Friday, 30 September 2011
Hello once again for a surprisingly sombre News, Views and Music. We’ve death, illness, recuperation and incompetence for you this issue – no guessing which category our latest (and extended) ‘top five’ political debate comes under! First up, I have to re-apply for my incapacity benefit (for those of you who don’t know even though I mention it every few issues I’ve been writing this site while suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and looking for something actually worth getting up for every day), even though a) I’d only just received the old one b) I should be exempt because I’m running my own business with job centre help (ie this site) and c) the new hoops they’ve added to new claimants under the Coalition Government are outrageous, unfair and – till the law was changed this year – illegal. Even I win I shall have to attend monthly work trial sessions miles away from my house that will make me more and more tired and make my illness worse – and if I lose (which seems likely with only a 10% success rate) I shall end up back at the jobcentre, with an illness that will cause me to collapse looking for jobs that don’t exist. All this is being done to save the Government a few measly pounds – despite the fact that the new system costs bucket-loads and they haven’t exactly made it easy for claimants left in great pain and misery, what with cutting your benefits while you’re being ‘assessed’, making you fill in massive forms (with no space for either ‘pain’ or ‘tiredness’ (which is a crazy state of affairs because who wants an employee who falls asleep at their desk everyday and keeps saying ‘ow’ every few minutes whenever he moves) and sending you to doctors with a total of six week’s training who think they know more than the specialist you’ve been seeing for years. All this means that I shall have less time (and less energy) to devote to this site, even though it’s my best means to recovery and my best chance of ever getting a job when I am well enough to work. The whole system is a mess and I resent being one of the early guinea pigs testing it, not to mention losing three weeks of my life hand-writing a form that I could have typed up online in a couple of days, packing it full of detail that backs up my case that no one will ever read (because this Government simply assumes that if you’re not one of the rich, you must be guilty of something). For more angry protest see our top five below and open your eyes to what’s really going on...
All that’s a shame because the last week has seen some great steps forward for our site. You may have noticed a ‘blog’ page has been to our site – there’s nothing in there our regulars won’t already know but I have included all of our best ‘top fives’ for newcomers to read before actually clicking on each article and will continue to add each week’s closing column here. By the wonders of modern technology (which still seem like magic to me, but there we are) I’ve been able to set up an account that enables me to update my twitter feed and various other programmes every time I post one of these (so sorry to my followers who have seen me add about a hundred articles in the past week!) It seems to be working – in the past two days we’ve had 200 hits alone which is a big increase on the 40 we were having every day, so let me take the time to say ‘hello’ for any readers who are reading this as their first article, forgive the ranting it doesn’t happen often (well...OK, it does) and I hope you have a long and pleasant journey with us. If I ever actually have the energy, time and run of good health to keep Alan’s Album Archives going. Anyway, enough doom and gloom, on with the news...
♫ Because of the ‘split’ nature of the new this week, we’ve decided to give you details of the week’s events (mostly repeats) in group order:
First up, BBC6 are repeating the first two series of their ‘Classic Albums’ series from the early 1990s in their ‘documentary’ slot at 3am each night. They repeated the first series (featuring Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and a different Small Faces) not so long ago but their second (featuring CSN and the first Small Faces album for Immediate) is a nice surprise, long overdue for a repeat. For the record the dates are as follows (curiously, the two series have had their running orders jumbled together) and are all at 3am on the mornings listed:
♫ Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ this Tuesday, September 27th
♫ Crosby, Stills and Nash ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ this Thursday, September 29th (the best of the series and unrepeated since around 1991 and featuring new interviews with the great comedy double act that is Crosby-Nash and a separate one with Stills: listen out for the anecdote about the band being asked to re-shoot the cover only to find the run-down house they used had been knocked down!) See our review no 29)
♫ Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ this Friday, September 30th
♫ The Who ‘Who’s Next’ this Saturday, October 1st (see news and views 14 and 81)
♫ Rolling Stones ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ next Wednesday, October 5th (see review no 26)
♫ Small Faces ‘The Small Faces’ (on its first repeat in 20 years) next Thursday, October 6th (see review no 12)
♫ And more on that ‘Spirit of the 60s’ series we told you about last week. How wonderful to see the 10 ‘Sounds of the 60s’ compilations (also from 1991 spookily enough) again, even if they did cut out some of the captions at the end and a few other edits I noticed to squeeze them into the running slot. For the record here’s what they did show:
Beatles ‘She Loves You’ (TOTP 1964) (1st episode)
Byrds ‘All I Really Wanna Do’ (TOTP 1965) (2nd episode)
Grateful Dead ‘The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)’ (Haight-Ashbury promo clip, 1967) (8th episode)
Hollies ‘Just One Look’ (TOTP 1963, 3rd episode) and ‘Sorry Suzanne’ (TOTP 1969, 6th episode)
Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ (TOTP 1964, 3rd episode) and ‘Days’ (‘Pop Go The 60s, New Year’s Eve 1969 – weirdly this whole show was shown on the same day so this little seen clip was on twice in three hours!, 5th episode)
Moody Blues ‘Ride My See-Saw’ (Colour Me Pop 1968, 8th episode)
Pink Floyd ‘Flaming’ and ‘Astronomy Domine’ (Look Hear – the one with the really smug presenter who hates them because they are ‘too loud’ and ‘do not play like a string quartet’!, 8th episode) and ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ (‘All MY Loving’, a programme shown in full later the same night again!, episode 10)
Rolling Stones ‘It’s All Over Now’ (TOTP 1964, 1st episode) ‘Get Off Cloud’ (TOTP 1965, 3rd episode) and ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ (TOTP 1969, 6th episode)
Small Faces ‘Song Of A Baker’ (Colour Me Pop 1968, 9th episode)
The Who ‘I Can See For Miles (TOTP 1967, 8th episode) and ‘My Generation’ (live, ‘All My Loving’ 1968, 10th episode)
There were also the additional programmes: ‘Magical Mystery Tour Memories’ with Victor Spinetti that was basically a loud of proud locals reminiscing about the days when the Beatles’ film crew passed through the village, although there were two interesting radio clips with an on-form George and an ever-grumpy Ringo. Basically it was disappointing – and I noticed it had a ‘2007’ production credit, as if Yesterday were too afraid to show it the first time around because it wasn’t good enough to stand on its own. To be honest the biggest fact we learnt was that a 27 year old Ringo Starr had a 32” waist in 1967 and paid 19 shillings for his funky trousers!
Monkee documentary ‘Hey Hey We Are The Monkees’ has been shown once before, despite the bally hoo about this being it’s UK premiere (it isn’t). Another slightly disappointing doc, it’s no substitute for the superior ‘Making of The Monkees’ doc from a few years earlier but does have some rare footage and interesting interviews with all the members of the cast (even Mike Nesmith, which was quite a coup at the time!)
There was also the rare addition of Tony Palmer’s 1968 documentary ‘All My Loving’ (the sequel to his ‘All You Need Is Love’ series. Featuring interviews with Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend and a hilarious Frank Zappa, it also included rare clips of Pink Floyd (‘Set The Controls’ as shown above – how weird that both have been unseen for two decades on terrestrial TV and crop up on the very same day!), The Who (ditto clips of My Generation and a snippet of ‘Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand’), Cream and Jimi Hendrix. The best parts though are the pompous attempts of the ‘older’ generation to explain away ‘pop’ music as a cathartic release or a poor substitute for classical music (which is next to ‘Godliness’ in stark contrast to ‘pop’ according to writer Anthony Burgess who has clearly never heard Beach Boys or CSN harmonies in his life!)
Keep an eye out for repeats as the Yesterday channel do tend to repeat their programmes ad infinitum (how many times have they shown ‘Hitler’s Bodyguards’ for instance?!)
♫ Also celebrating a television retrospective was The Old Grey Whistle Test, which has now reached the middle age of 40 (actually, didn’t it always seem middle aged?) A fine retrospective and a so-so documentary on BBC4 were joined by a much-more-us 40 minute compilation of songs from 1973. For the record the AAA performances were:
Lindisfarne ‘Fog On The Tyne’ (1972, as included in the ‘70s Gold’ compilation)
The Who ‘Relay’ (1973, as included in the ‘OGWT Years’ compilation)
Sadly there were no repeats for the exclusive John Lennon ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ footage or the great Nils Lofgren footage from 1976 this time around (unlike the 30th anniversary specials) – perhaps the 50th anniversary will have even more?!
