Monday, 27 January 2014

Five Random Recent Purchases (News, Views and Music 230 Top Five)

Dear all, Christmas seems like a dim and distant speck on the horizon now, but it's taken all that time to analyse last year's crop of AAA related goodies for the latest instalment of our 'random recent purchases' (or gifts, as it should be for this issue only). We will, as ever, be adding each entry to our bigger lists of entries on books ( but those of you who've already read that issue might be interested in reading these 'latest' posts, as well as two very last-minute Beatles releases that we weren't quite quick enough to review at the time.

1) Graham Nash "Wild Tales" (Book, 2013)

We've already had books by Crosby and Young (get a move on Stills!) so in many ways 'Wild Tales' ought to be redundant. Add in the fact that Graham barely mentions his first band The Hollies (even though there's never been an autobiography from a member of the 1960's third best selling singles band before - or even a biography, frustratingly) and in many ways 'Wild Tales' is a lost opportunity. But Graham's book is arguably the best read of the three, dealing fairly but firmly with all the characters who fade in and out of the book and with a memory for detail that Neil doesn't seem to want to remember and - a decade of drugs hell later - David can't. There are lots of gems strewn across this readable book, from spot-on caricatures of CS and Y (the three members' response to Graham's manuscript, quoted in the last paragraph, speaks volumes - especially Young's comment 'what a load of &*%!') to memories of individual songs (I've always wondered what the poetical 'Broken Bird' from 'Whistling Down The Wire' was all about - now I know it's a model of a bird Graham's then-girlfriend, now-wife Susan was working on when he 'surprised' here in a scene out of 'Ghost' and shouted 'I love you!' , causing her to accidentally break the head off the bird she was sculpting). Caught somewhere between Crosby's wonderful but simplistic book (where periods of his life are either all-good or all-bad) and Young's (which was characteristically 'him', but in a rambling, uninformative way), 'Wild Tales' manages to re-tell familiar stories with an easily recognisable voice. The book isn't perfect (there's less about Nash's Salford poverty-stricken background than I expected) and some albums get ridiculously short shrift (1994's return to form 'After The Storm' doesn't even warrant a mention), but Nash's picture of a trio who went from having everything to effectively nothing in 40 years is moving indeed (the picture of Crosby's descent and Nash's helplessness is well handled and if anything even more harrowing than David's own take on it in his own book). Best of all, central to the book is the theme that we've been harking about on this website for some time now: the brave decision Graham took to leave his band, his wife, his best friend and the country of his birth to work with two maniacs he was already banging heads with (thankfully Graham seems to feel he made the right decision, although given the many tales of bust-ups over the years the reader might not be so sure). All in all an illuminating read that might suffer from coming after two other band members have had their stories told but actually trumps the pair of them. 7/10

2) The Beatles "At the BBC - Volume Two" (2013)

Now this is how the first volume should have been done: the context put back into the songs (the marvellous off-the-cuff - and off-the-wall chitchat reinstated), the most 'alternate' alternate takes of the BBC sessions and a mopping up of some of the rarest Beatles recordings in existence (two songs from 'Teenager's Turn' in March 1962 - the Beatles' first broadcast of any kind some seven months before 'Love Me Do'). There are even four 'pop profile' solo interviews with each of the Beatles from late 1965 and early 1966 that to the best of my knowledge have never even been bootlegged, making this set quite an occasion. As we said in our review for the first 'Live at the BBC' set, however (we'll wait for you don't worry...see
what Apple and the Beeb probably should have done was release a multi-CD box set with the 'best' version of every recording the band made there, or better still a multi-set with each programme left 'complete'. Frankly the Beatles shot themselves in the foot with the first release 20 years ago, reminding fans of how good these precious jewels were - and then denying us the chance to (officially) hear the rest while they release sub-standard outtakes sets and unnecessary remix albums. The Beatles' BBC sessions have a spontaneity and verve that tells you more about Beatlemania than any of their records and is matched only by the 'Hard Day's Night' film, back at a time when no band was this accessible or this fun to be with. Lennon again comes off best with some very witty banter, while Harrison again comes off as the star of the musical recordings, his spot-on but wild guitar solos the glue that ties many of these bordering-on-wild performances together. Yes the first set has an awful lot of the best stuff and is still the one to buy if you're wondering - frankly none of the actual 'performances' here can't be heard better elsewhere (apart from the unique-to-this-set 'Beautfiul Dreamer', which is key historically but not that great by Beatles standards). However all of it is at least passable (even a second, even more dirge-like version of 'Sure To Fall' and an even lesser stab at 'Glad All Over', a song the Beatles 'borrowed' from The Searchers and never managed to do as well with). However it's the chat that makes these sets shine so brightly (including two of the very funniest moments: the band getting a request from their old school and chatting about the teachers to Lennon trying to 'plug' his book while Macca tries to talk about songwriting and unless someone finds a long-lost tape of the Beatles in Hamburg (from an earlier, less weary period than the Star Club tapes) this is again as close as we'll get to the 'real' Beatles, before Brian Epstein and EMI watered them down for commercial consideration. The booklet (including a moving forward by Paul McCartney, written on my birthday last year I notice) is done with as much love and care as the rest of the set, too. All in all a too long delayed but undeniably fab purchase. 8/10

