Tag Archives: Glastonbury

Rocks In The Attic #654: Wings – ‘Band On The Run’ (1973)

RITA#654The first time I saw Paul McCartney live in concert. I couldn’t have been closer. It was at Glastonbury 2004, and I endured sets from the likes of Joss Stone and the Black Eyed Peas in the early evening to get to the crash barrier at the very front of the field. It was worth it – getting so close to a living legend.

This time around, in December 2017, I couldn’t have been further away. I went for the cheapest GA standing tickets, not wanting to auction off my remaining kidney for a ticket closer to the stage. It was still a blast, and the hi-def, crystal-clear screens at the side of stage made sure I didn’t miss out on much.

The difference in set-lists between the two times I saw him play was quite interesting. At Glastonbury in 2004, he was playing the hits for what would ultimately be a BBC audience enjoying the festival on the television, sat at home minus the mud and discomfort. In Auckland a few weeks ago, on the final date of the band’s world tour, the set threw up some unexpected numbers.

RITA#654aKicking off with A Hard Day’s Night – ostensibly a ‘John’ song – the set included a couple of other Beatles songs written predominantly by Lennon: Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and A Day In The Life. Also played were a couple of genuine 50/50 co-written Beatles songs – I’ve Got A Feeling and Birthday – which I was surprised McCartney would even bother with.

Ever since the former Beatle was happy to lean on a Beatles-heavy set-list (post-Flaming Pie?), there’s always been an embarrassment of riches. He can’t possibly play everything, so this time there was no Drive My Car, no Get Back, no Paperback Writer. So it’s even stranger that he made the decision to play some of the songs that he did include. He played Mull Of Kintyre for fuck’s sake!

The Band On The Run record was well represented though. Band On The Run and Jet are probably a feature of the band’s set-list every night, and Let Me Roll It sounds like the kind of song they just love to play live, but it was the appearance of the album’s closer, Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five, that was the most surprising. At four songs, this made Band On The Run the most represented album in McCartney’s back catalogue – not including Beatles compilations of course – a testament to how strong the record is in relation to everything else he has produced in his career.

I prefer Ram, and always will, but it’s clear that Band On The Run is the closest McCartney ever got to replicating the strength of the Beatles’ output.

Hit: Jet

Hidden Gem: Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five

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Rocks In The Attic #504: Rage Against The Machine – ‘Rage Against The Machine’ (1992)

RITA#504I’m fourteen again!

When I started listening to rock music in the early ‘90s, this was essential listening. There was this, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Metallica’s self-titled ‘Black’ album. All three were incredibly relevant to a teenage rock fan.

In retrospect, it’s really only Rage Against The Machine who were cutting-edge. Both Metallica and the Chili Peppers had taken five albums to get to that position; RATM had done it in one, a sterling debut.

Mixing rock and rap wasn’t anything new. The Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. had been doing it for five or six years by this point, but that was rap sampling (or in some cases, playing) rock. This was the other way around – a heavy rock band, with rap-inflected lyrics, courtesy of Zack de la Rocha.

It wasn’t cutting-edge for long though. A year later in 1993, the turgid soundtrack to the turgid film Judgement Night featured collaborations between rock / metal bands and rap acts. Then the floodgates opened, and a thousand imitators came along. The worst, although regrettably the most successful, was Limp Bizkit – a band ultimately so terrible that I walked out on my weekly DJing residency in the early 2000s because the landlord of the bar asked me to start playing more Limp Bizkit.

The imitators might have got the mixture of rap over rock right, but they avoided the political stance of Rage Against The Machine, and most importantly they didn’t have the same groove. One hit-wonders Crazy Town (no, me neither) even lifted a sample from the Chili Peppers’ Pretty Little Ditty for their song Butterfly, such was their inability to come up with their own groove.

Killing In The Name seemed like a rebellious song to listen to back when it came out, purely for the outrageous lyrics in the latter half of the song. When it would come on in a club, everybody would pile onto the dancefloor, purely for the thrill of being able to jump around shouting “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” at each other. I’m sure de la Rocha intended the song to be a missive against the establishment, but he ultimately created a song for difficult teenagers to use as internal ammunition against their parents.

