Reviews: Lords of the New Church, Making Tea for Robots, Love, Harry J All Stars, Liverpool, Pyramid, Southend YMCA, NWoBHM, Dave and Ansel Collins, King Crimson

The Lords of the New Church

The Lords of the New Church Special Edition (2CDs)

(Blixasounds)

The liner notes get off to a bad start.  The Lords, as we all know, were the first punk supergroup… ex-Damned, ex-Sham, ex-Dead Boys and, the exception to prove the rule, ex-Barracudas.  

Yes, there were earlier collaborations, which in song spawned “Russian Roulette,” and on stage gave rise to the one-off Dead Damned Sham Band.   But how can you begin to document all that the Lords portended without at least mentioning the Wanderers – frontman Stiv Bators and bassist Dave Treganna, blueprinting their next band’s political rage and societal acumen across the last great concept album ever made, Only Lovers Left Alive?  It’s like telling the story of the Airplane, without mentioning the Great Society.  

No matter.  It’s the music that counts and the Lords’ debut album, from 1982, remains a no-punches-pulled period at the end of punk history.  Ten songs short, it flavored all that the Lords would go on to achieve, and if the band’s ultimate fate fell far short of the goals they aspired to, still “New Church,” “Open Your Eyes,” “Apocalypso,” “Holy War” and the aforementioned “Russian Roulette” remain as potent today as they were at the time.  Bator’s grasp on current affairs may have erred on the side of the ultra-conspiratorial (the Pope as Bolshevik actor, the Cold War as secretly hot), but though his foes have all changed faces, that doesn’t mean they’re not out there still.

Lesser songs do scar the surface – “Little Boys Play With Dolls” was a less than overwhelming welter of word play and pun, and “Eat Your Heart Out” tried too hard to be tough.  But there’s a terrific cover of “Question of Temperature,” and bonus tracks add two period b-sides (and an a-side mix) to the brew before we move onto a second disc, taped at My Father’s Place in 1982.  

Live, the Lords were even more electric than they were in the studio, and though it’s effectively just the whole album again (plus a cover of “Fortune Teller”), the sound quality is staggering and the energy burns out your speakers. 

The remastering of the studio tracks, meanwhile, makes a mockery of the CDs that have wandered by in the past,  the packaging is glorious and the memorabilia that litters the booklet takes you right back to the day.  And back to those beforehand, too.  So here’s a picture of the Wanderers album, as well.  It’d be great to see that receive a similarly eloquent reissue.

 

 

 

Making Tea for Robots

Follows Shortly (CD)

(Millersounds) 

From the twisted souls that man the Rowan Amber Mill, a thirty-minute or so preview of how they spend their leisure time – watching school’s television from the early 1970s, and then feeding their impressions to machines.  

Not a million miles from various Ghost Box prolusions, but out on its own as well, the music here has a short attention span – most of its sixteen numbers are under two minutes in length, and all sound, feel and behave as though they’re either half-remembered theme songs, or mid-morning interludes while the test card’s taking a nap.  

It’s infuriating in the most delightful way; you want to snag the memory that you know each track obscures, but making tea for robots isn’t simply a matter of warming the pot.   There’s a cumulative madness to listening to this, not so much a reminder of the days when all “futuristic” music was supposed to sound so odd, but a stark warning of what would have happened if it had.  You can call it gnarly nostalgia, or perhaps a lucky escape, but either way it’s so maddeningly compulsive that you’ll be tapping out the melodies on your keypad for days.

And that’s before you start toying with what else is in the tin.  (Yes, the tin.)  Three button badges, four cryptic postcards and, on the back of one of them, a guide to all the TV shows whose themes you have now let loose.  And so we must take our leave now.  Engineering Totalitarian Capitalism will be on in a minute.

 

Love

Forever Changes – 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (box set)

(Rhino/Elektra)

Statistics first. Three little silver discs round up the original album in stereo, mono and DVD-audio; a fourth creates an alternate mix of the entire LP, a fifth is full of singles and out-takes and, lastly, a new vinyl pressing of the stereo album might well be the best it’s sounded across decades of reissues.

Funny thing, though.  For all its much-vaunted everythingness, Forever Changes (like the rest of Love’s catalog) is an album that either you love or hate.  Certainly it was generally hated upon release, or at least politely ignored – as the enclosed booklet reminds us, it was the seventies before appreciation started to creep its way, and still it was more likely to be compared to an oddball psych movie soundtrack than anything else.

