Rocks In The Attic #725: Chas & Dave – ‘Mustn’t Grumble’ (1981)

RITA#725Chas Hodges, one half of Chas & Dave, died earlier in the year. Strangely this has been the year where I’ve listened to more of the duo than any other time in my life.

About six months ago, while being slightly obsessed with an online pool and snooker video game (Hustle Kings on the PS4), I started listening to Chas & Dave’s Snooker Loopy on repeat. I love the song from my childhood. Is it the best song about snooker ever committed to record? It might just be. It’s definitely the best music video about the sport.

RITA#725aMy renewed interest in Chas & Dave led me back to probably their furthest reaching musical contribution – their work as studio men (guitar and bass) on Labi Siffre’s I Got The, later sampled heavily on Eminem’s My Name Is.

There was always a bit of ridicule levelled at the duo when I was growing up. For the longest time, they were the furthest thing from cool. I remember everybody laughing at a tour poster in the ‘90s that advertised ‘Chas & Dave Live In Concert* (*Not Original Dave)’. I’m sure they never went out of fashion in London though. This sort of knees-up Mother Brown music seems to be written in the DNA of cockneys.

This record is one of their better-known ones, featuring the single Rabbit, commonly trotted out as one of their best tunes. Looking at their discography, they were busy boys, almost releasing an LP a year from 1974 until the momentum started running out in the ‘90s and the schedule switched to a different compilation every other year.

Hit: Rabbit

Hidden Gem: I Miss Ya Girl

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Rocks In The Attic #724: George Harrison – ‘George Harrison’ (1979)

RITA#724You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time of George’s eighth solo album, he was bereft of ideas. This 1979 effort finds him not only running out of ideas for album titles, but he also re-uses earlier material: the second-track, Not Guilty, is a leftover from the last self-titled album he was involved in, the Beatles’ eponymous 1968 release.

But there’s lots to like about this record. It’s a bit happier and a bit more laid-back than his previous work, having married Olivia Arias and become a father to Dhani a year earlier.

Side-two opener Faster – “inspired by Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda” – is perhaps one of the last hidden gems of George’s solo career – a non-charting single, released as a picture-disc (a first for a Beatle past or present) with all proceeds going to charity (a cancer fund set up following the death of Swedish F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson in 1978). George must have had enough invested into the song to go to the trouble of filming a promotional video for it.

RITA#724aSpeaking of chart positions, this album comes a full five years after George had a #1 single anywhere in the world – 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the sole single from Living In The Material World, which topped the US Billboard. His poor chart performance through 1977 and 1978 correlates with the rise of punk, and his more mature songwriting was probably at odds with Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and the rest of the new breed of youth music.

Here Comes The Moon is lovely, the first single Blow Away is great, and there really isn’t a weak song on the album. But that’s probably the rub – while George might not write or record bad songs by this point, he also doesn’t write or record anything particularly outstanding. His next single, All Those Years Ago in 1981 performed much stronger in the wake of John Lennon’s death, and it wouldn’t be until 1987 before he topped the charts again (with his Jeff Lynne-produced cover of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You).

Mention must be made of George’s hairstyle during 1979. The rear cover image shows him walking across his garden, not only in the largest pair of flares this side of the 1960s, but with a perm long enough to make any poodle-breeder proud.

Hit: Blow Away

Hidden Gem: Faster

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Rocks In The Attic #723: Billy T. James – ‘Billy T. Live At ‘Pips’’ (1985)

RITA#723Billy T. James is one of the original national treasures of New Zealand, a club comedian from the cabaret circuit who became a household name for his long-running TV sketch comedy.

This live LP from 1985 finds him in fine form. Recorded at ‘Pips’ in Whangarei and backed by a live band, his act shows how much of an all-round entertainer he is. Opening with a performance of Lionel Ritchie’s Running With The Night, the audience seem reserved at first before he starts to win them over with his stand-up.

Being half-Maori and half-Scottish (“I’m half Maori and half Scots. Half of me wants to go to the pub and get pissed, and the other half doesn’t want to pay for it”) most of his material revolves around being from a racial minority, and all other minorities – Chinese, Japanese, gays (“poofs”), immigrants – are fair game. Different times, and all that.

