Monday, 8 December 2008

News, Views and Music Issue 15 (Intro)

December 8

Welcome to the latest issue of the AAA, a special wow-we’ve-had-50-views-even-though-at-least-30-of-them-were-me-checking-on-the-site edition. As a result, we’ve been getting philosophical about life and so – as a special treat (for those of you with insomnia) - we will be discussing where the human species is going and where it came from later on in this issue (ha, bet the spice girls have never even given the matter any thought!) We’re still waiting for our site to turn up in some search engines too – maybe after Christmas our site will be famous (or infamous!) and people might actually know what you are talking about when you log on. Like most people/events/new releases just before Christmas, there isn’t much to tell you about this week in terms of AAA groups – perhaps they’re all gearing up for their Christmas parties and haven’t got time to appear in the news. Anyway, here’s a quick (if short) round-up of what there is…

Beatle news: …Err, one item only this week I’m afraid. Despite an announcement last Christmas that the complete Beatles 1960s catalogue would be available for download from I-tunes sometime in 2008, it doesn’t look like its going to happen between now and the new year, thanks to a dispute between I-tunes and the two Beatles’ record labels, Apple and EMI. Apple, of course, is the label started up by the band in 1968 (who released all Beatles goodies and solo records from 1968-74), but even these albums were distributed by EMI who can lay some claim to ‘owning’ the copyright too. The Beatles remain pretty much the only ‘important’ ie major-selling group not to be legally available for downloading somewhere on the net – but I think I’m right in saying that the proposed Beatle I-tunes deal (where all of the Beatles’ works are available for download sale from the site) would be a first, although its not clear whether the ‘Anthology’ , ‘Love’ and ‘Beatles at the BBC’ projects would be included in the downloads. Roll on 2009, that’s what we say – although true Beatlenuts might want to hang on to their Christmas money to buy the Beatles CD re-issues due in batches of four next year (with ‘Please Please Me’ through to ‘Beatles For Sale’ available as soon as Easter, possibly).  

Moving swiftly on, here are this week’s anniversaries of all things bright and beautiful from yesteryear. Happy birthdays this week go to Bobby Elliott (drummer with the Hollies from 1964 right up to the present day), who turns 66 on December 8 and Frank Allen, bass player with The Searchers (also from 1964 to the present interestingly enough) who turns 65 on December 14th. Anniversaries of events this week: the sad and untimely deaths of two quite different AAA giants – John Lennon on December 8th 1980 and Otis Redding on December 10th 1967, tragedies both. On a happier note, this week also saw the first ever release of a Beach Boys single, Surfin’, on December 8th 1961 (it did well locally in California but never made the American charts as a whole); Pink Floyd play what is generally regarded as their first ‘proper’ concert – an Oxfam charity gig at the Royal Albert Hall on December 12th 1966; the infamous and unscreened (for 33 years at least) Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus is filmed during one huge 20-hour marathon at Wembley TV studios, a show also featuring The Who, Jethro Tull and John Lennon taking part in a one-off all-star performance (mainly recorded on December 12th 1968); exactly a year later Lennon’s hastily convened Plastic Ono Band play their first gig at the Toronto Peace Festival and finally The Who become the first rock and pop act ever to perform at an opera house, suitably performing their ‘rock opera’ Tommy during a well-received gig at the London Colosseum Opera House on December 13th 1969.

News, Views and Music Issue 15 (Top Five): Why Are We Here? Where Are We Going? And How Come We Never Get There At All?

And just in case you thought that review was long-winded, it doesn’t have anything on this next section….yes, we’ve gone all out in our latest ‘top five’ this issue, planning to put to rights nothing less than the questions that have been perplexing mankind for centuries, with the aid of just a typewriter and a CD player. No, the question isn’t ‘when could anybody possibly think that the spice girls were a good idea?’, we mean the the other big question. So here it is – our guide to understanding the ideas ‘Why are we here?’, ‘Where are we going?’ and ‘Why do we never seem to get there at all?’ In short, here are five arguments put forward on AAA albums for the origins of our species….maybe. If nothing else, music is here to raise discussion points so even if you don’t agree with any of the five arguments raised here (and to be honest there’s no reason why you should as they all could be right…and they all could be wrong), take them with a large dash of salt and (Sgt) pepper. After all, we will never know the answers, but thinking about the question is arguably about the most important thing we could be doing – depending, of course, on what the answer actually is. 

