Sunday, September 23, 2007

Here Are The Young Men

21st October 1979.

Not a day that is burned into many people's consciousness, indeed I had to look up the actual date myself, but in a life that's been littered with bad decisions, that was the day I made one of my worst.

Picture the scene. A grey autumn night in Sheffield. A row with the then girlfriend had put me in a foul mood, the sort of mood that needs a few pints to put right. Having those few pints sat in a pub in town with a few mates, we had a decision to make. We had tickets to see Buzzcocks at the Top Rank we have a few more beers in the pub, or do we get ourselves off and catch the support? Sod it, we're settled, get the ales in.

So we missed the support band. Not normally a big deal, except tonight the support band was Joy Division. They never came back to Sheffield, and I never got to see them.

As it was, I came to Joy Division quite late. Probably early 1980, I picked up a copy of 'Transmission' and thought yeah, this lot are worth watching out for...but then it all ended suddenly and all too abruptly, on 18 May 1980.

All that remains is Joy Division's recorded legacy - Two studio albums followed by a number of attempts to sweep up the remaining odds and sods through compilations and box sets.

The two studio albums - Unknown Pleasures and Closer - and the initial posthumous collection of unreleased and live material - Still - have just been re-released as collectors' editions, each paired with live recordings from different stages in the band's career.

Much has been written about Unknown Pleasures and I can't help but echo much of what has already been said. For me, no other album is so evocative of the time and place in which it was made - whilst remaining completely and utterly timeless. Again much has been written about Martin Hannett's role in forming the sound of the album and it is interesting, in the fascinating articles that accompany each album, to read just how much tension there was between the group and the producer and, to this day, to read about the level of dissatisfaction the group still has with the final sound of the album. Grudging acceptance that Hannett might just have been right is as good as it gets! Anyway, what do the band know. What I know is that this is, for me, unquestionably the finest debut album ever recorded and maybe one of the finest albums ever made, period.

Closer is, if anything, a better album than its predecessor, but one that is inevitably interpreted in the context of Ian Curtis's death - the lyrics, mood of the album and (most obviously) the cover design all point, if you are so minded, to Curtis's impending death. To my mind this is a lazy way to view the album - Curtis was very much alive while the album was being recorded and had a hand in the choice of cover. Who really knows what his state of mind was at the time? It is impossible to listen to Closer without the benefit (curse?) of hindsight but, if you try to remove that context and hear it solely on its merits as a body of music, it still has the power to move and uplift. Reflective and sombre, without being miserable or self-pitying, the album has depths that allow it to sound fresh nearly thirty years on.

Still inevitably suffers by comparison with its two predecessors, and for the omission of the non-album singles and the majestic 'Atmosphere', which would have been better use of the vinyl originally taken by a sloppy live cover of 'Sister Ray'. The studio tracks that were included, however, do not dilute the group's legacy and in certain cases actually enhance it. The live concert included with the original release has historical significance as the group's last concert, but it is not the finest gig the group played.

All three concerts included with the re-releases do go some way to demonstrate the claims of Sumner and Hook that they were a far better live band than they were in the studio but from where I'm sat, nothing they produced live comes anywhere near to the majesty of their two studio masterpieces.

But then, what do I know? I never saw them live.

John Butler Trio

So last Wednesday night it was off to the Carling in Liverpool to see the John Butler Trio, who were making a brief visit to the UK as part of the 'Grand National' tour. Makes Liverpool an obvious place to visit really (Grand National - Aintree - do you see? Ah well).

Can't say I went into the gig as a massive fan. Son number 2 - generally an excellent judge of these things - saw them first at Glastonbury 2005, and had told me how good they were so I'd picked up a few CDs that I'd played intermittently but not really given them the attention they deserved. That said, I'd liked what I'd heard so was really looking forward to seeing the band up close.

Didn't know what to expect in terms of the crowd - whilst they are relatively rare visitors to these shores, the trio don't seem to be that high up the critical radar. Mind you, the country is crawling with expatriate Aussies, so maybe the ranks of visiting supporters would swell the ranks. As it was, the band were performing in the main Academy, which was probably 3/4 full of a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd. One or two Aussie twangs in evidence, but mostly home supporters of variable age and sex.