♫ Beatles News: We sadly have to report the death of Beatles photographer par excellence Robert Whittaker. It’s probably fair to say that Robert was the band’s photographer of choice during their crucial 1965-66 phase, taking the band out of their ‘moptop’ image and into something a little deeper. This worked wonderfully well on occasions, creating some of the most enduring images of the band (ie the shots of sun-glasses wearing Beatles in 1966) and left fans scratching their heads on others (the infamous ‘butcher’ cover, which was probably a social comment too far for 1966 America). He was 73.
♫ Beatles/CSN News: The November issue of Mojo (why – it’s still blooming September!) has just been issued and includes a lengthy discussion of George Harrison’s life and music as its main feature. The text is awful and the record reviews are worse (only three stars for ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘George Harrison’?! Only two for ‘Gone Troppo’ and ‘Brainwashed’ and yet four for the horrible mess that was ‘Cloud Nine’?! I don’t think so!) but the pictures taken from the new Olivia Harrison book ‘Living In The Material World’ bode well. There’s some fascinating pics both by and of George, including a pensive Macca on an early Beatles flight and George on holiday by the Taj Mahal. The CSN bit of new concerns the cover CD, which features 15 varying covers of George Harrison songs. No other than Graham Nash pops up on harmonies for Jonathon Wilson’s exclusive take on ‘Isn’t It A Pity?’ and it’s about the highlight of the set even though there isn’t that much of him – by contrast ‘Lanterns On The Lake’ completely murder ‘Long Long Long’ (George’s greatest Beatle song) and there’s no sign of ‘Beware Of darkness’ (his greatest solo song).
♫ Hollies News: Have you been watching BBC4’s recent repeats of TOTP from 1976? Me neither – I tend to fast-forward them just to check if there’s any good stuff but can’t take the glam versus punk battles going on in that era (both are dire). There have been a couple of surprises in the last two weeks though: not The Hollies or even their singer Allan Clarke but two songs that I only know from his solo albums. Two drippy females wailed their way through ‘Sideshow’ a couple of weeks ago, soon after Clarke released a storming version of the same song on his 1976 LP ‘I’ve Got Time’. More of a surprise was the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band version of ‘Blinded By The Light’ – the story goes that Clarke discovered this early Bruce Springsteen song and was convinced it should be a single m- till the record company told him in no uncertain terms that it probably wouldn’t sell. A passing Manfredd Mann (Clarke’s neighbour of the time) called in one day and asked if he had any songs spare – Clarke told him his dilemma and the Earth Band recorded this rather low-key folky version of the song, reaching the top 10 of the charts and proving Clarkey’s hit instincts right yet again. I much prefer Clarkey’s full on rocky version of the song, by the way! STOP PRESS: Having never heard this version of the song ever in my life, I have just heard it for the third time in three weeks as part of the BBC’s excellent coverage of formula one qualifying for the Singapore GP. Yet another astonishing website coincidence!
♫ Pink Floyd News: What was the recent Pink Floyd re-issue bonanza missing to make it seem like the old days? A barmy publicity stunt, that’s what! Yes its the flying pig over Battersea Power Station story again, as the band release news that they wanted to fly their old pig (carefully stored in their archives) again unexpectedly – only to discover she’d developed a hole after 34 years! The band are still planning to build a new one by the way at exorbitant costs, even though it will be too late by then to serve as a proper advertisement because the albums will have been out several weeks already. Hmm, pigs might fly...
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy birthdays once again to AAA members born between September 27th and October 3rd: Dewey Martin (drummer with the Buffalo Springfield 1965-68) who would have been 69 on September 30th and Phil Oakey (lead singer with The Human League 1978-present) who turns 56 on October 2nd. Anniversaries of events include: The Hollies release their groundbreaking single ‘King Midas In Reverse’ (September 27th 1967), A and M sue George Harrison for being late with delivery of his last album for the label (George is ill with hepatitis, delaying delivery of ‘33 and 1/3rd’ till later in the year), the Rolling Stones begin their first ‘proper’ tour – supporting Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers across the UK (September 29th 1963), CSN go gold in America with their first self-titled album less than three months after its release in July (September 30th 1969), In contrast, it takes the Grateful Dead 22 years to earn their first platinum disc (for ‘In The Dark’, the same day in 1987) and finally, 63 Rolling Stones are arrested after failing to get in to see their band at a concert in Milan. 2000 fans are thought to have taken part in the riot after finding out the venue had been sold out by an overwhelming number (October 2nd 1970).
The 20 Reasons why Cameron has to go:
So it’s finally come to this. The media are now so firmly in the grasp of the Coalition that they’re afraid to talk. There are warnings that the Coalition financial policies are not working and that we’re all loosing our jobs, our benefits and our sense of pride for no good reason whatsoever. The Coalition have had 18 months to come good now or give way to other people with stronger, better, fairer ideas and they’ve failed. So – for the simple reason that you won’t see this list anywhere else at the time being – are my reasons to get rid of the smug git.
1) The Conservatives didn’t actually win the election: You’d think, wouldn’t you, that shaking up more constitutions than any prior Governments would involve both a) pots of money and b) full public support wouldn’t you? Well, wrong. The reason we have a coalition is that all parties lost the election: the country didn’t have faith in anyone after as torrid term in office for Gordon Brown (who even so now looks like a saint in comparison to Cameron!) Constitutionally, what should have happened in 2010 is that all three leading parties (Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives) formed a temporary coalition for a year and then everyone in the UK gets their chance to vote again, having seen how each party’s respective ideas begin to work out and who seems to have the better grasp on the world’s problems. Instead, Cameron rode rough shode over that little detail and declared himself prime minister, despite being voted in by less than a third of the population (and barely anyone in Scotland), cutting Labour out of the deal.
2) The Coalition’s first act was to break the law. Sorry, amend it: till 2010 it was deemed illegal for Coalition governments to run for a full term in office, something Cameron ended unannounced because of the ‘financial crisis’ facing Britain (which he then determined to make worse). Not content with only that, Cameron asked for and was granted a stay of execution so that the Coalition that nobody voted for could rule over us for five years before another election – one more year than the usual terms of office given to parties that actually win elections legitimately.
3) Surely a ‘coalition’, the nearest thing to a decision made by the electorate last year, implies a partnership. If so, then it definitely isn’t one of equals. Nick Clegg is deputy pm in name only, having less responsibilities than John Prescott under Tony Blair, with Cameron forever interfering with his policies even on days he should be out of the country. Other Lib Dems fared just as badly, taking all the unpopular jobs (if any), leaving the Conservatives the de facto party of Great Britain – despite being their second favourite (and possibly third favourite) choice when all votes are taken into consideration. If I was Nick Clegg I’d have walked by now, however long my party had been out of power, because surely its clear after 18 months that he has no say in matters he knows better than the Conservatives(those policies the Lib Dems claim they raised? They all got thrown out by the House of Lords, as Cameron knew they would). Remember too Cameron’s tactic of rubbishing Clegg’s name just before the Lib Dem push for a refurendum vote came about? If this was a fair country (which it isn’t) where politics is treated like a sport then this would be ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ and Cameron would currently still be in the sin-bin with more red cards than Wayne Rooney, Eric Cantona and Michael Schumacher combined. No wonder they call it the ‘con’-Lib coalition!
4) What policies does Cameron have anyway? He’s been in power for 18 months now and even his closer aides struggle to answer this question when it crops up in interviews. A recent poll of the public revealed that none of them could actually point to a specific policy anywhere anyway apart from ‘shaking up the NHS’ and ‘shitting on students’ as one interviewee put it. I’ve seen dozens of interviwes with our pm now, either before or after the election, and while I very much know what he’s against (in essence the ill, the elderly, the young, hoodies and Northerners) I still don’t know what he’s for. Big society? What does that mean exactly? Surely our leader actually has a plan, not just a tasty soundbite for the media – or did he never actually expect to win this election?!