There’s a reasonably successful (in local terms) Manchester band called Nine Black Alps, featuring an old acquaintance of mine. Signed to Island in the mid-200s, I caught them in the New Band tent at Glastonbury in the same year, and I really like their debut record Everything Is. But in the last ten years or so I haven’t been able to listen to Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name without thinking of that ‘too cool for school’ acquaintance from Nine Black Alps. The word on the street is that prior to joining that band, he was on some performing arts course in Oldham where he had to do a public performance of the song as part of his final exam. To an audience of teachers, students and examiners they went with the more family friendly lyric “Flip you I won’t do what you tell me!”

Hit: Killing In The Name

Hidden Gem: Wake Up

Rocks In The Attic #500: Manic Street Preachers – ‘The Holy Bible’ (1995)

RITA#500Part I: A Search

When I started this blog back in April 2012, I never believed I would own a copy of my favourite album, the Manic Street Preachers’ peerless classic The Holy Bible, on standard black vinyl. It just seemed like it would never happen. On its release in 1995, it only saw a picture disc release on vinyl. And while I have that beautiful piece of wax, it might be nice to look at but it’s a dog to listen to. The only thing worse would be a flexi-disc – and I have that too: NME’s 7” Verses From The Holy Bible.

The album’s tenth anniversary came and went in 2005, but saw no vinyl release – just an interesting and very much welcomed CD / DVD box set, including the very interesting American mix of the album. Things started looking up – finally – in 2015 when the band released a twentieth anniversary box set, which included four CDs of material, a book, and that all-elusive black vinyl. I wavered though. Of course I wanted that slab of vinyl; I just didn’t really want the rest of the set. CD box sets tend to gather dust in my house, and once I’ve listened to all the bonus material, they just get pushed to the back of a shelf and never taken out again. I then found out that the vinyl record housed the four CDs in little pockets on its sleeve. Screw that – my plans of taking the vinyl album out to put with the rest of my MSP vinyl collection were dashed. So I continued to wait…

I waited through all the album’s twentieth anniversary celebrations in 2015.  I waited patiently. I waited while I heard the news that the band were going to play the album in its entirety at some live shows in the UK. After seven years living on the other side of the world, here was something that finally made me regret leaving the UK in the first place. Only the amazing 2012 London Olympics had prompted the same feelings. The reasonable part of me knew I was being silly, but the unreasonable part of me wanted to travel back in time to tear up my immigration documents.

It was nice to see the album’s appearance on last year’s Record Store Day list of exclusive vinyl releases. But it was just a picture disc again – two actually – one for the UK mix of the album and one for the US mix. Well, that was something, at least (and I picked those up in no time). But still no standalone black vinyl.

Then in October or November of 2015, I noticed that Amazon was listing a pre-order of the vinyl record – as a standalone release – for the end of December. No details, just a vague description: “vinyl” and “discs = 1”. I was sceptical. I had pre-ordered it before from Amazon, and for some reason the release didn’t happen; my order at that time was ultimately cancelled. Surely the same thing would happen here. Perhaps it was a nasty joke by some Amazon employee, maybe a God-botherer annoyed at the album’s appropriation of the holiest book around.

But then it turned up, the first piece of vinyl to land in my mailbox in 2016. A beautiful piece of black vinyl. No box set. No fancy release. Just a single disc in a minimalist package. No tracklisting on the rear cover; just a photo of the band and a quote by Octave Mirbeau. No lyric sheet on the inside; just an inner sleeve with a CCCP design on one side, and a photo of the band on the other side, overlaid with a quote by Solomon Northup (he of Twelve Years A Slave fame).

It was finally here.

RITA#500a

Part II: An Introduction

It was hearing Faster that started it all. Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed the Manics. I had definitely taken a dislike to their name though. Manic Street Preachers? How pretentious! What does that even mean?