First up was Kaki King, an American guitaress playing solo. Technically she was absolutely fantastic, but it lacked a bit of passion for me - all a bit soulless. The crowd were polite but distant and the constant undercurrent of chatter didn't help the music cut through. Nice support but don't think I'll be rushing down to Fopp anytime soon.

Anyway, check Kaki out at

To the strains of Nina Simone's 'Feeling Good', the trio strolled out to a warm reception at around half eight. Then proceeded to play their socks off for the next two and a half hours - time that seemed to pass by in minutes. I can't remember the last time I went to a concert that lasted that long - if you get an hour and a half from the headliner you seem to be doing well. The passion so missing from the support flowed out of every pore of the Trio, the quality of the musicianship was phenomenal and the sheer joy of being there, performing, was self-evident. The pacing of the show was spot on, and the time just flew by. Many highlights, including a passionate and flawless 'Ocean' played solo by JB. Oh, and we had a bass solo. And a drum solo. Involving the use of hands as well as drumsticks, a la Bonham circa 1975. There was a time (around 1977) when I would have sneered at the drum solo but I loved it.

I wish I could describe the music to you but it defies categorisation. 'Roots' is as near as I can get, with a hint of folk and reggae in there, but that sells it short. All I can suggest is that you hear the trio for yourself. Go to and listen/download. From there go to and download one of the many live shows that are there - JBT is one of those fine groups that encourage taping of live shows and there are many that you can (legally) download and enjoy.

And enjoy you will, I'm sure.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The other best song written about Liverpool...

...etc etc, is of course 'Heart as Big as Liverpool' by The Mighty Wah!, one of Pete Wylie's various alter egos (and variations on the Wah! theme) and one of the great anthems connected with the 'pool (has any other UK city had so many great songs written about it?). Despite the red shower over the park adopting it for themselves, I refuse to let the song be associated with them (unlike that dirge from Carousel, which they're welcome to). For me, it encapsulates all that's good about 'Merseypride' and is free of the victim, us against the world mentality that we are often accused of.

God bless Peter Wylie, as Mr Prowse once said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?

The best song written about Liverpool since Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever.

I can bore the arse off anyone talking about Amsterdam but I don't care. Ian Prowse is one of the best, most genuine musicians ever to come out of Merseyside and is a truly lovely, nice guy to boot. It is a crime that he is not embraced by the world when gimps like Blunt, Martin and Chaplin are treated like rock aristocracy - none of them are fit to tune his guitar.

A live Amsterdam CD is out imminently - buy it now. The new studio album will be out in the New Year - seek it out and cherish it. (Feels Like) Growin' Up will melt your heart. But 'Does This Train...' will break it.

McKenzie's soul lies above the ground in that
pyramid near Maryland (Street)

Easyjet is hanging in the air
takin' everyone to everywhere

See the slave ships sailing into port
the blood of Africa is on every wall

Now there's a ley line runs down Mathew Street
it's giving energy to all it meets

Hey does this train stop
does this train stop on Merseyside?

Alan Williams in the Marlboro' Arms
giving his story out to everyone

Famine boats are anchored in the bay
bringing in the poor and desperate

Hey does this train stop
does this train stop on Merseyside?

Boston babies bouncing on the ground
The Riggers beamin' out to every town

Can't conceive what those children done
guess there's a meanness in the soul of man

Yorkshire policemen chat with folded arms
while people try and save their fellow fans

Why don't you remember?

Why indeed. Remember. Remember the 96. Remember little Jamie. Remember Rhys and Madeline. Remember.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Major reappraisal needed

I gave up on the Stones sometime back in the late '70's/early '80's, not long after Some Girls, and in the context of the 'year zero' mood that surrounded the birth of punk - why did I need the Stones in my life when I had The Clash?

Why indeed? To be fair to myself, the Stones didn't help themselves - apart from the odd track here and there, there was nothing coming out of Rolling Stones Records to make me think my view of them was fundamentally flawed. And yet...