5) We have all been here before. At least, that’s the view of David Crosby on the seminal Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album ‘De Ja Vu’ (see review no 34) which is – among other things - a study of how mankind repeats his mistakes in cycles (just check out that cover, where the quartet are dressed in garb from the American Civil War era, even though one of them is Canadian and another comes from Blackpool). Mankind isn’t ‘evolving’, if you like, just chasing its own tail through crisis after crisis. The title track goes even further, being a Crosby epic about re-incarnation and the idea that our souls are returned to different bodies time and time again down the generations until we get it right. According to Cros’ autobiography, David dallied with the idea of past lives very early in his life when, still a toddler, he found he instinctively knew how to sing harmony notes along with his parents and brothers’ singing and when – at the tender age of 11 – he appeared to know the uses of every sail and mast when taken out sailing one day, despite having never been on a boat before. This ‘déjà vu’ theory would also explain the feelings of many of us that we have been to certain places and done certain things already even though, in our current lives at least, we’ve never been anywhere near. I can’t remember the exact figure, but an overwhelming number of us feel this at some point in our lives, so there. We reckon the Spice Girls have been here at least a hundred times before and they still haven’t got it right.

4) We have all been here before – and we messed it up big time. At least, that’s the view of Paul Kantner during all of his songs for the Jefferson Starship’s 1984 album ‘Nuclear Furniture’ (see review no 87) – we’re not sure if he ever told the rest of the band what he was doing, but their songs seem to fit the overall concept somehow too. The idea is this – picture a George Bush figure ruling over some past highpoint of civilisation, his finger poised on the nuclear device ready to send us to oblivion. Only, in our past life, this figure actually presses the button (no democratic victories for Bracak Obama in this timeline) and suddenly thousands of centuries of human civilisation are knocked out in a stroke. There are huge hints out there that our ancient past was as great technologically if not greater than our own (the true dating of the Sphinx and the earliest pyramids for starters – ie they are still here 4000 years, possibly 7000 years on when most of our buildings from only a century back are in severe disrepair). There are huge hints too at some cataclysmic accident, whether natural or manmade or caused by Bush’s ancestors, that wiped out our species to its very dregs and caused us to start again. Could our mythology be telling us a garbled version of our true past, like some generations-long version of ‘chinese whispers’, dating from a time when mankind had to start all over again and lost the ability to write things down? It’s no surprise that the ‘Nuclear Furniture’ album is also full of (then) topical songs about 1980s culture when it seemed mankind was showing its violent side again (Cold War, violence on television, money-loving yuppies, etc), juxtaposed against protest songs telling us that one day we might be back to the very beginning, ‘huddled in their caves like animals, not human’. This was the period when, just like the aftermath of 9/11, we genuinely feared we might wake up one day to find half the world missing, maybe even the side we were living on. There is a happy ending on the ending, though, thanks to Rose, the charismatic leader, who puts mankind back on their feet again in a much more peaceful, positive manner than the society they left behind so that – in another 7000 years – mankind is still at peace.

3) We haven’t been here before and our past has been leading us up to this point in time. Ah yes, Darwin’s theory of human evolution and the origin of the species which, by it’s author’s own admission, was as full of holes as a Swiss cheese – although still more accurate than any theory up to that time. Let’s look at this theory in greater depth – if survival of the species continues to this day, then where on earth did George Bush and the Spice Girls come from? Anyway, whatever the side effects, it seems to make sense that mankind would learn something from his past, although strangely there were less musical candidates for this commonly-held theory of the origins of humans adapting and learning how to cope with life than you might think. After toying with various Monkees-growing-into-men concepts we’ve plumped for the Moody Blues album ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ LP, one which dates back to the tail-end of the 1960s (the last point in time when you could argue that the human race was moving forward at any speed). As the album puts it, ‘we go higher and higher now we’ve learned to play with fire’, with mankind a species determined to master everything in his power even if it leaves him isolated and confused (is a bigger brain really better in evolutionary terms? Are we the only species that has suicides, needs psychiatrists or cries buckets of tears on a regular basis? And no lemmings don’t count – all that cliff-jumping is a myth I’m afraid). And yet there’s also something deeply uplifting about a good half of this album, with mankind ever looking forward to the next big project. That next big leap for mankind that might – just might – unite us all in delight at our bravery and daring and truly bring the human race up to an evolutionary peak. Now that would be nice wouldn’t it, but somehow this theory seems the least believable of all the five put forward here!  

