Monday, 15 February 2016

"Bowie-esque" - A Christmas Present

"We will be gods on nite flights..."

I recently organised a David Bowie tribute night for charity. I had a wild time dusting off my old RCA LPs and thinking about Bowie-flavoured music by other artists for my DJ set. Here are two mixes containing some of the tracks we played on the night, and some we forgot to.

Thanks for your company in 2011.


Download here

01. Magazine - The Thin Air
02. The Sea and Cake - Sound & Vision
03. Roxy Music - Both Ends Burning
04. The Walker Brothers - Nite Flights
05. Beck - Chemtrails
06. Psychedelic Furs - We Love You
07. Pop Levi - Blue Honey
08. Iggy Pop - China Girl
09. Suede - Europe Is Our Playground
10. Pat Metheney & David Bowie - This Is Not America (Instrumental)
11. Japan - Quiet Life
12. Neu! - Hero
13. Vince Taylor And His Playboys - Brand New Cadillac
14. Talking Heads - Memories Can't Wait
15. Philip Glass - V2 Schneider
16. Angelo Badalamenti & David Bowie -A Foggy Day


Download here

01. Sebastian Tellier - Fantino
02. T. Rex - Cosmic Dancer
03. Blur - Strange News from Another Star
04. Brian Eno - Dead Finks Don't Talk
05. Jobriath - World Without End
06. Luther Vandross - Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)
07. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
08. The Emperor Machine - Repetition
09. Tobor Experiment Disco Experience - Station To Station
10. David Bowie - When The Boys Come Marching Home
11. Brian Eno and John Cale - Spinning Away
12. Carla Bruni - Absolute Beginners
13. Brian Eno - I'll Come Running
14. Warpaint - Ashes to Ashes
15. David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust (Studio Instrumental)
16. Velvet Underground - Rock & Roll

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Original Sin

"Dream on white boy
Dream on black girl
And wake up to a brand new day
To find your dreams have washed away..."

I've always had a thing for PROPER rock stars. FRONT men. High kickers, mike stand frottagers, the leather-waistcoat-no-shirt fraternity. Men who can prance down stadium catwalks like coke-eyed gazelles, dampening the crotches of onlookers, unconquerable, hair flailing. I don't want irony. I don't want knowing smirks. I don't want 'Hello Mum. It's me. Your son. It's Robbie'. I want Jim Morrison. I want 'Songs of Faith and Devotion'-era Dave Gahan. And sometimes, most of all, I want Hutchence.

'Original Sin', released in 1983, was written by Michael Hutchence and Andrew Fariss and is one of the great INXS singles. It was a massive hit worldwide - their first Australian number one - and every synthetic snare and tight little guitar lick in it screams 'produced by Nile Rodgers'. A pop match made in heaven.

Andrew Farriss remembers recording with Nile:

"We were fresh off the road. So we had the basic song completed and we'd been playing it live in the set. He was talking to us through the headphones, kind of saying things that were meant to encourage us, and we figured he was just getting levels and stuff on the whole band playing together, but after we'd run it down a couple of times he said 'OK, come in and have a listen'. We went in and the control room was sort of full of people dancing. Apart from adding background vocals [which were by Darryl Hall] and the sax solo, we were finished. We didn't even know he was recording."

Nile Rodgers is doing an In Conversation with Dave Haslam this Friday at the Zion Centre in Manchester. I'll be the one on the front row biting my fist with excitement.

Monday, 24 October 2011


"I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer
I spat out Plath and Pinter..."

A fortnight ago, whilst working my second to last ever shift on the counter at Piccadilly Records, I was rendered flustered and giggly by the sudden appearance of James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire from Manic Street Preachers. They were in Manchester, it transpired, to perform a secret gig at Night and Day Café. I haven’t listened to the Manics for years, but seeing them up close and personal in the record shop environment made me ponder the influence of their music on my teenage years.

When 'Generation Terrorists' first came out in 1992, I was still, at fourteen, an enthusiastic attendee of my local Free Methodist bible group. I was troubled by all the usual teenage questions about evolution, mortality and morality, and persuaded, for a time, by the adults around me, that the answers could be found, if not in the dense and bloody Old Testament, then certainly in the eminently accessible, and rather funky, New. When, one Sunday, my bible group leader - a not unlikeable lad in his early thirties - pulled out a copy of 'Generation Terrorists' and cited it as an example of all that was wrong and evil in the world, I felt spasms of both shame and excitement. My sister owned the record and we'd been playing it for weeks.