3) The Beatles "Bootleg Recordings 1963" (2013)

A real surprise this one: available on I-tunes without advance notice, in some countries only for a matter of hours before it got taken down. If you didn't hear about it, don't worry - you weren't meant to. In fact Apple would rather you forget this set was out at all. The only reason it's appeared (with a second volume rumoured) is to combat the copyright laws, which state that although previously released material can be 'protected' for 70 years, unissued material is fair game after 50. Apple clearly feared that 2014 would see several semi-official CDs full of Beatles recordings available on bootleg and recorded in 1963 and decided to jump in first. What that means for the listener is the chance to hear several nearly-identical performances of songs from the 'Please Please Me' LP and a smattering of yet more BBC sessions not included on the first two sets. Clearly these sets aren't for you if you have only a passing interest in The Beatles and don't already know relatively obscure songs like 'Misery' and 'There's A Place' backwards. For true monkeynuts Beatle fans, however, this is what we dreamed the Anthology sets would be like: a minimal amount of packaging and fuss, no ridiculous editing putting several takes of songs together into an un-natural whole and a strictly chronological running order that means we can hear, note-for-note, how The Beatles grew into the phenomenon they were. Whether hearing the Beatles makes mistakes and have bad ideas makes them more 'human' and fallible (as Apple have so long feared) or more incredible and gifted (surely the fact the final products came because of so many false-starts shows a remarkable facility for hearing what 'worked' and what 'didn't') is up to you, but I know what my money is on...Roll on 2017/2018 when the likes of unreleased sessions for 'Revolver' 'Sgt Peppers' and beyond is due for release... 8/10

4) Mat Snow "The Beatles: Solo" (Book, 2013)

The most interesting tales from the Beatles' story often come from the 'solo years', when so many fans seem to have stopped listening. With four very different yet complementary tales to tell and access to many unseen photographs these books should have been superb, especially bound together in a handsome box set that's one of the single heaviest items I own (the complete mono and stereo Beatles CD boxes have nothing on this!) However, big print, limited space and a need to toe official party lines mean that these books are only really interesting for those who don't know the story all that well. Frankly, if you're prepared to spend that kind of money on a set this big then you already know the basics and there aren't enough details here to excite - even in the lesser known tales of George and Ringo's careers. That said, however, even a longterm Beatles nut like me didn't know a good quarter of the photographs printed large in these books and the volumes have been produced with a lot of care and consideration. The jury's still out as to whether getting mock-up modern style impressions of each Beatle face on each book was good idea (and why jump around years and facial styles so much - surely an all-'Peppers' moustachied band or an all-clean shaven circa 'Rubber Soul' look would have been a better choice?), although some fans reckon they're the best thing about the whole set. One for the newbie interested in the band's lives after the split - or for the collector who wants absolutely everything. 3/10

5) Kevin Howlett "The Beatles: The BBC Archives" (Book, 2013)

Kevin Howlett is the expert on the band's BBC recordings and his first initial book about the 'Beatle Broadcasting Company' is one of my most treasured possessions: in turns informative, witty and wise. Moving on 30 odd years, however, and there's remarkably little that's come to light that wasn't already known when the first book was published. If anything, the fact that there are now two official BBC double-album sets available to all means that there's less reason for a book like this to exist in this day and age, re-printing transcriptions from chatter already available from the Beatle's mouths as it were and full of descriptions for performances that we can now hear and evaluate for ourselves. Had this book been another value-for-money paperback you could pick up for a tenner I'd have been more forgiving, but this one dresses everything up to look 'big', being a massive hardback book that comes in a massive box that retails at a staggering £45 (over a third of the price, don't forget, of the entire Beatles studio catalogue on CD). There are one or two new photos in the book and a much longer analysis of each 'cover' song the Beatles chose and where they came from, but there simply isn't enough that's 'new' here to qualify releasing such an expensive tome. The one great thing about this set is the 'limited edition' portfolio full of re-creations of BeatlesBBC-related memorabilia down the years. We've heard the 'producer's notes' for the Beatles' auditions many times before ('Paul McCartney - no. John lennon - yes. An unusual group, not as rocky as most, more county and western with a tendency to 'play music') but to actually see the words as written, together with all the typed-up hype Brian Epstein gave to try and sell the band, is exquisite. Ditto the chance to read audience research reports for both the Beatles' final radio broadcast from 1965 and the Magical Mystery Tour TV special, both of which are slated by a chosen panel of viewers even more than legend recalls (reading this, it's amazing the Beatles ever worked for the Beeb again). This should have been a one-off re-creation together with a re-issue of Howlett's original, illuminating book however - not an epic paving slab of a volume that actually adds remarkably little to the Beatles story we didn't know already. 4/10

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

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