Today, Forever Changes is more likely to be jousting with Sgt Peepee and Village Green than it is to be wallowing in unheard obscurity, and so it should.  The opening “Alone Again Or” alone sets a stage that is hard to top and, across the mono, stereo and alternates coasters, things often get better from there.  Only the out-takes disc is unlikely to remain in constant rotation in your house – two out-takes (“Woolly Bully” and “Wonder People”) are scarcely ranked among Love’s greatest efforts, while a mishmash of backing tracks and tracking session highlights swiftly lose their allure.

The rest, though, is peerless.  The mono mix, in particular, is dynamite, particularly if you’re most familiar with the stereo.  There’s no “Ringo’s extra cymbal – wow!” moments, just a few different fades, and the long-standing argument over whether the mono was a dedicated mix or a simple fold-down remains unanswered.  The mixing session is discussed in the booklet, and adds to the debate by suggesting that an otherwise untouched stereo master may have been deployed for the occasion.

In stereo, of course, it’s our same old friend, and though the vinyl is certainly a digital remaster, it’s definitely one of the more painstaking ones. It is, perhaps, a shade too quiet and a bit too bass-y, but that’s nothing that the twist of a couple of knobs can’t correct, and once you’ve done that, you’re cooking with gas.  This is a fantastic reissue and a fabulous remaster.  Contrary to its title, this slice of Forever hasn’t Changed in the slightest.

 

Harry J All Stars

Liquidator

(Doctor Bird/Cherry Red)

There are better instrumental albums around than this, and there are better reggae albums, too.  Probably even some better instrumental reggae albums.  But in terms of both historical import and eternal resonance, the dozen songs that were strung together to cash in on a surprise 1969 hit single add up to one of the most exhilarating records of their era.

There was no way of predicting the next reggae hit back then.  Trojan, the primary source of new releases, was just pumping the 45s out at the time, mainly for the delight of Britain’s Caribbean community, but also for a growing white fan base as well.  Dozens of singles appeared every week, some times more than that.  And every so often, one would seep out of the expected cult consciousness and into the minds of the masses.

“Liquidator” was one of those.  Still is, in fact.  Fans of English football will know it as the music Chelsea run out onto the pitch to, a service it has performed, on and off, since 1969.  But we won’t hold that against it.  Quite simply, up there with the Upsetters’ “Return of Django” (reviewed last month), it’s one of those records that didn’t simply introduce reggae to the mainstream, it was reggae.

The rest of the album was not quite as earthshattering, although it remains a fondly-remembered concoction, a dozen tracks that almost all came out as UK singles, appended here by a dozen more from much the same point in time. 

Most are Harry J originals, and they adhere to the title track’s blueprint of moonstomping their way through your consciousness.  The likes of  “Jack the Ripper,” “Interrogator” and “Jay Moon Walk,” in particular, are dynamic delights and, while the covers “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “My Cherie Amour” are less impressive, still there’s a certain redolent delight to Harry’s take on “Je T’aime,” particularly if you grew up on Richard Allen novels.  

Which, of course, we all did.

 

various

Revolutionary Spirit – The Sound of Liverpool 1976-1988 (box set)

(Cherry Red)

Even with five CDs to fill, that’s one helluva reach for any collection that tries to tell the tale of the ‘pool.  Forget about the Beatles, the Swinging Blue Jeans and all, the Merseybeat of ancient times had nothing on the sheer tsunami of talent that flowed down the river between 1976 (the emergence of Deaf School) and the end of the decade (first hits for the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes). And that was simply the herald of wave after wave after wave to come, from Frankie and Care, to Attempted Moustache and Dead or Alive.

Big in Japan.  Dalek I Love You.  Hambi and the Dance.  Royal Family and the Poor.  Post punk Liverpool had quite the reputation for fearsome band names, and while there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with calling yourselves Those Naughty Lumps, even OMD had to admit that only spelling bee champions would carve their full name on a park bench.

The chronology here is flawless, each disc effectively wrapping up one more convolution in the musical tale, and maybe the very latter ones are less instantly inciting than what came before.  Prior to that, though, Liverpool serves as a gaudy bellwether for  any number of subsequent national pastimes, with even Manchester’s oft-touted foot to the fore having usually been foreshadowed by events down the canal.  What were the Smiths, after all, but the pallid aftershocks of classic Pale Fountains?  And what were Oasis, but the La’s with less hooks?

Some glorious surprises leap out.  Pete Burns’ pre-DOA Nightmares in Wax, with the sordid pounding grease of “Black Leather,” and Dead or Alive’s own “Misty Circles.”   Lori and the Chameleons’ pop classic “Touch.”  Afraid of Mice and Egypt for Now.  Anything involving the Bunnymen.

There’s a peculiar lack of Wah… peculiar because, through the first half of the decade, they bestrode the city scene like an avenging bat. But so what?  Back in the day, a proto-stab at this kind of collection was released in the form of Zoo Records’ To The Shores of Lake Placid, and it’s still the best “local” compilation of the entire post-punk period.  Revolutionary Spirit multiplies its running time by something like ten-fold.

 

Pyramid

Dawn Defender (CD)

(Mental Experience)

What do we know about Pyramid?  Even with the accompanying booklet, not much.  Mid-seventies Krautrock from the Toby Robinson archive, which aligns it with the Nine Day Wonder he produced in 1974.  Less overtly Floydy, though, and more early Tangerine Dream.  And no musician credits beyond Robinson’s recollection that it was probably just a bunch of friends, “who joined in mucking around.”  

Nevertheless, thirty-three minutes pass in their company, compiled from at least a couple of sessions, plus some drumming that survived from a different session entirely, but wasn’t erased from the tape.

It’s good stuff, too.  No departure from what you might call the Krautrock Norm (funny how that term survives, despite so many well-intentioned efforts to suppress it), with flickers that remind the liner notes of Amon Duul, Ash Ra Temple, the Cosmic Jokers and, oddly, Porcupine Tree.  So it’s dark, deep spacey, trance-y., mysterious.  Give it a go.

 

various

A Place to Dwell: Folk Musicians Support Southend YMCA

(southendymca.bandcamp.com)

Masterminded by Diane Collier, late of Owl Service fame, A Place to Dwell is a benefit CD for Southend YMCA, a small charity working with the vulnerable and at risk young, by providing supported housing, mentoring and coaching, an alternative provision free school and a fully equipped music studio.  

And this is a thirteen track compilation, raising funds for it, through the gifts of featuring a glorious sampling of artists, among them – Alex Rex, the Cunning Folk, Circle/Temple, Alasdair Roberts, MG Boulter, Crafting for Foes, Lost Harbours, Brazil Banks, Robert Sunday, Nancy Wallace, Nick Plynn, Kate Waterfield and Charlie Skelton, and Sharron Krauss.

Some of the names will be familiar; all of them ought to be.  Catch Cunning Folk’s almost impossible fragile “The Old Straight Track”; Roberts’ bold “The Little Collier”;  

Lost Harbours’ darkly atmospheric “Nine Ladies”; and, best of all, Nancy Wallace’s lovely “Yellow Tail.”  What a fabulous voice.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the number of artists currently working in the folky/wyrd/trad-disarranged field, and it’s collections like this that make the task a little easier.  Especially when they’re this much fun; and all the more so because it’s in a good cause.  But just in case you’re still in two minds… yes, that is Richard Thompson at the helm of Lost Harbours.

 

various

Winds of Time – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, 1979-1985 (box set)

(HNE Recordings Ltd/Cherry Red)

Did it really drag on that long?  Six years?  

Naaah.  Six weeks, more like.  Maybe six months.  The time it took for the first wave of bands to break onto the club scene, and a handful to reach beyond that, and then run for the hills (haha) when the next bunch came along and proved the New Wave was really no more than a briefly enthralling breaker.

It’s a weird collection.   Spin Cycle’s recollections of the NWOBHM tends to be dominated by either the handful of veterans who leaped aboard the resurgence… pedestrian revivals for Budgie and Atomic Rooster; more lasting thrills for sundry ex-Purple-oids… or the kind of bands who turned out to open for them.  Three cheers for Angelwitch, Saxon, Def Leppard, Girlschool, Diamond Head, Samson and the Tygers of Pan Tang.  Oh, and Vardis, Samson and Witchfynde.

Most of whom are here.  The Leppards aren’t, unfortunately, but there’s no sign of Praying Mantis, either, which – despite the multitudinous attractions of their namesake – is probably a good thing.  Too many of the lesser groups involved in the scene merely used it as a springboard to far ghastlier ends, and they should not be encouraged.

In fact, that’s the double-edged sword that is this box.  When it’s good, it’s great and you really understand why so many people were thrilled by the music’s resurgence. For three years, after all, punk and its aftershocks had dominated the UK music scene, with nary a headbanging highlight in sight.  

Then, in late 1979, the denim came pouring out of the woodwork; dandruff re-established itself as the ultimate fashion statement, and some of the toughest longhairs on the block had their moms teach them rudimentary needlework, and sewed patches onto everything they owned.  

And for a while, it was good.  Particularly before the major labels came knocking.  A lot of this box looks to self-released singles and barely-heard demos for its inspiration, and while an historical eye will bemoan the absence of specific recording dates (a cunning trap to see if you’ll listen without prejudice, or run screaming at the thought of post-81 recordings), the actual selection of both bands and tracks is strong.  It may not be wholly representative, but what’s here is generally worth it.

A more exhaustive investigation of the scene is still required,  with its earliest roots in particular still in need of retrieval.  There is also a vast void where Ethyl the Frog should reside.

Perhaps we’ll see a volume two sometime?

 

Dave & Ansel Collins

Double Barrel

(Doctor Bird/Cherry Red)

And just when you thought it was safe to go back into the disco… another early seventies reggae monster, spawned by another unexpected smash… which this time spun off a follow-up, too.  

Yes, it’s “Double Barrel” and “Monkey Spanner,” the to-die-for highlights of the brief but brilliant union between one of the era’s most gifted keyboard players, and one of the genre’s most spectacular vocalists.

As with Liquidator, reviewed above, an original LP is supplemented by a host of bonus tracks, – which, like the album itself, are largely credited to either Dave or Ansel.  The collaboration itself only ran to five tracks – the two hit singles and their version flips, and the mighty “I The Third.”  Everything else spun off with other accompaniment, which means the signature Dave Barker bark is absent from half the disc.  

But still it’s a cracking collection, a round-up of singles you know you should own, including a few which were never even issued in the UK… let alone America (although the hit sides were).  And no matter how deep into the disc you go, and how many occasionally-a-little-cheesy Collins instrumentals float on by, still the opening words of the opening track remind you what you’re doing here.

“I,” declares an echo-laden Barker, “am the magnificent.”

And he is.

 

King Crimson

Live in Vienna – December 1, 2016

(Discipline/Inner Knot)

It would appear, by now, that any hopes we have of new studio Crimson recordings are not going to be granted soon.  This is the reformed band’s fifth live album since 2014, and while nobody’s going to complain about that, there will come a time when you wish there was more than a standard “greatest hits” show, interspersed with “The Hell Hounds of Krim.”  Or “The Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row.”  Or….

You’ve already bought the other four.  Do you need the fifth?

Yes, of course you do.  Drummer Bill Rieflin (one of three in the line-up) was absent for the band’s 2016 tour of Europe; he’s replaced here by Jeremy Stacey, who has remained on board despite Rieflin’s return.  So, it’s the last gasp of the seven piece Crim, before they morphed into the modern Double Quartet, and the set is as volatile and varied as ever, despite picking out many of the same highlights as before.

Three CDs do the job, echoing the dimensions of 2016’s Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, and on paper, the contents perform a similar task as well.  Hello again to “Pictures of a City,” “Easy Money,” “Sailor’s Tale,” “Crimson King,” “Epitaph,” “Schizoid Man,” “Vroom.”  And more.  

But nobody rates the Crimson live canon on the strength of songs they may have played the night before, because if they did, there’s a lot of recent box sets that nobody would be listening to.  More than almost any other band, it’s the ever-shifting eternal morph of the onstage dynamics and seat-of-the-pants improvisations that lead the way; that, and the thrill of the occasional surprises dropping in – Bowie’s “Heroes” here is given a magnificent work-out, and going back to the oldies, “Starless” is always perfection, no matter how many times you hear it.

So don’t be a stickybeak.  Fill your house with King Crimson live shows, and when you finally run out of room, buy another house.  For all the pretensions, hopes and aspirations of the groups that have, in different eras, had assigned as Crimson’s peers, this band alone has remained forever perfect, at the same time as forever changing, and it doesn’t even matter whether or not you like all their albums (Spin Cycle hates the eighties ones).  Every note remains crucial all the same.

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