It’s dangerous when you haven’t heard any music by a band, and the only thing you have to go on is their name. If the name sounds cool, then you’d be forgiven for expecting the band to be cool. If the name sounds unbelievably pretentious, well…

So I bought a compilation called Danger Zone during my second year at University. I’d heard some of the tracks before, but mostly the CD introduced me to a lot of the rockier indie bands I had avoided up to that point. It was the Manics’ Faster that really got my attention. It was like nothing I’d heard before – edgy, off-kilter, the sound of inertia committed to tape – and with lyrics name-checking Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Sylvia Plath and Harold Pinter. Rock songs weren’t supposed to mention writers and poets, and as I was currently studying English literature, they sounded like the kind of lyrics I should probably be listening to. I needed all the academic help I could get.

The other thing that grabbed me about the song was the production. The first few lines with James Dean Bradfield’s vocals switching between a reverb and a clean sound was awesome, especially through a pair of headphones when you can really hear the difference. And guitar-wise, it was refreshing to hear a heap of effects that I just hadn’t heard before in my diet of Aerosmith, AC/DC, and the like.

I rushed out and bought The Holy Bible on CD, expecting to find more of the same. On first listen, I was disappointed. Faster was clearly the best song on the album, but what the hell was all this other stuff? Anorexia, prostitution, the holocaust, mass murderers, American politics, right-wing totalitarianism; to say that it’s a serious album would be a grave understatement.

A casual listener might have been put off by such content, but at that time I had the time and the inclination to fully digest myself in an album, to immerse myself in it until I knew it backwards and could form a valid opinion of it.

RITA#500b

Part III: An Obsession

Everyday from that point onwards, for maybe six months or more, The Holy Bible would be on my MiniDisc player (the highly unfashionable pre-cursor to the iPod). I’d listen to it on the long walk into University, sometimes finding myself listening to Archives Of Pain, a song about serial killers, whilst walking through the red-light district where Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe picked up some of his victims.

I’d listen to it between lectures, as I wandered the streets of Huddersfield to kill time. Then I’d listen to it again as I took the same long walk home. The only albums I’d share in my musical diet were the Manics’ earlier albums, Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul. They were good, but they weren’t in the same class as The Holy Bible. I’d listen to them to try and understand their follow-up album; how had this band arrived at producing such a unique piece of art?

Posters of the Holy Bible adorned my bedroom walls, and I sought out everything connected to the album. In particular, in those dark days before the advent of YouTube, I went to great lengths to see a performance of Faster on BBC’s Top Of The Pops – a performance that at the time of broadcast saw a record number of complaints (over 25,000). The reason? Bradfield’s black balaclava (with ‘James’ scrawled on the front of it) and the rest of the band’s military garb prompted comparisons with the IRA. Viewed now, it looks very tame but the troubles were in full swing at the time so it’s not hard to understand how the Mary Whitehouses of the UK were horrified.

RITA#500e

My girlfriend at the time wore a handmade necklace adorned with a Holy Bible lyric – I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing, from Faster. I loved it so much she made me one as a gift, featuring another of my favourite lyrics from the album – Why do anything when you can forget everything?, from This Is Yesterday. I wore it every day until it split and the many lettered beads it was made of spilled all over the floor.

RITA#500cPart IV: An Understanding

To fully appreciate what the NME would ultimately call ‘a vile record’, it’s important to provide some context on how these four individuals came to record the album, and it’s impossible not to view the record without considering the unfortunate events that followed during its promotion.

As a band, the Manics are easily divisible into two camps. First, there are the musical writers of the band, vocalist / guitarist James Dean Bradfield and his drumming cousin, Sean Moore. They’re complimented by the lyricists of the group, guitarist Richey Edwards and bass player Nicky Wire.

The way that they approach songwriting is also fairly unique. An existing set of lyrics by Edwards or Wire (or both) is crowbarred into a piece of music written independently by Bradfield or Moore (or both). This is why the band’s lyrics sound strangely wrapped around the music. They don’t think twice about starting a line (or even a single word) at the end of a bar of music, and finishing it on the next bar. Effectively they’re fitting a poem onto a piece of music which might not necessarily have the same metre.

This is why I have major problems deciphering their lyrics. For a while, I though the chorus of their Masses Against The Classes single was ‘Grandma Says, Against Her Glasses’. Talk about mondegreens; I could write my own MSP lyric sheets and they would be filled with the most unintelligible gibberish. I’d have more success deciphering the Super Furry Animals’ welsh lyrics (who might very well be singing ‘Ysbeidiau Heulog’ on Mwng’s song of the same name, but I’ve always heard it as ‘a spidey-eye halo’).

