When One Step Beyond… came out in 1979 I was at the very height of an aversion to pop music, I was aware of two-tone and the ska revival because it was all around me. Cobham was full of these new skinheads, my friends and family dressed in smart black and white togs and pork pie hats. My reaction against this was extreme.
Over the following years I grew to appreciate a lot of the music and bands of that time (The Specials, The Selector particularly) but Madness appeared to be the quirky, syrupy, twee nonsense that I couldn’t stomach. They seemed too much of a “comedy band” and not serious about their music and this has meant that they are the band from that movement that I have continued to resist to the present day. Madness are one of the few bands that still have me reaching for the off switch.
But… they’re a London band with very London sensibilities and I’ve decided that for this reason they deserve a serious reassessment.
First shock is just how well I know this album, not only because of the singles but tracks like Land of Hope and Glory, In The Middle of the Night, and Bed and Breakfast Man. I guess growing up surrounded by this music meant that it reached me despite my resistance. It still wanders far too close to comedy too often (and Suggs’s vocal sometimes still rubs against me), but the good songs are surprisingly good and the arrangements and production are wonderfully rich.
I guess I’ll have to concede that my prejudice against Madness was a little unfounded – and, given the familiarity of this album, it has possibly been festering and growing when I really ought to have been ready to open up and embrace it. I’m ready now.
My Girl… is a treat:
Here’s Mike Barson talking about it:
Firstly it’s worth noting that this post was inspired by a short discussion I had with former Luna bassist Justin Harwood (on another former Luna bassist, Britta Phillips’ Facebook page) which says a fair amount right there about the subject of this post!
Secondly a disclaimer:
This is not a well researched think-piece, I am not an academic, I’m just a music fan with opinions. Some of those opinions are strong but often not fully- or clearly-formed – some are stupid, ill-thought-out or just plain wrong. This is just me rattling off some idle half-baked thoughts to get them out of my head and onto “paper.”
A post that Britta had made had developed into a discussion on the state of music and the noise/signal ratio in the modern age. Some of the comments were fairly negative in a fings-aint-wot-they-used-to-be kind of way, so I chipped in saying:
But isn’t it brilliant? Isn’t the fact that so many people have the means to make and distribute music? Think of all the brilliant musicians from the past who never made a note that anyone heard because they didn’t have the opportunity – now they do, they don’t need rich parents and/or bucketloads of luck (or even an impressive and unshakeable work ethic).
We have more noise but we also have greater facility facility for filtering that noise. […] Off course there are issues, but IMO as a listener/music-lover this is a golden age.
I think it’s far too easy to see the things as simply better in the old days, but there was a lot that is bad then and a lot that is much better now. Obviously there are still problems but like has always happened “the community” (music makers, music facilitators and fans) will find ways around them, and any new ones that crop up. Music makers will continue to make music because they have to, and fans will continue to make sure that music makers are able to continue to make music. It is in the interests of us all.
Justin replied making a fascinating remark on the fan/musician relationship that I have to admit had never occurred to me:
In “the old days” intrinsic value was added to music because it was like panning for gold. You would stay up and listen to Peel, or you would go to the store every tuesday morning and read what Everett True thought was worthy of his ears, or you had to wait until your brother was out to play his vinyl. Or you would go to Other Music, or Reckless Records with $50 in your pocket and have to make a decision.
That effort, that decision, that ownership, made the music a valuable commodity.
And as a former musician who worked hard to make some records, I can tell you an important part of the artist reward is the feeling that your fans have made an effort, have sort you out, made a choice, and maybe made a personal sacrifice to be one, by paying for the pleasure. They have YOUR records in in their LIMITED collection, and that is a privilege, pure and simple. Knowing they have had to make a choice and they chose you is a very motivating and satisfying thing. And it drives you on to make more.
When you scour for a bootleg you are looking for music / performance and since that is ultimately what drives musicians, it gives more weight to their existence.
My argument in reply was that the Internet is giving us new ways of rewarding artists, we are still “panning for gold” but it’s now on YouTube and blogs, on flickr and Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and with greater access to other fans, and directly to the musicians, we have resources that could not even have been dreamed of in the past. Some folk might look down on the fact that there is less of a barrier between musicians and fans but surely the fact that I can now tell a musician directly how important their music is to me, or how good it makes me feel, is surely a more satisfying “drive”?
From a fans perspective, I find it baffling that anyone would think this is anything else but a golden age. Things are moving so fast, the future is bafflingly uncertain, people are constantly trying to find new ways to make this work – whether it’s Kristin Hersh and her Strange Angels; a million bands toying to varying degrees of success with crowdfunding; artists giving their music away for free in the hopes that it will generate income in other ways; or “pay what you want” models that allow the fan to determine how much value they put in a piece of music (or in the potential for more music).
What to me is clear however is that the most important thing is is the relationship between the musician and the fan – I believe it’s more important now than it ever has been.
This is all written from the perspective of a fan. I have previously written on this subject ad nauseum:
But what am I supposed to do?
I am in control of my fanaticism
Being a fan
The end of the fan site?
Corporate Rock Sucks #21: Kristin Hersh breaks away
But for the story The Ring is a splendid film. It looks great (and the print on our DVD was a gem), it has plenty of Hitch pushing the edges of film-making. It has some fine acting from the three leads and lots of lovely character work from the support. It has a terrific party scene with dancing and ukuleles. Even the boxing scenes are brilliantly energetic and pretty convincing.