2) It’s not what we were before but what we grow into during our life on this planet that matters and our soul will live on after our death, depending what we did with it on Earth. The ‘death’ issue of this argument was dealt with by Hari Krishna convert George Harrison on his seminal album ‘All Things Must Pass’ (see review no 42). Often overlooked is his follow-up album ‘Living In The Material World’ (1971) which carries on this story, telling us what happens after we die and what we should have done during our life. This album has taken plenty of stick in the past (mainly from me) over its desire to lecture and convert us all to Hari Krishna far less subtlety or movingly than its predecessor did, but this album is also full of glorious songs about how our spiritual side should be nurtured and cared for at the expense of the ‘material world’, which is surely something that many an AAA reader wishes (anyone with an over-riding interest in music seems to share these views to some extent, however lightly or strongly, so it seems). The title track for one contrasts the messy business dealings of the end of the Beatle days with the ‘spiritual sky’ Harrison felt at the beginning of his solo career and is probably the best AAA evidence out there to becoming small and humble against the sheer magnitude of the world and how determined we should be to follow ‘the right path’ for others as well as for ourselves.

1) We weren’t here before and we’re only here thanks to some helpful aliens carrying out genetic experiments. When younger Kinks brother Dave Davies released his album ‘Chosen People’ in 1983 fans gasped. Well the couple of hundred who bought the album did anyway, because record label Warner Brothers seemed determined to bury the thing (to date, less than half the tracks have appeared on CD and then only the less controversial ones). You see, according to Dave’s brave and revealing autobiog ‘Kink’, he was visited by aliens telepathically during the early 1980s – a time when he was fed up and quite badly depressed over all sorts of things in his personal and musical life. The aliens, who mentioned that they had been looking after us for some time and even stored a data bank full of the actions of all of us during our lives, said that they had tried to talk to our world leaders to steer us a path for the greater good but had failed (seeing as Reagan and Thatcher were both in power at the time, that’s probably no surprise). Instead, they were communicating with certain artists, ones whose message could be heard by anyone should they choose to listen to their music, read their books or study their paintings. Most usefully, the aliens also told Dave that humans had failed to awaken their spiritual side and showed what that 70% of the brain we don’t use is for – telepathic abilities that allowed Dave and his partner of the time to dispel clouds of negative energy from those around them, making them feel happier about life (nearly all the concerts where Dave used this trick have gone down in history as the Kinks’ best shows – well those since 1982 anyway). Unfortunately, the aliens could do nothing about Warner Brothers record executives who buried the thing stone dead (the ‘Dave Davies Anthology: Unfinished Business’ is your best bet for listening to most of these tracks – although sadly you won’t find the album’s lynchpin ‘True Story’, a song where Dave recounts his strange tale before shaking his head and asking why the aliens should talk to him because ‘I’m just a poor boy’). Read the book and hear the album and the whole thing seems unnervingly plausible. Err, don’t look now but does that moon look red to you?

Don’t have nightmares though, stick on a soothing AAA record instead and, until next week, keep rocking! See you for issue 16 – on which we’ll be celebrating the best releases of the past year.

Lindisfarne "Magic In The Air" (1978) (News, Views and Music 15)

You can buy 'Passing Ghosts - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Lindisfarne' in e-book form by clicking here!

“Now’s the time to be kind to your fellow man, feel the sympathy starting out all over again, now’s the time to give love just one more go – because you never know what you may know!”

“Magic In The Air” (Lindisfarne, 1978)

