made them deservedly big for a few years in the nineties.  Listen to some of the indie bands with big choruses, made for the stadium, in recent years, like Snow Patrol and Travis, even Coldplay, and you might agree that The Cranberries got to the same place a little earlier.

I still love those three tracks, and listening to “Dreams” this morning, by chance, on my iPod, I thought Alvvays must have been influenced by their sound.

Zombie was mocked at the time it came out, but I always liked it.

And “Linger” completed the trio.

So rest in peace, Dolores. You made some music that really moved people, me included.

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Sportsthoughts (161). Premier League 2017-18 predictions – half time report

So, the mad Christmas/ New Year fixture pile up is over, managers have had their moan about the strains it puts on the players (they have a point) and attention turns, briefly, to the FA Cup, where most Premier League clubs will field at least half a reserve team against doughty opponents from the lower divisions.

Time to take stock of those Premier League 2017-18 predictions!

We’re 22 games in, so a bit more than halfway through the 38 game season. But with the Christmas fog clearing, there’s a sharper picture.

And we must start with Man City. They were my tip to win the league, and right now, they are looking unstoppable.  They are playing football that is on a different level to everyone else. After an awkward first season, Pep Guardiola has adapted his Barcelona template to the Premier League, and has his team playing in the style to which he is accustomed – the blaugrana way.  And it is a joy to watch, especially when de Bruyne and Silva weave their magic in midfield, ably assisted by perhaps the surprise success in the City team, Raheem Sterling. Pep has done something for his confidence in front of goal, and he just can’t stop scoring. Aguero, Sane and Jesus – the three on rotation – have weighed in with their fair share of goals too, often tap-ins, after the aforementioned three have carved up the opposition defence with their incisive passing and movement. Yes, Manchester City are a pleasure to behold at the moment.

It’s not just the attack though. Guardiola bought well in defence too. Kyle Walker is a good asset bombing forward (as Mendy was until he got injured) but the key signing was the Brazilian goalkeeper, Ederson. He has been outstanding, and brave, when called upon. And that gives the whole defence confidence, even though Vincent Kompany has missed most of the season, and may be reaching the point when his time is up.

So, City are 15 points clear at this stage, have scored 64 goals in 22 games and have a goal difference of 51. They have not yet lost a game, and until they drew 0-0 with Palace, had won 18 games in a row. Remarkable statistics – so are they invincible? Can any team hope to catch them? I’d say the answers to both those questions is no. Someone will beat them – Palace almost did. But, unless injuries ravage the team, I can’t see any of their rivals wiping out that 15 point gap. And I daresay Pep will strengthen the squad further this month, starting with a new centre back – money is no object.

Second, in both my predictions and the current table, are City’s grumpy neighbours, Man Utd. Manager Jose Mourinho seems especially tetchy. He knows his mega-spending, and his management, have not been good enough to keep pace with the blue side of Manchester. His tactics look very out-of-date. The Guardian had an interesting article recently, suggesting that Mourinho’s notorious “third season syndrome”, when he falls out with the players and the club after initial success, has come a season early. His first season was satisfactory for starters, winning the League Cup and Europa Cup, the latter of which gave United a place in the Champions League, which they couldn’t command with their league position. But this was meant to be the season when it all fell into place. It hasn’t. They have been unlucky that Pogba has been out for long periods with injury – he has looked very good when fit, a real all-round midfield powerhouse. Lukaku has looked strong at times up front, but clueless at others. He needs more support up front. Overall, there still seems to be a lack of creativity and, at times, ambition in the team. Classic Mourinho traits when under pressure. May it stay that way.

The rest of the top six is in line with my predictions (no great insight from me there!) although only Spurs are in the place I expected – 5th. Arsenal have underachieved for all the usual reasons: great going forwards at times but with a tendency to over-elaboration; and comical in defence, especially early on in games. The 3-1 home defeat to Man Utd summed up the season. An amazing game, which they should have won about 7-1. De Gea played a blinder in goal for United, and Arsenal dropped some dreadful clangers in defence. Will it ever change? Not under Wenger, I suspect. Will they finish better than the current 6th? They can, but I don’t say that with any conviction. One silver lining in the cloud is the return to fitness and form of Jack Wilshere. He has been outstanding in recent games, bossing midfield in a way we haven’t seen for 2-3 years.  Could be good for England’s World Cup prospects, too, if he can stay in one piece. Good on ya, Jack!

