Monday, November 26, 2007

Forgotten Insects - The Rise And Fall Of Altered Images

The birth of this band from the wee darkest depths of Glasgow happened purely by accident in around 1980. Scruffy school mates by the strangest names of Tich, Tinny, Johnny and Caesar were struggling to get away from the school dances and town halls, getting paid peanuts to sweaty, drunken crowds of kids whose ears were just about as in tune to the music as the band were.

It was only when the older brother of Johnny, by the name of Gerry decided that his girlfriend at the time's little sister Clare, had a fairly pretty singing voice and that a girl fronting the band might give the guys a bit of a boost. It is these life changing moments that one only hears about in the music industry (like the timely meeting of Lennon and McCartney at a village fete) that bring fame and success all rolled into one. Fate, as we call it seems to strike at the strangest times. These split second occasions don't happen anymore, or at least, the industry doesn't allow for them to happen any more due to 'bands' and music being mass produced, like a conveyor belt. This is an album review on one of the last bands not to have been produced in this historical and fatalistic way. Some kids got together quite naturally and the rest was history.....

This album is not just another 'hits' album. Its extensive in the fact that we are also introduced to some newer tracks. What does happen here is that we are taken on a journey around the career of Altered Images. Since Miss Grogan has gone on to what a lot of us would call, better things on Sky Channel, VH-1, she hasn’t needed to fall back on any royalties from her songs. However, I understand that she couldn’t resist temptation and had a solo single out this year called 'Love Bomb.'

In the early eighties they only released three albums. 81' Happy Birthday. 82' Pinky Blue and 83' Bite. In this time they only released eight singles. The highest position and perhaps their most famous single, 'Happy Birthday.' This one reached number 2 in September of 1981. (It was kept off the top slot would you believe by 'Green Door' by Shakin Stevens.) 'Happy Birthday', and other hits are featured on this album. An album that, in my opinion is worth scrapping the rest for and just reaching for this one off the shelf instead.

The album starts with a short 'intro' not unlike Cyndi Lauper's album, 'A Night To Remember' when all that can be heard is a scratchy record also at the end of the album and we think that our stereo is on the blink. This intro for Altered Images is a simple glockenspiel (and yes, I did have to look that word up) with Clare repeating 'Happy Birthday' in the distinctive tune. We are immediately struck by the clearness of her voice. She is pitch perfect and her voice echoes like tiny bells. Actually, listened to it carefully, it sounds as if this has been recorded again for the release of this very album. Her voice is still spot on, yet sounds a little older. The same intro was used on their first album 'Happy Birthday' and also used again to close the album.

We are then lead into there first hit, and not a memorable one, but this album has been produced as a tour through the bands chart history. 'Dead Popstars' has a title that would sound at home on a Smiths album, and at only the highest position of sixty seven, spending only a fortnight in the charts, we are not holding too much hope out on this being a stormer of a track to listen to. Even so, this band did, eventually take the world by the balls and became one of the greatest British bands to find fame in less that two years. This is track 2 on our album here, and it starts with a rather dull and depressing riff in flat. Their heaviest influences at the time when they were finding their feet was Siouxie and the Banshees. Little surprising really as this is the band that we think we are actually hearing. This influence has a strong presence within this track. It also paints the picture of the time. Released in March 1981, it was towards the end of the mass punk era and the picture is clear. Clare uses her untamed voice to curl up at the end of every note like a childlike impression of Toyah Wilcox. It also has distinguishing themes of Depeche Mode. It shows all the markings of a new band trying a sound that reflects those of their contemporaries at the time. The lyrics are dull and interesting, and possibly not the best way to open album, but I guess Altered Images are well established enough to throw an awful early single in the knowledge that the listeners aren't going to turn it off immediately.

Track three is the very intriguing 'Insects' and we feel that Clare really has turned into one by the way she uses her voice to enhance her lyrics. We are starting to hear the Altered Images we know and love come peeping through. The band aren't creating so much noise in this track. We can distinguish instruments. We can hear the beginning riff more clearly. The band now feel that they are working together rather than competing against each other in the previous track. Its also a better stab at the chart. We are surprised to learn that this wasn't released. It appeared on their first album 'Happy Birthday' released in September 1981. This was supposed to be their finest album, but that was debatable. Their best work was yet to come. Still 'Insects' is a humorous tune especially the hissing Clare tails off the track. You can imagine her bending low down to the crowd enhancing her voice as she twists herself.

Track four is the better known 'Love and Kisses'. We are hearing true Altered Images. This was also featured on their first album. The drum effect throughout the track puts the listener in mind of and early Adam and the Ants track. This tribal usage of drums were popular with most bands in the early eighties. It is well rounded theme to the era of the time. We had left the punk era behind now, and with all music at the time, it reflected that. Perhaps the one track that could be the answer to the question of their immediate success was ‘Happy Birthday,’ and was here that they entered commercial stardom. The band create a pop style now by breaking away from their punk roots, to simply make money. Clare was famed for bouncing and jumping her tiny frame around the stage. For this track she simply couldn't keep still. The lyrics are catchy and its a tune that has been played over and over again for millions once a year, every year. The single stayed a massive seventeen weeks in the chart. The album, released in the same month, was only given its extensive credit simply on the strength of this record being so popular. Chosen as one of the most perfect party records of the decade with its jingling guitar riffs and rolling quick drum beats, regardless whether its anyone's birthday or not....

Incidentally, the album was produced by Steve Severin, also the producer of Siouxie Sioux. So we can understand the doom filled desperation sound of the forgettable ‘A Days Wait..‘ The lyrics are not of now what we see as Altered Images style, and the tune is rather tuneless. It was released in 1981, but thankfully, didn't do anything.
Perhaps we were relieved with songs like 'Small Without Me.' By the sound and usage of synthesiser, we can gather that it is a recent track, although I have not record of this track at all. All I can decide is that its one of those tracks thrown into a 'hits' album to startle the listener. It starts with a tambourine fuelled riff that sounds rather like Lenny Kravitz. The mono radio effect is used on Clare's voice like and this is also used with her as she also sings backing vocals and its a taste of Altered Images could still cut the grade if they were still releasing singles today. Her voice sounds fuller, more mature and the slightly 21st century indie sound suits the whole band.

‘I Could Be Happy,’ is simply a mirror of 'Happy Birthday' in its style, beat and not far away from the same melody but perhaps slightly flatter. We also hear a choir effect to wrap the track in something that doesn't sound so enclosed. One gets the feeling with some of their tracks that its rather like standing in a life with the band and Clare performing in between floors. Released in December 1981, and even uses some chime bars to make the track sound seasonal, it did reach number seven in the UK charts, hanging around for twelve weeks in total. Not surprising that in 'See Those Eyes' and we back to commercial hits making time. Now we are hearing the definite sound that was unmistakeable Altered Images. Clare's vocal is an octave lower which allows her lyrics to come over clearer. The problem with their tracks to this date is that Clare's voice had been stretched to its limit therefore understanding her lyrics was difficult. Featured on the 1982 album, 'Pinky Blue' it was also a fairly successful hit released in March of the same year and attained the position of number eleven. It wasn't of the same calibre of 'I Could Be Happy', it had something missing from the usual releases. Perhaps, it was after this single, the band came to a decision to change the format and the style of their records. A sort of, move with the times, if you like. It was hits after this time that took on a whole new sound.

Also with the titled track of the same album, 'Pinky Blue,‘ it does at first, sound a little too bubblegum and leg warmers to the listener and we panic at the thought of Altered Images turning into Barbie. It open with a futuristic sound of lazar guns. In all honesty, if Altered Images hadn't done this track, then Transvision Vamp would have snapped it up in quick time. Clare Grogan is certainly bubblegum but more fishnets in need of some repair rather than leg warmers. She waters down her impression of Toyah but sounds more Tracy Ullman. It didn't do much for the increasing fast repertoire for Altered Images, only achieving a poor number thirty five.

Track eleven is the titled 'Forgotten', and this first opening beats sound half nicked from New Order's 'Blue Monday' In fact, if they had hired a female vocal, this is what they would have come up with. Clare, like many female fronting leads of the time actually couldn't sing. It was a time when an actual voice was not required. It wasn't long before we heard 'West End Girls' completely talked through, although brilliantly by The Pet Shop Boys. Was this the style they were now toying with? No, the next track spelled a new beginning, although a short one, but also opened them up to a whole new audience, and in my mind, had finally landed them fair and square on the map of famous British pop.

'Don't Talk To Me About Love' threw a number seven at them, but should have done better. Within this track we hear a tune, Clare singing and good backing vocals, and a cute guitar riff that could be whistled if fast enough. Released on the 19th of March 1983, it really couldn't have got any higher. Its release was purely bad timing. Unfortunately, they were forced to remain at number seven due to 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart' by Bonnie Tyler being at number one, one month, then 'Lets Dance' by David Bowie the next. The pressure to release anything better than that was far to high for the student band from Glasgow. These were old pros sitting at the top, and there was no room for Altered Images. But, on the other hand, what did the chart matter when you had best selling albums and one of your greatest fans was John Peel, who followed them overtly. He once said '...say what you like about Altered Images, they could rip the s**t, both on record and no stage, out of a lot of bands of that period.' It was true, Altered Images did and yet laid the path straight for future bands like, The Primitives, Garbage and Transvison Vamp. Grogan had made jumping around and acting girlie alright. It wasn't cool anymore to be old and mysterious all heavily made up. It was 'in' to be acting like its your twelfth birthday, wearing rolled up baggy trousers and brightly coloured beads around your neck. She, above all represented other kids walking down the street. So in the next song, ‘Love To Stay, which is
slightly Human League in their latter day theme, is cured from all the bouncing and throwing oneself around the room knocking the coffee table over. Its thoroughly produced on a keyboard, and we hear no U2 guitar take offs. Clare is strangely at home with this melodic enchanting track. It sooths and irons out the creases formed by new romantic punk.

'Change Of Heart' is where we are introduced to pretty awful sounding synthesisers sounding like an end of pier dance organ. With lots of arrs and ooos, its a little sixties sounding, somewhat retro, not unlike the style that Diana Ross tried to produce with 'Chain Reaction'. Again, we can hear that they were prime influences to Transvision Vamp. We now start to see that pop history is just a chain of events and sounds.
Moving on to 'Bring Me Closer' is, and I must say, a very well worked disco track. Lots of clapping and not short of a roller disco classic. Its Sister Sledge if you like. Madonna could have pinched this for 'Confessions On A Dance floor.' It contains cool sax breaks and swaying violins, fresh off Love Boat. Its a little on the cheesy side, but as I said, works, but please, Altered Images, don't do another one! 'Las Vegas Lullaby' is a shock to the system. Its simple and sweet but not sickly with its tinkle tinkle bells and slide guitar. Its Clare being rather serious for a moment. After all, she has matured in years as well as voice. Unfortunately, this is the first we've heard it.

The album finishes with the statutory awful, time filler mix of some hit we've already heard on the album. This time its 'I Could Be Happy' that they've ruined by putting some funky beats to it. Its too heavy on the 'Blue Monday' feel. If I wanted to hear that, I would have reviewed 'Substance 1987'. The intro goes on for far too long, then jut when you think you actually might be hearing the track for real, it goes back into a loop of hefty intro again. So please, don't make Clare sound like Jive Bunny. I couldn't take anymore.....

In short, this album makes you stop and think. Should we just cast the CD to one side and perhaps play it again when there nothing else better to do? We've just cast aside someone's life there! These youngsters dedicated their lives to making music. With pop so soulless and cold today, it can make you one minute into an overnight sensation, then drop you like yesterdays fish in the morning. At least Altered Images lasted a smidge longer than that…

Tracks included;

Happy Birthday intro
Dead Popstars
Love And Kisses
Happy Birthday
A Days Wait
Small Without Me
I Could Be Happy
See Those Eyes
Pinky Blue
Don’t Talk To Me About Love
Love To Stay
Change Of Heart
Bring Me Closer
Las Vegas Lullaby
I Could Be Happy (MR mix)
Happy Birthday outro.

©mduffy 2006

Friday, November 16, 2007

Out On The Wiley Windy Moor.... (Or That One Were Nyles Invites Daphne Over...)

Catherine Bush recorded her first demo under the financial guidance of Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Presenting it with shaky hands to giants EMI, they signed her and she quickly issued her fist single. The self penned ‘Wuthering Heights’ went straight to number making her the very first British female solo artist to accomplish this feat. Followed only a month later by her release of her first album, ‘The Kick Inside,’ went almost achieved equal success by placing itself at number three in the album chart. An album written totally by her, she had already been well experienced in singing and writing. Forming her first band titled KT Bush with her brother, Paddy at the tender age of sixteen, she had already been composing on her piano since she was eleven. A pure child prodigy, she was destined to become the strangest, most curious of all female artists to tread the musical ground.

Boldly walking the very male path of art rock, she was self assured and focused to the very last penned note. Studying music, dance and mime, she incorporated these art forms into her every movement both musically and visually. The latter, perhaps fitting her operatic voice, she used visual dress to accentuate her music leaving the viewer mesmerised at such a performance of dance as well as voice. Her creativeness was originally inspired by her love of all that was the occult and the supernatural. Collaborating with her passion for classic literature, she chose to use classical heroines for the themes of her earlier songs. Theatrical epics were what she actually produced, probably wasted on the general buying public at the time, she managed to touch a chord and drew into her a still and very attentive audience.

Casting a drifting shadow of mystery around her being, she was shy, thoughtful and deeply sensitive when being interviewed, a situation she was far from comfortable with. Touring very little, she, over the years became introverted and felt awkward as though her place in the world had been and gone. Building a fortress around herself, she apparently, although briefly, changed her name to Kathy from Wuthering Heights. (Yet it does not take too much thought to work out that this name was a shortening of her own name anyway..) Feeling disillusioned with the world and the music industry she felt that her music did not have a place and she curled herself up in a little ball to the world and ‘disappeared’ for over a decade. Eventually coming to the surface by the nagging voices of surrounding influences, she conducted herself into writing suddenly, a new album, ‘Aerial,’ again, a mythical character but this time, her recognition was for her composing and her ability to surprise with the most extraordinary prose and music to fit. Not so much now gawped at for her striking beauty as a young woman. Now she was older, stronger and more a legend with starry eyes looking now up at her, rather than those early years where it had very much been the other way round.

Self designing her own studio at her home, she spent hour after hour perfecting sounds and effects for her records. She craved for the ability to create a visual effect through music to plant an idea into the listener’s head. She accomplished this by using her knowledge on classic literature. Having that imaginative brain herself, she found it easy to use descriptions of not just scenes in her music but recreating feelings and emotions of those characters who were devised so many years before her time. Catherine Bush from Bexleyheath in Kent had written her own first album from start to finish marking the start of a career that made her into the most influential British female artist of the twentieth century and beyond…

Moving on to this featured album, it includes the number one ‘Wuthering Heights,’ from February 1978 and ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes,’ which reached number 6 in June the same year. Both songs featuring the fantastical lyrics that she was quickly becoming famous for, and also her voice swooping up and down like a fun fair ride made her vocals more often than not difficult to follow. May it be then a blessed relief to us to find the lyrics written down on the back cover. It is advisable to read these words through thoroughly before attempting to understand the album through playing it. Once fully educated, we can proceed with the album in hand…

The first track is titled ‘Moving,’ and it promptly introduces us to the sounds of whales, are we surprised? No, this is a Kate Bush album after all and we should be prepared for anything. What we do hear throughout the album is a prominent piano by her fair hand as well as a vast array of instruments all cunningly conceived on intelligent keyboards. Whilst focusing on inspiration from Celtic and Eastern sounds, we find this theme amongst the tracks. Even the front cover shows our heroine dangling from a kite with a red dragon fiercely portrayed on it and to the left, we see a giant eyeball, although, who’s it is, remains a mystery. With Mr Gilmour at her side, she boldly stepped in the public eye with this album which was recognised more as a personal diary of all her accomplishments in composing to date. Never afraid to experiment with styles and textures of music, she was the first female artist to walk into a predominately man’s prog rock territory. This first track is fundamentally flat in chord and solemn in lyric. What we are immediately struck with is the clarity of her translucent voice. What we can’t understand is the words. I actually found that this feat was just as difficult listening through headphones! Her voice has a natural four octave range so to keep up with what she is actually singing about is difficult beyond belief. This track is soothing when perhaps the opening track to an album should require some more energy. A strong drum backing together with electronic keyboards surround the song with drifting and winding depths of feeling. Again, we have to remember that this is an album for Kate Bush, damn what the public think…ah, those whales again….

‘The Saxophone Song,’ opens with out us actually realising. Sounding like the continuation of the previous track, its feature is that Pink Floyd sound. What we do discover is that her voice sounds like that of a twelve year old, primitive and faint, but yet handling its work well. Produced by the firm hand of out hero Dave Gilmour, a song about saxophones probably isn’t out or the ordinary for a man whose band is obsessed with the instrument. I do believe Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, designed the entire album around what appeared to be just a saxophone. Again, what we find to be residential PF is the endless rolling theme of a bizarre instrumental breaks towards the end of the track. Rather meaningless and perhaps unfitting on a Kate Bush album, but yet peacefully at home on a concept Pink Floyd EP.

‘Strange Phenomena’ appears to be on the same theme as the previous two tracks. Her vocals are however, on a catty theme and we await for the slightest mieow! Perhaps the backing vocals weren’t Kate at all, but a small litter of kittens allowed to roam freely around the studio. The rain drop effect of the piano is entrancing however, since up until now her voice has been soothing and transparent, she extends now into a theatrical trance using her voice as an acting tool, rather like that of a musical piece featured in an Andrew Lloyd Webber show. The theme takes on different shapes and styles in the same vein and the music shifts and changes tempos which we still find easy to keep up with. Yet, this strange mysterious piece unfolds in our ears then without warning, whole track fades out as quickly as it faded in.

Perhaps ‘Kite’ and the previous track should had swapped titles as this is basically a blind mixing of a Specials backing, Barbara Dickson and a little Stevie Wonder as a side order. The alley cat vocals of Kate whine and whinge throughout the track and leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. The opening lines are of somewhat a disordered understanding, ‘…Beelzebub is aching in my belly-o, my feet are heavy and I’m rooted in my wellios…’ We wonder who the devil she got herself together to compose the next two tracks. An extreme effect of the previous track, we imagine her curling her body around the microphone stand, twisting and turning in a Gothic dance. This theme is generally a grunge reggae effect. These tracks we find, as the album rolls on, become more experimental as if she is dipping her toes in our ears to see what she can get away with before we find it too diverse to cope with.

‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes,’ is a stripped down idea of what Kate Bush would sound like if she ditched the floaty scarves, makeup and thigh length boots and stood alone with microphone in jeans and scruffy trainers. This track practically slams us in the face after the gradual climb into insanity from the previous songs. Like a blank canvas, she suddenly presents us her in her naked form vocally. Simple we can feel her song and her words seep over us like syrup. This is how Kate Bush should be heard. Without the poise of the fancy backings, she expresses herself most deeply in this type of song, simply because there is no scope to be anything else to us.

‘Wuthering Heights,’ is not just a song about a slightly abnormal girl called Kathy and some dopey bloke called Heathcliff who was more interested in looking moody and shouting a lot than he was in Kathy. Personally I don’t know why she bothered with him, and the idea of a pop song written about a classic, depressing, full of consumption novel seemed, at the time to be rather extreme and incomprehensible. However, Miss Bush pulled it off. We now want to run across the foggy open hills across the damp sodden ground with flounced skirts and scratched bare legs from all that heather. It is time to fantasise and dream deep and heavy and launch ourselves into all that is unreal. This track was pure musical escapism. We detested the staginess of her usual vocals whereas, this track, although in character of a fictional tragic love story, we delight in her performance as Kathy. The super intelligent keyboards along with its player being Duncan Mackay and hugging percussion and Celeste, gives the impression of a forty two piece orchestra with all the trimmings. The presence of Mike Oldfield is strongly felt in the instrumental break fading out the track after a long performance centre stage. This track was the very key of the door that was the gateway to the massive career of Kate Bush. We will all be remembered for one thing and this was it for her. Self penned and all her own work, she got her number one in Feb 1978 only a month before this album was released to present a fairly reasonable number 3. It appeared again some years later as a vocal B side to a track called ‘Experiment IV’ in November 1986.

The next track takes on a rock theme which rather takes us by the curlies. ‘James And The Cold Gun,’ for some incredibly sad reason doesn’t actually suit her. It is almost like asking the very young Aled Jones to sing a Suzie Quattro song. Kate’s voice is far to prissy and doesn’t carry the balls for this song. We wonder what it is actually doing here. Hey, what’s this? Has Rick Wakeman just walked in with a keyboard under his arm? Bless her, she did put as much of herself into this track by flicking each lyric up at the ends and her favourite paw licking feature in her lyrics, but perhaps this might have been a good time to either take a walk round the block, sit under a parked car or scrounge a saucer of milk…. Just as she stops singing, we actually get to here a pretty good backing track. I felt sorry for the poor musicians who would have done a better job if this track had been purely instrumental. Poor Kate, she was never meant to be a rock chick, so we forgive her just this once, just please Kate, don’t do it again…

‘Feel It’ is much suited to her cat like approach to her songs. Dreamy and solely accompanied by piano, she can dance a waltz around the room with this instrument. I do believe she was probably born sitting at a piano and singing a love song…this was the only style that ever actually suited her. Such classic lines reflect the type of person she was and probably still is,’…a little nervous laughter, locking the door, my stockings fall onto the floor…’ such timeless lyrics that never fail to sink into one’s conscience. I begin to feel that this heavy presence of Pink Floyd didn’t do much for her at all in this album and it is brief episodes like this track, that we hear Bush for the singer that she really is..

On the same theme but a little on a lighter note, the next track, ‘Oh To Be In Love,’ is about the right borderline for Miss Kate. She really shouldn’t delve any deeper into the rocky anthems that are best left to a singer like Pat Benetar. Having said that, this and the following track were firm live favourites. Let’s hope the arrangements for these songs were better on stage. Kate’s voice was always far too delicate for anything to harsh. What we don’t find in these final tracks is the same rawness and energy as in the first opening track from this album. She, admittedly resolves to entertain us by using her dreamy, fantasy style which she does best. Her brother’s mandolin gives the track a Spanish theme although probably not fitting but it somehow does give the track a fuller sound. What we find is little touches that no other female artists used. We’re no, however sure about the ‘ho, ho’s’ that appear as backing tracks for the chorus, but they do compliment her extraordinary vocal range that even young choir boys can only dream about…

‘L’amour Looks Something Like You,’ is fairly self explanatory and needs not further description on the subject front. What we are looking for is something other than what we’ve endured on the last previous tracks. Kate quickly resorts to stretching her vocal chords to an extreme extent but very little else happens. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing dull and momentous about Miss Bush, but one found that an entire album of her and her music only was pretty heavy going and one had to be in the right frame of mind to withstand such torture on a vocal scale. At first her wonderful, trill vocals are a novelty, however, after several ballads all sounding the same as the last but on a different arrangement, then it does become similar to pulling teeth…With this particular song, I will leave it with one thought for you as a line from the song..’..all the time I find I’m living in that evening, with that feeling of sticky love inside…’ That, was anyone’s guess…

‘Them Heavy People’ is perhaps just a track with bad grammar, but its doesn’t sound too bad on initial hearing. Again, we can hear the slight rustle of something on a Jamaican front that, it has to be said again, doesn’t suit. She was, I feel a female version of Bryan Ferry. He could grasp the style and the feeling of a ballad instantly and give it such depth of emotion that his ballads were really quite incredible, but give him something on a lighter, rockier note, and he sounded as though he was being dipped up and down in a hot barrel of tar. For this on a female hand, we find Kate in the same bucket of the black stuff they put on roads….

‘Room For Life,’ opens and we are almost gagging for room to breathe from this album, however, actually this song is about being pregnant. Bought, as many millions of copies were, on the assumption that all the tracks were just going to be off shoots of the soaring highs and lows of ‘Wuthering Heights,’ we are disappointed particularly when someone has received a set of bongos as a birthday present and brought them into the studio and has a little play in the background while the others are recording. It rambles on without a thought for its listener and we feel perhaps that it was about time this little cat went out for a walk around the block…this calypso theme really does nothing for the litter of kittens she has as backing vocalists.. Perhaps there were no parked cars outside the studio that afternoon to go and hide under waiting for an engine to start before making a bolt of safety…

‘The Kick Inside,’ opens and we feel the urge to hum an INXS track and can’t think why…A song, I believe is about a poor young girl who has become pregnant by her brother, a strong subject for a singer to cover, especially when reminding ourselves of this being of the seventies. The thing that strikes me at the end of this album apart from utter joy, is the lack of lyrics on each track according to the lyrics on the back sleeve. I guess we should feel that we have been spoilt with over powering instrumentals. If only that had been the case, I feel no need to feel overly struck by any instruments, perhaps a hit over the head with a collection of percussion items might have had a more powerful impact. Suddenly the track finishes….

Do you think she heard us…?

Idiosyncratic art rock is probably, as you can gather is not my scene and will all fairness Kate Bush, her work towards the mid to late eighties was strong, powerful and transporting to levels of effects and layers of sounds so beyond our dreams and sometimes, nightmares… if we can get passed these strange, prima Donna ballerina days then everything would be justified. I guess, in conclusion, what we find the most hard to believe that this young woman who gave us this far less than average album, also gave us the entrancing and demon filled , ‘Running Up That Hill’…

Sadly, for sometime after the glitz of the seventies stardom she had received, she became ridiculed and laughed at for her eccentricities. Wanting to be taken seriously as an artist, her come back about a year or so ago ignited more public praise and recognition that she could ever have hoped for. After fading out like an old has been star, she gingerly blew the dust off her shoulders and set out to make a name for herself once more. Not as strikingly beautiful, she appears today like a reflection of your younger child’s pre school teacher, or perhaps that nice woman who lives across the road who’s husband goes out to work every day in his clean Mondeo…..Time has not worn well on our Kate, but she was, the one and only songstress of her time whether we liked it or not. For those infancy years, I feel that the very tragedy of Kate Bush was the fact that ‘her time’ was several hundred years ago…

With that decade of solitary confinement behind her, she can only hope to equal her popularity today. An achievement that I feel is beyond those dizzy, ‘Wuthering Heights‘……

Kate Bush; Vocals/Keyboards
Paddy Bush; Mandolin
Del Palmer; Bass
Ian Bairnson; guitar
Duncan Mackay; Keyboards with Andrew Powell
Stuart Elliott; drums
David Paton; bass
Morris Pert; percussion
Brian Bath; guitar.

Recorded at AIR London Studios; July/August 1975 and 1977
Picture above appears thanks to

©mduffy 2006

Saturday, November 10, 2007

High Powered Rocket Boots...

Thrown forward as one of the greatest self made singer/songwriters of the twentieth century, Elton John was, to most, that geeky, yet overly flamboyant looking guy in ’larger than life’ sized spectacles jumping wildly at a piano. Forever set in ebony and ivory along side the likes of Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder, these men were the innovators of the legendary MOR, or as we lesser mortals know it, ‘middle-of-the-road’ music.

After tripping over the writer, Bernie Taupin in 1967, the two were soon to become almost as household as the Lennon and McCartney machine. Shelling out bluesy rock, to prog, to slow, wrist slashing ballads was easy for the song writing duo and the uncontrollable mixture of the 1973 album, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ was no exception.

By the time of it’s release in October that year, Elton John had already enjoyed the splendour of having achieved one previous number one album, the undisputedly exceptional ’Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player,’ in February 1973 and five top ten singles. ’Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ was just another number one album it would have seemed, both over her and ’over there,’ where, in the U.S, it held the number one slot for an impressive eight weeks.

Presenting to us a Lowry tinged illustration on the front cover, Ian Beck provides, in my mind, the perfect setting for the musical content within. Showing us young ‘Elt’ stepping through a torn poster to another world, not unlike Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins,’ it features a dazzling pair or red platform boots and a small wind up piano. Faded, deliberately, this album showed, even on first release, all the makings of what a classic album should look like. It is, a known thing that all the greatest albums ever recorded had such uniquely presented album covers. I can’t think of an album where this has not been the case.

This colourful album, in more ways than one, certainly can justify it’s proud place as being one of those great albums of all time. Lavish in it’s content, it glides through every possible genre worth trying. It proves to us that his music, only actually found in those early years, could be just as outrageous as his growing wardrobe. Mismatched and inconsistent it may be to the expertly trained ear, yet these little epics of genius observations over ride this potentially disastrous point and allow the album to stand a distinguished place in any diverse record collection.

However, on the flat side, it is dated and this is always a tough concept for a classic album to shake off. Many a listener under the age of thirty will happily dismiss this perfectly formed album as one of those records best left to Dad’s reflective moments, but even still, there is a lot to be learned from this dangerously arrogant legend in his young, free spirited youth. Let us not forget either, that this was Elton in his expressive, ‘couldn’t-give-a-monkeys’ era and long, long before the dreaded cartoon sound tracks…. Anything pre that first fateful collaboration with Sir Tim Rice, is worth listening to.

The first double album to have been produced by the artist, and agonisingly, not the last opens with the depressingly titled, ‘Funeral For A Friend.’ Introducing us to the very depressing bells, wind noises and organs that one would expect at a truly sad occasion, what we eventually hear is something, somewhat along the lines of Rick ‘The Rock Wizard’ Wakeman. It is Elton’s attempt at prog rock, ‘Yes’ style. Entwining swirls of screeching synths and whining guitars, it is a classic example of prog rock at it’s probable worst. Not everyone’s cup of tea, yet if The Alan Parsons Project lurks unintentionally within your record collection, then you should be pleasantly surprised.

‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ opens up the show which we will familiarise as the glam rock’ spirit of John in the glitter boot seventies. Other tracks on this same tinsel wrapped theme will present themselves as ‘Grey Seal,’ the tongue in cheek lesbian themed, ‘All The Young Girls Love Alice,’ the uncomfortably fast ‘Your Sister Can’t Twist,’ and the ever impressive, ‘Saturday’s Alright For Fighting.’ Yes, but not in those platforms, you don’t….

The reflective bug, that not just waves over Father’s across the world, also gave Elton John a quick slap on the back when we hear a strong throw back to the mellow, melodic 1972 album ‘Honky Chateau,’ in the tracks titled ‘Harmony,’ ‘Social Disease,’ and the biographical Monroe theme, ‘Candle In The Wind.’ These tunes, laced heavily with piano backing and lazy lyrics are probably the best of Elton John’s ballad work. Somehow, in those early years, he could create a soothing, yet dangerously meaningful song with very little around him. The only difference here, in the album as opposed to ‘Honky Chateau,’ is the featured element of strings. Given to these ballads in ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ they result in a fullness and polished sound, thus pounding out the future path for famous John ballads and we came to love and hate. I personally enjoyed the slightly raw approach to the songs from ‘Honky Chateau,’ but it is, down to personal preference.

Reggae (I can see you cringing!) also makes a guest appearance on this eclectic album, although we are relieved when Elton decided not to take up the calypso way of life permanently. Strangled beyond recognition, the reggae, as we would know it, is trying it’s best to break out of the John piano mould.
Intended as a pun about a certain incident whilst recording the album from a Jamaican studio refusing to co operate, the track doesn’t work for me. Having said that, we must appreciate that this was as experimental that this songwriter was ever going to get after this moment, so we forgive him, just this once. ‘Jamaican Jerk Off,’ being the title, perhaps says it all about the general feeling of hardship being stuck in a hotel room writing, instead of being in a studio that simply would not play ball.

We can enjoy this musical roller coaster ride with great enthusiasm when noting it’s time and it’s artist. Surprisingly un commercial, it was complete breathing space for the artist at the most creative time of his life. Swamped in his later years by too much money and a regimental industry, artists over a certain age are simply not allowed to be free thinkers, well, not today anyway. Perhaps what we have here in this album is a big, oozing slice of music history. When we also remember who was around at the time with exceptional albums; Mike Oldfield, Genesis and the irrepressible Pink Floyd, it is then that we can slot ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ with placid ease.

It marks a certain point in experimental time. It’s just a shame that the music world today cowers at the sight of such expressiveness for there is no room for it anymore. Money and the proven fast making of the green stuff has pushed out the talent once and for all.

For this album, don a Caftan, light a joss stick and if you are a certain age, enjoy the trip back to a time when music was actually….well… music.

Music by Elton John and words by Bernie Taupin.
Elton John - piano
Davey Jonstone - Electric guitar/acoustic and backing vocals
Dee Murray - Bass and backing vocals
Nigel Olsen - drums and congas
DJM records 1973.
Recorded (eventually) at Strawberry Studios somewhere in France.
Bought on vinyl for four pounds, record collectors fair, South Coast.

©m.duffy 2006.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Forget Footlights, Bring On The New Interactive Talent Troop

"Steve Coogan's online sitcom allows viewers to write the script. Our writer joins in the fun - or tries to Stephen Armstrong I am trying to get my first joke on air...." via Times Online

It makes one wonder what sort of world the entertainment business has been drawn into. Would it have acceptable to the young Peter Sellers if he had stumbled across a website (what’s a website Eccles?) where upon he saw thousands of people sitting in their humble households banging out amazingly witty and funny scripts for the very first interactive sitcom?

I guess he would have scratched his head and wondered if Michael Bentine had been behind it, yet this is exactly how the world seems to be writing it’s next ground breaking hit. We don’t leave it up to the masters of A League of Gentlemen or just about anyone who every stepped accidentally into Cambridge Footlights, no, we sit in out comfortable armchairs, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil and jot down a scene which would make even Victoria Wood bang her head repeatedly against the nearest piano and say “Why didn’t I think of that??” As a writer I wonder if this whole “come one everyone, anyone can do this” scheme of things is generally a good idea. I am of the old school who engages in a delightful mode when I recall the plights of some of the best loved writers of my proud generation - Stephen Fry, Ben Elton and “Knight-me-now-why-don’t-you" Richard Curtis didn’t suddenly see the Pearly Gates fly open and St Peter stand with beaming smile and a laptop in his arms, inviting you to have a go.

It all sounds a little too easy. As a harmless writer and mediocre comic, I have grafted over several minutes (or even a couple of hours, you know) to find the nearest sweetie at the Beeb who just might take pity on me and a few scraps of meaningless script I may have to offer. So with a similar tone to a long distance runner, who on his last mile, has been offered a lift from a bus driver, perhaps I should be grateful.

I shall, no doubt itch the scratch I have now formed irritatingly and get off to type my next revolutionary dialogue on this genius diversion thought up by Mr Coogan. It is tempting, so if there is a choice between the steady churn of rejection emails from the Beeb and a night of a thousand stars on the Steve Coogan Show, then I know where I’ll be going....http, anyone..?

mduffy 2007