5) Talking of which the Big Society as proposed loosly is the biggest con of the lot. Paying someone absoutely nothing in return for doing the same job where they used to have a wage is not ‘great for the country’, its the complete opposite. On the one hand, paying people means they have money to spend on items produced by our country (and others), thus boosting the economy and helping progress with a (largely made up) financial crisis. On the other, surely the only point of Government is to have a system where we give power to those we deem worthy of it rather than dividing it between so many thousands of people without specialist information that nothing ever gets done. If Big Society really is the way that Cameron sees things going forward and not just an opportunity for a future u-turn then there’s no point in having a Government at all. And the idea of having parents running schools and patients running hospitals is insane – the whole point of creating those institutions is so that those who have particular insightful knowledge can pass it on to those who need it most; the point of both institutions is far greater than just making money (which they won’t anyway because they’re funded so badly). And don’t even get me started on the elitism such a system will cause!
6) Talking of which, why have we got such an elite prime minister who doesn’t really need the either the money or the prestige having this job will win him during a time of supposed financial crisis? I’m all for millionaire politicians who think they can spread their secrets tothe masses and sure, politicans are all generally rich buggers – that’s how they fund their campaigns – but you always got the sense that somewhere, in their back of thir minds, Blair, Brown and maybe even Major and Thatcher still vaguely remembered where they came from and what life is like when your bank isn’t dripping with money and you have to carve out a normal life for yourself. David Cameron has never known a life like that – and has never once shown empathy to anyone (except his family) to prove that he understands what life is like for others at all. And have you heard what he got up to with Boris Johnson in the Huffingdon club? And got away with? The man’s practially a hoodie!
7) Which leads me nicely onto: the August riots. Cameron’s response to the first real domestic test of his term in office was a disaster, with only the pm’s pr office taking any credit. Cameron started by ignoring the problem, busy on one of his many foreign holidays (more on that story later). He then proceeded to make a bad situation worse, blaming everything he could on a handful of disaffected youths, left with no job prospects (because of the Coaltion) and having to pay for their own education (because of the Coalition), making a disenfranchised part of society feel even less need to follow ‘the law’ which protects some and not others. The police did an appaling job too its fair to say, but Cameron made a bad situation worse when more intelligent politicans (umm, err, Obama?) would have calmed the situation down with an we’re-all-in-this-together-speech, whether he meant it or not.
8) Onto another riot and the first real test of Cameron’s foreign affairs. Suddenly our beloved leader is out in Libya, praising a bunch of youths for standing up against ‘evil’ and overthrowing a tyrannical regime he didbn’t like the look of. I don’t want to worry you, Dave, but isn’t that what our riots were about? His speech about ‘all of England’ being behind the Libyan riots was also a stroke of stupidity by his scriptwriter – is our pm deciding what we get to think as well now?! And why the hell is our country getting involved so closely in yet another international war – if they’ve asked for our help then, fine, we don’t want to be isolationist (look where that gotr America), but this is just bloody interference!
9) Going back to the financial system and why Cameron claims to be the person to solve it: Hang on, going back to when the story broke in 2008, when Gordon Brown was prime minister, was Cameron pushing for greater bank controls and a change in fiscal prorities? Erm, no – he not only agreed with Brown he actually actively fought against the measures put in place by his predecessor on his way out the door in 2009, saving Britain from falling into the immediate debt of Greece and Ireland (the man’s finest hour by far, for which he’s been undeservedly punished in the media since). Surely the idea of the opposition (as Cameron then was) is to point out where leaders go wrong and to keep them honest? Well, not only did the Conservatives not notice the crisis their intended spending as specified in the 2006 election (two years before the crisis) was nearly double Labour’s and triple the Lib Dems’. Hmm very responsible and forward sighted there Cameron!
10) Lets’ take the time to look at some of the few individual policies Cameron’s seen through, excepting of course those famous u-turns. First up, job losses: hmm that’s meant to help the economy is it? People have less money, with no prospect of getting any jobs, never mind better paid ones, and that’s meant to save the economy how? Not ot mention being bitterly bitterly unfair.
11) Ditto students. Why the hell should individuals pay for a system that demands you have to have qualifications in order to make a living and will actually do rather well from each student it trains to take each highly salaried job? Call me stupid, but forcing students to pay £36,000 of tuition fees is going to put off our greatest talents and makew them take off elsewhere, leaving our workforce with a load of pig ignorant untrained school leavers and posh kids with more money than sense within a generation, isn’t it?
12) Oh yes and of course the benefits sytem – the unfairest treatement you can expect this side of being a criminal, in fact the two run pretty close these days – has got to be re-formed. To make it, umm, worse. New questionnaires have been planned for new signees to incapacity benefit or whatever ghastly name they give it now, most of which won’t be read because its not part of an assessment ‘points’ system, to be passed onto some idiot doctor who can’t understand a word of English and hasn’t bothered to research your illness and yet still thinks he knows better than the specialist you saw whose been busy studying the disease for some decades (admittedly, this happened under the old system too). If you win – as only 10% of you do – you get to take part in work training groups that, erm, try and get you into the work you’ve just proved you’re too ill to do. If you lose – as 90% of you do – its back on jobseeker’s benefit with a pay cut, no job prospects and the opportunity to make yourself iller fighting for a job you don’t want to have. This system, by the way, costs a ridiculous amount of money – far more than the Government would ever make if it were to never award another pass again for the next century – in return for catching around 17 benefit frauds a year. An astonishing 60% of appeals are overturned at tribunals, by the way, because of deliberate mis-interpretation by the doctors and advisors and poorly asked questions. The people running this new scheme were rated ‘deeply unsatisfactory’ by independent investigators, by the way, and yet still continue to get the job no questions asked and no targets set!
13) Jobseekers too aren’t let off the hook – new ideas include making claimants work on community projects for no money whatsoever are in the works, doing exactly the same thing the UK currently makes their minor criminals do (for less hours too, I might add). Cutting housing benefit is a terrible horrific idea too – how many people are we going to see added to our countries’ already scandalously large homless population?
14) Of course the people who should be paying for this isn’t the workers and it isn’t the students and it isn’t even the people on benefits (put down that copy of the Daily Mail you disagreeing with me out there, its making you grow fangs and suffocating your brain cells!) but the bankers! And who is the one group that the Coalition haven’t attacked yet? Yup, guessed it in one! Just think how many financial crises could be solved by just one law outlawing wages over a certain point? Setting up failsafes so this mess can’t happen again? Demanding some small slight compensation for buying them out those years ago (say, anything over profit for the next 10 years) Or a law that attacked multi-million businesses who make all their money in Britain and flee overseas to avoid paying it back? Far from forcing the issue, the Coalition have even introduced a law that says they’ll accept a pittance from companies who owe millions and write off all their other debts. That’s justice for you. What a great guy that Cameron is! But only if you’re rich and don’t want to live in Britain.
15) Next up: the NHS. How do we make an underperforming industry pull its socks up? By giving it more money? Extra training? More buildings to spread the load of patients? Nope – we give them a whole new scheme to learn, whilst cutting their budgets in half and closing down hospitals in many areas, placing greater burdens on the other ones. All that to save a pittance! Unless you’re rich enough to go private of course...
16) Remember that News of the World scandal involving Andy Coulsen and his close role to the pm? In olden days this sort of a scandal would have seen the pm out on his ear! After all, however innocent Coulsen’s role ‘guiding’ the pm, he has already proved himself a liar, what with saying that he hardly ever met with his advisor in the wake of the scandal (a fact it didn’t take the papers very long to find out wasn’t true!) In the olden days the media would be all over him – but, no, the story has been quietly forgotten nowadays. A great example to set our young – next he’ll be looting things! And talk about airbrushing! What the hell was that election poster meant to prove?