In 1972, Lindisfarne had it all – the top selling album of the year (‘Fog On The Tyne’), one of the top five selling singles of the year (‘Fog On The Tyne’) and a re-released song that was quite a big hit anyway the first time round but became something of a monster on its second release (no, not ‘Fog On the Tyne’ strangely enough but ‘Lady Eleanor’). It had taken just two albums for Lindisfarne to get to the stage where their stuff was being bought in droves by fans and the general public and yet their music still warmed the hearts of pretty much every critic – the stage most bands never reach and those that do take half-a-dozen or so albums of hard grafting to achieve. But one lukewarm but-better-in-retrospect album (‘Dingly Dell’) and one back-biting disastrous tour later, however, and Lindisfarne were history (or at least, ‘our’ Lindisfarne – ie the popular one that had all the hits – were history, in truth Lindisfarne mark II limped on for longer than the original band had been together). The original quintet split sharply down the middle and the two sides vowed never to work with one another again. Interestingly, the band reformed for Christmas gigs in their beloved local Newcastle City Hall pretty much every year, a venue a mere rolling stones throw away from the pubs and clubs the band started playing in during their early days, but as far as any kind of permanent reunion went it seemed that the rift between the band members was just too strong to overcome. It took six years for the band to reform properly and suddenly, in 1978, it was as if the band had never been away – Lindisfarne scored their third-biggest hit with their very first re-union single ‘Run For Home’ (amazingly their last top 20 single of any kind despite the fact the band kept going right up until 2003) and even a quick perusal through the copious newspaper reviews of the band’s 1978 tour (included in the sleeves of the ‘Magic In The Air’ record) will tell you what a hit the reunion show was with critics and fans when it arrived. Yet while Lindisfarne concentrated all their efforts that year on their big return in the studio (the disappointing and Alan Hull dominated ‘Back and Fourth’), it’s this little gem of a live record that shows just how well the Lindisfarne sound had grown over the years - despite being in mothballs for much of the 70s - and how much better known this lovely little band could and should have been.

Live albums are a bit of a mixed bag to say the least. For every ‘Live At Leeds’ record there’s a ‘Who in Las Vegas’ DVD – for every ‘Wings Over America’ there’s a ‘Paul Is Live’. Well, Lindisfarne actually scored quite highly on live releases – even the unsanctioned, unwanted, un-promoted and downright unusual record ‘Lindisfarne Live’ (1973) is worth record collectors giving it a home (especially now it’s been re-issued at CD length) and the two ‘Lindisfarntastic’ records (not available – at first anyway – in the shops, but included with the ticket price of the band’s mid-80s tours) are great treasure troves full of rare and unpublished songs nestling against radical re-inventions of old friends. But it’s ‘Magic In The Air’ where, well, the magic hangs most in the air, where the band sound genuinely thrilled to be picking things back up where they left off and are equally adept at playing compact little rockers and stretching songs out to infinity (‘We Can Swing Together’, for instance, features a 10-minute mouthorgan solo!) The band are bouncing off each other in a way that they hadn’t even managed in the early 70s (after all – and this is a point often forgotten in the Lindisfarne story – the band never spent years and years playing together like most groups, it was just that a manager recommended to his promising Geordie singer-songwriter Alan Hull and his promising Geordie folk-rock band The Brethren that they might want to check each other out and luckily for us they did). Ray Jackson (known to one and all as ‘Jacka’) is also one of those singers born for the stage – without the opportunities for persuading a whole audience to stand on one leg (an events that allegedly happened at one of the band’s shows of the period) his studio singing simply can’t compete. Chief songwriter and second vocalist Alan Hull is also having the time of his life at this show and if you keep an ear out for his vocal it soon becomes clear that he never quite sits still throughout the whole gig.

Strangely, though, there is nothing from the band’s latest album (that ‘Fourth’ album again, the one they’re meant to be plugging) among the track listing – had it not been written or recorded back then, even though the release date of that LP comes long before this live LP? What we do have is for the most part welcome however, a great mix of songs the band had always done live in their hour-long shows and some old songs re-visited in concert for the first time to extend the playing time by half an hour. The band kick off the concert with the first two tracks from their first album ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’ (and see review no 37 for exactly why that was the best move possible), showcasing their softer, more atmospheric approach on the dreamlike ‘Lady Eleanor’, before cruising to a tight, disciplined run-through of blues-rock hybrid ‘The Road To Kingdom Come’. The audience already sound as if they’re giving a standing ovation (possibly on one leg) and don’t ever seem to sit down from this point on – things only get noisier from here on in! The most interesting track for collectors, however, is a performance of B-side ‘No Time To Lose’ a song submitted to but rejected from a film of the same name shortly before the band’s split. A typically Lindisfarnian mix of the deep and meaningful and the fun and partying sides of Alan Hull’s personality, it’s a great song to revive, full of the joys of escape and hints at the fears the narrator needs escaping from.