Trying to work out how you really feel about things as a teenager is like starring in your own complex and slightly hallucinogenic detective story. You pull in clues from all manner of sources, to compare, contrast, reject. You believe what you think you ought to until you can't any more. On the one hand I had the fluffy platitudes of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still water”), which made Christianity sound like a really nice day out in The Lakes, and on the other I had the Sylvia Plath quotation from the back of the 'Motorcycle Emptiness' twelve inch: “I talk to God but the sky is empty” - a much more accurate description of what I was actually experiencing.

Thinking that Plath may be able to shed some light on the matter, I went to Waterstone’s one day and picked out 'Ariel', a slim volume - the only one I could afford - and immersed myself in it for weeks. Not the frothiest of reads, it has to be said. And not much help on the God front. But that's what the Manics did. They forced you to investigate. Richey and Nicky spewed out reference points incoherently and indiscriminately, like cultural muck-spreaders, inviting their fans to work it out for themselves. It seemed like they were desperate to tell us something, but what?

Pre-internet it wasn't easy to track down all those writers, those thinkers, those mysterious mind-shapers. Trips to the library were all part of the detective work: “Thus I progressed on the surface of life, in the realm of words, as it were, never in reality.” (Camus/'Love's Sweet Exile' sleeve.)

We got Henry Miller inside the ‘Generation Terrorists’ sleeve: “The tragedy of it is that nobody sees the look of desperation on my face. Thousands and thousands of us, and we're passing one another without a look of recognition.” (I won't forget reading 'Quiet Days In Clichy' under the duvet in a hurry.)

We got Marlon Brando: “The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalised, develop scabs, never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much.” ('Motorcycle Emptiness' sleeve)

We got Ballard: “I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror.” ('Mausoleum' sample)

The work of all of these people, and many more, became familiar to me through the Manics. Their music inspired my jubilant descent into atheism and its attendant vices - an experience entirely comparable, I suspect, to being Born Again, and one for which I shall forever be grateful.

(The Manics perform 'Faster' on TOTP - watch out for Vic and Bob)

In terms of actual songs, for me, 'Faster' is the Manics' best – as lean as they ever sounded, stripped of the pop metal excesses of their previous albums, but still angry as fuck. The sample at the beginning is John Hurt in '1984': "I hate purity, I hate goodness, I don't want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt." I love JDB's guitar solo, which pops up unexpectedly in the last minute of the song, so waspish and wonky. In an interview, the band said they'd been listening to Magazine, Wire and Gang of Four. You can tell.

On June 9th 1994, the Manics opened Top Of The Pops with an incendiary performance of 'Faster'. At the time they were wearing a lot of military gear, in tribute, they said, to The Clash. JDB was sporting a paramilitary-style balaclava with JAMES sewn on it. He looked like he'd been working out. Many viewers felt the band were aligning themselves with the IRA. The BBC received 25,000 complaints.

Four months later I saw the boys play Manchester Academy. They'd covered the venue in camouflage netting and were still in their army and navy shop fatigues. They came on to a ricocheting loop of the last phrase in 'Faster': “So damn easy to cave in! Man kills everything!” It was a powerful gig. Loud, mean, genuinely unsettling. Richey was there. Rake thin, of course, naked from the waist up, hanging over his upturned mike stand like the original James Dean in 'Giant'.

Another four months on and he was gone, leaving behind a second ‘Holy Bible’ for me to pore over. With themes including prostitution, American consumerism, fascism, the Holocaust, self-starvation and suicide, it proved only slightly less punishing than the first.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Hungry Heart

"I took a wrong turn and I never came back..."

Last night I was working with one of my favourite bartenders, Abby- a vision in hi-sheen leggings and heels - who keeps me going through the red-eye shifts with her encouraging grins and impassioned requests ("I fucking love Foreigner!"). She has a large autograph-style tattoo on her forearm that reads You Can't Start A Fire Without A Spark. Needless to say, she is an absolute Springsteen die-hard.

To be honest, I barely noticed The Boss until recently. Yeah, there's this earnest bloke who has forged an entire career out of sweating profusely in a lumberjack shirt. Yep, his song 'Born In The U.S.A.' was misunderstood the world over. Yeah, he made a rekkid called 'Nebraska' but who gives a shit? I couldn't even be frigged to shamble past the Pyramid stage during his fourteen-hour set at Glastonbury.