To record their third album, the band decamped back to Wales, to Sound Space Studios, a small studio in Cardiff. Their first two albums had been recorded in London and Oxfordshire respectively, and their last album, Gold Against The Soul, had a hollowness and a commercial sheen they were keen not to repeat.

Manics biographer Simon Price describes The Holy Bible as ‘the sound of a group in extremis, at crisis point, hurtling towards a private armageddon.’ This sums up the album perfectly, but could also be used to describe Richey Edwards himself. Of their first five albums, this is clearly the most ‘Richey’ in tone, and Nicky Wire has confirmed that the lyrics are “30 per cent me, 70 per cent Richey”.

Five months following the release of the album, and on the eve of flying out to tour the record in America, Richey disappeared. Echoing the suicide of Ian Curtis in 1980 – similarly on the eve of Joy Division touring America – this was the culmination of Edward’s deteriorating mental state.

Part V: A Disappearance

Edwards and Bradfield were staying at the Embassy Hotel in West London. They were due to fly out to the U.S.A. in the morning, for a week of interviews to promote the album and the upcoming tour. As they arrived at the hotel in the evening, Bradfield played a demo of Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky, a song with lyrics written by Edwards that would later appear on the band’s ‘comeback’ album Everything Must Go. Richey loved it. In the morning, Richey didn’t show in the lobby at the agreed time.

When Bradfield asked the hotel porter to open Edwards’ room, they found a box wrapped up in paper featuring literary quotes and images, addressed to his girlfriend. Inside the box was an assortment of books and videos. His full suitcase of clothes, toiletries and medication was also found.

The ensuing police investigation found that Richey had driven back to his flat in Cardiff that morning. Here, they found his passport, which he had had with him in London, his remaining medication and his credit card.

Aside from uncomfirmed sightings of Richey in Newport, he had completely vanished. Sixteen days later, his car was found abandoned in the car park of the Severn View motorway services in Aust, close to the English side of the Severn Bridge.

It was impossible to identify how long the car had been parked there, but the battery was dead and it appeared that he’d been sleeping in it, playing cassette tapes though the car stereo.

Despite numerous unconfirmed sightings early on in places as far afield as Goa, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, to this day Edwards is still missing / presumed dead – the Lord Lucan of pop music. In 2002 his family were given the option to declare him legally dead. They chose not to, and he remained a missing person until 2008 when he was officially presumed dead.

The proximity to the bridge – a suicide spot, as most large bridges are – served as a bookend to the situation to some. Many presumed he had taken his own life, but a body was never found. How horrible. It’s one thing for a band member to kill themselves – as had happened to Nirvana the year before – but for a band member to disappear, to have questions but no answers, must be considerably more torturous.

RITA#500d

Part VI: An Appreciation

The wise people know. You’ll hear them every now and then, in the toilet of a club, or walking in a mall. All of a sudden, your ears will prick up because you hear the word ‘Manics’ spoken by others; the Cocktail Party Phenomenon in action. If you can eavesdrop further, they’ll be debating which is the best Manics album. The one that’s heard The Holy Bible will be strenuously putting forward an argument that’s it’s better than all the others. The other person, the one who’s not heard The Holy Bible, will be saying something else. But they’ll be wrong of course.

Over time my tastes have changed. I’m not as avid a supporter of the band as I once was. I still follow them, but the standard of their post-Holy Bible output has been patchy to say the least. I’m still smarting over them (or more correctly, their record company) for putting out Know Your Enemy as a single disc of vinyl, despite its 75 minute running time.

The other week, I heard the Manics’ song backing the Wales football team in the 2016 European Championship. I nearly vomited, it was so bad. The Super Furry Animals’ song was much better, just proving that it’s not a missing band member that changes a band beyond comprehension, it’s the band becoming popular, moving into the mainstream, and falling back on tried and tested songwriting formulas that turns them into the opposite of what they started out as.

In 2007, I saw the Manics at Glastonbury; my last Glastonbury festival before I left the UK. I wasn’t excited as we were walking to the stage; instead I was going to see them on auto-pilot, out of a weird sense of duty. But halfway through the opening song, You Love Us, I suddenly remembered what a big fan of the band I was and as a result, I couldn’t stop smiling.

That must have been the fourth or fifth time I had seen the band play, and I noticed that they had added a second guitarist to their touring band. Up to this point they had been doing fine as a three-piece, but now it seemed like they were finally saying goodbye to Richey by filling his part in the band. The new addition to the band stood at the back in the shadows, while stage-right remained empty, as I believe it does to this day, waiting for Richey to return.

Hit: Faster


Hidden Gem: This Is Yesterday


Note – In the writing of this post, I’m indebted to Simon Price’s wonderful Manics biography Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) (Virgin Books, 1999) which helped a great deal, particularly with its in-depth report of the police investigation into Richey Edwards’ disappearance. I’ve also recently discovered Andy Johnson’s great blog Manic Street Preachers – A Critical Discography, a great repository for MSP fans, and well worth checking out.

Rocks In The Attic #484: Shirley Bassey – ‘Impossible Dreams’ (1970)

RITA#484Good old Shirley. I’ve always had a soft spot for her because of the James Bond connection, but her other stuff is just as enjoyable. Take Big Spender for example – it may be one of the cheesiest songs ever recorded, fodder for strippers and not much else, but she really belts it out. Her performance really justifies it being a well-known song, and I just love that overlooked middle-eight (‘Wouldn’t you like to have fun? Fun? Fun?’) that takes the song somewhere else entirely.

If I had to choose which was my favourite Bond theme by Bassey, I’d have to go for Diamonds Are Forever. Goldfinger’s too obvious – and well overplayed – and while I like the mellow feel of Moonraker, it does sound a bit Love Boat for my tastes.

I got to see Bassey play a medley of her three Bond themes when she played Glastonbury in 2007; my last one before we left for New Zealand. As good as it was to see her perform that Bond medley, it was horrifically put together; crow-barred together in fact.

You always want songs to segue into each other naturally in a medley, but Bassey’s composer had seemingly stuck them together with no thought about rhythm or key. So you had ‘This heart is cold…’ from Goldfinger stop on a dime, before the ‘Where are you?’ opening section from Moonraker seemingly came out of nowhere, and then an even worse join into the middle-eight from Diamonds Are Forever.

The Arctic Monkeys had paid tribute during their headlining slot the night before, when they covered Diamonds Are Forever, and it was funny to see her on stage being fed the line “Arctic Monkeys – that’s how you do it” without her actually knowing who or what she was talking about.

Hit: Big Spender

Hidden Gem: If You Go Away

Rocks In The Attic #430: Muse – ‘Showbiz’ (1999)

RITA#430I used to be a big fan of Muse. Right from the first album too – essentially ever since I read in the NME about a guitarist with crazy effects pedals in an up and coming band from Devon. Then I heard Sunburn in a club somewhere and I was hooked. Muse to me sound like the natural progression of Radiohead if they had gone in that direction after The Bends rather than the avant garde bullshit they swapped their guitars for.

I was lucky enough to see Muse touring this album; a mid-afternoon set on the Other Stage at Glastonbury in 2000. I would see them touring the second album too, and then I stupidly overlooked their headlining slot at Glastonbury touring the third album (but that’s another story altogether).

The Radiohead comparisons are inevitable, with this debut record being produced by John Leckie, producer of The Bends. Showbiz – the title song – draws the most comparisons with Radiohead, borrowing the ominous slow-burn they perfected across The Bends and OK Computer.  I remember being stood at festivals when Muse first came out and listening to people trying to pigeon-hole them. “They’re just Radiohead in different clothes.” “Nah, they’re Queen for the 21st century.” Whatever. It’s a shame that when bands come out, they just have to be put into a box. People can’t just accept that a band exists on its own merits. But then once a band is accepted, that band is then used as a comparison for newer bands. “Royal Blood? They’re just Muse mixed with the Black Keys, aren’t they?” Ad infinitum.