17) Oh and it might seem a minor point, but how many bloody holidays has the guy taken this year? Five, that’s how many! Just at the point when most of us can’t afford one! There are 52 weeks in a year right? So that means he’s been missing from his own country he’s meant to be running for about a tenth of all the weeks in the year. Right that’s it, from now on, a new law, sorry epetition, that I’ve proposed – a prime minister is not allowed to take a foreign holiday for all the weeks he serves in office; if he must, he can take them at home, thus setting a good example for the economy, and being only a few hours’ notice away from his office if he’s needed. Yeah, right, as if they’ll agree to that – they’ll just tweak the numbers who’ve clicked ‘yes’ on it!
18) In the past two years, when Britain has allegedly needed to save its money, we’ve agreed to host the 2012 olympics and had a visit from The Pope. Couldn’t both of these things have been delayed a few years till we can afford them? And couldn’t we have scrapped some of the ridiculous schemes we had planned but hadn’t actually started, such as new art galleries and museums, council office extensions, in fact everything that we were getting on alright without in 2007 before the crisis hit?
19) What does a true leader do at times of crisis? If you’re FDR you give money to the poor to help them build a new life for themselves (admittedly not much of a life, but its better than making them homeless). If you’re JFK you try to right the wrongs of a prejudiced America (eventually, after two years of procrastination). If you’re Churchill you inspire people with your speeches, whether your actions are equal to your words or not. If you’re Barack Obama you make people believe that you’re listening to them, even if your hands are tied by congress. And if you’re William Taft – well, you stay in the bath and don’t come out, probably. What’s David Cameron done? U-turn after u-turn after bloody u-turn. He’s not even had the decency to stick up for his policies and see them through regardless, in case he offends someone, becausze he genuinely believes they’ll work (yeah, like the tuition fees and benefit changes are popular!) That’s a sign of a weak mind. Do we really want Cameron to be leading us into some future unknown battle when he can’t even agree on what he wants? And why haven’t there been more speeches anyway? Surely he should be keeping us informed of his decisions, leading us into battle together, instead of posing for cheesy photo opportunities!
20) And finally, I am so sick of hearing about his bloody family. How much he cares for them. How he’s always there for them. How he wishes he could see more of them. How he’s upset when something goes wrong to someone he loves. Well, why the hell did you take the job then, because less than a third of the electorate asked you to take it! And we all have families with no time to spend with them (well, unless you’re one of the people Cameron’s just made unemployed of course!) Do you think its going to make you liked or seem more human? In fact, are you even human? Are you even of this planet because you don’t seem to care for the people on it very much?
Well, that about covers the major points! Hopefully next week will see more music and less politics (but then again...)
“I work in the morning, I work in the night, the men on the block they just laugh at me, but when they’re wiping their silver spoons, pawning them in for some bread, I’ll be laughing way way out of my head” “I could lay my head on a piece of lead and imagine it was a springy bed, ‘cause I’m sleepy, sleepy” “Soon I’m going to slip away, in the night I feel it creeping, creeping, creeping” “There is a wind my Billy and it’s awful strong, come for you and anyone whose helped you along, but I want to live live live and let the stars shine bright, yes I want to live live live and let in on alright” “Slowly let me tell you the story of a tree, an apple tree” “You cut me deep but now you’re gonna see me weep, yeah, this broken man is gonna do the best he can, yeah” “After I broke, you just didn’t want to know” “First I have to tell you that I’m not insane and that once I was a famous archaeologist name, that once I ran an expedition in a distant land, I just happened to be passing by, my hand in the sand, and then I stopped, looked, and then I was hooked, I saw a flash and a sparkle from a moonstone and the mist started to clear, I saw a face a face in the moonstone and then it started to disappear” “I would have given you all of my heart, but there’s someone whose torn it apart, and she’s taken almost that I’ve got, but if you want I’ll try to love again, baby I’ll try to love again but I know the first cut is the deepest” “I’ve been pushed around, made to look a clown, but now I know it is time for me to start to grow” “I’ll show everyone that my time will come, if you wait for me I will show the world what I can be” “My daddy will be waiting there, my sister will be combing down her silver hair, my momma will be waiting there, serving lunch to my brother but he’s nowhere...my daddy will be waiting, my sister will be combing, my momma will be serving, my brother will be hiding...” “In the blackness of the night I seem to wander endlessly with a hope burning deep inside, I’m a fugitive: community has driven me out, of this bad bad world I’m beginning to doubt, I’m alone and there is no one by my side” “Why don’t you come over?, It’s lonely at the wooden lodge, why don’t you come and see our baby?, you haven’t seen her for so long”
Cat Stevens “New Masters” (1968)
Kitty/I’m So Sleepy/Northern Wind/The Laughing Apple/Smash Your Heart/Moonstone//The First Cut Is The Deepest/I’m Gonna Be King/Ceylon City/Blackness Of the Night/Come On Baby (Shift That Log)/I Love Them All
As you may heave read above, I’ve had to spend most of my time this week filling in my latest incapacity forms or whatever stupid name they’ve given to them now (I’ve just looked it up and its employment and support allowance apparently – what, so people who can’t work through no fault of their own get employment allowances now? What a dreadful term!) Most of the questions ask me to describe at length how I feel doing a particular action and another for my general state of health. I wish I could send my entry in in musical form because there’s a track on the ‘New Masters’ CD that sums up exactly what I mean. ‘It’s A Supa (Dupa) Life’ (sadly only a B-side despite being recorded at the same sessions so I can’t talk about here except in brief) is a joyous, hyper-energetic song full of crashing cymbals, speedy tempos and an absurd vocal from Cat that goes so subtly from being in control and genuinely positive to being totally over-the-top and overwhelmed it catches you by surprise and so subtly overtakes the song that there’s no one point where you can say it’s turned ‘hyper’. The song ends not with the expected big finish but with a surprise funeral march that slowly rises in volume until it slowly walks towards you from the back of the room, silencing all the hysterics in it’s path, trampling all that nervous energy like an iron curtain. It’s as if everything you believed that was helping you move forward and overcome obstacles is actually destroying you, subtlely, by making you move faster and faster out of your comfort zone until you cannot stop unless heading for collapse. On an album essentially upbeat, witty and enthusiastic, this is a doubly sinister moment, like a shadow that’s been hovering for the past 30 minutes of the album and only making itself heard in the odd throwaway comment is finally forcing it’s way through the increasingly false laughter to be heard to dominate the sound. It’s as if Cat’s subconscious is writing the album for him, because his conscious form is too busy partying, recording, touring and doing everything that was needed to be the ‘in’ pop sensation of 1967 (he topped newcomer polls that year you know, beating the likes of Pink Floyd, Procul Harum and Jimi Hendrix starting that year to the crown).
Cat Stevens didn’t have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome thank goodness because I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, never mind on a hero (Cher is the only musician to my knowledge who does have it), but its no coincidence that Cat collapsed from tuberculosis and exhaustion shortly after this album’s release because there’s clearly a hidden message on this album about...something happening. It’s there on other parts of this album too, often in the most unexpected places, on songs about laughing apples and fun holidays, with several anaologies for the fun-loving/hard working/npo time for sleeping party lifestyle Cat was enjoying suddnely tunring sour. Actually come to think of it the song ‘I’m So Sleepy’ is a pretty good fit for CFS too, another song about pushing your body to such extremes that it suddenly seems to have a life of it’s own, controlling what you do instead of the other way around. (Only those who have been truly ill will know what I mean by that last sentence and the fact the frighteneing part of the whole experience isn’t the pain or the loss of energy but the fact that the body you have been benignly controlling fopr the greater part of your life suddenly exists as a seperate entity with its own warning signs and sudden shut downs you don’t even consciously think about).
In fact so soon after this record’s release did Catty suffer his collapse that the star was no longer around to promote his own record,leaving ‘New Masters’ a huge flop of such massive proportions that Deram actually dropped the singer from their label despite having five top 20 hit singles and a top 10 album, cruelly telling him at his hospital bed (well, at least they didn’t force him to work when he was unfit to, unliike some Governments I could name). We’ve covered Cat’s triumphant rejuvenation as a bearded folk singer thinking mystical thoughts elsewhere on this site (see review no 35 and 41), but it’s worth filling you in a bit more about his sudden collapse and the impact this had on his career.