But then I remembered 'Hungry Heart'. I don't know why I know that track so well. Originally released in 1980, it was re-issued in '95, which must have been one of those I-have-absolutely-nothing-in-my-life-apart-from-the-Top-40 years. It's got a Motown-style tom/snare/tom intro fill that I adore (an almost identical one can be heard at the beginning of Charles and Eddie's 'Would I Lie To You?') and is as predictable as pie from thereon in. Make no mistake, we all know every turn 'Hungry Heart' is going to take before Bruce even gets behind behind the wheel. But fuck, fuck, FUCK, it's good. From that virile howl in the opening moments (YEAAH!) to the horribly optimistic jump to E flat for the organ solo, this song says: why let a ransacked heart stop you punching the doggone air?

The first time I played it out at the aforementioned bar something strange happened. There was an audible whoop of recognition from the crowd and then people started getting up on tables. Seriously. The whole night moved up a gear. I could hear the joyous sound of punters singing over the system. A middle-aged man pushed his way through the mêlée, sweating as though in tribute to The Boss himself, and bawled, "I haven't heard this record out for twenty years, love! Right, guess how many times I've seen him play? Guess. No. Guess. Guess! Thirty-bleedin'-two. Thirty two times, I've seen him, yeah." * Then Abby shimmied over with a brimming pint to exacerbate my bafflement and told me the song was originally written for The Ramones in '79.

A later glance at Wikipedia revealed this was indeed the case. Apparently, Jon Landau, Springsteen's manager, put paid to the collaboration back then - he was still sore about 'Because The Night' going to Patti Smith. John Lennon was said to be a fan of the song, commenting on the day of his death (allegedly) that it reminded him of 'Just Like (Startin'Over)'.

A last tune of mine for a while now, 'Hungry Heart' has taken on the quality of a melancholy TV theme. Time at the bar, credits rolling, the end. It's often ringing in my ears as I fight for a taxi, or wait, impatiently, for sleep. I got bossed in the end.

Funny ol' game.

*For film buffs, this incident was oddly reminiscent of Fred Willard's 'bench press' scene in 'Best In Show'.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Virginia Plain (Headman Re-Work)

"Havana sound we're trying hard edge the hipster jiving
Last picture show's down the drive-in..."

Always had a soft spot for this Headman re-work, which seems to take its inspiration from Roxy's unforgettable 1972 TOTP performance. Sadly, my lovely 180 gram seven inch is as warped as a David Lynch screening in an Early Learning Centre.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Ghost Trains

"A plane made of paper
Struck by the light
Circled forever
Over the city at night
Like a movie
Like a song
How it should be
Being young..."

An exercise in space and restraint, a pretty desolate record. Track one on a compilation I'm putting together of songs to listen to on railway platforms at dusk. Morgan Geist on the knobs and faders.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby (Extended)

"Today I am remembering the time
When they pulled me back and held me down
And looked me in the eyes and said,
You just haven't earned it yet, baby..."

A rare version of Kirsty's Smiths cover (released as the B-Side to 'Free World' and for the 'She's Having A Baby' OST). It includes an extra verse at the start.

I love the way Kirsty's dazzling harmonies dance effortlessly around Johnny Marr's riffs in the climactic multi-layered outro (2:40 onwards).

Marr once described Kirsty as having "the wit of Ray Davies and the harmonic invention of the Beach Boys. Only cooler."

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Station to Station

"It's not the side effects of the cocaine
I'm thinking that it must be love..."

'Station to Station'. It's so good, I almost don't want to talk about it. Like a dark but pleasurable secret that you strain to keep, or a slowly spreading bruise that you can't stop pressing, it's hard to resist the ominous plod of those opening seconds. The distant whistle of a train, the sound of Earl Slick torturing his guitar with an E-bow. This is how The Thin White Duke is introduced. And when he finally does sing, the words just leak out of him. Malevolent, exhausted, horny. I am often reminded of an Angie Bowie quote I read years ago: "The guy could poke a hole in a wall".

'Station to Station', at 10:14, is the longest track in the Bowie catalogue, but it's too artfully structured to ever get boring or indulgent. The band, Dennis Davis (Roy Ayers' drummer), George Murray (bass) and Carlos Alomar (rhythm guitar), are masterful at bringing order, movement and punctuation to Bowie's flights of fancy. So, at 5:17, just as our heartbeats are beginning to slow, a typically delicious tom fill announces the second, more uptempo section of the song. I love that refrain, 'It's too late to be hateful! It's too late to be late again!' and the edge of hysteria that creeps into Bowie's voice when he sings it. So much going on. The post-'Young Americans' locked-in funk, Roy Bittan's E-Street-style bar room piano, Earl and Carlos: fretboards at dawn. And poor Dave, losing his grip on reality, surviving on 'red peppers, cocaine and milk', frightened of his own stage creation - 'a hollow man who sings songs of romance with an agonised intensity while feeling nothing'. Quite a melting pot.

There have been a few Bowie covers flying around recently that have pricked up my ears. First there was the Mascara version of 'Golden Years' from 1979, dug out and re-issued on a seven by Homophono. Next there was the slightly pointless David Bowie vs KCRW 12" of 'Golden Years' remixes, and then, more recently, there was the Tobor Experiment cover of 'Station To Station'. None hold a candle to the Duke himself, of course, but I like the way Giorgio Sancristoforo has reworked 'Station to Station'. You can feel his love for the song. It's a pretty rendition, wistful and vibey and sung in a strong Italian accent.

But maybe you're best sticking with the 3xLP, 5xCD box set re-issue of the 'Station to Station' album itself - a 'fantastic voyage' of bootlegs and remasters, all yours for the price of two grams of Peruvian flake, and no nosebleed in the morning.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Slow (Extended Mix)

"You know what I'm saying
And I haven't said a thing
Keep the record playing..."

Bursting out of my speakers on this mercifully sunny afternoon, Kylie Minogue's 'Slow' sounds every bit as seductive and extreme as it did on its release date eight years ago this November. A peerless pop production then and now, 'Slow' was masterminded by engineer Dan Carey (The Kills, Hot Chip), Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini and, of course, the former Ms Charlene Mitchell herself.

As with lots of the landmark pop tracks I blog about, I can remember the first time I heard it - after hours in the basement of the record shop where I worked, the extended mix played off a white label. It wound its way around me, gave me no choice. It's one of those records that draws the listener in with what it leaves out. A real statement.

Tricky to pull off live (in my view), 'Slow' is all about the studio. It's a lesson in stealth and minimalism: the dryest of dry rhythm tracks, the merest hint of a synth riff, that four-note bassline - simplicity itself. Then there's Kylie, of course, all close-miked and conspiratorial, murmuring something rather promising about her 'body language'.

It's testament to the quality of the production that Michael Mayer, co-owner of Cologne's famed techno label Kompakt, was moved to cover 'Slow' in 2005. But even he could not compete with the purity of the original. His version didn't really work. Why?

Because Kylie wasn't on it.

'Slow', for me, belongs at the centre of an imagined 'Venn Diagram of Ace Pop': the place where the experiments and extremities of the underground collide with the lavish sex appeal, star quality and accessibility of the mainstream. It's one of my favourite places to spend time. Click here, here or here for more details.

Baillie Walsh, director of the 'Slow' video, contributed further to the atmosphere of the track with his highly stylised aerially shot film of poolside bathers shifting on their towels in mellifluous synchrony. Kylie's right where she should be, working it at the centre, 'best dress on' (just).

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Saturday 27th August - The Deaf Institute


August Bank Holiday's Pop 'Til You Drop sees Danielle Moore (Crazy P) and Abigail Ward (Fist of Pop) return to the Music Hall for another night of classy pop decadence under the mirror ball, whilst downstairs Pasta Paul serves up a fresh pan of al dente indie and future pop, washed down with cheap Absolut cocktails.

Firm, but not hard.

28 August 2011
The Deaf Institute
135 Grosvenor Street
Manchester, United Kingdom

£5.00 in::: 10pm - 3am ::: all three floors

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Slow Pop for Sultry Nights - A Mix

I really enjoyed playing the bar at Pop 'Til You Drop last Saturday. It was great to dig through all my slow jams and extended mixes. Here's a little blend of some of the stuff I chose.

For Steven, forever in his dressing gown...

Listen above or download here.

01. The Korgis - Everbody's Got To Learn Sometimes (Instrumental)
02. Yello - Of Course I'm Lying
03. Dusty Springfield - Nothing Has Been Proved (Dance Mix)
04. Sade - No Ordinary Love (Full Length Version)
05. The Eagles - I Can't Tell You Why
06. The Mythical Beasts - Communicate
07. Maxwell - Everwanting: To Want You To Want
08. Rossoulano - Friends In Lo PLaces
09. Lalomie Washburn - Try My Love
10. Kylie Minogue - Confide In Me
11. Feist - One Evening
12. Bryan Ferry - Which Way To Turn
13. The Flaming Lips - Sleeping On The Roof
14. Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing (Alternate 12" Instrumental)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

No Ordinary Love

"I gave you all the love I got
I gave you more than I could give..."