Back in the '60's, I was a Beatles boy. No surprise really - growing up on Merseyside, left-handed and called Paul, there could only ever be one band for me. And the Stones were a bit dirty and smelly anyway. But then the '60's turned into the '70's, The Beatles were no more, and Sticky Fingers and Exile... began to make an impression on me. I remember buying Tumbling Dice on its release and playing it to death - despite being unable to make out a word Jagger was singing. Still can't, for that matter.

But it seemed like things were winding down for the Stones. I bought Goat's Head Soup, which was good (but not great), as was It's Only Rock 'n' Roll. Black and Blue was pretty average, and it started to go downhill from there. Some Girls upped the ante for a while, but was in hindsight a bit of a 'dead cat bounce'. And anyway, the world had moved on.

So that was that, really. but recently I chanced across a few bootlegs on t'internet from the golden era and thought, actually, they weren't a bad little band, really. On the back of that, I shelled out for the 'Biggest Bang' DVD set and.....well....they've still got it really, haven't they? Probably never lost it.

When you've been around for 40-odd years, you're going to have built up a bit of a back catalogue and by Christ, what a catalogue! But what really impresses is the energy and passion that still drives the live show. On DVD the sheer spectacle is inevitably scaled down, but this is a good thing, because what comes through is the actual tightness of the band - especially Charlie and Keef - and if I look half as good as Jagger when I'm his age, well, I'll be doing alright.

So - 40-odd years live band on the planet? Yes, the old gits probably still are. So much for me dismissing them as rock dinosaurs/boring old farts thirty years ago!

Sorry chaps - you were right, I was wrong.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Anthony H Wilson

Being born and bred in Granadaland, I grew up knowing Tony Wilson through the seventies as the slightly edgy but essentially straight reporter on Granada Reports, the local news 'magazine' show on after the national news at six. The first time I realised he had any interest in music was in 1975, when I spotted him at a Who gig at Manchester Belle Vue strolling in like he owned the place. As 1976 turned into 1977 Tony slowly began to subvert the local news through his presentation of the 'What's On' slot on Granada reports, beginning to highlight gigs by the new 'punk' and new wave bands and occasionally showcasing these bands, no doubt to the general bemusement of the audience and, no doubt, his fellow presenters. I remember one evening when, apropos of completely nothing, he produced a copy of 'Two Sevens Clash' and urged his teatime audience to rush out and buy a copy. I doubt the region's housewives did rush out in their droves to investigate the latest dub grooves but he certainly ignited a spark in at least one 17 year old boy, who was thinking there must be more out there than Hotel California. Somehow on the back of all this he persuaded Granada to give him a late night slot to expand on this theme and 'So It Goes' was born. Famous now for giving The Sex Pistols their first TV slot, this show alone must take huge credit for igniting the spark of creativity and innovation that gave rise to the punk scene in both Manchester and Liverpool in the late 70's/early '80's. And if that wasn't enough, he then conceived, launched and ran the creative triumph/commercial disaster that was Factory. Whilst Joy Division/New Order may have been talented enough to have made it without help from him, without Wilson's extraordinary self-belief and indulgence of his bands, we'd never have been able to appreciate the beauty of The Durutti Column, the anarchy of the Happy Mondays or the sheer eclecticity(!) of the rest of the Factory roster. Twat? Probably. Prat? Almost certainly. Most important shaper of the pre- and post-punk musical landscape outside of London? Definitely. Take care Tony - the Hacienda may be an apartment block now but it'll always be FAC51 to me.

Fan or Fool?

So next week the 'Deluxe Edition' of Elvis's first album will be in the shops. Me, I've got the original vinyl album from 1977, the extended CD re-release on Demon from 1993 and the two-disc Edsel re-re-release from 2001.

So no real need for me to own a fourth version of the album, you might think? Well, no, I'll be there in the newly re-opened Fopp (hurrah!) in Manchester when it comes out, and no doubt I'll pick up the Deluxe Too-Rye-Aye as well, plus anything else that catches my eye in the five quid section. Which is all as it should be.

But I'll still feel more than slightly ripped-off by the whole thing.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

If You Know Your History...