The great thing about Muse when they started out is that they were a solid package right from the get-go. If you look at that Glastonbury set from 2000, Matt Bellamy has all the vocal histrionics down pat. This wasn’t something he developed over time (like Chris Martin’s woeful hopping on one leg holding his ribcage with one arm). It was also nice to see Bellamy dive into the drum kit, hanging onto bass player Christopher Wolstenholme’s back, at the end of the set too. It was things like this that made me sit up and realise that rock and roll was coming back, after a few years anxiously waiting for Britpop to go through its final death rattles.

Hit:  Unintended

Hidden Gem: Fillip

Rocks In The Attic #397: Gomez – ‘Liquid Skin’ (1999)

RITA#397I’ve really made a mistake by not listening to this for the past 15 years or so. Whenever I feel like listening to Gomez, I always go straight for their debut album – I don’t even think about it, I just grab that one by habit. This one – album number two – has sat there on my shelf, next to its more famous predecessor, all this time, unloved.

I sometimes wish I could be one of those people who keeps their collection in disarray. Don’t those orderless people just grab things at random? Perhaps if my collection wasn’t in alphabetical order – and chronological within each artist, of course – this album might have stood more chance to get listened to. Instead, it’s just been sat there, taking up space, gathering dust.

I loved this album when it came out in 1999. I used to really blast it when I was DJing, so for a good time, the Indie bars / clubs on Oldham’s Yorkshire Street were soundtracked by Gomez. We also used to do a passable version of Whippin’ Picadilly in the band I was playing in at the time. The record also brings back fond memories of my first Glastonbury that year, when the band were touring this album – playing the Other Stage just as the sun was setting.

Why the hell have I not listened to this since I stopped playing it for the ungrateful ears of anybody who happened to be sat in the Castle on Saturday nights? It’s got a heap of great tunes – Bring It On, Blue Moon Rising, We Haven’t Turned Around, Rhythm & Blues Alibi.

I think I’ve been operating under the impression that Liquid Skin was a step down for the band, but it wasn’t. It’s just as strong as that first album, Bring It On. The only thing that it doesn’t have that its predecessor has is the shiny new car smell of a new band (with a new sound) on the scene.

Hit: We Haven’t Turned Around

Hidden Gem: Hangover

Rocks In The Attic #353: Suzanne Vega – ‘Suzanne Vega’ (1985)

RITA#353Suzanne Vega has to be one of my favourite memories from my first Glastonbury in 1999, probably one of my favourite memories from all of my trips to the festival.

On the Friday night, our circle of friends had finally all found each other – this was just before mobile phones became ubiquitous, so we had spent all the time on the site up to that point simply looking out for each other. We finally all met up near the Other Stage just after the Super Furry Animals’ set. From that point we at least knew where each other was camping, so we had a vague idea of where we might find each other.

Late in the afternoon on the Sunday, slightly fatigued by watching too many bands I walked over to find Paul and Kaj’s tent over in the field overlooking the Pyramid Stage. I actually walked past Lenny Kravitz playing the Pyramid Stage – something I really regret, as I’m probably never going to get chance to see him play again.

I finally found their tent – they were inside playing Top Trumps. Without any firm plans of my own, I agreed to get some food with Paul and finish the festival off by seeing Suzanne Vega headline the Acoustic Tent.

I didn’t really know anything by Vega at this point – other than the radio-friendly singles like Luca and Marlene On The Wall – so I was effectively a blank slate. She walked on stage to a huge cheer, and played the whole set on an acoustic guitar, flanked only by a lone bassist. She didn’t wear a bullet-proof vest this time though – 10 years earlier, she became the first female headliner of the festival, dressed in a bullet-proof vest as she (and her bass player) had received death threats.

To say that the audience was appreciative that night is an understatement. I’m sure the choice of artist helped, but the mood in the tent was just really chilled out, and it was a great way to wind down the festival. In all my repeat visits to the festival, I don’t think I ever enjoyed a Sunday night headliner as much.

Some years I missed the headliners altogether, and just went back to my tent to sleep. That’s another source of regret, when I missed Muse’s Sunday night headlining slot in 2004. When the rest of my friends returned to out campsite – friends who weren’t Muse fans, like I was – and told me how good it was, I couldn’t stop kicking myself. The show was so good – apparently – that even the drummer’s father had a heart attack!

Hit: Marlene On The Wall

Hidden Gem: Cracking