TB wasn’t a killer in the sense it had been in the Victorian era and it’s all but gone today thabnk goodness, but 50 years ago it was still serious and back then not many pop stars came back from suffering such a serious illness back in the 1960s. An infection of the lungs, often caused when the sufferer is feeling unwell and has been pushing himself too hard, it drew a line across Cat’s career just at the point when he may have been looking for a way out of it anyway. In 1967 Cat was seventeen and cool and he knew it. He was singing cute songs about all sorts of mad subjects, with an ear for catchy orchestral arrangements and was one of the perfedct poster boys for the lighter side of the summer of love, even with a few surprising songs about workaholics and guns in the mixture that didn’t really fit the mood of the times but still sold well thanks to their dazzling pop hooks and perfect sonic quality that made them stand out from the crowd even amongst such hallowed surroundings. In 1968 the world was darker, Vietnam and Korea were in full swing and the hip youngsters knew that the world that had seemed to offer them so much was actually a drak and angry world, full of wrongs that needed righting but with such towering figuresd in power that change seemed even more unlikely than it had pre-1967. Whether because Cat sensed this too or whether it really was the illness already growing inside him, ‘New Masters’ is a much darker world than ‘Matthew and Son’ had been. On that record, things do spring out of the closet door to scare us, but they can be cured by those that we love, the beauty in life or simply the act of dancing. Here you can search all your life for the meaning of life only to find the answer you’ve out for hypnotising you into submission (‘Moonstone’), find your higher purpose overtaken by luxury and every possible nindulgence you could imagine (‘I love Them All’, on the surface a very hippie song about loving everyone – until you find its a song about the narrator regretting being repeatedly unfaithful to his girlfriend) and love that used to be flowing everywhere is in short supply (most famously ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ but also on ‘Smash Your Heart’ and ‘The Blackness Of The Night’. Suddenly, Cat’s cute quirky subjects and the parping distinctive orchestral arrangements don’t sound as cute and innocent anymore.
‘New Masters’ isn’t as innocent as first album ‘Matthew and Son’ and it isn’t as deep and meaningful as the albums to come which, together with it’s poor sales, means this poor album often gets overlooked by Cat’s fans. It was in fact his worst-selling album until right near the end, when 1978’s ‘Back To Earth’ unfairly disappeared from shops almost as soon as it arrived, and if anyone ever writes about it now it’s in the context of how different it is compared to what’s to come.That’s cruel returns for an album that, more than any other, sees Cat growing up before our ears and offers a higher than usual return of strong songs, moody atmopshere and real insight into what’s going on inside the head of one of our most under-rated writers. Last issue we listed the difference between this album and successor ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ as one of the biggest 10 stylistic leaps in the AAA canon and its true: this album is epic, orchestral, grand, glossy and confident while its successor is deep, quiet, brooding and anxious; the perfect aural depiction of what an illness can change in a person’s outlook. In truth we could also have listed the gap between this album and it’s sweet and innocent if catchy predecessor ‘Matthew and Son’, one where there’s nothing bad lurking in the shadows and where everything is fab and groovy, a fact which rather leaves this album a unique listening experience, lost in a world of it’s own making. It’s also worth remembering that Cat was only 18 when this album came out: if there was a singer around with that much talent today (and no, I don’t mean Jutsin Bieber) we’d be endlessly hearing bright things said about their future; Cat was unlucky to be born in the middle of the biggest explosion of talented young things the world has ever seen and for his age these songs are so overwhelmingly impressive (the only AAA member younger than Cat is Lulu, two years younger still, although she didn’t write her own material until she was in her 40s).
Just have a look at that cover and that title. The name ‘New Masters’ sounds like it could have been either a sracastic take on the record bsuiness a la ‘Beatles For Sale’ or a record company completely non-plussed over how to market it. That cover too is unusual: Cat looks like the dapper young teenager about town that he always looked before this album came out, looking quite the dandy in a floral shirt and sporting rings and cuff-links (there haven’t been too many cases of cuff-links on AAA Album covers, after all!) But his expression is so moody, staring out towards the distance with a pensive look in his eyes and the lighting too is moody, espia-tinged to make him look older and wiser (‘Matthew and Son’ had tried the same tactic, actually, what with its Vicftorian-style lettering, but the very teenage smirk on Cat’s face gives the game away). This is a young man made to grow up very suddenly, a year older chronologically but so much more mentally thanks to endless tours, endless recording sessions, endless parties, endless groupies, more money in one go than his family had ever earned in their lives, etc (let’s not forget, two years before Cat was a school drop-out doing music for laughs as he worked part-time as a waiter at his parent’s restaurant – the journey between that and Top Of The Pops is about the biggest you can travel). A lesser artist than Cat would have stuck grimly to a winning formula, whatever was happening in his life and to those around him, but Cat is clever, Cat is observant and he knows that to keep his audience he has to be honest, about himself and the world around him. We will reach the zenith of that with ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ and ‘Tea For The Tillerman’, both 1970, two of the most nakedly autobiographical and honest albukms ever made , but even here at age 18 Cat is willing to change both himself and his musical style.
Sure, ‘New Masters’ doesn’t quite connect. The wacky themes of the first album are there but spread thinner, so that they sound like competing parts of Cat’s quirky psyche rather than pieces of a jigsaw that all fit together to tell a bigger story as before. ‘New Masters’ is also less consistent an enjoyable listening experience than it’s predecessor: ‘Matthew and Son’ is a fun record for the most part and the fun never stops, whether Cat’s singing about dancing, dogs, hummingbirds, workaholics or even guns. By contrast there are a few weaker tracks than usual on this album: ‘Come on Baby Shift That Log’ may have a cracking instrumental interlude and would have made for a terrific instrumental but it’s lyrics are naive, quaint and an experiment too far; ‘The Blackness of The Night’ is also an early songwriter’s mistake that appears on almost everybody’s first few albums when they are learning their craft – a promising song that repeats itself so often the listener has alrerady worked out the ending from the opening line; ‘I love Them All’ is also an uncomfortable ride into Cat’s darker psyche, at odds with every song on this album – and of this era. For one of the few times in my life I’m annoyed that the unwritten rule for the 1960s meant that artists never included their (in this case superior) singles on an album because with the addition of songs like ‘A Bad Night’ ‘It’s A Supa (Dupa) Life’ ‘Lovely City (When Do You Laugh?)’ and ‘Where Are You?’ instead of the above songs this could have been one of Cat’s strongest LPs (the B-sides aren’t bad either). Cat’s singing too is a struggle on some of the recordings here (especially period B-side ‘Image Of Hell’), a far cry from the effortless breeze of ‘Matthew and Son’ (both album and single).
But there’s plenty to love too. As wacky as Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but every bit as deep and revealing as the crazy Diamond’s songs, this is the lighter side of the flower power era stuffed into a mixer and with the fairy-tale aspects turned on their head, to sound sinister and dark even while we laugh at them. Cat’s always been one of the more creative artsist on our list, stuffing songs with so many changes in direction they become a whirlwind ride of sound (especially in this early era), making it all the more surprising when he abandoned music altogether in the late 70s because here the art of creating is everything: middle eights in abundance, instrumental sections coming out of nowhere, clever links between choruses and verses, it’s hard to listen to anything immediately after Cat’s works because everything else sounds so, well, bare and monotonous. The string arrangements, first with long standing musical director Alan Tew and later with a slew of others, are quite unlike any other orchestral arrangements of the day (edxcepting that first album anyway), ones that really seem to understand that these are deep ‘pop’ records and that grandiose Wagnerian-style epic accompnaiments would drown the fun out of the songs. And the songs themselves can reach such heights of playfulness laced with power that it’s hard to believe Cat still really is only 18 and yet has already learnt the lessons of life at a very early age.