Chelsea have been unspectacular, but a bit better than I expected. Morata has been a success up front, though he fluffed a lot of chances in recent games, including the mighty Hammers’ 1-0 victory over them. Cesc Fabregas has been elegant in midfield when he starts – he could add to any team in the league, except perhaps, City, who expect even their artists to defend from the front, Barca style. And Liverpool are good to watch going forward – a real Klopp team now. They are second highest scorers with 50 goals, and Salah has been sensational. I’m not sure even Klopp realised he was buying such a prolific goalscorer. Some of Liverpool’s defending has been Arsenal quality, which is why Klopp has spent an unbelievable £75m on Dutch defender, Virgil van Dijk. Previous clubs: Groningen, Celtic, Southampton. He’s got some stepping up to do, but if he tightens that Liverpool defence, I can see them challenging seriously for third or even second place. The cloud on the horizon is the likely loss of Coutinho to Barcelona, so they will need to spend big on a good replacement, both to keep the fans happy and to sustain their promise. Spurs have looked very good at times, but had a bit of a wobble before Christmas, and lost a bit of ground. They seem to have overcome the Wembley nerves now, but I wonder whether they have enough depth in the squad, especially in attacking positions. They are still highly dependent on Harry Kane for goals. He’s doing the business for sure, but he does get injured from time-to-time. I think 5th feels about right for this season.

Perhaps the biggest flop of the season has been Everton. They spent a lot of money in the summer, and I thought they’d bought well. I had them 7th. Some people thought they could break into the top six. Manager Ronald Koeman was highly rated, and viewed by some as Wenger’s natural successor at Arsenal.  The fly in the ointment was that they didn’t really replace Lukaku effectively. Rooney has scored a few, but not enough to compensate for the loss of their main striker. And it all went belly up; so badly in fact, that Koeman was sacked, and Big Sam, speciality avoiding relegation, was brought in. He’s doing the job and they are now 9th, though still only 7 points off the bottom three. So they can’t afford to relax.

Aaah, the best of the rest, I said. The happy Hammers. Settling in to the London stadium, after a difficult first season there. Some decent summer purchases. All was looking rosy. Wrong! They got off to a bad start and never looked likely to recover under Slaven Bilic, who looked increasingly forlorn at games. It’s hard to say what the low point was – there were so many. But losing 3-0 at home to Brighton must be in contention. Sadly, Slav’s departure was inevitable. I, and most West Ham fans, liked him. He had a great first season, and last season was bound to be a transition. He was passionate and articulate. But he seemed to lose the ability to give the team shape, both defensively and in attack. Confidence waned and the players didn’t seem to be playing for each other. Record signing Arnautovic was a disaster, and seemingly a red card always waiting to happen. I was readying myself for the prospect of watching a Championship team play in the London Stadium, the home of the 2012 Olympics! The Board’s solution was to hire David Moyes, deemed a failure at Man Utd (unfairly, I thought), Real Sociedad and Sunderland. The fans were mostly negative, but I felt it might be a shrewd appointment. He was a real success at Everton, building a solid, but also quite entertaining team on a pretty low budget. And he had something to prove after recent failures. It was worth the gamble I thought. A point against Leicester in his first match. OK. But then a truly abject performance away to Everton, who were in the depths of despair, and had just been thrashed by Southampton. Nothing like playing West Ham to revive your fortunes! The R-word was uttered again. But then, a transformation. Away to Man City. I feared a bloodbath. I checked the odds on a 6-0 City win. A miserly 18 to 1. City were 9 to 1 on to win! I watched the game with friends in the pub, including two City fans. West Ham started superbly. Defensive discipline, hard pressing, and a well-taken goal. 1-0 up at half time. In the second half City started to weave their Barca magic. West Ham started to tire and eventually conceded two. But they had a great chance to equalise near the end, which they didn’t take. So they lost, but emerged with great credit. And since then it has been mostly good, with that magnificent win against Chelsea, a 3-0 away win at Stoke and creditable draws against Arsenal and Spurs. They now have a run of games against teams in a similar position to them (15th right now, but only five points behind Everton). They must take advantage. Or the drop could still be in prospect.

The surprised success of the season has been Burnley. They currently lie 7th ; I had them down for relegation! Their defence and home form has been the foundation. Sean Dyche has them playing with real discipline. Simple, old style football. Not pretty, but very effective when done well. They have only scored 19 goals (West Ham have 25), but have only conceded 19 too. So a 1-0 or 0-0 is most likely what you get when you watch Burnley. I’m sure their fans are happy. Their biggest challenge might be holding on to their manager, who gets mentioned whenever a Premier League coach gets the boot. I’m not sure they’ll sustain their form at the current level, but a top ten finish looks a reasonable prospect.

