Archive for October 2016

Songs from the Vault

I thought it would be fun to list a few tunes which I think are great and that you may not know.  There’s no particular link between them other than I like them and want to share them with you.  So without further ado…

The first track is perfect for this.  Damage is the first track on the similarly titled live album by David Sylvian and Robert Fripp.   Recorded in 1993 and released in 1994, Damage can’t be found on iTunes etc., though the CD appears to still be available (e.g. on Amazon) and is worth buying.  Damage, the track, is the best tune on the album and Sylvian’s vocals are perfect for the ethereal atmosphere created.

The next track is more upbeat and is Waitin’ for a Superman by the Flaming Lips.  ‘Superman’ is for me the stand out track from the Lips’ 1999 album The Soft Bulletin, which was arguably the album that gave them their commercial breakthrough.  I didn’t really take notice of the track until I saw the Flaming Lips while touring their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.  The visuals at the gig combined with the tune created an unforgettable experience which I can’t fail to recall when hearing Superman.  Here it is…

And because I can’t help myself, here’s Do You Realize?? by the Flaming Lips which is one of the best songs ever…

Billy Bragg’s album Don’t try this at home (1991) is one of my favourites.  It’s one of those rare gems which feels like a greatest hits album but isn’t.  Tank Park Salute is one of the album’s highlights and is about the death of Bragg’s father.  It’s an incredibly poignant tune matched by its poetic lyrics.  It sounds great too making this tune greater than the sum of its part.  There’s an interesting interview with Bragg from 2006 which covers the tune and the death of his father.  It’s worth checking out.

My last selection is Black from Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut album, Ten.  The song is one of Pearl Jam’s most popular, despite never being released as a single, apparently due to the personal nature of the tune and the band not wanting the feel of the tune diminished by a single release.  I’m sure you’ll agree when you hear the tune…

Writing this I became aware that my selection is generally downbeat.  I’ll have to do a selection of more upbeat tunes at some point, maybe a post on guilty pleasures!

Gig Review – The Herbaliser, Jazz Cafe, 14 October 2016

Back in 1999 I bought an album called Winter Chill, a chill-out album released on the Hedkandi label.  It included some great tracks like Letting Go by Nitin Sawhney and Cold Water Music by Aim.  One of the other great tracks was called The Sensual Woman by a band called The Herbaliser.  Almost 20 years later, the track sounds as great as it did when I first heard it.  The album is also selling on Amazon for £45 which means I may be sitting on a treasure trove!


Anyway, I didn’t really know a lot about The Herbaliser.  I knew that they were on Coldcut’s Ninja Tunes label and featured on at least one Ninja Tunes compilation album  (Cold Krush cuts).  I didn’t know much else. I certainly wasn’t expecting seven middle-aged men to walk on stage at London’s Jazz Cafe.

Somehow I’d got it in my head that they were an outfit of one, and an ever youthful one at that!  The band consists of a horn section (alto sax, trumpet and tenor sax/flute), electric bass, drummer, keyboard player, DJ/scratcher and a rapper (making it a round eight) who guested on a number of tunes.  The sound was a clash of hip-hop, funk and jazz.  I couldn’t really tell one tune from the next, in the sense that I didn’t know their music and that each tune wasn’t that different from the last.  This would be a problem if the last tune was rubbish! Fortunately it was good.  The band could play, were tight and it was a really fun gig and great atmosphere.  Here’s one of the tunes they played last night…

As an aside, the last time I was at the Jazz Cafe was a couple of years ago where I saw Candi Staton (think Young Hearts Run Free), who incidentally was fantastic. It was already a good venue for getting up close with the band but since I’d last been they’d rejigged the place and moved the bar creating a lot more room.

The Herbaliser have a new album out in the new year.  I don’t think I’ll be getting it – I prefer my hip-hop/funk/jazz to be a bit harder hitting – but I’d like to see them again.  Can’t say fairer than that.

Some readable doorsteps

I’m currently reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  Clocking in at almost 1,000 pages it’s taken me a few years to pluck up the courage to take it down off the shelf.  Don Quixote often finds itself in the upper echelons of lists featuring the best books of all time.  The place may well be well earnt but that doesn’t mean that it’s readable in the year 2016, 400 years after it was first published.  I’ll find out.

It’s going to take me a good while to get through Don Quixote so a review won’t be imminent. In the meantime I thought I’d write about some worthwhile reads that could otherwise be used to hold the door open.

Image result for count of monte cristo book

One of Don Quixote’s companions at the top of best book tables is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.  It’s a few hundred pages longer than Don Quixote but is nevertheless a book worthy of your time.  CMC is perhaps the classic revenge tale.  The novel is set in the Napoleonic era in which we find our hero, Edmond Dantès, wrongly imprisoned.  The novel follows Dantès as he weaves an intricate web in which he ensnares those responsible for his imprisonment.  The novel was originally published in 18 parts between 1844 and 1846, which is one way of tackling it, though it’s probably not the best way of enjoying it.  The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read and I highly recommend it.  As an aside, there have been a few films or TV series made of CMC.  Most aren’t worth their salt (it can’t be easy translating so long a book into 120 or so minutes) but the 1998 mini-series starring Gerard Depardieu is worth a look.

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Another hefty tome is Tom Wolfe’s 1987 debut novel The Bonfire of the Vanities.  Like CMC, ‘Bonfire’ was first serialised (in Rolling Stone magazine) and follows the downward spiral of protagonist, Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street bond trader, after he takes a literal wrong turn (off the highway).  The novel typifies the 1980s and is a heady concoction of greed, class, politics and racism.  I’ve not read the book for years but recall that it took a while to get going but once it did, it was ‘unputdownable’.  Again, like CMC, Bonfire was made into a movie.  While Bonfire is rated as one of the great novels of the 80s, the 1990 film directed by Brian De Palma (for shame!) belongs near the top of the worst films of the 1990s, but lower down than the god-awful Batman and Robin!

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Last but by no means least is James Ellroy’s 1995 novel American Tabloid.  Ellroy is arguably most famous for writing LA Confidential (1990) which was made into the highly regarded 1997 film starring Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.

While American Tabloid is set in the years 1958 to 1963, it is epic in its scope. It feels like a documentation of the history of that time, encompassing events like the Bay of Pigs and the assassination of the Kennedy brothers.  While the book (novel doesn’t seem the right word on this occasion) revolves around the exploits of FBI agent Kemper Boyd and heavy Pete Bondurant, we are introduced to a supporting cast of real life individuals including J. Edgar Hoover, JFK, Robert Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes and Jack Ruby, to name but a few.  The great thing about American Tabloid is that these individuals don’t just play a peripheral or cosmetic role.  They are all integral to a complex and wonderful tapestry which Ellroy has woven, which will leave you wondering how he managed to think of let alone write.

It took me a while to get used to Ellroy’s writing style. He’s more in the vein of Ernest Hemingway, with sentences feeling like machinegun fire, than Ian McEwan, but I certainly got used to it (either that or the prose changed as the book went on!).  AT is the first of the so-called ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy and I can think of no better recommendation than to say that AT makes me want to read the second of the trilogy, The Cold Six Thousand, which has been languishing in my bookcase for many a year!

I hope this post has inspired you to take the plunge and pick up that dusty and hefty looking book from your bookcase. Let me know!