There’s no other explanation for ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, the album’s most famous song about good times coming after bad, even if it had to be given away to P P Arnold to become a hit (Miss Arnold crops up a lot on this website – see various Small Faces reviews and Roger Waters’ ‘Amused To Death’). A powerful song about being hurt and yet still wanting to love, it’s perfectly arranged, growing from quiet defensive hurt to swinging love song in the blink of an eye. It may be the most perfectly realised song here about looking forward to happier times, but it’s far from the only good one: ‘Kitty’ is a swirling love song not to a person so much as a way of life when our work is done and it’s time to give your emotions release (Oasis tried the same trick with their stomping ‘Lyla’, another two-syllabled heroine with a murky past given redemption); ‘I’m Gonna Be King’ is a song about being pushed around and looking for escapism to a time when that won’t happen; ‘Ceylon City’ is a dreamy song about wondering what your old loves are up to while you’re busy slaving away (the sort of thing the Moody Blues will make their own in the 1980s).
There’s also an underlying theme of things ending and the realisation that the ‘old’ life is over. Cat may have only been 18 but he’s already realised that you can’t live your life as one endless party (well, actually, if you’re Keith Moon you can but that’s a special case). Even if he hadn’t fallen ill and had managed to promote this record enough to keep his record contract, Cat would have gone in an entirely new direction with his music from here. Time and again we hear songs about how a journey that was meant to bring joy and excitement has only brought pain and emptiness, whether that’s disguised by tales of a groupie-loving singer, an archerologist whose spent his life searching for a jewel or a kid waitingt for an apple to fall of a tree, mouth-wtering at the porspect of what it will deliver, only to find it disappointing when he finally bites into it. Cat has wanted success all his life and it came in a lightning flash, quite unlike the way he’d plotted and planned it in his bedroom – and yet, when it arrives it’s hollow and empty, full of ‘yes’ men telling you where to go and what to think but never really understanding you or your art. That’s an uncomfortable realisation for any artist – to go back to Oasis again, Noel Gallagher’s still trying to come to terms with that now in song – but for an 18 year old it must have sounded like the sky falling on your head. After all, what’s left to aspire to now, when a heaving bank account and your pictures in the paper make you guilty and nervous rather than inspired and happy.
The changes Cat makes in his music and his life – adapting a new style, becoming a Muslim, goriwng a beard – are always assumed by fansd and critics to stem from his illness and an extended stay in a hospital where the record company men have moved onto the ‘next big thing’ and all Cat has left around him are the friends and family he hasn’t seen in years. Of course that was a defining moment in his life and so it should be – Cat had the intelligence and empathy enough to realise that the success he’d craved wasn’t the only impoirtasnt thing in his life, even all of his ‘new’ friends probably told him it should be. But I think the defining moment comes earlier, right here on this second album, where all that glitters is not gold and the workload – andc even the parties – come with a pricve no one should have to pay. If you love Cat’s later works, the Teasers, Tillerman, Firecats and Catch-Bulls then the elaborate orchestral arrangements, jumpy tempos and quirky subject matters on these songs may well leave you puzzled. But if you want to know why Cat suddenly ‘got’ what was happening in thw world when others around him were getting into glam jumpsuits and building whole albums around one riff, why Cat should suddenly have changed his lifestryle and his audience in a barve move of immense proportions, why suddenly the lyrics and atmosphere became everything, then you need to listen to this album. And Decca desperately need to re-issue it, because today ‘New Masters’ is one of the hardest Cat CDs to track down and fans (perhaps even those who’ve joined the movement since Cat returned to the music world as Yusuf in 2004) need to know about this missing piece of the masterplan. Whether you also like an album that’s so important in the great man’s canon is almsot irrelevent; but I do think that, for the most part, you will.
The album kick-starts with ‘Kitty’ , a bouncy song about a workaholic narrator who gets glared at by his colleagues and peers for working as hard as he does – and yet gets glared at even more when he parties hard too. One of Cat’s early songwriting experiments in contrasts, this song is almost a battle in sound with work-filled verses battling the release of the choruses, Cat singing in both his higher and lower registers and a musical ‘argument’ between traditional rock instruments, an orchestra and an accordian. It’s a bit like ‘Father and Son’ but Cat isn’t singing about the generation gap as much as he’s singing about the sniping tendencies of people to look down on those around him – whether he’s working or pl,aying, the narrator still can’t win people over to his way of thinking. Like the Small Faces’ ‘All Or Nothing’, this narrator isn’t going to stand for half-measures. This is a man built for doing everything to extremes and that’s shown by the bouncy tempo which drives the song forward much like ‘Matthew and Son’ – only in this case the hard work comes from an inner drive, not a constutional dermand to keep punching the clock. The parties are meant to be a release – the build up between the verses and the choruses, with a bubbling bass and a tapping tambourine steam-rollered by the orchestra playing on one note, as if forcing the rest of the band into submission illustrates this superbly. Whoever Kitty is, she’s all the narrator lives for, what he dreams about when working hard and consuming his everything in his nights off, overhwleming both his and our senses with a crescendo of noise where all hell breaks loose. It should be a happy, jolly track – and Cat sings it as if it is – but already there’s a mood of caution. By the second verse the passing ‘men’ are looking down their noses because the narrator is ‘on the brink’ (of collapse, perhaps), pushing his body much further than it was ever meant to go. The ending too, where the orchestra builds up to an extreme conclusion instead of simply passing back to the quiter sound of the work-filled verse, sounds very final, like an enforced full stop rather than a pause for breath. It’s tempting to see this as Cat’s sub-conscious telling him to stop; whether you see it on those terms or simply as a fine rock song about contrasts its a pleasure to spend time in ‘Kitty’s company, a delightful sounding lady who deserved better than to have only made #20 on the hit parade.
The programming of the album that puts ‘I’m So Sleepy’ next sounds deliberate, as if this is the only future the narrator can look forward to if he keeps pushing his body too far. Cat sings this simple song about being so tired he could fall asleep anywhere in a dreamy, satisfied voice but the lyrics suggest something nastier happening. ‘In the night I can feel it creeping...creeping’ sounds to me like a man half-aware that he’s falling ill, while the lines about something in his ‘dreams...calling, soon I’m going to slip away’ sounds less like a good night’s sleep than it does a nightmare out of a horror film. ‘I won’t fight it, I’ll just write it’ sings Cat at one point –for the sake of his health, if only he had fought it. But then again from our point of view we wouldn’t have had such sweet, lovely songs as this one: tranquil one moment and terrifdying the next, the arrangement makes a good job of juggling all the swicthes in mood and David Whittaker’s orchestral accompaniment is one of the best on the album, fairy-tale like with just enough edge not to set your teeth on edge. Eevn the ending of the song can be read as either cute or scary, with the narrator ending in mid yea-e-e’ on a song that has no resoltuion: has the narrator fallen asleep mid-song or fallen prey to his demons? Another very clever song, this could easily have been annoying but Cat sings it with just the right amount of edge, his voice in a dream-world state where nothing is as it seems.
‘Northern Wind’ is one of my favourites on the album, a faux-Western song that appears to be the narrator offering a man called Billy a word of advice about a coming storm. The song does descend into arch nonsernse by the end, with a cluttering orchestral score and backing singers that sound more like an army from the American Civil War than a pop song, it’s true, but for the first minute or so it’s a beautiful sparkling pop song pitched just right. It’s also fascinating for Cat scholars like me looking for insight into one of the most troubled times of his life. The unknown warning sounds to me like Cat’s subconscious telling him to ‘look out’ – the coming wind that’s ‘awful strong’ that’s ‘come for you and anyone whose ever helped you on’ sounds like a tired body that already knows it’s unable to fight the germs within it. Cat’s curious reply ‘I want to live, live, live and make the stars shine bright’ only makes sense if you consider this a song like ‘Kitty’ about someone who only lives for their ‘days off’ which aren’t really days off at all and the line ‘I don’t want to fight it, Billy, because I want to go’ sounds like a final realisation of submission to an unseen force that makes those dreams sound unlikely. It’s notable too that, far from causing death and destruction, this wind simply makes it’s narrator ‘feel kind of strange’. Whether you believe that Cat was only really ill after this album’s release (when he collapsed and was diagnosed with TB) or whether he was really poorly long before that, from a lifestyle that just wouldn’t let his mind and body take rest and slow down, this is still an impressive song. Cod-Westerns are surprisngly common among AAA artists (there’s three in the CSN/Y canon alone) but ‘Northern Wind’ is one of the best, with a mood-setting harmonica giving way to an epic orchestral arrangement that really does sound as if we’ve gone on a ‘journey’. Even though we never quite get to the plot of the song (does the Northern Wind ever actually arrive? The music suggests it does, the lyrics suggest it doesn’t) and even though Cat’s strained vocal gets hammered into submission by an unsensitive mix that all but drowns him out, this is still an impressive song and especially recording, one that’s been forgotten by Cat sollowers for far too long.