The Grand Old Lady. Goodison Park. Everton's home since their departure from Anfield in 1892. The first purpose-built football stadium in the world.

And now, destined to be vacated in a few years' time in favour of a brand new stadium in Kirkby, outside the city boundaries. A move 'validated' by a positive vote from a selection of the Everton fanbase.

Hold on - bit cynical, those inverted commas around the word 'validated', Paul? Do we have a problem with this?

Well yes we do - a whole heap of problems, as it happens. And not just with the vote, with the whole concept.

Firstly, let's challenge the assumption that Everton need to move at all. Granted, it costs a fair sum of money each year to maintain the Old Lady, but that needs to be set against the financing costs that would be faced by a move, however much that move might be subsidised by a third party. But would a new ground generate higher revenues than Goodison? Yes, a new ground could be built to accommodate more fans - but realistically, how many more fans can Everton attract? Apart from probably four games a season, there are empty seats in Goodison. If we move to a larger stadium - especially one out of town - will we attract significantly more new fans to the ground (bearing in mind the need to replace a number of current fans who will not go to Kirkby). Is there an untapped population of football fans in south Lancashire who will replace the lost fans and fill the empty seats? Corporate facilities - Goodison is woefully underserved compared to comparable clubs and a new stadium could certainly be constructed to accommodate significantly more corporate customers than is currently the case. But - to paraphrase - if we build it, will they come? What is the market for corporate facilities on an out-of town retail park, competing with the likes of the New Anfield, Haydock Park, Aintree, The Reebok, Old Trafford and any number of purpose-built hotel and conference centres?

I think the case that a new stadium - especially one out of town - will generate significantly more revenues (and incur lower costs) is at best unproven, and at worst unlikely. But it is difficult from the information thus far provided by the club to make any educated assessment of the business case for (or against) the move - the financial projections just aren't there.

But for the sake of argument let's assume that the club has to move. But where? And why? What options are there?

Well the club would have you believe that the only option available is the Kirkby option - move or die - there is no Plan B. But perhaps there are other options that would merit consideration - Liverpool City Council would appear to have (finally) managed to identify one or two other options that the club could consider. The Loop, for example, in Everton, at the mouth of the Wallasey tunnel on Scotland Road. Maybe the finances don't stack up against Kirkby - maybe they do. We just don't know. What I would say is that there are other options out there that should be seriously considered before commitment to a single, out of town option.

Everything so far has been based upon financial considerations - but these cannot be the only factors to consider. What about the emotional issues here? We were the first club in Liverpool - the club that bears the city's name grew out of our club - ironically, as a result of an earlier ground move from Anfield to Goodison. We are 'The People's Club' in Liverpool. Do we really want to desert our city for the suburbs, leaving the city of our birth to the other lot? Gleefully, they have already started to exploit this - One name, one city, one club...distortion of the facts but an easy sell to young kids currently growing up in the city. Do we really want to hand over the natural support of future generations to that other lot, by simply upping sticks and moving out of town?

Let's also look at the practicalities of the situation here. We are looking at a move to Kirkby, a small sink estate on the edge of Merseyside. The population of Kirkby is less than the new stadium's proposed capacity. How will they cope with the influx? Public transport links can't currently cope with the projected inflow of supporters. 1,000 parking spaces will apparently be made available in the vicinity. 1,000, to support a 55,000 capacity stadium. It just doesn't stack up.

But never mind all that - the fans have voted for the move, so that's all right. And this is the most saddening aspect of the whole sorry affair. The club would have you believe that allowing 'the fans' to vote shows what a democratic, caring, listening club they are. But no. what they have done is abrogated themselves of responsibility - responsibility for the biggest, most far-reaching decision the club has had to take in the last hundred years. They have pushed that responsibility onto a small element of the total Everton fanbase. If it works - fine. If it doesn't - not our problem, the fans voted for it. And worst of all, they have made the fanbase take that decision with the flimsiest information imaginable - a few soundbites and some pretty designer mockups of a new stadium. Pictured at night, with no local context or any sort of business case whatsoever. In the real world, a decision like this would be made by hard-nosed businessmen in full posession of the facts and a robust, fully costed business case with all assumptions clearly articulated and justified. With alternative scenarios fully appraised and contrasted with the preferred option. In the Everton world, we've been given a few pretty pictures and no Plan B (or C, D, E, or F). We've also given the vote to seven year olds, by virtue of the season tickets their dads pay for. So if it all goes tits up - which it may well do - it'll all be our fault. For making a decision that was never ours to make, with no information to inform or challenge that decision, made by people who (with all due respect) were never qualified to make that decision.