But unfortunately it has a rather dull, and frightfully predictable, love-triangle story wrapped around all of this greatness.
Lesson learned: Know who you’re up against
OK – just a quickie…
1: Flowers – Do What You Want, It’s What You Should Do (Fortuna Pop)
2: Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham (Sonic Cathedral)
3: Gulp – Season Sun (Sonic Cathedral)
4: Las Ligas Menores – Las Ligas Menores
5: Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – Chambers (Sonic Cathedral)
6: Yo La Tengo – Extra Painful (Matador)
1: Damon & Naomi at Cafe OTO – May
2: Dean Wareham at Islington Assmebly Hall – May
3: Indietracks – July
4: Flowers at St Pancras Old Church –
5: Kate Bush at Hammersmith Odeon – September
6: The Vacant Lots at The Social
1:These two – all year
5: Derbyshire/Indietracks – July
6: Sweet Charity (on the big screen) – August
On the back of Lone Star I decided I should have a poke around some Mexican music and opted to look for some Psych-rock, which led me to La Revolucion de Emiliano Zapata who put out a couple of rock albums in the early 70s before, apparently, wandering down more sedate paths.
I opted for their second LP, Hoy, that is a film soundtrack (La verdadera vocación de Magdalena) – my choice was made because my search for “Mexican psych music” brought me to this site where their second album was described as…
Their second lp with long tracks, lethal fuzz and some female vocals
… which was enough to tempt me in.
It’s a decent enough rock album, with some seventies soul thrown in by those “female vocals” – not great… maybe because I was hoping for something a little beyond the expected and this is mostly pretty typical 70s rock – with only occasional hints in instrumentation or arrangement to suggest that it could have been better.
Here’s an excerpt from the film with the band performing in it.
The whole film can be seen on YouTube… although sadly my Spanish isn’t up to it.
Here’s another clip with the band playing Otra Vez (Again) – the album version has a male vocal… but for the film the star Angelica Maria took the vocal
I loved the John Sayles films Matewan, and City of Hope, neither of which I’ve seen for probably 20 years (or more). In the early 90s (probably 92 or 93) I went with Hazel and some friends to a cinema in Richmond to see Sayles’ Passion Fish – quite early in the film I started feeling uncomfortable with the subject matter – or rather with what my head was trying to predict the film was going to be about. This happens occasionally – I’m a wuss and live in perpetual fear of my wussiness. I left. Hazel left with me.
I haven’t seen a Sayles film since, and haven’t ever seen the end of Passion Fish. I don’t think it was necessarily a decision to not see any of his films… more that it just happened that way.
At the weekend we sat down and watched the rather brilliant Lone Star. I had no idea what to expect (which was the problem I had with Passion Fish I guess), but was immediately sucked in by the atmosphere, by the music, by the photography, and mostly by a brilliantly told rumination on identity and history and borders. It shot right up amongst my favourite films (and there are very few (non-Jeunet) films from the last thirty years that are in that list).
The music was beautifully atmospheric – and while it seems wrong to pick out the white song it was nice to hear Lucinda Williams’ The Night’s Too Long playing on a bar jukebox
Here’s some Mexican/American music for balance
It’s hard not to love Robert Wyatt. In every interview he comes across as such a thouroughly nice bloke and I’m happy to assume that this is actually the case.
As I came out of my metal phase in the early 80s, and during the struggle to find a direction, I became aware of Robert. Firtsly, of course, thanks to the astounding Shipbuilding (arrived at via Costello of course) – I had a lovely gatefold 7″ of it, that I gave to a huge Costello fan I was friends with at work (sort of wish I hadn’t).
On the back of that discovery I picked up a copy of Rock Bottom at a record fair. But Rock Bottom, wasn’t an album to suck me in, I love it now but at the time I found it difficult, and it was filed away… and I headed towards indie-guitar music
Many years later an interview with Damon & Naomi where Damon sung the praises of Robert Wyatt (and Rock Bottom in particular) probably in 96 or 97, inspired me to pull out the album again (actually I had to buy myself a CD copy) and start finding more Robert to love.
Dondestan sort of passed me by, the mid-90s rediscovery coincided with Schleep and that and Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard pretty much filled my needs. This was an opportunity to fix that.
Of course I’ve been helped back into this by the lovely Unthanks who released a rather excellent half-an-album of Robert Wyatt covers, including the title track of Dondestan.
Here’s them covering Rock Bottom’s Sea Song (which they also released on their second album in 2007)
… and here’s Robert doing it in 2003
I just found this half finished blog post in my drafts, so I’ve popped in a few videos and published it as I found it
A step up from Downhill and a smoking performance from the lead, Easy Virtue is still far from a classic. Larita is in an unhappy marriage to a bullying and sneering husband and finds some happiness in the arms of a portrait painter who, in an ensuing altercation and fearing he has murdered Larita’s husband, tops himself. Larita is implicated in the divorce, heads to France to escape scandal… and takes up smoking… big time!
She then falls in love and marries a younger man but omits to tell him about her scandalous past and when he takes her home to meet his family things begin to unravel… and Larita takes further refuge in tobacco.
The cigarette shows, not how bad she is, but how bad she feels. She doesn’t start smoking until the south of France and her husband’s suspicious and unfriendly family drive her nicotine crazy. She’s clearly not a bad person at all – her first husband was a brute and her love for her second husband was genuine – perhaps a little honesty at the start of their relationship might have helped. But perhaps this is really a story of how damaging snobbery can be.
Lesson learned: Check out his family before you say “yes”