‘The Laughing Apple’ has a title that almost could be a Syd Barrett song but, like the early Floyd, this sweet song also has bite. It starts with a sound that’s more like a door-bell or a nursery rhyme (its very like the start of Wings’ ‘Let ‘Em In’) with Cat promising to tell usthe story ‘of a tree, an apple tree.’ Again, though, I don’t think this song is just about fruit. I think this is a song about cold hearted managers ‘growing’ their superstars like a ‘tree’, watering them when they will bear them fruit and discarding them on the compost heap of life when they don’t. Interestingly, though, the apple ‘stars’ don’t want to be picked: the sensible ones all ‘duck’ when they’re about to be picked, despite the fact that they were bred solely to give ‘enjoyment’ to other people. In this song, Cat seems to be saying that the truly happy aren’t the rich and famous but those who are happy – the best apples, the best ‘stars’, are the ones who are ‘laughing’. Alas these laughter lines are often forced, because the apples will simply be discarded if they’re ‘ever caught wearing a frown’. Like The Hollies on ‘Clown’ and various 1960-s Ray Davies songs, this is a surprisingly early piece about the downside of fame from someone who suffered from the ‘fame rollercoaster’ more than most.The song proper is another turbulent rocker, with a rasping horn that gives the song almost a soul feel and a pulsating driving tempo that rushes on even when the narrator wants to stop and think. Unfortunately, unlike ‘Kitty’ and ‘Northern Wind’ that drive doesn’t involve the listener so much as knock them backwards, making the song a gabble of words and a cacophony of noise at times. Still, as a song if not a recording this is another strong one, with the metaphor of apples perhaps stretched a bit far but then, hey, this was the 60s and most of these songwriting techniques were new back then, at least in a pop and rock context.
With such unwelcome personal changes at such a tender age, it’s perhaps no surprise that occasionally the glimpses into cat’s soul are ugly. ‘Smash Your Heart’ is a clever song that in many ways is the antithesis of ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, with a wronged narrator swearing he’ll get revenge on the girlfriend who spurned him, whatever it takes and however long he waits. Like ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’, it’s hard to see this vengeful spirit as the same man who turned to a religion fundamentally built on peace rather than remain in a record business he saw as corrupt (and say what you will about 9/11 Islam is based on peace from the title down – terrorism or freedom fighting is the act of a few not the whole, as the recent peace movement in the Muslim community in London proves), but it’s true. Luckily for us, this is a slow-burning song of hatred in the Stephen Stills sense, attached to a tune so beautiful and so graceful and an orchestral accompaniment so haunting it hardly seems possible that the words and music came from the same man. ‘I’ll see you pay!’sings Cat, but to a flute-led backing that makes the whole thing sound sad rather than bad, pitiful and understandable rather than a madman bent on revenge. Interestingly, the really horrible-sounding part of the track isn’t Cat’s narrator’s threat to ‘smash your heart’ but the cold disdain as he vows to ‘turn and walk away’ without a second glance, as if she meant nothing to him. Of course, that isolation is just wishful thinking – just loisten to the emotion of this track where it’s clear the narrator is incapable of doing anything but return to the scene of the crime. Like Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I Am A Rock’, this is a man so hurt by his loved one that he’s encased off his heart ad vowed never to love another soul – even though the listener can read between the lines and knows that in truth he probably feels a bit too much. Was Cat wronged in this period? Alas we’ll never know and Yusuf’ unlikely to speak about it now, but this song does make for a complement with other tortured love songs in the period like ‘Lady D’arbanville’, love matches that were always doomed to failure despite the best attempts of both parties to reconcile their differences. An intriguing song that never quite matches it’s many harmonic sections together, it’s nevertheless a moving and complex song, ably supported by a sensitive orchestral arrngement from Des Champ which seems to instinctively grasp what a subtle and fragile rather than angry song this really is.
‘Moonstone’ ends the album’s short first side with an intriguing story-song about an archeologist who goes on the voyage of a lifetime to track down the ‘moonstone’ of the title that he’s been searching for all his life. But is it really just a stone? Or the mysteries of life, that disappear the moment you think you have them within your grasp? Closer in style to the imaginative narratives of ‘Matthew and Son’, with almsot a Tin Pan Alley patter in the opening section and a wham-bam chorus, ‘Moonstone’ is nevertheless also open to a deeper interpretation based on what we know of Cat’s life at the time. The moonstone sounds to me – and again this is only conjecture, like much of this site – like fame or drugs, with Cat the archesologist whose spent his whole life yearning for it, only to find the happiness it gives him fleeting and hypnotic (it’s no coincidence that the song ends with the dfiscomforting words ‘and it started to disappear...’) The moonstone offers a sudden pleasing but fleeting moment the narrator ‘just has to see it again’ and yet its not what we really should be searching for in life because it never offers any answers and it disappears before it can really be understood . No wonder Cat starts this song by telling us that ‘he is not insane’ – the effect this mysterious gem has both on the narrator and the music makes us giddy, what with crashing cymbals and sweeping violins and the like. Goodness knows what the ‘a-bu-ray’ chorus means, by the way, which is not one of Cat’s more inspiraing middle eights (especially given his weak double-tracked voice) but there’s something about ‘Moonstone’ that, like the gem in the title, keeps us coming back for more.
The second side begins with ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, a song that managhes toi cut deeper and sound more honest and less metaphorical than any other track here. There’s a reason this song has so much universal appeal it’s become one of Cat’s most covered songs, full of pain and suffering but also hope and this quietly troubled and haunted original remains the best version I’ve heard. Cat might not be the world’s greatest vocalist, particularly in these early years, but his creaking fragile voice offers up far more emotion than the more famous cover versions, PP Arnold’s earnest delivery and Rod Stewart’s sleepwalking monologue. Cat sounds more doubtful than either of them, doubly sure that a new relationship will end in tears simply because, well, they always do – but also curious enough to know what will happen with a new partner to go along for the ride, half-reluctantly. The opening is gorgeous, with an uncredited guitarist (possibly cat himself, though it doesn’t sound much like his normal work) offering a simple, melancholy mood before the track proper ‘cuts’ in, plunging the narrator in a world of love much bigger than his own lonely isolated world. The perfect musical depiction of isolation flowering into real passion and interest is matched by a set of words that, while simple, are pretty good at summing up the huge chasms of emotion felt in relationships in brief, simple, compact verses. The one part of the song that falls down for me is the chorus: this is the biggest, boldest, catchiest part of the song and yet the narrator is at his most awkward and angry here, determined that ‘the first cut ois the deepest’ and he’ll never get over it and singing about his old love when he should be singing about his new one. The clumsy rhyme of ‘worst’ and ‘first’ also sounds odd here, better suited to poetry than songs where the sound of words is everything. Still, even with this fault the song is a strong one, personal enough to sound genuine and moving and universal enough to appeal to a whole new audience less interested in laughing apples and shifting logs. If only Cat had been well enough to promote his own version he might well have had the biggest hit of his career – but then again, perhaps without suffering the mixed emotions heard in this song he might never have fallen ill in the first place.