Credit too to Huddersfield, who I confidently predicted would finish rock bottom. They have a very good manager. David Wagner, and play with real passion. They’ve been tonked a couple of times, but beat Man Utd for the first time since 1952, and have maintained pretty good home form. I think they could slide as the season wears on, but they keep on getting results. Crunch game next week against West Ham at the John Smith’s stadium. If the Irons win (a big if) they will go above th’ Udders – it’s a dogfight for all the teams in the bottom half. Four points separate Huddersfield in 11th from Stoke in 18th.

Six Premier League managers have lost their jobs this season – a third of the total. A poor start, still wobbling in December: you have to go, so a new manager gets to spend whatever transfer funds are available in the January window. The first sacking was Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace, after four straight defeats in the league. I said in my predictions that “Palace may benefit from the management skills of Frank de Boer – or else they will be so baffled by his Dutch sophistication they’ll be relegated!” It was looking like the latter, so off he went, replaced by underwhelming ex-England manager, Roy Hodgson. He had a poor start – the defeats continued – but he has slowly turned it around, after an intial victory against Chelsea, of all teams. Palace now lie 14th, on the same points, 22, as West Ham. So, well done Roy.

Who will be the seventh casualty? Bookies favourite is Mark Hughes, at Stoke: 5 to 1 on! They are on a terrible run, and he seems at a loss. The fans seem to have turned against him. Stoke have a knack of clawing their way back up the table after a wobble, so will they just do that again? Quite possibly, but if I were a Stoke fan, I’d be very worried right now. Likewise West Brom. New manager Alan Pardew hasn’t been able to turn things round yet, since taking over from Tony Pulis. He could run out of time. I’m a bit surprised about West Brom’s fate. I thought Pulis would keep them solid mid-table. Boring, but effective. But they hit a bad run and couldn’t break out of it. Good news for West Ham, I guess.

So, on the predictions front, I’ll keep my top six, with City to the fore. Liverpool higher than 6th, and Arsenal lower than 3rd. As for relegation, I’ll stick with Swansea and (just about) Huddersfield, but add West Brom, in place of Burnley. And keep my fingers crossed that David Moyes has permanently rediscovered his Evertonian muse…

Team to watch in the second half of the season? How about Leicester? As long as they hold on to Mahrez.

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Have You Heard? – (86) “Alternative Facts” by Mush

Mush are a slacker indie band from Leeds. I don’t know a lot about them, except that when I first heard “Alternative Facts” on Marc Riley a few months ago, I was immediately captivated, both by the ridiculously catchy riff and the droll lyrics about what we now lovingly call fake news. I thought they must be American – probably from New York. It had to be a diatribe against Donald Trump. The latter is probably right, but they’re Yorkies rather than New Yorkers.

I didn’t hear the song again for a while, as it only seems to have been available as a limited edition single on the Too Pure Singles Club, which sends you a 7 inch single every month for an annual subscription (I now know). Marc Riley played it a couple of times just before Christmas – I think the band may have done a session for his 6 Music show, and it was one of his highlights of the year. Rightly so. The song also featured in Loud and Quiet’s top tracks of 2017, although it didn’t make it on to their Spotlify playlist (which is very good) as the song isn’t on Spotify! A shame, but you can hear it on Soundcloud – link below. Beware, it is nearly ten minutes long, and could end happily enough at the false ending, about 7.20 minutes in. But do have a listen – it reminds me in different places to the likes of Parquet Courts, The Fall, DUDS and the Velvet Underground. These are good bands to sound like! You could probably chuck in loads of 80s post-punk references too.

Hopefully “Alternative Facts” will get a wider release at some point – I assume there will be an album from Mush in the future. One to watch out for.

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lovelondonscenes 140 – An Urban Sunset

I took these photos  on a Sunday in late November in Northfields, where I live. It had been one of those sunny, cold, crisp days, and a decent sunset was nailed on, looking west. This is what I saw.


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Have you Heard? – (85) “Honey” by Pumarosa

As we move into the new year, this is the tune I’m loving most. Pumarosa are quite a new band. They are great live. I saw them at Village Underground in Shoreditch in 2016 and Latitude before that. Singer Isabel Munoz-Newsome has a real presence, live. This song, “Honey” is my favourite. It’s on their recent album, “The Witch”, which is mostly a bit more stately than “Honey” and rather grandiose. My other favourite Pumarosa song is “Cecile”, which, surprisingly, is not on the album.

“Honey” has some of the grandeur of Savages, but also some awesome solo guitar. I really love the way it builds and then wigs out.  There’s  a bit of U2’s Edge in there – that is definitely OK by me.

The official video below doesn’t really need the lyrics plastered over it – they aren’t that profound. But it’s a good way to hear the song. I’ve included a band performance too.

I do think this band have serious prospects, but we shall see…

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