Saturday, 16 December 2017

A Word in Your Ear


Since last Sunday, I've been mostly laying in a pool of sweat, in bed or on the sofa, as I struggle with a heavy feverish cold. I managed to drag myself into work for a couple of 4 hour shifts, though I'm not too sure how much actual help I've been. I'm one of the lucky ones, however. A number of poor souls at the store have gone down with the Winter vomiting virus, something that sounds the very antithesis of fun. I've got an 8 hour shift to get through today, days off Sunday & Monday to shake this thing once and for all, then it's non-stop work until Christmas Day.

When I'm feeling this rough, all the things I really enjoy doing go out the window - reading, writing, listening to music and drinking coffee. I have no concentration or appetite for any of 'em. I did manage to make a little mental space for the latest A Word in Your Ear podcast the other day though. Last month's AWIYE featured an excellent interview with the stately Robert Forster. This month couldn't have been more different, as the guest was the Zelig-like raconteur Danny Baker. It's a 90 minute listen that I'd recommend to anyone - you don't need to get all of the cultural references. Several times, I laughed until I very nearly choked. Then, in the very last few minutes, I cried like a baby. It's wonderful stuff and it's free.

Have a listen.


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Farewell Pat DiNizio


Following less than a month after the death of Tommy Keene, the world lost another power pop legend on Tuesday, in the shape of Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, who passed away at the age of 62. The Smithereens formed in 1980 and, at their very best, made a series of carefully crafted pop nuggets sound utterly effortless - a neat trick if you can pull it off. In their long career, the band opened for a veritable who's who of the great and good, including The Ramones, Pretenders, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen. They were also big favourites of a certain Kurt Cobain.

I saw The Smithereens just once, at The London Astoria in 1988. As I recall it, the crowd was thin and strangely unresponsive. The band, however, were on fire, playing as if their lives depended on it.

Rest easy Pat.

The Smithereens - Behind the Wall of Sleep 

The Smithereens - Strangers When We Meet

Friday, 8 December 2017

Olden Yolk


I should emphasise that while my recent return to retail may have been unplanned and initiated by financial concerns, I am absolutely loving it. Having spent the past 7 years sat on my arse behind a computer, I'm woefully out of shape, but interacting with people is what I do best, in fact it's arguably the only true skill I have in my armoury. The reason I'm particularly enjoying retail this time round? Simple, I'm not in charge. Since the age of 21, the buck has always seemed to stop with me, or pretty close by me, sometimes in spite of my best efforts to the contrary. Now though, I'm just a hired hand, clocking in, working hard, clocking out and going home. Someone else is paid a lot more than I am to manage labour costs, stock control and all the many other key performance indicators that I stressed about for so many years - I get to concentrate on the really enjoyable bit. Most of the customers are nice, my co-workers are a great bunch and now that the company have invested in a second Christmas CD, things can only get better. A 9 hour shift with just one 45 minute festive compilation on constant repeat is enough to test the resolve of the most benign of temperaments.

Here's another one to watch out for in 2018 - on February 23rd to be precise. That's the release date for Olden Yolk's self titled debut LP on Trouble in Mind Records. The band was put together by Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer as an outlet for songs not used during Butler's day job with Quilt, whose 'Held in Splender' was runner up in my favourite albums of 2014. If the rest of the 'Olden Yolk' is as interesting as 'Takes One to Know One', we'll be in for a treat.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Nervous Conditions

(Photo by Citizen Meh)

As I hinted a couple of weeks back, a recent unexpected return to the world of retail has severely curtailed my online activities, as I am, to coin a phrase, making hay while the sun shines. Or, if you'd prefer it in plain speak, I'm grabbing every bit of overtime available. This might well mean that there'll be no traditional comprehensive end of year round up from Swede Towers this time around, or at least not this side of Christmas, though I'll do my best to pop up with at least a couple of short posts per week until the end of 2017. I'm also keenly aware that I'm unavoidably neglecting far too many of the fine blogs that are listed on the right hand side of this page, but I'll attempt to play catch-up as and when I'm able. 

Meanwhile, here's a promising bunch of herberts to watch out for in 2018. There are 8 of 'em, they're from Cambridge, they're irritatingly young and they go by the name of Nervous Conditions. They've apparently garnered comparisons with The Fall and Captain Beefheart, but what do I know, I've only heard a couple of their tunes thus far. This particular performance of 'Village Mentality' stopped me dead in my tracks and prompted me to utter that most highly prized of all Swede-isms - it's a thoroughly splendid racket.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Version City #67 - Mark Lanegan sings Joy Division


The last time I saw Mark Lanegan treading the boards was 21 years ago, as front man of The Screaming Trees. His output over the intervening years has been prodigious and of a consistently high quality, whether recording under his own name or as a guest vocalist on someone else's project. On Tuesday evening he treated the Norwich Waterfront to a powerful 19 song set, which stuck principally to the more recent entries in that vast back catalogue. Half an hour in we got a fantastic double whammy of 'Nocturne' and 'Beehive', both from this year's 'Gargoyle', quickly followed by a simply staggering rendition of 'Bleeding Muddy Water' from 2012's 'Blues Funeral'. Lanegan's voice seemed in ragged tatters after this epic and for a moment I honestly wondered how he could continue, yet within moments he was crooning effortlessly through a sublime 'Harborview Hospital'.

I was delighted to hear 'One Way Street' delivered as the first encore, 2001's 'Field Songs' is probably my favourite of all his albums. At most other shows on this tour, the encore has concluded with one, sometimes two, Joy Division covers. Not tonight though. The curfew had been reached and there was just time for a brief 'thank you' before he was gone. Here's a version of one of those Joy Division covers, recorded live in 2015.

Mark Lanegan - Atmosphere 

(Previous Mark Lanegan entries in this series here and here)

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Looking For a New Technique


Saturday morning saw the first hoar frost of the season round these parts. There was no snow involved, though the phenomenon was the very definition of deep and crisp and even. It was also strikingly beautiful. Mrs S and I were on the road early, as she had an artistic engagement a few miles South and we enjoyed the Wintry drive through the countryside tremendously.

I'm steadily (read, slowly) working my way through my recently unboxed CD collection, grabbing a few discs for the journey each time we take the car out for a spin. On Saturday morning I pulled a couple of Apostle of Hustle albums off the shelf. The band, formed by Broken Social Scene bassist Andrew Whiteman, has been on hiatus since 2009, but had already released three long players up to that point, the pick of which is 'National Anthem of Nowhere' from 2007.

Apostle of Hustle - My Sword Hand's Anger 

Apostle of Hustle - National Anthem of Nowhere

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Ten Years Gone

Dad & I, 1961

When I was very young, Dad seemed to be constantly decorating in some part of the house and whenever he decorated, out came his reel to reel tape player. He would hang wallpaper, hammer nails and slap on paint whilst singing along to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and even early Bob Dylan - all artists who I came to appreciate in later life. Dad had been into music from an early age, visiting Ronnie Scott's and the coffee bars of Soho in the 1950s to hear his first love - jazz. In later years he listened more to classical music, but in the early 1960s he enjoyed many pop hits of the day - I still have tapes of him singing Freddie & the Dreamers and Gerry & the Pacemakers songs with me. Dad's love of music was a constant throughout his life and the care with which he organised and notated his LPs, Cassettes and CDs as he got older made me smile - I could see where I'd got it from.

In his later years, in addition to failing hearing, Dad struggled terribly with his legs. He could barely walk more than a few steps and was in constant pain. His bolthole was the back room, where, with headphones on, he would listen to an album or two every evening, while Mum watched the soaps on TV in the front room. Unfortunately, because of his deafness, such was the volume coming from the the headphones, the music was still quite audible all over the house! The tinny, distorted sound of a symphony orchestra in full flight would often be the first thing I heard on stepping through their front door when I visited.

During a period of personal domestic upheaval in the 2002, I found myself hurriedly and unexpectedly moving from a large shared house into much smaller accommodation and I had no option but to stash my own, by now very large, record collection back at my parents house. Rather than leave piles of heavy boxes stacked up all over the place, I simply reconstructed the free-standing metal shelving units that I'd bought with me, spaced them around the walls in my old bedroom and filed the records away again. This left little usable space for my parents in what was now essentially their spare room, but the arrangement was only meant to be temporary.

Ever the opportunist, Mum hung a makeshift washing line from shelf to shelf across the room - handy for when the weather was too wet for drying clothes on the line in the garden. One day Dad was hanging some washing on Mum's indoor line and, because of his unsteadiness, lost his balance, snagging the line as he fell, bringing three floor-to-ceiling shelves full of LPs crashing down, trapping the lower half of his body beneath them. He wasn't hurt at all, but didn't have the movement in his legs to free himself and Mum couldn't get to him for the piles of records and twisted metal shelving. It was the middle of the day and the neighbours weren't at home, so, in a panic, she called the fire brigade. It must've been a unique call-out for them. They diligently made a pathway across the room to Dad, helped him to his feet and, bless them, apparently did their best not to damage any of my records in the process.

The condition of the records was the furthest thing from my mind when Mum told me about the accident on the phone that evening. I was utterly mortified by the news. At the soonest possible opportunity I went home, dismantled all of the shelves and boxed up my records again. Thankfully he was none the worse for his ordeal and we were all able to laugh about it later when I suggested that, as he had instilled such a love of music into me at a very young age, Dad had literally brought the accident on himself!

Dad passed away 10 years ago today. Here's one that he and I sang together back in 1963.

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