‘I’m Gonna Be King’ is more growly simmering anger matched to hopeful optimism, with Cat singing in a much deeper register than normal. He’s not quite grown into this ‘new’ voice yet, which will suit him well come the time of ‘Mona Bone Jakon’, but even with such a struggle this song still manages to impress. ‘I’ve been pushed around, made to clook a clown’ starts the song, which is clearly aimed squarely at the managers picking up apples discriminately from trees. And yet it’s the next line, the one where ‘it is time for me to start to grow’ that resonates loudest (as well as the later line ‘it is time for me to show what I can be’). This is Cat caught halfway between his ‘old’ and ‘new’ selves, giving us a pointless silly chorus about ‘being king’ with his bride as ‘Queen’ set against the relaities that only you can shape your future and make yourself happy. The effect is like hearing someone thinking out loud, determined not to make the same mistakes and yet making them all the same. I’ll forgive Cat for now, though, because the melody that accompanies this set of lyrics is one of his best, rounded and complete in true Paul McCartney style and yet full of such believable stuttering and worrying like the best Lennon lyric. Cat really did become ‘king’ of this sort of open-hearted, revealing compositional style and even though this is an early stab at that direction, not yet delivered with as muchpanache and sophistication as used later, it’s still an important and moving song, a crucial stepping stone on the path to ‘Mona Bone’ and ‘Tillerman’. Once again, full marks to Des Champ whose melodic and understated accompaniment is just what this hesitant and hopeful song needs and who proves he really was the best of Cat’s many colleagues in this period.
‘Ceylon City’ is one of this album’s rare stabs at something wider than just the narrator and his life. On first hearing, it’s a happy quirky song about escapism, full of quick-witted rhymes and a breezy melody that’s infectious, about a far-away town the narrator knows (Ceylon, which is actually a country not a ‘city’, was part of the British Empire before changing its name to Sri Lanka and becoming independent in 1972, some four years after this album’s release), complete with clichéd wistful accordion to start us off. However, on closer inspection there are sharks in the water: listen out for both the moody links between the verses (played on a bass that sounds like it’s on say-release from a horror film set) and the hint at what the ‘brother’ on the song is up to. First he’s hiding (‘he’s nowhere!’) and later on he’s serving (presumably just the food that his ‘momma’s just served, but could it be he’s a draft-dodger forced to serve in the army? Cat sings ‘my brother will be fighting...’ on the fade too which could point to either a family feud or something more sinister). Cat did have a brother but no sister, so it’s likely that these lines are make-believe rather than autobiographical – and as far as I know he never toured or recorded in Ceylon and certainly wasn’t born there as he sings in the song (although he might well have had a holiday there) – and they’re rattled off in a vocal caught somewhere between fun and sarcasm. A feast for the ears, there’s so much going on in this song it’s hard to tell where to look next. Full marks to the un-credited harmony singer (at least, it doesn’t sound like Cat double-tracked) who does a good job of making this song sound more like energetic and hungry Merseybeat than anything Cat’s recorded up to this point. A bit of fun, with a front that might well be hiding a less innocent facade, this is a delightful pop song with a great tune and the performers at the top of their game.
From hereon in the album is less satisfying, taking the themes hinted at so far and whacking the listener overhead with them. ‘Blackness Of The Night’ is a clever acoustic song, similar to those Cat will go on to write in the 1970s, but without their honesty or depth. As first verses go this is a good beginning: taking a walk in the dark, the fugitive narrator is realising that his life is not what he thought it was and he’s on the run, afraid of everybody. However, the second verse ties the song too firmly to being anti-war (Cat even goes a bit Scottish here, as if he’s been watching too many Braveheart-type films about independence) and to top it all there’s a cheesy organ solo that’s as crass and calculated as anything in Cat’s canon. The biggest mistake of all is the lack of change: all we get are an instrumental and three verses that tell more or less the same story, to the same harmonic pattern. It’s a forgivable mistake for an 18 year old, though a surprising one for a man of Cat’s talents, and suggests that this is a really early song revived in desperation when the deadline for recording came round again. The whole song is meant to sound stirring, complete with a string arrangement that’s designed to capitalise on our heart strings, but the result is too lacklustre and too contrived to get our sympathies. We’ve all heard this sort of piece so many times before it’s hard to get excited about and – compared to the sumptuous textures of the rest of the record – this is deathly dull.
‘Come On Baby (Shift That Log)’ suffers from the opposite problem. Far from being unadventurous, this song tries to pull off so many tricks at once you want to yell at Cat to slow down. A chirpy acoustic riff gives way to some Indian-style percussion and a slow-burning groove that crawls to a halt in places before being split wide open in the instrumental middle section by some blistering horns that seem to have wandered out of some Stax recording session. The two don’t comfortably sit together, but then that’s meant to be the point: this is a song about being uncomfortable, about the growing tension between partners. Unfortunately for Cat much of his strong opening lyrical observations about the spark of interest in lovers giving way to mundane tasks, until making love is slotted in between moving logs and washing dogs as a chore, is ruined by a low and plodding chorus that makes these inanities comical rather than emotional. I’d love to have heard the backing track for this session – something that sadly seems to be out of fashion now for CD re-issues but used to be the highlights of archive releases for a time, certainly among the Moody Blues re-issues – because it sounds like a cracking one, with measured breaks between sudden excitement and lethargy. Alas, with some of the most complicated lyrics on the album added on top there’s simply too much here to take in, even on repeated listening. Cat shelved an earlier arrangement of this song because he was unhappy with it, starting all over again during one of the album’s last sessions but to my ears he still hasn’t quite nailed the song yet, making it too awkward and angular, rather than surprising and exciting. Cat doesn’t tend to revive many old songs now that he’s called Yusuf, especially from these early days, but I wonder what his more experienced brain would make of this song nowadays with that bit more experience behind him. Full marks for trying, but alas ‘Shift That Log’ tries just a little too hard and until that electrifying middle section can be something of a hard slog for fans.
The album ends on a third and final uncomfortable note with ‘I Love Them All’. For years I didn’t pay this song much attention, assuming it to be a typical 1967-68 era announcement of peace and love – but actually it couldn’t be further from the truth. Cat’s narrator this time is unlikeable, quite frankly, reminiscing about the times he spent with his true love and kicking himself for not spending more time with her and making her happy – only to have a chorus full of passing groupies and the admission that ‘if they came again I would do the same again because I’m that kind of a guy’. This type of song has dated badly and its surprising to hear it from such a forward-thinking man as late as 1968, when –the Rolling Stones and possibly Gilbert O’Sullivan aside – most songwriters had left this kind of lifestyle behind long ago (in their music, at least, if not in reality). Like ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’ the effect isn’t clever or exciting – it just sounds wrong and completely out of tune with the times. A shame, because the tune for this song is particularly strong, led by a boogie woogie piano and a stab of percussion that really highlights the song’s infectious groove and goodtime feel. Again, I’d love to hear the backing track without the words because the musicians sound like they were really on it that day.
Ah well, even with the poor ending ‘New Masters’ is still an album to savour. Whether you’re a Cat fan looking for clues towards his later work, a lover of infectious pop singles circa 1968 or someone in need of something deeper than the usual rock bands-with-orchestras fair this album should be your cup of tea. ‘New Masters’ was the first of Cat’s albums I found and whilst it’s not as deep or weirdly as accessible as what’s to come I can still see what I heard in the album to make me reach out to all the other albums to follow (and one before it). A dazzling ride through some quirky subject matters, it’s all as deep or as shallow as you want it to be, all held together by one of the hardest working (and hardest partying) 18 year olds on the planet. If we had Cat around now I’d fear for his sanity, of having too much fame too young and losing that sparkle of genius that made his songs so loved by so many people. Cat didn’t have an easy journey getting to where he wanted to go, with a history full of illness and rows with record companies and doubts over his religion and spiritual beliefs. But the fact that an 18 year old seduced by parties and the glittering lights of fame should even be thinking of spiritual matters says much for the make-up of one of our greatest musical lights. Yusuf seems to have gone quiet recently, since the release of a so-so comeback and a much superior follow-up that nobody but me seems to have bought. If he was to disappear again that would be a terrible shame because cat’s personal journey from a young bright teenager to a worldy-wise figure is one of the most fascinating stories of all. The collapse from TB and fall from grace on the charts have broken so many promising young talents, even in an era less full of brilliance than it was back then, but as we’ve seen already on this album cat was made of stronger talents than most of the fading wonders around him that year. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫♫ (7/10).