Monday, 17 March 2014

Top Seven: Random Recent Purchases (News, Views and Music 237)

Dear all - yippee! The local library's had a re-fit and the music book section in particular has been much improved: the one lone biography of the Spice Girls has vanished to be replaced by a handful more AAA-related tomes. So without further ado here's another 'random recent purchases' top five containing three books that will also be added to our more comprehensive 'AAA Books' section ( along with a couple of CDs that need adding to our 'AAA solo albums' special ( 

1) "Paul McCartney: A Life" (Peter Ames Carlin, J R Books, 2009)
Does the world really need another Paul McCartney biography? Probably not, but Carlin's book at least does a good job of explaining why there's still such interest in his work. The book isn't perfect by any means - key albums like 'Venus and Mars' and 'London Town' get short shrift and a lot of the Beatles and Wings-era tales have been told better many millions of times over. But Carlin's book is the best yet at describing Paul's early years (the death of his mother and his early days with the Quarrymen especially) and the characters of his dad and brother Mike come across as three-dimensional characters at last. The book is also strong for Macca's post-Wings solo years in the 1980s, with far more detail about Paul's work with Eric Stewart and Elvis Costello than heard elsewhere (even if, like everyone else but me, Carlin doesn't rate 'Press To Play' very highly). Best of all, Carlin gets Paul's character and his difficult but still largely positive relationship with John Lennon spot-on: despite only getting the chance to meet the Beatle very late on in his career Carlin's description of Paul as a 'conservative rebel' is the most fitting yet, Paul wanting to do all the things his partner does without thinking but having too much sense and regard for the old ways to fully overthrow them. Kinder to Paul than most biographers of late, Carlin isn't blinded by love either and manages to turn in a book that's pretty neatly balanced between respect and frustration, as well as adoration and acknowledgement of Paul's occasionally shadowy self. 8/10

2) "The Making of Pink Floyd: The Wall" (Gerald Scarfe, Phoenix/Orion Books, 2010)
From what I can tell, illustrator Gerald Scarfe's always been keen to distance himself from his part in the Floyd story. While Scarfe always got on well with the band (especially Nick Mason and Roger Waters) he had an awful time during the making of 'The Wall' film, a case of too many cooks with too many ideas and with Scarfe's opinions often the ones over-ridden and ignored. So not only is a whole book about Scarfe's time with the band (starting with his illustrations for their 'Wish You Were Here' tour, projected on a screen while the band are playing) completely unexpected but so is the fact that he kept so much: film cell after film cell of the drawings used in the film, pen-and-ink storyboards that reveal how much of an input Scarfe had into the film 'script' (as much as a film without much dialogue has a 'script per se), unused sketches and ideas and most interestingly of all polaroids of Scarfe with various members of the band (who are never together, note). Roger, Nick and David Gilmour were all 'interviewed' for the book - most of which tend to be them leafing through the early pressing of the book and talking about their memories - and the affection all three feel for their colleague is clear. How nice that the 'wall' around Scarfe has come down after all these years. Some of Scarfe's illustrations are remarkable even now - falling leaves turning into humans, brittle teachers dominated by their fat wives, the age-old man-woman battle related in terms of two flowers and best of all doomed bomber planes slowly turning into crosses stained with blood (is there a more chilling image of the Second World War?) Some of the pictures are just odd - metal beasts, men carryuing 'burdens' on their backs, city towers marked with blood and an aborted attempt to draw Pink and his un-named wife as Punch and Judy. The best bit, though, is by another artist working on the film who was 'hired' by alienated director Alan Marshall (whose also interviewed for the book and surprisingly kind about it all) which shows 'school bully Roger and his pal Gerald Inky' - which says more about the state the makers of the film were in than any number of reminiscences and photographs. A nice collection, although you have to be a fan of the film rather than the Floyd to get the most of the book. 7/10

3) "Every Night's A Saturday Night" (Bobby Keys, Omnibus Press, 2012)
We've stuck this book under the 'Rolling Stones' section because that's the band Bobby is most 'linked' with (he was born on the exact same day as Keith Richards albeit across the pond and plays on a majority of the Stones albums since 1971) although he played on quite a few other AAA albums too (there are mentions of work with Graham Nash, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and a particularly memorable encounter with John Lennon during his 'lost weekend'). It's the Stones stories that are the most exciting though, revealing quite a bit we didn't know before. Long seen as Keef's big 'ally' within the band (and almost as hedonistic as the guitarist), Bobby actually started off as Mick Jagger's big friend, even staying rent-free at his Stargroves house for months on end, even though the pair barely speak anymore apparently (Keys did rather leave the band in the lurch, his alcoholism getting the better of him mid-tour, something that comes across as entirely reasonable in his re-telling of the story). The photographs with this book are a delight, showing just how much a part of the action is and his own personal voice comes over loud and clear throughout the book. Unfortunately, though, it's all too clear that this autobiography is one dashed off into a dictaphone between gigs and written by a secretary rather than a ghost-writer: the dates jump around, memories get stuck together and the whole book sounds more like a semi-celebrity chatting about their story down the pub than a collection of the man's true status within rock music. 5/10 

4) Eric Stewart "Frooty Rooties" (1979)
The only 10cc solo album released while the band were still 'together', I was expecting more from this album, which isn't up to the standards of even 10cc's worst records. Eric recorded it quickly during his recovery from a life-threatening car-crash, which explains both why he gets so few songs on the next 'proper' 10cc album 'Look, Hear, Are You Normal?' and why he sounds rather less than himself here. Too often the album takes the easy way out, interesting ideas getting buried under silly retro-rock riffs and track titles like 'guitaaaaaarghs' that sound like pastiche 10cc rather than genuinely funny. There are highlights though: the opening song 'The Ritual' is a 10 minute mini-masterpiece of frustration at all the nonsense meaningless things humans do when they could be doing something bigger and clearly a key development in Eric's writing (it'll end up with what I consider his best work in a few years on 'Windows In The Jungle'). 'Doris The Florist' is a fun 10cc-ish story that doesn't go where you think it does that's funnier than most of 'Look Hear' to boot. Everything else, though, sounds a bit tired and unsure of itself - understandably, really, given the circumstances - with the title downwards rather too far a throwback to the 1950s: the horrid 'Night and Day' might well be the worst thing the guitarist ever wrote and even gets an unwelcome reprise! 3/10

5) Eric Stewart "Girl" (1980)
After his car-crash Eric became ridiculously prolific, as if making up for lost time. This film soundtrack, however, isn't one of his better ideas: most of the songs are full of the sort of soft 'lift music' instrumentals every film from the 1980s seems to be full of and there are only four actual 'songs'. To be fair, these aren't bad: despite the generic titles 'Warm Warm Warm' 'Tonight' and the title track 'Girls' are real character songs, Stewart doing well to get into the mindset of an ambitious female blocked not by talent but by sexism (it may be that the 1983 10cc song 'Working Girls' started life here too - the date seems wrong but it sounds like a good fit at least). I couldn't tell you how the music fits the film sadly - like the soundtrack album it seems to have died a very quiet death and even Film4 have never repeated it to date. One for the committed fan only really, although you'll be pleasantly surprised once you get past the instrumentals. 4/10

6) Eric Stewart "Do Not Bend" (2001)
Apart from two underwhelming 10cc reunions and his work with Paul McCartney, this was the first 'proper' Eric Stewart release in 18 years and hopes were high. A clever 10cc-ish title and some 10cc-ish song titles (sample: 'Set In Blancmange') set those hopes higher. But as a whole 'Do Not Bend' is even worse than Eric's 'Frooty Rooties' record, an embarrassing collection of white reggae and soul-less soul music without Eric's usual character and cleverness. Only closing track 'You Are Not Me' has any real emotion to offer - and then it's of the 'stop pigeon-holing me' type which seems a rather odd statement to make after so many poor re-makes of 'Dreadlock Holiday'. Eric is a terrific team-player - one of the best in fact, with harmonies to die for and an ability to put guitar to anything - but he really struggles to front a whole album, especially one as low budget as this done on the cheap. Give it a miss. 2/10

7) Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott "Majic Mijits" (2003)
The last recordings made by the two chief songwriters in the Small Faces were never finished - Steve Marriott left temporarily for another Humble Pie reunion and then died in a house fire - so what we have here is a compilation of a CD of largely 'finished' material and a second CD of 'outtakes'. Most fans are disappointed by it and certainly this album doesn't compare to the band's 1960s material (not least because Ronnie's MS is giving him a real battle recording the vocals). But treat this album as a fascinating 'extra' and it certainly has its moments - lots more than the two 1970s Small Faces reunions anyway. Marriott is on particularly blistering vocal form and comes up with his single greatest song since the early 70s 'Lonely No More', on which he finally sounds happy (his 'Toe Rag', celebrating family life and his own 'Artful Dodger' like offspring, is pretty sweet too). Ronnie Lane's songs - his first recordings for nearly a decade after illness and record company problems - still sound like they've always done, gorgeous pieces of folk-rock that might suffer from the tinny 1980s recording productions and Ronnie's increasing problems with his once smooth vocals but beneath the surface are still as wonderful as ever (the autobiographical 'Son Of Stanley Lane' especially). Whenever any of the Small Faces got together post-split they invariably spent their time slagging off their early managers who cost them so much money and the way the Immediate record label went bust without warning. As a result there's a couple of really bitter songs here you might not be expecting from the pair's 1960s songs, but far from being off-putting these are amongst the best on the album, Ronnie taunting everyone whose ever stood in his way for being 'chick chick chicken!' Best of all are the chats between Steve and Ronnie mid-song and thankfully left intact, goading each other on and showing how much affection is in the room and that they've got together for reasons bigger than financial ones. A clever title, showing the duo are 'still' the Small Faces and then not quite the same after all, is the icing on the cake. 'Majic Mijits' isn't classic Marriott or Lane but it did deserve to come out at the time and would surely have boosted both men's popular standing in a way that the later Humble Pie and Lane's Slim Chance records hadn't quite managed. 6/10

And that's it for another week. Join us next issue for more news, views and music!

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