Essex has a bit of form when it comes to delivering maverick pop geniuses with a gift for mixing a smidgeon of music hall with a dash of 60s pop and creating inspired, but intelligent tunes.
And the latest to join such luminaries as Ian Dury, Jake Shillingford and Damon Albarn is Blow Up record’s new signing Southend boy David Woodcock whose magnificent debut single is presented here.
Same Things is a wonderful distillation of everything that is great about quirky English pop music. From its dry, rather downbeat lyrics through to its Madness ska-lite beat in the verse and soar away chorus this is the type of tune that hasn’t been heard since the glory days of Brit pop. Not the dry Oasis 60s re-treads but The Blur of The Great Escape, Supergrass’ debut and The Auteurs before they got too prententious And it is also delivered in a vocal style that’s pure Essex. He really has to be a relative of Jake Shillingford.
Anyhow David Woodcock has an album coming in the Autumn. You just know it is going to be very special.
In case it has escaped your attention there is a bit of psych revival going on at the moment with thousands of bands from all across their world aping their 60s heroes in creating trippy, yet hook-filled soundscapes.
A lot of those bands take the easy route and splice a dreamy melody to a driving beat before drenching it all in howling feedback. Not The Hidden Masters though. For Scotland’s finest Psych band plunder just about every late 60s genre to produce a very imaginative and ambitious sound that really doesn’t have much else in common with any other bands at the moment.
They seem to have swallowed the Brit Psych rule book whole and lesson one in said book is that each tune should be chocka with so many twists and turns that the listener really doesn’t have a clue what to expect next. To aficionados this means mini pop symphonies like the Pretty Things finest moment Defecting Grey or even Dantalion’s Chariot’s Madman Running Through The Fields, who featured a pre-Police Andy Summers on a bewitching guitar solo. In many ways almost half of the tracks on this the band’s debut sound like they are attempting to create psych versions of Bohemian Rhapsody.
As well as Of This And Other Worlds being ambitious it is also brilliant too. The trio know how to take their influences – think Da Capo era love as well as Chocolate Soup Brit psych – whack them in the aural blender and come up with something that sounds both familiar and unique – surely the holy grail for intelligent pop music in 2013.
There is then great tune after tune all stuffed with fascinating melodic twists and turns, unusual instrumental excursions, intense period detail that only the true psych anorak would be aware of and more. Sometimes it is almost too much.
And then the band unveil their two ace cards Last Days of The Sun and Like Candy. Last Days is magical. It sounds like the missing link between Wimple Winch and west coast US psych. It lasts six amazing minutes and contains more musical ideas in that time than Coldplay have had a in a decade.
If anything Like Candy is even better. A huge harmony drenched pop song that bizarrely half way through blossoms into a Gospel type sing along before the melody gives way to a brilliant 70s style guitar solo.
As I said at the beginning there are lot of psych bands at the moment. But no on else sounds like The Hidden Masters. They are utterly unique and your life would be massively enriched by owning their album.
Of course we all know that See Emily Play is one of the best singles of the 60s and that Dark Side Of The Moon still outsells just about everyone apart from One Direction. And also that Comfortably Numb and Wish You Were Here are rock classics of the highest order.
But now that the entire Pink Floyd catalogue has landed on Spotify here’s a few of their lesser known gems to get familiar with.
1 Candy And a A Currant Bun – The B side of the band’s first single, which was originally tiled Let’s Roll Another One, was for years pretty tricky to track down unless you splurged out on the original vinyl. A massive influence on bands like Paperhead and The Sufis this is Syd Barret at his chirpiest and has an amazing Rick Wright keyboard solo.
2 Apples and Oranges - Pink Floyd’s thirds single, their first to miss the charts and their last with Syd at the helm. Apples and Oranges is a flawed masterpiece and in many ways just as good as Arnold Layne and See Emily Play. The odd time changes and nursery rhyme chorus provide more than just a few clues that someone’s mind was starting to fall apart.
3 Let There Be More Light – Long before Can, Neu and their Kraut Rock Motorik beats the Floyd kicked space rock off with this stirring opener to their second ‘transnational’ album Saucerful of Secrets.
4 Cymbaline – One of two standout from the soundtrack of the film More, this is a dreamy psychedelic ballad with a strong vocal and some stunning guitar courtesy of the new boy Dave Gilmour.