Pop 'Til You Drop, sultry summer warm-up vibes.

This is dedicated to anyone who'd forgotten that once, many years ago, there lived a beautiful mermaid called Helen Folasade Adu.

She wrote lots of great songs about cool guys and sold over fifty million records.

In the late nineties, following a career hiatus, rumours abounded that the notoriously private songstress had a heroin habit.

I doubt any hit, however pure, could ever be as good as 'No Ordinary Love'.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy Winehouse 1983 - 2011

"We only said goodbye with words...."

I used to love watching Popworld on a Sunday morning - the Simon and Mikita years - early on when Amstell was still playing by the rules, but only just. I remember seeing an interview with newcomer Amy Winehouse. She was charming (that accent!), still quite curvaceous and tattoo-free. I took to her immediately and bought the debut album, but as she admitted herself, it was 'only 80% there'.

When I first saw the video for 'Rehab' featuring the Dap-Kings gamely jamming along in their pyjamas I knew she'd cracked it. I played the 'Back To Black' album to death that year (2006), and it's not left my DJ bag for long since. It's interesting to look at the writing credits for both records. 'Frank' is co-written for the most part, with multiple contributors, in what looks like a 'write a word/take a third' vibe, but by 'Back To Black' Amy had seized control as principal songwriter. It annoys me that so few people seem to comment on how striking and vivid her lyricism was. That line, he left no time to regret/kept his dick wet/with his same old safe bet, gets me every time. Whilst I'm fond of Sharon Jones's work with the Dap-Kings, there isn't a song in her entire back catalogue that contains a couplet like that.

Another thing about 'Back To Black' is Amy's phrasing. I love the way she leans on the timing on we only *said* goodbye with words. She must have been, what? twenty-two, three when she was recording that. I can think of plenty of jazz legends that didn't reach that level of weary couldn't-give-a-fuck-ness 'til their forties.

The Winehouse sense of humour was as underrated as her lyricism. There was the moment in a later Popworld broadcast when footage of Lesley Joseph in 'Birds of A Feather' was interspersed with Amy shouting 'MUUUUUUUUM!' . Or her description of the work of Dido as 'the background music to a death' springs to mind.

I saw Amy play at the Academy in '07. It was fantastic. I also saw her at Glastonbury the same year. I can remember getting myself a good spot, all zipped up in my waterproofs with just my trusty hip flask for company, rain drops dripping off the end of my nose. As soon as she hit the stage her unique presence and warmth enveloped me as persuasively as the whisky. A real Glasto moment.

'So now the final frame'.


Monday, 11 July 2011


"We must live each day like it's the last..."

On July 30th - the date of our next Pop 'Til You Drop party - it will be exactly nineteen years since I saw Michael Jackson perform at Wembley Stadium as part of his 'Dangerous' tour.

The memories are indelible. It was an incredibly hot day. My friend fainted and I was sick before MJ even came on, due in no small part, I'm sure, to the double-whammy assault of support acts Kriss Kross and Rozalla.

Michael's characteristically muted entrance involved him being catapulted upwards out of a trapdoor centre-stage, following a blast of 'Carmina Burana'. He stood motionless for some minutes (too many, I remember thinking) while we all screamed our throats raw. And then 'Jam' kicked in. Teddy Riley's granite-hard beats were like blows to my vital organs.

The rap in 'Jam' is performed by Heavy D, who, Wikipedia informs me, is now a 'reggae-fusion' artist. Rap middle eights, especially very poor ones, are a source of fascination to me - my Mastermind subject, if you like. So those attending on the 30th would be advised to brace themselves if I am spotted picking up the mike. To complete the tribute I will also be leaving the stage at Deaf by jet pack, via a skylight, dressed as an astronaut. Go with it! Go with it! Jam!

Monday, 4 July 2011


"I brought my baby home,
She sat around forlorn..."

Watch TOTP dance troupe Ruby Flipper wrapping their legs round Bowie's 'TVC15'.

Incredible shenanigans.

Taken from the amazing One For The Dads blog.

Thanks, as always, to the eagle-eyed JSZ.