sâmbătă, 22 ianuarie 2011

Tony Wilson 1950-2007

Anthony Howard Wilson died on Friday due to complications arising from the kidney cancer he had been battling for some time. As the founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda club in Manchester and manager of bands like A Certain Ratio and Durutti Column, he was linked to John Peel's Festive Fifty in more than a tangential way. He booked the Sex Pistols to appear on the second series of the Granada TV programme So It Goes (hmmm, name sounds familiar), thereby ensuring vital exposure for the fledgling punk scene: when he first saw them in concert, he described the experience as an epiphany.
He started a rumour that he signed Durutti Column and Joy Division in his own blood. Although not true, it has persisted to endemic proportions. FAC 13 (Transmission) was the first single released on Factory by the latter band, and established its dark, brooding but hypnotic and even danceable style (FF 1980 #10, 1981 #14, All Time 1982 #26, and All Time 2000 #28).

On Factory Records, every release had an FAC number, and this has led some fans to attempt to collect every item (rather difficult, when FAC 51 was the Hacienda itself, which was demolished in 1997, and FAC 259 was a staff Christmas party).
Joy Division metamorphosed into New Order, and it seemed that when Blue Monday took the charts and the club scene by storm, the future would be rosy. But Wilson was a socialist, not a hard-headed businessman. The Hacienda, although a mecca for the Manchester scene (and which led to Tony himself being dubbed 'Mr. Manchester' in recognition of his promotion of the scene), never made any money (reasons being that initially the bar was far too cheap, and later on the clubbers took ecstasy rather than booze). As he said, 'some people make money and some make history'. Another prescient signing was James, whose clipped urgent musical style and unique vocal delivery were evident from this early release on FAC 119 (Hymn From A Village, FF 1985 #28).

The Happy Mondays released their first single on Factory in 1985, and the scene based on them and their antics became known as 'Madchester'. Wrote For Luck (FAC 212, FF 1988 #48) took Shaun Ryder's witty, pungent lyrics and made them into a condemnation of false friends backed by a thumping beat.

But the writing was on the wall. In the 90s, the Hacienda and Factory both folded, and Wilson was left to face a condition that he couldn't even afford the drugs for. Musically, he left a huge legacy in the bands he saw a future in, and a slew of classic singles like this one (Electronic, Get The Message:FAC 287, FF 1991 #40):

The above band was a collaboration between Johnny Marr (The Smiths) and Bernard Sumner (New Order), and saw a fruitful commercial direction being followed (it also made the UK Top 10). However, it was all too late in the day for the label, and for Wilson. I remember him mainly for So It Goes (I only saw it briefly, due firstly to the fact that the first series was only broadcast in the Granada area, and secondly that it was on too bloody late) and introducing this:

Thanks for all of the above, Tony: we owe you one.

Class Of 83: The Lost Boys (And Girls)

In today's programme/post, I'm featuring three bands that all made the 1983 Festive Fifty: I was unable to get CDs of the songs, and so all recordings are taken directly from a recording of the original programme (but encoded at 320kbps because I love you all so much :-)).
Sophie and Peter Johnston are an electronic brother and sister duo from Newcastle of whom JP said 'wonderful...excellent...hearing them means as much to me as hearing Little Richard for the first time'. It has to be said that John was given to hyperbole about his favourite bands (but then again, aren't we all?), and even their website  admits that 'whether through bad luck, ill judgement or a combination of both, they failed to set the pop charts alight'. Notwithstanding, they seem to be in the process of making a new album, and are to be applauded for failing to give up, at least. Their site carries lots of samples and free downloads, including the studio version of 'Television/Satellite' (FF #37): the version I present is from their Peel session ('you've got to like this': JP).

The Luddites were one of the 'four best bands from Hull', the others being Everything But The Girl, the Housemartins and the Red Guitars, allegedly. They released the 'Strength Of Your Cry' E.P., made #36 in the Festive Fifty, and then vanished (although drummer Dave Stead defected to the Beautiful South).
The song is moody, and unusually takes nearly two minutes to get the vocals going (a la Joy Division), but makes a great noise in the process. However, it makes one regret that they never progressed in their career. View this Hull Special from The Tube and feel nostalgic for something else that is no more:

Finally, Tools You Can Trust were from Manchester, and seemed to worship Spear And Jackson in more than just the group name...there's all sorts of industrial clanging and banging and what sounds like fire extinguishers going off, making the vocals somewhat of secondary importance. One LP surfaced (Again Again Again), furthering their Throbbing Gristle/Cabaret Voltaire style, and then....nothing. However, enjoy the song's busy bassline and brave attempt at something new (FF #34). (P.S. On the original broadcast, the song is followed by John amusingly begging for more copies of it to send abroad!)

Pickin' The Blues, not picking your nose

Welcome to my mp3 blog. My name is Steve, and I hope to be your host for as long as I can keep posting downloads to work out my obsession.
My obsession is: John Peel's Festive 50.
It all goes back to an article I saw in Record Mirror, back in 1979. I was living in Chichester, and had moved from playing nothing but Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to the Clash and the Sex Pistols. The article published Peel's Festive 50s from 1976 and 1978 to show how much music had changed in the intervening years. There was music I had never heard of: Magazine? The Fall?? But something in me (probably the need to be collecting something, 'these fragments shored up against my ruins' as T.S. Eliot had it (yes, I had to do The Wasteland for English A-level)) found it intriguing.
Very quickly, obtaining all the tracks became something of a treasure hunt for me. Now, nearly 30 years on, my dream is near completion. Peel himself has, sadly, passed on: but this annual list has become some kind of urban folklore.
My journey, exploring the tracks one (or two) at a time, will, I hope, map out the lay of the land for us. The very first track is what Peel used as his signature tune for as long as I can remember. Grinderswitch (Festive 50, hereinafter FF, of 1976, , #27) were bad ol' southern boys, as you can see from the picture, taken from their website. They were made up of roadies for the Allman Brothers (of whom more anon), and came from Georgia. This track, unusually for a FF track, is instrumental, but there's some smokin' slide guitar in there.

The Greatest Record Ever Made

Peely said he pulled over to the side of the road and cried when he first heard Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. He included it in his Desert Island Discs list, adding that he would choose it above all the others he had chosen. It was the first record he ever played back to back without a break. The first line ("A teenage dream's so hard to beat") is engraved on his tombstone. In Peeling Back The Years, he told John Walters he believed it to be the one outstanding moment that punk had made possible.
So why did he hold it in such reverence?
Trying to listen to such a slab of pop history dispassionately is nigh impossible. Feargal Sharkey claims that they sent only Peel a copy in 1978. The opening snare/bass drum 4/8 time opening does not adequately prepare one for the chainsaw riff and pleading, high-pitched vocals that ensue. Arguably, the boys from Derry would make their bread and butter from energetic songs about adolescent yearnings (see the second download for more of the same), but this smacks of perfection. Unfussy yet clear production, 2 and a half minutes long, verse/chorus/verse/chorus...more would definitely be less. Part of a four-song EP, its roots in the Ramones' style are clear, and yet it sounds like nothing else. It reached #31 in the UK charts, 1978 FF #10, 1979 FF #2, 1980 FF #7, 1981 FF #6, All-Time FF 1982 #8 and finally #2 in the All-Time FF 2000.
Get Over You (1979 FF #12, 1980 FF #17, 1981 FF #20, and All-Time FF 1982 #20) only made #57 in the UK charts and the reasons for its relative failure are unclear. Some have attributed it to being overproduced: was it just that the public was unready for a retread of Kicks territory? However, the question is academic, since it was only their first record for Sire, and better times were coming. Have a butchers at the boys cutting up the latter song live:

Buy: Undertones, The Best Of The Undertones: Teenage Kicks