Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Monday, 15 December 2014

#22: Introducing... Duster Jack

As has already been documented in this random selection of blogged musings, my daily routine had a shake up earlier this year when, after nearly 12 years of working from home, I became a commuter again, travelling daily to a new job in Richmond.
This has meant time spent on the train which has always been my favourite form of transport. However I  knew one  downside when it came to anything music related would be having even less time to spend on creating any. Considering the time I previously had was minimal anyway, it felt that maybe the productive years were long gone . While I have been hacking away a few minutes at a time on unfinished tracks from several years back in my home studio setup, both time and energy are nowadays quite scarce.

However, around the time I started commuting, I embraced one of the more recent developments in technology - that of a  tablet which I bought with some birthday money. Initially I used this to catch up with some YouTube tutorials, TV programmes, web article reading and a little bit of blogging, Then at the tail end of the summer I found some music software that included a sequencer, sampler, vocoder, drum machine and a selection of synths. After a little bit of exploring and experimenting I was suddenly thrown back to my teenage years when I had some new electronic pals to play with. My home studio set up is by no means cutting edge by today's standards, but it does have a large enough palette of sounds and sequencer tracks to keep me amused and that usually would be seen to be a good thing. However looking back I have found I am usually more productive when I am restricted to number of sounds and tracks and the most pleasure I always get is seeing what I can do to sounds to make them different from how they first arrive in the box

The Caustic 3 software I downloaded onto my Android tablet has enough there for me to explore and create that should last me a little while. So in September I began experimenting with the virtual toys such as the modular synth and creating new sounds, or morphing and modifying  existing ones. I used the vocoder to manipulate synth sounds and effects as well as the occasional bit of speech, and while others in the train carriage would either be eyes deep in phone apps, laptop spreadsheets, the Metro paper, or just asleep, I was creating drum samples and building up patterns. I suddenly felt musically revived and started to get the same buzz I used to get over twenty years back when I would crouch over a portastudio, a drum machine and a synth in my Salford bedsit and construct electro synth tracks fuelled by my passion for the records I used to play. It also dawned on me that I had spent a good number of years doing music for other people which have been good projects and served me well - be it music for dance choreographers and teachers, arrangements for dance festival competitions, short film soundtracks, but it made a change to do something for myself.

Whether I then pass the tracks onto someone else for other use remains to be seen, but in the moments the tracks have been created they have been to please only myself.
So as a couple of ideas turned into a handful of tracks, after a few days they became ten tracks and then, by the end of October, I had twenty tracks I felt happy with. I couldn't help but compare this flurry of activity to the other musical project I had been trying to finish this year and had grown a little tired of. As soon as the twenty electro tracks had reached a point I was happy with, I started working on ideas for other tracks.
It was then I realised that come the new year, it will be five years since I released the last Dancesounds album: Volume 12 Mood and Atmosphere, and therefore had really put any new music out into cyberspace. I decided that if I don't do anything else, I should at least get some tracks out there somewhere if only to prove to myself that I can, when opportuniy arises, set to work and get something done and dusted
So the aim was to get the tracks to a place other than my computer device by the end of the year.

Rather than twenty tracks all in one go, I thought stretching them out over a few weeks might be better for those interested to digest. Five four track digital eps seemed to be worth a shot with a couple of weeks seperating each one. However as I started tinkering with mixing and mastering, the weeks left in the year were diminishing and I knew that I could be tinkering with the tracks forever if I wasn't strict with myself. So I decided that no matter what, they would come out in December and would be one every week.
I arranged the tracklistings and took some photos while on my commute depicting images I see everyday, thought up a new name for myself, created a Bandcamp account and started to release them from Monday 1st December onwards.

Whether they are streamed or downloaded by any of those recipients of tweets, status updates or other social media delivery methods, is out of my control, but at the very least I can't help but feel a little sense of achievement to reach the end of the year having outputted some musical content. I can also now look towards 2015 as hopefully a creative period where I can write new tracks, further take advantage of the tools to hand by using sounds from my home studio into the tablet based sampler and audio editors, and vastly reduce the timeframe between executing an idea and uploading a finished version to the web.

Duster Jack can be found on Facebook , Twitter and Bandcamp

The digital ep's are being released throughout December

Introducing...         (1st Dec 2014) 
City Mainline         (8th Dec 2014)
World Construct   (15th Dec 2014)
Forget Not             (22nd Dec 2014)
Export Setting      (29th Dec 2014)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

#21: An Album

So the original plan was get an album finished and uploaded by the time I hit 40, preceded by the uploading of a digital single to act as a sort of preview. 40 has come and gone and I'm still no nearer finished. So it will be ready when it's ready which, bearing in mind I now have a new job and no longer based at home, means that I have even less time and energy to tend to the plants in my musical nursery. So now every ten or twenty minutes I get to attend to the tracks, I see as a little step further.
All the parts for all tracks are now recorded and assembled into files ready for mixing, I started this process recently but it hasn't been the most satisfying part of the whole long winded venture. I've tried various approaches in starting the mixing of each track and haven't yet felt successful.
To further hinder this, I managed to lose a few musical parts which I had to  re-record. So after slowly climbing a few ladder rungs, I seem to have now stepped on a snake and slid down to a square two rows down.
But I've had the same trackisting laid out for quite a long time and I'm quite determined to 'release' the álbum' to somewhere that sits outside my head and my computer. Which leads me to think over how the definitions of 'release' and 'album' have changed over the years when it comes to home-recording.
In the early days, it would be a cassette that I would view as an album, and after filling it up with a sequence of recordings, packaged with a sleeve put together using the latest in photocopying technology courtesy of the local library, I would pass it on to a few friends, as well as dubbing selected recordings to cassettes, placing into jiffy bags to be posted, or handed, to record labels, publishers, producers and so on. Though in reality it was most likely the dustbin. A selection of tracks would be put together to be performed live at whatever gig opportunity I could get.
By the end of the nineties I owned a computer and a CD burner where the "albums" were now in the form of compact discs. Wider jiffy bags were required. I did put together a collection of CDs compiling recordings I had made under the name 'S-cape' and distributed these, and edited versions to various people in various places.
By the time I had moved to London, I had found a website called which allowed you to upload your tracks and artwork, and then customers could buy the CD from there and it would be printed, packaged and posted from their US address. I recorded and released an album under my electropop guise, 'Production', and spent a bit of time attending to my "profile page" where you could promote songs as "digital singles". This was quite a new thing at the time.  However, while I sold a handful of CDs to various people, it was short lived and closed down sending me a cheque for $8, after it had taken a questionable cut from the sales, and as at that time it was going to cost me £10 to cash it, it was worthless.
Over the next few years I returned to pressing up CDs with a range of albums of music composed for dance education that became a more successful venture. But I shall go into that in a future blog.
Nowadays, digital releases have become more commonplace as a cost effective way of packaging a bunch of recordings to send out into the world. That is the plan for the current batch of tracks I've been trying to mix, after which they will be edited, remixed and reworked for various musical outlets. Work on them has been interrupted over the years with other projects and tasks shifting into focus but every now and then I've tried to chip away at them a little more with each opportunity.
Years gone by there was more time to do such things, and I managed to work quickly though that was more down to having limited sequencer and recording tracks, and a smaller sound palette. The overall quality no doubt left a lot to be desired, but each recording and mixing task was always an exciting time. The current batch is proving to be quite  a different beast with my enthusiasm lifting and waning at quite a high frequency. I occasionally go from having some sense of excitment on hearing some rough instrumental mixes, to feeling a little disheartened when it comes to the mixing stage and recording overdubs. I seem to be reaching the stage where I'd be happy to get the whole thing out of the way and let it loose in cyberspace.
This time round though, there won't be any jiffy bags involved, or promotional activities such as live performances. These days all musical ambitions for the project have been reduced to just clicking the "upload" button when I've considered them finished. I've got a stack of other musical ventures I want to tackle next.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

#20: Tenement Symphony

I felt it was time to recount a particular concert I went to many years ago which was made memorable as much for the journey getting to it as the actual concert itself. Sometime in 1991 I woke up to a record being played on the radio that sounded epic coming through the tiny mono speaker. The record was "Jacky" by Marc Almond and featured a full orchestra and a bombastic electronic backing track. On buying the record I saw it was produced by Trevor Horn, who was already one of my favourite producers through his work with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys and ABC, and it also set me off exploring Marc Almond's back catalogue of which I had very little knowledge.

Some months later, the accompanying 'Tenement Symphony' album was released which was half produced by Marc Almond, Billy McGee, Nigel Hine and Grid members, Dave Ball and Dave Norris. Dave Ball had been Marc's Soft Cell sidekick and this saw the pair reunite for a few tracks. The second half of the album was produced by Trevor Horn and formed a suite of songs titled 'Tenement Symphony"

I remember having a £10 Boots gift voucher which I guess must have been from Christmas 1991, and I headed into Huddersfield one Saturday to buy the album. Unlike other stores, Boots didn't stock vinyl albums so if I was to buy it from there, it had to be on either CD or cassette. I didn't own a CD player so I purchased the cassette. One benefit of this choice of format was that I happened to have my walkman with me which meant I could listen to the album straight away instead of waiting until after the bus ride home. So I popped in the cassette, turned up the volume, and wandered aimlessly around Huddersfield town centre taking in what the album had to offer. From that day to this, it remains one of my favourite albums. Full scale sequenced synth arrangements with huge dollops of orchestral bliss surrounding Marc's soaring vocals through some amazing songs such as Meet Me In My Dreams, Beautiful Brutal Thing, Vaudeville and Burlesque and ending with the sensational My Hand Over My Heart. A great album and a great way to experience it.

The singles from the album gave Marc some chart success peaking with the Top 5 cover hit "The Days Of Pearly Spencer" and he appeared a couple of times on TV backed by an orchestra.

Fast forward to the summer of 1992 and I had left school and was preparing to start university in Salford.

My first day of lectures was to be on Monday 28th September and I had moved into my Salford bedsit  a week beforehand.

While browsing through the music magazines as I often did, I came across an advert for a live show. Marc Almond was to perform two shows, Nottingham Royal Court Centre and then Royal Albert Hall in a career retrospective show called 12 Years Of Tears, which as well as featuring a full band, would also feature the Tenement Symphony Orchestra. The chance to hear tracks from the album, as well as other hits, performed by a band and full orchestra seemed too good to be true. By this time I had built up a catalogue of Marc Almond's discography and was now familiar with all the albums and singles and Marc had now become one of my favourite artists. As the Royal Albert Hall show was to be recorded for video and live album release as well as for TV broadcast, I guessed the Nottingham show was to be the warm up concert.

The only difficulty I could initially see in going was that the shows were taking place in the week beginning 28th September which was my first week at Salford University. What's more, the Nottingham show was on the Monday. I initially sacked off the idea as being logistically impossible, but it kept irking me for a week or so before I decided to review the possibilities. I rang the venue to get further details, as this was pre-worldwideweb, and was told the concert would start at 8pm and there would be no interval. I then found out that my last lecture on that first Monday of my uni course would finish around 4pm, and the first one on Tuesday morning would be at 9.30am. I also discovered that a 5pm train from Manchester Piccadilly would get me into Nottingham sometime after 7pm, and the first one in the morning would get me into Manchester around 9am, giving me time to make my first lecture on that day which was actually to be an improvisation group led by jazz saxophonist Jan Kopinski, of Pinski Zoo.

I found a B&B situated down the road from the Nottingham Royal Court Centre for a tenner, and on enquiring was told that I would have to check in by about 10pm as they would lock the doors. I figured I would have time to do that between stepping off the train in Nottingham and the concert starting at 8pm.

I decided to go for it.

September came and I moved to Salford ready to start the Popular Music and Recording course. After the last lecture on the Monday, I took off at speed to the train station to catch the train to Nottingham only to discover it was delayed... And delayed further...and delayed some more.  I was already restless and a little anxious and this didn't help. I kept watching the clock trying to work out what sort of timeframe I had. On the journey I got chatting to the woman sitting next to me after we were trying to work out the arrival time. She was interested to hear of the concert and worked out that the train would reach Nottingham around 8pm. Furthermore as she was going to be on the ITV programme 'The Time, The Place' the next day, the TV company had a taxi booked for her from the station and she said she could give me a lift to the Royal Court Centre. I reached the venue at exactly 8pm and raced in to pick up my ticket. There hadn't been time to post it. I raced up the stairs to get to the back of the circle as I could hear the audience cheering to the opening chords of Vaudeville and Burlesque. I had no idea what I was going to do about the B&B and I didn't have a back-up plan, but I got to my seat as the full synth band kicked in and Marc walked out onto the stage. It was quite a moment.

The opening songs were the synth heavy tracks from the Tenement Symphony album which sounded great. This set was then followed by a vocal and piano section with Marc now in a suit and I soon got the idea that the concert was structured more like a series of different sets with different arrangements and costume changes. Almost like a few shows rolled into one. A full band then accompanied Marc for some renditions of early singles including some Soft Cell tracks. One thing I did notice though was the lack of orchestra. There was only a band on stage. I felt a little disappointed despite the gig being such a good one, I then figured the Nottingham show must be perhaps part of a warm up for the Royal Albert Hall show in two day’s time, and the orchestra would just be for that one. I couldn't think of any other reason. Then after nearly 90 minutes, Marc said goodbye and left the stage to rapturous applause. It was around 9:30pm and it all seemed to come to an end. When I had booked the ticket, the box office had told me there would be no interval so I wasn't sure how long the show would run for. Also there were quite a few big records Marc hadn't performed. The audience were on their feet shouting for more with several rounds of slow hand claps, before an announcement came over the speaker 'Ladies and Gentlemen, this is now an interval, the show will start again in 20 minutes'. I couldn't believe it! So there was an interval, and I had time to run down to the B&B, drop off my overnight bag, grab the key and get back. I raced down the road using the directions I had been given and checked in. I got back to the Royal Court Centre and saw there on the stage, quite a number of new chairs laid out. The second half started with Marc performing a Jacques Brel song called 'If You Go Away' which I had never heard before, This was a vocal and piano arrangement and made for a melancholy opening to the second half. He then followed this by saying 'Well I guess that is one way of performing a Jacques Brel song... And this is another'. He then performed 'Jacky' with a full band and orchestra who were on stage for the rest of the evening. It sounded amazing as they belted through some classic Marc singles and album tracks with full orchestrations and arrangements making some songs sound more epic than the recorded versions. The show finished with 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye' with a full stage, a full sound, and a full auditorium of excited fans being showered with confetti. I left there feeling elated and blown away. One of the most exciting musical experiences I had encountered and nothing has really quite topped it.

I returned to the B&B and set my alarm for the early hours. To get my train back I was going to have to leave before the Breakfast part of the B&B arrangement, and a few hours later I was making my way through a dark, cold Nottingham following the signs to the railway station. The route took me through an eerie shopping centre which was just trying to wake up, and I managed to get my train on time. I was tired and quite hungry but still buzzing from the previous evening's experience. It was a gig that would inspire me in various ways in the years to come, but that will have to wait for another blog.

The finale to this story is almost like a punchline or something that might have been scripted for a sitcom. I arrived in Manchester sometime before 9am and I quickly made my way across the city up to Salford University to get to my first Improvisation class at 9.30. I got to the building in time where I met my fellow course colleagues and discovered that Improvisation had been moved to 11.30am.

And the reason?

Because it was going to take a while for the tutor to get to Manchester as he lived in.....

Wait for it...


Needless to say I was lost for words, but also quite amused. The 12 Years Of Tears show was still swirling around my head too much for me to be anything else. I headed up to the canteen and got some breakfast.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#19: Thompson Twins

Thompson Twins are one of very few big eighties pop acts that have resisted following their chart contemporaries such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox and ABC, and reformed for either retrospective tours or recording sessions. Aside from large amounts of money on offer to such acts, the allure of thousands of fans that regularly attend the retro festivals such as 'Here and Now', 'Regeneration' and 'Rewind' has opened the doors to many more singers and bands to play through their early hits again. Every year, the line-ups to these package tours grow bigger and bigger and it now seems to be a case of noticing who isn't playing. One band that has been more noticeable by their absence, according to various online forums and articles, has been the Thompson Twins; but there has never been a hint of it ever happening. In fact the only mention of a reunion I have seen in the last ten years is in an interview with Alannah Currie who eloquently stated that she would "rather vomit on her boots". There was also an interview with the group in 2001, long after they had ended, that they felt they should have split up earlier than they did. Even with the worry that a reunion of any band runs the risk of being a disappointment, I felt they were being a little harsh on themselves. More so when I consider their later material, particularly their final album, to be excellent pieces of work.

The group’s records, and history, has been a fascination of mine for many years, and while I maintained a devotion to other artists whose output I have continued to follow as it is created, I didn't start buying Thompson Twins records until 1990, when they were out of the public eye. And as this was pre-WorldWideWeb, my resources in learning the band’s history and discography depended on my visiting second hand record shops and record fairs, thumbing through magazines such as Record Collector, and occasional phone calls to the record company press office. There was a sense of excitement in spending weekends piecing together the back story of this group and their output; from learning of the first line up to tracing different mixes and formats of their records. Finding a 7" single of one song in a different sleeve at a record fair somewhere in Manchester was made all the more pleasing when discovering it played a different version of the song to that I had previously heard.

Though I had memories of seeing them on Top Of The Pops and the occasional Saturday morning TV show, when I was very young, and seeing them in magazines such as Look In, it was on finding a copy of the "Here's To Future Days" album in Huddersfield's EGS Records in 1990 for 99p (which also included a 5 track 12" of remixes), that I became hooked. The bit of detective work that followed soon revealed that the band had been a lot more than a trio with big hairstyles and colourful clothes that had bounced around on the television.

Some 7" singles
The band started in 1977 when Halifax born Tom Bailey, along with three friends, formed the band in Chesterfield, South Yorkshire. The four members quit their jobs and moved to a London squat to pursue music. They put out a couple of 7" singles, hand delivered to record shops, both of which are great little indie pop gems. The group expanded to a seven piece and recorded an album of percussive guitar based pop called "A Product Of...".  Tom soon developed a fascination with synthesizers which influenced the second album, "Set" and the single "In The Name Of Love" made an impression on the dance charts, which formed the band's new musical direction. However, this caused enough tension in the band to culminate in a split. Tom, Alannah and Joe continued as a synth based pop act and drew up a manifesto of what they wanted to do and how they were going to do it. Lyrics, music, performances, videos and images were all tasks they divided up between them, and by taking a synthesizer, a drum machine and recording equipment to a rented cottage, they wrote and recorded demos for the  album "Quick Step and Side Kick" in 1982. This was a time when synth pop music was becoming a staple of the Top 40 with the Human League, Depeche Mode and Ultravox all making waves. The new TT album fitted right in and provided the band with a few hit singles including "Love On Yours Side", "Watching" and "Lies". This paved the way for the next album "Into The Gap", which reached number one on the album charts, accompanied by international smash hits such as "Doctor Doctor", "You Take Me Up" and "Hold Me Now" in 1984. The following year saw more hits coming alongside  the album "Here's To Future Days" and a performance at Live Aid in Philadelphia, shared with Madonna. Then 1986 saw the departure of Joe Leeway, and the Thompson Twins were reduced to duo, Tom and Alannah. Even though the dents on the charts weren't as big as they once were, they continued to write and record some great songs including "─╣ong Goodbye", "Get That Love", "Sugar Daddy", "Bombers In The Sky", "Queen Of The USA", "Flower Girl" and "Nothing In Common".

When I became hooked on the band, my time was spent seeking out the albums and singles in various record shops around Yorkshire and Manchester; as well as picture discs, 12" remix releases and other gems that came by. It was in 1991 that the group started releasing new material which this time was more dance oriented. The album "Queer" is one of my favourite albums and features great tracks such as the dance hit "Come Inside", "Wind It Up", "Groove On", "Shake It Down" and "Strange Jane". "Come Inside" had become a club hit when it was released under the moniker "Feedback Max" which was actually the name of the remix duo Tom Bailey and engineer, Keith Fernley. Sadly, it wasn't as big a hit when released commercially as Thompson Twins and the group felt the name was maybe holding them back. So in 1993 they changed their name to Babble and released an amazing ambient dub album called "The Stone" later followed by "Ether" in 1996. Although the music on these albums is among their best material, the lack of attention and commercial interest sadly brought it all to an end.
Some picture discs

Since then there has only been the occasional compilation release and some album reissues but no mention of any more Thompson Twins or Babble activity. A third Babble album was nearly completed but is now locked in a record company vault somewhere. Alannah has gone on to become an artist, and is now married to former KLF man, Jimmy Cauty, whereas Tom has continued to make music under various monikers such as Holiwater Project, International Observer and the Bailey-Selgado Project.

Some 12" singles
All my Thompson Twins collecting and passion was a sole venture as I never really knew of anyone else who shared the same interest. In the last ten years there have been a couple of fan websites devoted to the group and their history, and a few interest groups and pages on sites such as Yahoo, MySpace and Facebook. Tom Bailey even created his own pages on the latter two social networks for his International Observer activities

A reunion or any kind of resurgence of Thompson Twins related activity has seemed less likely as time has gone by. 

That is, until now. Having accepted the notion that any further TT related activity would be confined to reissued material, I was taken quite by surprise when earlier this year I saw a new Facebook page appear. This one was a little different to others as it was an official page called "Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey"

And before I knew it, I was reading of how Tom Bailey was about to take to the stage to perform Thompson Twins songs for the first time in 27 years, He had been asked to contribute vocals to a pop track, and fellow artist, Howard Jones, had persuaded him to not dismiss his back catalogue but actually look into performing again for the current retro-style tours, He bought himself a Thompson Twins compilation CD, which I still can't get over, to hear the songs again, and has ended up re-recording a few of them for his own use to reacquaint himself with his past material. He has also put a band together which he has said is 'hi-tech' and  'electronic', and ahead of touring the US with Howard Jones, Midge Ure and China Crisis, he is to perform at the Rewind Festival in Henley-On-Thames on August 17th. He also said in a recent interview that he might be inspired to get back to writing pop music again which, after such a long time, is quite a thrilling prospect. Though the anticipation for the fans is quite high, I can't imagine what it must be like for Tom after all this time. Though regrettably I won't be there to see this debut performance, I’m just hoping it won't be a one off venture and it will lead to more live dates and more recordings in the future. 

Tom Bailey in 2014

Thursday, 22 May 2014

#18: Relax in Richmond

I now work in Richmond, which is a pleasant riverside town situated in Surrey/Greater London. One aspect of my new job is to do with archived Top 40 UK singles charts, where one can pick a date and listen to the Top 40 singles from that time,  A personal favourite era of mine has always been 1984 when, as a ten year old, my already established musical passions were further enhanced by the arrival of some amazing records. As I was listening back to some chart playlists from thirty years ago, one particular Top Ten stood out by being bookended by two notable tracks. 'Relax' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and 'White Lines' by Grandmaster and Melle Mel (not Grandmaster Flash as is often erroneously reported).
Marrick Priory, North Yorkshire

Aside from both tracks coincidentally featuring the phrase 'Don't do it' a lot, another coincidence is that listening to these two tracks in Richmond, Surrey, takes me on a nostalgic trip to Richmond, North Yorkshire
In January 1984, I went on a junior school trip to North Yorkshire, where a large group of us resided at Marrick Priory for a few days. It was freezing cold and we were surrounded by deep snow, in which we made daily treks out to places of interest; including a trip to Richmond swimming baths. From starting swimming lessons at junior school, to current family outings to the local baths, I have never been a fan of swimming pools for a number of reasons which have no place on my blog. Needless to say they attack many of the senses including the sound, the sights, the smells, the heat (or general lack of) and many many more. Enough for me to shudder at the thought.

At the age of nine and ten months (because at that age you still counted the months) I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do less. And then the highlight of the school trip came, and one which I remember fondly. We were given the option of either swimming in the baths, or sitting in the cafeteria. Obviously I chose the latter and although I can't remember exactly who else was with me in there, I do have a vivid memory of 'what' was in there. 

A jukebox! 

I can't quite recall if I had seen one before, let alone used one, but suddenly myself and some schoolfriends soon dug out a few coins between us from our holiday pocket money and started to feed this large record box of lights and buttons and seven inch vinyl discs. And we played only two tracks on it: 'Relax' and 'White Lines'. 

I don't know how well I knew the records before that time but I knew of them well enough to want to play them several times. I remember it being an exciting moment listening to them with friends sat around the jukebox. 'Relax' had gone to number one in the charts after moving up and down the Top 40 over the previous three months, and stayed at or near the top for most of 1984.'White Lines' was recorded by Melle Mel without Grandmaster Flash even knowing about the track. Similarly with 'The Message' which still gets credited as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five though Flash had nothing to do with it.

However, 'White Lines' became one of the remaining group's biggest hits and entered the Top 10 in early 1984 and fully entered my conciousness via the jukebox in Richmond, North Yorkshire,

Fast forward some thirty years (and change) and I'm sat in another Richmond town, listening to the same singles on what is now dubbed a 'digital jukebox' with as much love for the tracks as I had back then, and a little less for swimming baths.

Friday, 2 May 2014

#17: Bye Bye Beebie

In 1999, while living and working in Manchester, I received a call from my former flatmate who, in the previous year, had moved to London to work in the BBC record library. He told me of a vacancy for a pop music cataloguer that he thought might suit me. After giving it a little thought I decided to apply. By mid November I was boarding a National Express coach with a suitcase and heading down south to start work in the offices in Brentford. I was shown several racks of shelving that contained thousands of pop music CD's that needed cataloguing for the BBC record collection. They were all in random order so it was lucky dip as to what you would discover. As well as back catalogue material there was a box of new releases that arrived every week containing the latest chartbound singles and albums. You may have detected from my other blog posts that I had a fondness for record collections since an early age so for me this was a dream job.

Some years later I moved to Kent and was able to work from home with fortnightly trips up to the office. I later moved onto cataloguing other genres of music and soon found myself involved in projects for other departments involving software programming and databases.
However, as the milestone age of 40 was looming,  I decided it was time to move on and after 14 and a half years, I left the BBC. As with my previous job in Manchester I was pleased to end my time there on a high after making some good friends and working with some great people.

As well as saying goodbye to the Beeb, I was also saying goodbye to 12 years of working from home and hello to the world of commuting. So I now have quite a different daily routine to what I have been used to for so long. However, I have now started working for a company with a vast record collection of pop music that has been digitised for use as a music service. I am now back to being close to pop music again, meeting some great people and also involved in software development. Though the daily commute is quite a change from what I've previously been used to for so long, it gives me a little time to do things such as updating this blog. All I need now is some music software to take with me and I'm away.

Monday, 6 January 2014

#16: New Year Catch Up - Al and Morrissey

So, where was I?....Oh yes, I was saying that instead of making it a weekly blog I would make it fortnightly. That was back in August. I went from being on a roll to being well and truly off it. So we'll try again....
Since the last blog post there have been a couple of significant musical moments on my calendar. In fact they occured in the same week in October 2013.

Al Stewart gig

In October I went to see Al Stewart perform the Year Of The Cat album in full with a band at the Royal Albert Hall. An event I banged on about in my Al Stewart blog.

Well the gig was even better than I anticipated. I had got the impression that the first half would be Al and Dave Nachmanoff doing an acoustic selection of songs and then the band would assemble for the second half. However within three songs, the line up went from a duo to a trio as Peter White joined them on stage playing keyboards. Then as the set progressed other musicians were introduced including Tim Renwick on electric guitar, making the first half of the show coming pretty close to a band performance. The first set included House Of Clocks, In Brooklyn, Gina In The King's Road, Time Passages, Soho (Needless To Say), Night Train To Munich before closing with two tracks from my favourite Al album, Modern Times, The Dark And The Rolling Sea and Carol.

The second half featured a full band for an amazing performance of the full Year Of The Cat album. This included a slightly different arrangement of One Stage Before which had a slightly heavier sound than the album version with plenty of cross-rhythm action going on.

One Stage Before (Royal Albert Hall, October 2013)

After closing the set with the title track, Year Of The Cat, the band encored with another of my favourites Roads To Moscow. I left the Hall on quite a high after such a knockout show. After many years of seeing Al perform only acoustically and usually solo (which have always been fantastic gigs), it was rather special to hear his songs performed with a full line-up. Something I hope may inspire future band get-togethers for other shows.

Morrissey book

Another significant musical moment was the release of Morrissey's autobiography. This had been anticipated for quite a while with mentions of his memoirs popping up over the last few years.

I had been looking forward to reading it yet news of its release remained vague. After reports of Morrissey being taken ill at the start of 2013, I accepted the book release wouldn't be any time soon. The next news I heard was in September when it was suddenly announced that it would be released very soon.  By the end of October I had acquired and read it. Quite an unexpected whirlwind moment. 
And it is such a great read too. It's a hefty 457 pages with no introduction, foreword or preface and no sign of any chapters with very minimal use of paragraph breaks. You get a constant narrative stream that is very poetic in many places. As well as describing his own upbringing in Manchester, it depicts various scenes and landscapes with masterful use of language. The ghostly description of Scammonden Moor is particularly chilling, while the character assassination of a particular renowned journalist is a work of poetry. There is a very lengthy commentary on the infamous Smiths court case, and various engaging accounts of Morrissey's loves, hates and views on music, meat and Manchester. An entertaining read that I look forward to having again. 

However, it took me a long long time to become a fan and admirer of his work. For some reason I just never clicked with what I had heard and knew of him and The Smiths back in the day. I don't really know why to be honest. I first encountered The Smiths back in 1984 when Top Of The Pops showed the video of 'What Difference Does It Make', and it just didn't gel with the ten year old 'me'. So the band was off my radar all through my musical upbringing and I can't remember when I next heard a Smiths record.
Several years on after the band had split and Morrissey forged a successful solo career, I still wasn't fully on board and my ears were elsewhere. Though I met many people who were big fans I was obviously missing out on something and it would take me a little while to find out what.
I knew Johnny Marr more from when he formed Electronic with Bernard Sumner but never delved into his back catalogue. 
I began attempts at listening to Morrissey albums that friends lent me, and I was quite taken with 'Panic'.... and then 'How Soon Is Now?' and then very, very slowly I started to find songs I quite liked with a perspective that had maybe matured a little over ten years since I first heard the band.
In 1995 I had queued for around four hours outside Manchester's HMV where Morrissey was doing a meet 'n' greet record signing, purely just to keep a couple of friends company who were there to meet him. The queue didn't move as far as going inside HMV but we had a good natter and the rain stayed away. 
Then in 1996 I finally sat down to a Morrissey video collection belonging to my flatmate and watched through the promo videos for various singles. Around nine years after Morrissey had released his debut solo album Viva Hate, I finally heard Everyday Is Like Sunday. I had no recollection of hearing it before, but this time it fully grabbed me. Perfect timing as Morrissey then went on a hiatus.
In 2003 there was a fascinating TV documentary called The Importance Of Being Morrissey which made a fitting prelude to his return in 2004. On BBC 1's Friday Night With Jonathan Ross he performed his comeback single Irish Blood English Heart accompanied by a great interview and by that time I was 'a fan'. It only took me twenty years.

Morrissey on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, 2004 (part 1)

Morrissey on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, 2004 (part 2)

And now ten years after that, I've caught up with the back catalogue, continued to enjoy his music output, read his contributions to the online fanzine 'True To You', and have now seen him perform live at Glastonbury 2011. Better late than never, as they say.
So as I acknowledge his stature as a brilliant performer and songwriter, as well as an extremely witty and fascinating interviewee and essayist, I can sense all those friends and acquaintances over the years who have always been Smiths/Morrissey fans giving me a slow head nod to say 'yeeeessss'.

Ongoing work

And as well as all that, I've been progressing slightly with the 'bunch of tracks' I casually mentioned in passing sometime last year. The plan is to get them finished and uploaded and out of my hair before I hit 40. The feasibility of that tends to fluctuate between 'maybe' and 'who am I kidding?'. But it's a labour of love and it's nice to have an aim. 
I've created a Facebook page for it so feel free to subscribe/link/like/follow.