5 The Nile Song – Also from More, this is The Floyd pretending to be Black Sabbath. Better than it sounds.
6 Grantchester Meadows - Roger Waters’ acid folk ballad is one of the highlights of the studio side of Ummagumma. It is a paen to the gorgeous rolling water’s side fields to the east of Cambridge.
7 Summer ’68 – Much of Atom Heart Mother is borderline unlistenable prog rock noodling – IMO, but this psych-ish ballad is almost as good as the amazing psych era it celebrates.
8 Brain Damage – The killer track from Dark Side that often seems to get overlooked in favour of the more obvious stuff like Time and Us and Them. Again this sounds like it could have come from a few years earlier.
9 Hey You – If you are not sure about The Wall, this along with the obvious Comfortably Numb is the place to start.
10 When The Tigers Broke Free - There is a small bit noisy coterie of fans who believe that The Final Cut is among the Floyd’s best albums. I am not one of them but this dramatic song is always worth a listen.
There is a small but rather impressive list of bands who haven’t yet made their music available to streaming service Spotify. The Beatles top the list, alongside Led Zep and Oasis. but one band who up until now had resisted making their music available on the service have finally changed their mind.
In a short period of time (hopefully, more on that in moment) Pink Floyd’s entire back catalogue will be available to stream on Spotify. So listeners can revel in Syd Barret’s psychedelic ditties while switching all the lights off and sniffing josticks to Dark Side Of The Moon.
Back in May several Pink Floyd albums landed on the site but were withdrawn quickly. This time round the track Wish You Were here has been added to the service and this cryptic tweet has come from the band.
The BBC’s Horrible Histories has had some wonderful musical parodies in the past (the theory of evolution set to Bowie’s Changes springs to mind) but this one is something else. A chronological account of the life of Charles Dickens set to the music of The Smiths. It is spot on too. The level of detail is superb, the Morrissey style vocal mannerisms, the occasional sudden break, the funky Marr-esque guitar, they are all there.
It is about four Smiths songs in one but Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Know and This Charming Man feature prominently.
And don’t miss its excellent finale- and what is he doing with that Gladioli?
Oh, and isn’t that Al Murray on drums. Now that is what the licence fee is for.
As you all know West Germany during the 1970s was an explosion of musical creativitiy as bands like Can, Neu and Amon Duul married wonderful meandering psychedelic melodies to that very special Motorik Kraut Rock Groove. As for East Germany. Well the music soundtrack was just a little more conservative.
With a totalitarian Communist government running the show and the Stasi secret Police ready to pounce on anyone who stepped out of line, making music that had echoes of the decadent west was not a great career move.
Except for one fella. In a story so perfect that part of me still thinks it might be one giant hoax (UPDATE – this may be the case see the comments), film-sound editor and composer Martin Ziechnete not only managed to create the definitive East German Kraut Rock suite but at the same time beat Nike to the punch in inventing music to exercise to by a good thirty years.
The story runs that Ziechnete’s experiments with electronic music came to the attention of the ruling party who sent a a couple of representatives to pay him a call.
“I feared I would lose my job, at the very least. It would be very bad for someone who worked on party films to be seen to be influenced by the enemy. We drove in silence to the outskirts of Berlin to what I later found out was an athletics camp. They knew all about me and my idea. They questioned me about the concept for hours then left me alone in the room.
“Later an official from the Nationales Olympisches Komitee came in and told me I would begin to work on the project immediately.”
That project was an attempt to create music that would inspire the East German athletes of the day – remember at this time they were ultra successful – to even greater heights. So so the music that has just been reissued as Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Volume One was born.
It is a fascinating listen to with or without your shorts on. The opener Zeit Zum Laufen 156 is an ambient piece designed to accompany your warm up. Things then move up a gear with Sandtrommel in which an odd spacey keyboard battles with a very strange, off kilter beat.
The highlight is track four Tonband Laufspur (above) which is closest to the Kraut Rock visionaries that Ziechnete was so inspired by, especially in its mental push yourself to the line finale.
Overall it is a marvellous listen and you really don’t need to care too much about its genesis or its athletics ambitions to enjoy it.
Ziechnete’s music obviously did the business as East German athletes dominated track and field for much of the 70s. Well State Plan 14.25 may have played a role too.
Barely a day seems to go by at the moment without some great new psych music arriving on Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube or (gosh) vinyl. So I have rounded up 10 of the best recent releases (plus one bonus one) and included videos, embeds or links if they exist.
Hounds Tooth – Canary Island - Lovely summery slice of floaty psych from the Portland US based band. Love that extended guitar coda. Their album Ride Out The Dark” will be out in July on No Quarter Records
The Magnetic Mind – Maybe The Stars, Maybe The Sun – Really exciting new North London band whose debut single is the nearest thing anyone has ever come to The Peanut Butter Conspiracy in four decades. Bet they are amazing live.
The Shadow Kabinet – Nostalgia For The Future – Lovely floaty psych from the always superb Shadow Kabinet. The Camden band’s new album – this is the title track – is out on high quality download is already gaining some amazing reviews.
The Young Sinclairs – Engineer Man – The Virginia based folk rockers have made a series of great albums and singles. On Engineer Man they add a Who/Powder power pop undercurrent. It is available as a vinyl single with the equally excellent Problems – very soon
The Parlour Flames – Manchester Rain - The new band of Vinny Peculiar (who was responsible for the third best ever song with Louise in the title - which is a massive compliment) and Bonehead once of Oasis. This is one of many 60s influenced tracks on the pair’s inspired debut album.
Morgan Delt – Barbarian Kings – Syd Barrett/Electric Prunes influenced dreamy psych with a killer chorus from the mysterious Morgan Delt. The band’s six track mini album Psychic Death Hole is a hugely trippy affair.
West Coast Gnome – As Real As Real - Inspired cover of The Three O’Clock’s 80s classic As Real As Real by the paisley shirted gnome from America’s west coast. There are some great tunes on his Soundcloud page that hover somewhere between The Searchers and British 80s jangle pop.
Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Black Lady - A key track from another album that a lot of psych fans seem very excited about. Heaven’s Gateway Drugs certainly know a thing or two about making the most of The Brian Jonestown Massacre songbook. The album, which you can hear on Spotify, is very strong and has a hint of British 80s bands Like The Stone Roses too.
The Solar System – Surveillance Cam - Chris Oliver has been making some intriguing lo-fi psych for a while now. With this new release he has a proper band in tow and has delivered his best selection of tunes so far. The title track mixes an uplifting melody with some lovely Beach Boys style harmonies and a bonkers guitar.
Hidden Masters – Nobody Knows That We’re Here - Very fine Scottish band who may have just issued the best psych album so far this year in Of This & Other Worlds. You never know quite what will happen in a Masters song. This one has a whiff of both Dantalion’s Chariot and The Mike Stuart Span.
The Stones Roses play two dates at London’s Finsbury Park this weekend. Simon Poulter got a sneak preview at La Cigale in Paris.
They came from the north, they came from the south. They came for the day by Eurostar, they came for the evening by Metro.
Their hair may have been greying, their kids may have been at home, doing homework under the au pair’s supervision, they may have been squeezed into Adidas tops, they may have been mostly the same nationality, but they were all disciples convening to celebrate the resurrected, if you will, to jog on the spot, primate-style, to one of the greatest British rock bands ever to produce just two albums before disintegrating.
The Stone Roses, for it is they, are on the heritage trail, pure and simple. With no new material to promote (though John Squire has hinted at “three or four” new tracks in the works), this congregation of disciples at La Cigale in Paris is a continuation of what began in 2011 with their unexpected but much savoured reformation.
For a band that collapsed amid catastrophic acrimony following the tour for only their second album, the Roses were greeted in Paris last night as if they’d been going solidly for the last two decades. To be fair, they do perform as if they’ve been going as long.
The music is built around the little-altered formula held together by Mani’s subtly intricate bass work and Remi’s cleverly understated drumming, John Squire’s guitar – a contribution comparable to Johnny Marr’s in The Smiths – and Ian Brown’s mainly flat vocals (some things will never change, it would appear).
In total, it’s an infectious chug that keeps the calf muscles properly exercised for the better part of 90 minutes. And it is wildly appreciated by the 1000-strong crowd, noticeably Anglo-French in its composition, but with a significant bias towards the Brits – local expats and day trippers alike.
Fools Gold, I Am The Resurrection, Waterfall, She Bangs, Made of Stone, Adored, Ten Storey Love – like artillery shells on a battlefield they thud into the wildly receptive crowd, one after another, with little fanfare from the band.
Brown’s stage presence is a curious one. Clearly the prototype for Liam Gallagher, albeit without the ridiculous school playground thug demeanour, Brown seems to studiously avoid overstating his role as the band’s lyrical and vocal outlet. When not singing, he’s conducting the crowd with a pair of shakers, as if a sorcerer waving a pair of wands to command even more wild frugging from the floor.
The interaction between bandmates, too, is minimal. Perhaps this is nothing more than the unspoken respect four very old friends have for each other, or the possibility that a fragility remains even now in their relationships after so much discord.
Whatever is keeping it intact is doing so well. In principle it’s rock – with Squire’s numerous flushes of Jimmy Page-like strutting spotlighting how good a rock guitarist he is – and sometimes its just hard-edged dance music.
Whatever it is and whatever it was last night, it was something ragged and perfectly formed at the same time. The Roses may have set the bar high for their generation with the famous Spike Island concert, and their Manchester homecomings last year at Heaton Park reignited the flames of adulation that had licked at the Roses’ boots for the latter 80s and early 90s. Squeezed into the pocket confines of La Cigale, what the Roses lose from not having a tens of thousands massed before them is more than made up for by the 1000 loving every single minute of it.
In my opinion one of the best records of the 1980s was The Three O’Clock’s incendiary debut EP come LP Baroque Hoedown. And that LP climaxed with one of their finest tunes – a slow burning droney slice of psych called As Real As Real .
It might be recorded in the fella’s garage and there’s none of the original version’s inspired signature swirly keyboard runs, but it’s an intoxicating listen nevertheless. Mr Gnome even messes with the end a little incorporating what sounds like snatches of The Byrds’ Eight Miles High on the outro. It is excellent stuff.
It turns out that West Coast Gnome is rather talented too. His collection of songs which you can listen to on Soundcloud hover somewhere between the jangly 60s vibe of The Searchers or in the case of Paisley Daze – The Byrds and British C86 bands like The Razorcuts and very early bowl cut era Primal Scream.
There’s hint of Beatley/Bee Gees psych on Mr Bee and some wonderful melodic twists and turns on the stand out Saturday Sunshine.
All the tracks have been uploaded fairly recently, so let’s hope that Mr Gnome gets a chance to make his own Younger Than Yesterday (or Sonic Flower Groove) very soon.
Well I think I can safely declare Spain and The Chemistry Set as winners of the inagural Eurovision Psych Contest. They finished well clear of Beaulieu Porch – flying the Union Jack – in second and The Sudden Death of Stars from France who finished third just ahead of Switzerland’s Balduin.
Thanks to everyone who voted. All the bands are great – unlike the real thing…
As you are very probably aware Eurovision hits our screens yet again this weekend and after of hours of listening to fluffy, camp pop drivel the continent’s nations then try outdo each other in some fantastic politically motivated polling.
In my book Sweden should pretty much always win. Not only because they have the best tunes, but every one loves those Swedes don’t they?
Anyway much more fun is this year’s inaugural Eurovision Psych Contest where space rockers, shoegazers and lysergic pop gymnasts from across the continent battle each other for this year’s award.
So without further ado here are the entrants for this year. I realty don’t give a fig if you vote for your own country, or even the one next to you. It is all down to you.
**Update** This is just a bit of fun and all the bands featured are excellent, so support them all. I will announce a winner on Saturday at about 10PM GMT. So you can vote until then.
Belgium - Bed Rugs – This is their new single Yawn from the excellent newly released album Rapids.
France – The Sudden Death Of Stars - Supernovae . Heavy on the sitar and smelly cheese from the Rennes based psychsters whose debut album soon on Ample Play is a wonderful stew of all things 60s.
Germany – Rockandys - Jungle In The Sky – Scary sounding gothic Psych from the Anton Newcombe approved band. I know they don’t all come from Germany, but do you really think this woman came from Luxembourg?
The Netherlands – Jacco Gardner – Chameleon – The Dutch Boy Wonder with one of many gems from his Cabinet Of Curiosities album
Spain – The Chemistry Set - Come Kiss Me Vibrate And Smile – Fine new-ish single from the Barcelona-based Anglo-Catalan band
Sweden – The Greek Theatre – Lost Out At Sea -Overprotection Doesn’t Work From the ace new album Lost Out At Sea
Switzerland – Balduin - My Love Soon – Gorgeous Symphonic pop from the Swiss fella.
UK – Beaulieu Porch – Anno Domini. The stand out track from Salisbury’s very own Mark Wirtz.
These are bleak and desperate times, people. We know this because we keep being told they are. As if the sight of increasingly vacant high streets, lengthening dole queues, a largely old Etonian government in Britain (run by “a pair of gay antique dealers”, according to Rich Hall) and Daft Punk recreating 1980s disco do not remind us.
Back in the 1980s, when things were last so bleak and desperate (increasingly vacant high streets, dole queues, old Etonian government run by a greengrocer’s daughter, Georgio Moroder blasting out of discos, as “clubs” were known, etc, etc) there were few truly erudite examples of the social and political zeitgeist captured, despite the actual agit-prop spirit of the times.
I would argue – but then I would – that The Specials’ Ghost Town, White Riot by The Clash or Weller’s Town Called Malice nailed it as good as any, though I still hold a candle for Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding (more about the Falklands than Thatcherite blight). There were well meaning protest organizations like Red Wedge, and Live Aid came along in the midst of the decade to shame us into giving up either what money we had, or the grotesque piles of it we were spending on pastel-shaded clothing.
And so it remains today. Thanks to the blandification of entertainment in general, no one is making a stand anymore. Now, this can be viewed as both bad and good. On the bad side, it seems that people seem to be accepting their fate and carrying on watching tripe reality shows featuring fame-hungry charlatans. On the good side, Sting has stopped writing curdled songs about Russian parents and Argentinian victims of human rights abuses, and trying to convince us that he actually gives a damn about coal mines being shut down.
When Bowie’s The Next Day came out of the blue to declare that a) The Dame was alive and b) He’s been reading the papers a lot, we were presented with his view of an imagined – but increasingly likely – dystopian future. Primal Scream have come along to something similar with their new album More Light, which shines a follow-spot on the dystopia of the present.
However, as with all Primal Scream records, don’t expect anything too deep. The lyrical legacies of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, even Springsteen’s take on the modern condition, are not under any recognisable threat. As we have grown used to with this band, More Light must be enjoyed at a relatively superficial level, i.e. whatever section of Bobby Gillespie’s vinyl record collection he has chosen to plunder this time. The result, by the way, is never bad. You just don’t want to get too involved in what he’s singing about.
As a lyricist, Gillespie has always been a great ex-drummer. The case for the prosecution stops with Exhibit 1A, m’lud, Rocks: “Dealers keep dealin’/Thieves keep thievin’/Whores keep whorin’/Junkies keep scorin’/Trade is on the meat rack/Strip joints full of hunchbacks/Bitches keep bitchin’/Clap keeps itchin’.”
Things haven’t improved much in ten years, if the nine-minute vibeout 2013 which kicks off More Light is anything to go by. It lays into modern Britain with well meaning, if slightly misappropriated venom, though it does make prescient references to the children of Thatcher’s heritage: “21st century slaves! A peasant underclass!”. Not exactly Shelley, but you get the point.
Removing 2013′s lyrical content from the equation, and letting the vocal simply become another instrument, it’s an impressive track, spread over an ambitious grandeur that mixes Middle Eastern brass with the chainsaw guitar of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. By its end you are left lacking any doubt that you have landed back on Planet Gillespie, in all that entails.
River Of Pain continues in the same dystopic vain, depicting a less than rosy domestic scene in which the drunken ‘Johnny’ (Gillespie’s stock character, you may have noticed…) who treats his lady ‘Susan’ like a punchbag, with a distinctly trippy sequence midway through the seven minute piece clearly representing a narcotic escape for one of them (replete with Beatle-esque psychedelia, a looped string sequence that reminds me of the intro to the Six Million Dollar Man theme music) before returning to a vibey Delta blues guitar riff and a sultry – and highly addictive – creeping undertrack.
If 2013 risks going down the route of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire by featuring a long list of cultural references, Culturecide walks even more awkwardly towards an attempted drive-by rapping that includes mention of the neutron bomb.
Perhaps it’s simply that “neutron bomb” scans well and has so many potential rhyming partners, but no two words annoy me more as a lyrical prop. In songs from artists as varied as Pearl Jam and UB40 (who managed to rhyme it with “Pentagon”), it’s lyrical inclusion has always made as much sense as anyone in a TV show feverishly hacking away at a computer keyboard when there is a perfectly serviceable mouse on the very same desk.
Anyway, back to the record, and a return to the Mount Florida estates of Gillespie’s native Glasgow with Tenement Kid, a bass-driven jazz-dub that paints a non-too-subtle picture of disaffected youth in the urban jungle of 21st century Britain. On Invisible City there’s a touch of latter day Bowie, with its grinding guitar intro and brassy chorus, while Sideman could easily have appeared on The Next Day. Indeed, the two albums share many common themes, though, sadly not the same degree of wordsmith dexterity as mastered by Bowie on his release.
If there’s one thing about More Light that sets it apart from almost anything else out there it’s the disparate directions Primal Scream move about the record in. Goodbye Johnny (yep, him again) bops along with a noirish swing before introducing a delightfully retro-King Curtis saxophone lead.
That the Primals have access to well-thumbed collections of vintage vinyl has never been in doubt, as the obvious Stones nods of Rocks and Country Girl generously demonstrated. More Light does open up the record cabinet a little wider, with Elimination Blues – featuring no less than Robert Plant and black-chick backing vocals – actually sounding like a song Plant might have easily recorded in his exploration of American roots. It’s also one of the most satisfying tracks on the album, with its pumping, looping bass and sweaty late night blues.
Be warned, however, when you reach the final track of the ‘regular’ version of More Light (the deluxe version contains an extra six songs). Because, if you’re British, you may be alarmed by the title It’s Alright It’s OK. Thankfully it is not the theme song to TV’s ‘light hearted’ crime series New Tricks, the one for which Dennis Waterman “writes da feem toon and sings da feem toon”, as Little Britain helpfully pointed out he does tend to do.
Thankfully, too, Primal Scream’s It’s Alright It’s OK is not in the same vein as its chirpy, postman-friendly counterpart. Instead, it is a truly uplifting return to the happy-clappy gospel vibe of Movin’ On Up, filching The Faces’ “Ooh-la-la” hook in the process to produce a song as reassuringly ‘up’ as the lyrical premise of 2013 was a dour reminder of just how bleak these times are.
Lyrics aside, More Light is a return to strength for the Primals after their disappointing Beautiful Future five years ago. Produced by David Holmes, the northern Irish DJ responsible for one of my favourite film soundtracks, Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, there is a warm intimacy to this album than anything Primal Scream have ever produced before. Thanks to Holmes, it is less of a basement recording and more of an upmarket loft apartment of a record. The edge is there (and Shields’ guitar plays a large part in that), but so is a more measured cocktail of the band’s obvious love of vintage sounds, and a newer, more innovative approach to making music. Just don’t listen too deeply to the words…
Quiet Loner is in fact the hugely talented Matt Hill who has released a series of excellent albums the latest of which, The Greedy Magicians is a passionate, politically charged suite of songs that has already got many incredible reviews.
Here is his list of other Quiet Loners
“He was a quiet loner who kept himself to himself”. So goes the media news reports as they explain the latest serial killer or lone gunman rampage, almost as if a withdrawal from society was reason enough to explain the murder and violence.
As a species we’re sociable creatures, so what about the ones amongst us who go their own way and won’t join in the party games? As the news reports show us, loners are feared, we are suspicious of them and we expect the worst from them. As a society we seem to find it hard to accept that someone might not want to belong.
In the last 30 years as we increase our knowledge of Autistic spectrum disorders like Aspergers Syndrome we offer up a medical model for some of the character traits and social awkwardness we often associate with loners. As if we fear it so much it is now something that needs to be “cured”.
Yet we also admire our loners. Author Tom Robbins thought them brave, he said “Courage is required to reject the secure blessings of society, in order to woo the unpredictable ecstasies of the solitary soul”. Loners say what the rest of us dare not to say. Their outsider status allows them to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. Or it would do if they would only come out of their bedsits and talk to us.
Here are my top ten loners
In cultures across the world from the frozen wastes of the Arctic circle, to the deserts of central Australia, to the lush rainforests of the Amazon, Shamen were the original outsiders. Their journeys to otherworlds, through the use of psychoactive plants, and their contact and dialogue with the ancestral dead, placed them apart yet also at the heart of those societies. They were relied on for advice, counsel and for healing the sick. These early loners were essential: Respected, feared and revered.
Bill Hicks (1961-1994)
American comedian Bill Hicks was one of the 20th century’s greatest artists. As a jobbing stand-up Hicks travelled relentlessly playing in small clubs to audiences that mostly failed to understand him. Increasingly Hicks came to see himself as an old Wild West gunslinger riding into town tackling fear and injustice and blowing away the bad guys. Hicks the loner railed against mainstream culture for it’s superficiality, mediocrity and banality, seeing these traits as oppressive tools of the ruling class designed to keep people stupid and apathetic.
Mark David Chapman (b 1955)
Having just fatally shot John Lennon and seemingly unaware of what he’d done Mark David Chapman calmly sat down on the pavement and staring reading his copy of Catcher in the Rye, patiently waiting for the police to arrive. And so Chapman became the archetypal “quiet loner” of the media. He didn’t fit in, we shunned him so he got bitter and killed our hero to spite us. The truth of what really happened to Chapman is a little more complex and remains elusive.
Greta Garbo (1905-1990)
According to a very knowledgeable friend of mine, patriarchy demands that women cannot be loners. The lone woman is feared as a witch or condemned as sexually predatory. No surprise then that the classic loner type is usually male. Yet occasionally there is a woman who bucks that trend. Swedish actress Greta Garbo was one. She is remembered for her famous line “I want to be alone” – so unusual and beguiling it became as famous as she was. Almost as soon after her career took off, Garbo became known as a recluse. And that mystery only made her more desirable. Throughout her lifetime she refused to do press interviews, she never signed autographs, she didn’t go to social functions and she never answered fan mail. The beautiful loner intrigues us.
James Bond (fictional)
Ian Fleming’s creation is a man who works alone. He has very little human contact outside of his work. He shuns company, seeks women purely for sex and is generally contemptuous of human beings. This makes him a great killer, and that’s what James Bond is – a hired killer. Yet despite his loner status we see rare glimpses of his humanity – his friendship with Felix Leiter, his admiration for M, and briefly his love for Tracy his wife. When Tracy is killed he becomes the loner again. Detached, cold and driven by his desire to avenge his wife’s death.
Brian Wilson (b 1942)
Brian Wilson is the classic artistic loner genius. At the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the sixties he refused to go on tour and had to be replaced by Glen Campbell. Increasingly paranoid and frightened by the world, Brian retreated to the studio where he wrote and recorded his masterpiece “Pet Sounds”. By the next album “Smile” in 1967 he had retreated even further – to a sandpit under his piano. He didn’t come out until the 1990s.
Travis Bickle (fictional)
Travis Bickle is Robert De Niro’s lead character in Martin Scorcese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. One of cinema’s most iconic characters, Bickle is a loner. A former Marine who served in Vietnam, Bickle has problems fitting back in to society. He is socially inept, and doesn’t have any friends. He takes a job as a night time taxi driver in dangerous neighborhoods where his customers are pimps, drug addicts, and thieves. He is disgusted by them, and begins fantasising about “cleansing” such “filth” from the streets. It can only end in tears.
Nick Drake (1948-1974)
Singer Nick Drake died tragically young after battling with depression for years. He didn’t tour much, he recorded very little and towards the end of his life retreated to his childhood bedroom at his parents home. And so Drake is often portrayed as a loner. His music has a wistful sad and indeed lonely quality to it. Yet friends speak of a gregarious and outgoing young man who was popular and sociable at school. Behind every loner cliché is a more complicated story.
Scott Walker (b.1943)
After a critical peak in the late sixties by the mid-seventies Scott Walker was back in caberet playing Working Men’s Clubs in the North of England. Then after 1978’s Nite Flights album he began a slow retreat into a period that saw him release only three albums over the next thirty years and earn himself a reputation as a Garbo-esque reclusive loner. More recently we have seen that this wasn’t quite what it seemed and that Walker is actually quite a sociable and funny man driven by his art but dismissive of mainstream pop culture.
Veronia Sawyer (fictional)
Portrayed by Winona Ryder in the 1989 film Heathers, Veronica Sawyer is your classic misunderstood teenager. She doesn’t fit in at a school where a powerful clique called “the Heathers” top the social pile. When she meets Christian Slater’s character J.D. she unwittingly gets embroiled in a spate of killings that spirals out of control and that only she can stop. Her loner status is assured when having witnessed Slater blow himself up with a suicide bomber belt, she walks to his smouldering remains and lights her cigarette on the flames and walks away alone.
Today we are celebrating Blur’s Modern life Is Rubbish – you’ll find out why in mo – one of the most brilliant and influential albums of the 90s. Here’s ten reasons why you should give it a spin tonight (and every night).
1 It has the most amazing image on the cover
That’s The Mallard, the art deco-esque train, coughs, Class A4 Locomotive, that was the fastest in the world at the time
2 It really was the album that made started to make Britain, and especially London, an incredible place to be in the 90s.
The early days of Brit Pop were incredible. And this album’s success inevitably made it easier for Pulp, Oasis, Elastica and, err Menswe@r to break through.
3 The brilliant B sides
This beautiful song inexplicably didn’t make the cut and ended up as the B side to Chemical World.
4 Those group photos
Remember this was a time when no one was wearing British clobber. No one else dressed like this in the early 90s.
5 It is partly responsible for finishing Grunge’s popularity in the UK
Grunge by then was well past its sell by date. Nirvana was one thing, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were another..
6 It kicked off the trend for those bonkers instrumentals that Blur are so good at
Intermission and Commercial Break were just the start
7 Without Modern Life there would be no Parklife
The fantastic reception the albums got was the catalyst for Blur to create Parklife, End Of A Century and especially this tune
8 It brought classic British songwriting back to the fore
This lot. But also The Jam, XTC, Teardrop Explodes, The Kinks, Bowie and this fella.
9 For Tomorrow’s video captures a moment in 1993 when to be young and living in London was like winning life’s lottery.
I am not sure if Damon intended it to be taken that way but it just exudes optimism.
Ok, so I know that some of you rate Bono as the most annoying man on the planet, that you thought that U2′s Glasto performance sucked and that their last few albums have been a little on the dull side. Here though are 10 reasons why you should stop being so cynical about U2.
1 The debut album Boy is brilliant
It is like Joy Division, but with stronger melodies. Peter Hook has even suggested that New Order would have sounded like U2 had the Irishmen not got there first.
2 They have worked with some interesting and influential people
Brian Eno, BB King, Daniel Lanois, even Frank Sinatra have worked with the band.
3 They re-invented the stadium rock gig
Their set designer Willie Williams is a genius. The set for the Zoo TV tour from 1992 was bonkers
4 That Live Aid gig
Admit it, they were among the best, if not the best band to pay in London that day. Yet even though they had a worldwide audience in the palm of their hand Bono still chose to spend much of their allotted slot pulling a girl from the audience. Their record company were probably having kittens
5 They are massive influence on a lot of your favourite bands
Hate U2, but love the atmospheric guitar and subtle melodies of Coldplay, The Arcade Fire and even The National. Well that lot all cribbed it from the band’s Unforgettable Fire album.
6 The Edge’s guitar sound
You hear it and you instantly know it is him. You can’t say that for many other guitarists.
7 They embraced American culture at a time when it was very uncool to do so
Calling an album the Joshua Tree and championing country music, was such a no no for European guitar bands in the 80s – U2 broke the mould.
8 Being a positive force in Ireland in the 80s
Let’s not forget that this was a band who had death threats from Republicans and abuse from Loyalists yet promoted messages of peace and reconciliation in a very difficult time
9 Bono did save the world – sort of
Lots of good things came out of the Gleneagles summit and Live 8 and Bono, along with Bob Geldof and Tony Blair, can take some of the credit. How can this not be a good thing?
There have been a few good songs about Heroin, but this is one of the very best.