I first laughed out loud at a routine in which he did an note-perfect impression of Bunny Wailer singing She’s A Lady for a TV commercial, with the lyrics changed to:

Well she’s all you’d ever want / She’s the kind they’d like to flaunt and take to dinner / She’s got style, she’s got grace / She’s got herpes on her face…

In 1988, Billy T. suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass, followed by one of the first heart transplants in New Zealand. While the operation was initially a success – leading to a return to the stage in 1990 – his health deteriorated and died from heart failure in 1991.

Since arriving in New Zealand over ten years ago, I’ve found much of the art and culture here is a watered-down version of what I knew from the UK (and in some cases, the USA). Billy T. is a different prospect though – he’s naturally funny, and the equal of the great British comedians of the 1970s and 1980s.

Hit: Running With The Night

Hidden Gem: The Band

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Rocks In The Attic #722: The B-52’s – ‘Cosmic Thing’ (1989)

RITA#722The B-52’s fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, has just been reissued for this year’s Record Store Day – Black Friday event. It’s a nice little release, on rainbow-coloured vinyl to match the album’s cover art.

Cosmic Thing marks a point of transition in the B-52’s career. Up to this point, they had been a quirky new-wave act, a cross-breed of surf-rock and thrift-store aesthetic. They looked and sounded like they had walked out of a John Waters film, and aside from a #1 single in Canada, they had barely troubled the pop charts.

In 1985, the band lost original guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS-related illnesses, and drummer Keith Strickland took over guitar duties. The last album they recorded with Wilson, 1986’s Bouncing Off The Satellites, reached #85 in the US album charts – a new low for the band – and you might have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s days were numbered.

A new record contract with Reprise led to the band’s resurgence, and they delivered Cosmic Thing in June 1989. With production duties shared between Nile Rodgers (6 songs) and Don Was (4 songs), the album sounds bigger and slicker than anything they had put out previously, and commercial reception was similarly positive.

The album reached #4 in the US, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Singles Love Shack and Roam both reached #3 in the US Billboard Top 200, and the more ubiquitous of the two, Love Shack hit #2 in the UK, and took the top spot in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

One has to wonder what level of influence Nile Rodgers had on the guitar sound of the album – his clean, funky guitar tone is all over the record (although he only plays on one track), and Love Shack benefits greatly from the production of Don Was, sounding more like a madcap Was Not Was offcut than the more two-dimensional output of the B-52’s first four records.

The B-52’s will always make me smile. They’re a fun band anyway, but two reasons specifically stand out for me. Firstly, vocalist Kate Pierson has one of the best female singing voices of the 1980s. Powerful, raucous, and lush, it’s hard to imagine R.E.M. crossing over into the mainstream as effortlessly as they did without her contributions to 1991’s Out Of Time (on Shiny Happy People, Near Wild Heaven and Me In Honey).

The other reason I love the B-52’s is for one of the best male singing voices of the 1980s – Fred Schneider. Fred’s campy, over-enunciated hollering over the band’s work is truly unique and has provided much amusement over the years as I’ve walked around the house randomly shouting “Funky little shack…FUNKY little shack.”

Hit: Love Shack

Hidden Gem: Dry County

B-52's & Wilson, Cindy & Pierson, Kate & Strickland, Keith & Sch

Rocks In The Attic #721: Tom Bähler, Chris Boardman & Albhy Galuten – ‘Raw Deal (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#721What a run of films Arnold Schwarzenegger had in the 1980s: Conan The Barbarian, Conan The Destroyer, The Terminator, Red Sonja, Commando, Raw Deal, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat and Twins.

Of those nine, there’s really only a couple I wouldn’t recommend. The two Conans and Red Sonja don’t really interest me as I’m not that into the fantasy genre – although I remember them being decent enough. Even Twins, despite being the odd-one-out and the start of his softer, family friendly direction throughout the ‘90s, is a bloody good film.

The only other duffer in the list is this film, 1986’s Raw Deal. Schwarzenegger’s ‘80s run is perfect fodder for a pubescent youth, but Raw Deal is the only one of the lot which feels cheap and exploitative. It has nothing else going for it aside from a couple of half-decent action scenes, and with a terrible script and wooden performances (Arnold aside) it doesn’t reward repeat viewings.

Essentially it offers nothing except the chance for Arnold to look cool in a leather jacket while smoking a cigar; and he goes on to do that far more effectively in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The soundtrack however, is great – all brooding ‘80s synths, big drums smothered in reverb, and wailing electric guitars (courtesy of Steve Lukather on one track). I found it at a record fair recently – a German pressing which names the film Der City Hai. Google translates this as The City Of Hai, which can’t be right, can it? It sounds like something starring Tommy Wiseau.

Hit: Brains And Trains

Hidden Gem: Kaminski Stomps

Rocks In The Attic #720: David Bowie – ‘Glastonbury 2000’ (2000)

RITA#720The year 2000. My second Glastonbury festival, aged 21.

My friend Vini came with me this year, and we got the train down from Manchester to Somerset. All of the other years I’ve been to the festival, from 1999 to 2007, I’ve driven. It was just the two of us heading down this year, but we were set to meet up with friends in the same area of the site we had camped the prior year.

The trip down to the South West was quite quiet as we were travelling down on the Wednesday morning, as the music and the festival doesn’t really kick off until the Friday morning. The only bit of the journey that slowed us down was a small queue at the Castle Cary station to wait for the shuttle bus to the festival grounds. It didn’t matter; the sun was out in force.

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Vini and I circa 2000

We got to the campgrounds and met up with my friends from University, Robbie and Natalie, and various other people they’d travelled with. We pitched our tents by the perimeter fence, between the Other Stage field and the Dance Tent field.  I seem to remember the year 2000 as being one of the last years before they started to curb down on campfires, so Thursday night found us stocking up on firewood.

2000 was the also the last year before the dreaded security fence went up, so it was probably the last Glastonbury with any ounce of anarchy in it. From the following year, it all got a bit safer, a bit more middle-class, a bit more Radio 2.

People started breaking into the festival on the Wednesday night. There was still a fence at this point – but it was still quite easy to get over, and wasn’t anywhere near the height of the megafence that went up by the time of the next festival two years later (2001 was a ‘fallow’ year for the festival).

By the Thursday night, the fence had been damaged near where our tents were pitched, and people were starting to spill into the grounds. By the time we woke up on the Friday morning, the fence had been completely breached, pushed aside, and people were just walking in. The security staff had given up trying to stop them, it was just too hard. The organisers sold 100,000 tickets, but it’s estimated that a further 150,000 entered without tickets.

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As a result of the increased numbers, the infrastructure of the festival started to break down. Toilets and litter started to build up, and lawlessness was in the air. At one point, as Vini and I queued up at a food truck, two gypsy teenagers got into a fight next to us. Well, I say fight, it was more like one aggressive gypsy was battering another gypsy, who wasn’t keen on being battered.

Vini’s tent got broken into at one point, and Natalie woke up to an intruder in the middle of the night. We would laugh at this whenever she brought it up in subsequent years – ‘Do you remember that year I woke up and this guy was on top of me going through my stuff?’ – and I’d jokingly apologise.

I saw lots of great bands that year, as I did every other year at Glastonbury: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Bluetones, Dark Star, Muse, Idlewild, the Chemical Brothers, Ocean Colour Scene, the Wailers, Live, Death In Vegas, the Dandy Warhols, Coldplay, Robert Plant’s band Prior Of Brion, and many, many others. Vini swears to this day that we saw one-time James Bond George Lazenby there, introducing Ladysmith Black Mambazo on stage, but I don’t remember that at all. It sounds like the makings of a fever dream.

By the time Sunday night rolls around at Glastonbury, I’ve usually had enough. Festival fatigue kicks in, sometimes with disastrous consequences – and I hate to think about the time I chose to miss Muse headline in 2004. In 2000 though, I was excited to see Bowie play; energy levels were high. This was the first time he had played the festival since its second year in 1971, so it felt like the festival and the artist were somehow coming full circle.

At that time, I wasn’t too much of a Bowie fan. I adored Hunky Dory and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. But aside from a couple of other singles, I could take or leave everything else. I had heard that his live shows could be quite abstract affairs too, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. His last tour had been in 1997, promoting Earthling, but apart from a 50th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in that same year, he had only sporadically playing the hits throughout the decade.

Surely he wouldn’t do a greatest hits set on his return to Glastonbury. Would he?

RITA#720dHe walked onto stage to the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind from 1976’s Station To Station –starting a lifelong love affair with that song for me. So far, so deep-cut. He looked beautiful, with a long elfin coat and flowing blonde hair.

Then he played China Girl and Changes. Was this just an attempt to get the audience onside before he started playing Tin Machine b-sides?

Another Station To Station track was up next – Stay. The second of three Station To Station tracks played, with the title track being the third. This was undoubtedly to showcase the guitar playing of Earl Slick who had played on that album and was among the band at Worthy Farm that night. Perhaps this was the start of the setlist slipping into the esoteric?

Life On Mars?, Absolute Beginners, Ashes To Ashes and Golden Years left little doubt that Bowie was in fact doing a greatest hits set. Amazing.

Vini and I had been performing a cover of Ziggy Stardust in our band at the time, and while I thought it was unlikely Bowie would play the song, Vini was hopeful. “Nah,” I said. “He doesn’t do it anymore.” He hadn’t played it regularly in his set since 1990, although the excellent www.setlist.fm shows that he had played the song in a warm-up show in New York, nine days prior to Glastonbury.

Bowie finished the main set with Under Pressure, but despite all the big hits I was hearing, I was still sure I wouldn’t be hearing my favourite song of his. The band left the stage, and returned five minutes later for the encore. “It’s gonna be Ziggy Stardust!” Vini proclaimed. And BLLLLLLAAAAAAANNNNNNNGGG – it was!

Hands shooting up in the air, hugging, huge grins. Wow. We were ecstatic.

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My one blurry photo of Bowie on stage

Since Bowie’s passing in 2016, the Glastonbury set has taken on an almost mythic status. It was a watershed moment for the festival and its presence on the BBC. From that year, it became almost expected for the big headlining slot to be broadcast live on television (even the decision to show the Bowie set ruffled a few feathers at the Beeb).

I would never see Bowie in concert again. His heart attack on stage in 2004 led to a change in priorities, and big tours were taken off the agenda. I’m so glad I saw him when I did. It turned me into a Bowie fan, and I started to go back and listen to the albums I hadn’t heard before. There isn’t a period of Bowie’s career I don’t love now. He’s the ultimate artist with something for everybody.

Hit: ‘Heroes’

Hidden Gem: Wild Is The Wind

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Rocks In The Attic #719: Elton John- ‘Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#719Another year, another Christmas, and another Christmas advert from John Lewis. This year it’s a journey back through the life of Elton John. The montage of performances of Your Song goes further and further back we until we discover the source of his tantrums and tiaras was a Christmas present of an upright piano back in the 1950s.

In any other year, I would have quite enjoyed this. It looks great, and the message is as wholesome as the likes of John Lewis ads in prior years. But with the timing so close to the upcoming Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton, and Elton’s own farewell tour, I wonder if he has more to gain from this than the department store he’s shilling.

The Guardian offered an alternative version of the commercial. As amusing as this warts-and-all version sounds, I would have also thrown in that moment from when he fell off his chair at the tennis and writhed around on his back like a shell-suited tortoise.

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I can take or leave Elton. He’s put out far more lead than gold, but his golden moments are very, very good. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in particular, is a masterpiece, and his early Americana-tinged records (Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water and Honky Château) are interesting. I’ve even started to warm to his ‘80s output – something I thought I’d never hear myself saying. I’m Still Standing is a banger for the ages.

This first greatest hits collection was released in 1974, after that wave of success following Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, of which it takes three songs, and its follow-up, Caribou. I expect it will be available at John Lewis this Christmas, on a special display stand next to the Christmas jumpers and party crackers.

Hit: Your Song

Hidden Gem: Border Song

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