Elsewhere we get more of those evergreen Hully protest songs that ought to sound drab and dreary on paper but don’t on record (‘January Song’, a pompous but heartfelt ballad about the inevitability of things falling apart and, typically, the track that the band chose to spoof with ‘Fog On the Tyne’; compare the introductions and see if you can tell the two songs apart) or merely superfluous but don’t, thanks to the energetic band performances (‘Court In The Act’ should be a re-write of the classic ‘We Can Swing Together’, with the narrator about to locked up for sins he never committed; ‘didn’t seem much sense in the charges, but they sure sounded like fun!’; instead the song is a riot, err quite literally if you believe the words). We even get a rare but welcome Simon Cowe blues outing, crying out against the Vietnam draft (‘Uncle Sam’ – what a shame none of his ‘Jack The Lad’ tracks were revisited here) and a very early Rod Clements song dusted down for Lindisfarne (‘Train In G Major’), both of which have far more fire and verve than they had on the band’s ‘Fog On The Tyne’ LP. We also catch the under-rated and rarely performed ‘Dingly Dell’ on a good night, lurching from delicate away-with-the-fairies ballad verses played by Hull alone on acoustic to paranoid, frustrated rocker choruses played by the whole band at the peak of their rocking powers (this live version also beats its studio parent – on the ‘Dingly Dell’ album this time – hands down).

Best of all, ‘Clear White Light’ – one of Alan Hull’s (or anyone’s for that matter) most gorgeous spiritual songs - gets a complete re-birth from the delightful but poorly recorded studio version (from ‘Nicely’ again), becoming a powerful singalong rocker, exactly the sort of encore you need to make your audience bounce out of the auditorium with a light step and a song in their hearts. This song, written during Hull’s pre-Lindisfarne spell working as a mental health nurse, never quite ties its sails to its mast about why the narrator is happy – like Lennon’s ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’, this is a song celebrating the different beliefs we all have to pick ourselves up off the floor to fight another day – but is heart-warming in a way that only the ramshackle but accomplished, heavy but featherweight, philosophical but cheeky Lindisfarne can manage.

However the album also has its share of misfires – you have to be a pretty committed fan to put with the rowdy cover of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ for instance and it’s hard to sit through the elongated ‘We Can Swing Together’ more than once in a row, despite Jacka’s best attempts to thrill us with his various mouthorgan impersonations and snatches of old folk songs. Most worryingly, evergreen tracks like ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ and ‘Winter Song’ seems to have lost their sparkle somewhat, with the band sounding slightly under-rehearsed here in contrast to the professionalism of most of the rest of the gig. There’s also a couple of debatable songs among the track listing – throwaway B-side instrumental ‘Scotch Mist’ for instance, which sounds even more pointless among it’s more heavyweight cousins than it did on the back of ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ and ‘Turn A Deaf Ear’, a weak cover of a weak Rabby Noakes songs which is almost the only thing from the ‘Nicely Out Of tune’ album that didn’t deserve a revival. There’s also a handful of passages that sound like they’ve followed the 1970s live album craze for studio doctoring (surely even Lindisfarne can’t hit harmonies this perfect most of the time live?), although I may be following the heinous crime of most post-1970s critics here and under-rating what actually were a supremely talented and subtle band. Much loved by fans and long ignored by the general public in the middle of new wave and the dying days of punk, the rumour has it this live album might be seeing the light of day back on CD sometime soon. Let’s hope so, as this is one of those you-should-a-been-there-nights thankfully recorded for posterity in pristine sound. There was magic in the air that night alright.


'Nicely Out Of Tune' (L) (1970)

'Fog On The Tyne' (L) (1971)

'Dingly Dell' (L) (1972)

'Roll ON Ruby' (L) (1973) 

'The Squire' (AH) (1975)

'The Old Straight Track' (JTL) (1975)

‘Jackpot’ (JTL) (1976)

'Magic In The Air' (L) (1978)

'Back and Fourth' (L) (1978)

‘The News’(L) (1979)

'Sleepless Nights' (L) (1982)

'Dance Your Life Away' (L) (1986)

‘Amigos’ (1989)

'Elvis Lives On The Moon' (L) (1993)

'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' (1998)

'Promenade' (2002)

Si Cowe Obituary and Tribute (2015)

Surviving TV Clips

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1970-1987

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1988-2015

Essay: Keepin’ The Rage On Behalf Of The Working Classes