I love my club. And wherever they play, be that Walton, Speke, Kirkby (God help us) or even bloody Timbuktu, I'll be there supporting them. But the club, not the Board, who are unworthy of this great club.

Nil Satis Nisi Optimum - Nothing is good enough except the best. The Kirkby option is not 'the best' by any stretch of the imagination.

So what next? The vote is lost, but dialogue must continue. Whilst never underestimating the ability of our Board to screw things up, we must assume that Kirkby is going to move forwards. We have two options, both of which must be pursued at all costs - firstly, to continue to push for the consideration and exploration of other options, with other partners - for a redeveloped Goodison, or for city centre sites that will keep our club in its true home - or, if it has to be Kirkby, to ensure that Kirkby delivers a stadium, and a home, that lives up to our motto, with the transport links it needs to support our existing fanbase and, yes, to extend that fanbase into the wider Merseyside/South Lancashire area.

Whatever happens, this is a black period for the club. The vote has only served to introduce divisions amongst the fanbase - divisions that will take a long time to heal. Ironically, on the pitch we are stronger than we have been for almost twenty years - off the pitch, we are tearing ourselves apart.

On the road and getting high....

The band I've been listening to more than any this year is The Hold Steady, a Minneapolis band who've been touring their latest album, Boys and Girls in America, all summer. I have to admit I'd heard nothing of them until this year, when they started getting a bit of press on the back of the new album and their allegedly excellent live act. They were playing the John Peel tent at Glastonbury this year, so I thought I'd check them out. The fact they were playing in a tent, under cover, out of the rain and mud, was also a factor in my decision.

Anyway, they completely blew me away. I have to say they're not the prettiest bunch, or the youngest, and the combination of singer Craig Finn's somewhat geeky looks and keyboard player Franz Nicolay's Daliesque moustache, waistcoat and cloth cap doesn't really work on paper, but in the flesh it all just comes together perfectly. At Glastonbury, their performance glowed - gallons of enthusiasm and sheer joy at being there performing. Finn's engagement with the audience was total and the songs' subject matter - one variation or another on 'getting high' - fit perfectly with the (albeit slightly damp) festival vibe. Also saw them a month or so later at the Academy in Liverpool, where they were equally entertaining, although constant gigging in the previous month or two has perhaps taken a bit of the edge away from the enthusiasm. Or perhaps Glastonbury was just perfect.

So thought I'd best invest in a few CDs. The third and latest album, 'Boys and Girls in America', has been getting the bulk of my attention and rightly so, eleven slices of indie pop perfection centred around the joys and perils of getting high in the Twin Cities area, coupled with a few Kerouac references for good measure. Add some Springsteenesque (actually 'EStreetBandesque') keyboards and one or two 'Woah-oh-oh-oh' singalongs and you have the perfect blend. Highly recommended.

The band's other two CDs haven't had as much attention thus far, although the second ('Separation Sunday') currently edges it over the Nicolay-less first, 'Almost Killed Me'. I have also downloaded a couple of albums from Finn's previous band, Lifter Puller - will report back when they've had a bit more airtime.

Lord, to be 33 forever.....

Second posting

So, ten months after the first post - at which time much was promised - I finally get around to post number two. Bit crap really isn't it? Well, no matter - over the last ten months I have been diligently researching the blog community (actually, slumped in front of my computer reading loads of stuff posted by other people with more talent and time than me) and now feel the time is right to inflict my own thoughts, prejudices and opinions on the world at large. Be warned - I shall inevitably post most stuff on here in the early hours following the consumption of rather too much alcohol so logic, sense and grammar may be in short supply on those occasions. Apologies in advance for any and all offence caused. Unless it's intentional.