Tag Archives: Oldham

Rocks In The Attic #496: Barclay James Harvest – ‘Early Morning Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#496I should like this band – they’re from Oldham! One of the founding members went to my school. They’re probably Oldham’s most famous musical exports, except for the Inspiral Carpets perhaps. And those N-Trance guys. And Mark Owen from Take That. And Darren Wharton, the keyboard player from Thin Lizzy. Wow, Oldham was really a melting pot of talent!

I’m not au fait with Barclay James Harvest’s music though. I’m very familiar with the Barclays bank in Oldham – just on the corner of High Street. I don’t think that counts though. I might send in a fake CV to the branch, using the name James Harvest, and crowbarring all of their song titles into the cover letter – you know, just for shits and giggles. Given the average intelligence level in Oldham – about as low as the number of teenage pregnancies is high – and the general lack of interest in the town’s history by its inhabitants, it would just get thrown in a bin by the HR manager. Oh well, it’s an idea. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m retired, if Barclay’s still exist by then. The bank can’t be doing well; I’d bet most Oldhamers (Oldhamites?) keep their money under the mattress, next to their stockpile of Woodbines.

Barclay James Harvest write melodic folk rock, not a million miles away from the likes of America. The band America, that is, not the country. Although the country is about a million miles away from the town of Oldham, recently named the most deprived town in England. In fact, that might make it more similar to some places in America – Oldham, twinned with the Bronx!

Hit: Mockingbird

Hidden Gem: Taking Some Time On

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 #296: The White Stripes – ‘Icky Thump’ (2007)

RITA#296I guess the fact that I’ve had this album in my collection for about three years, still sealed in its shrinkwrap, speaks for itself. The White Stripes at one point were probably the most cutting-edge band in America – but after Elephant I don’t think anyone really took any notice of them.

I don’t think the quality of their records suffered after Elephant – there’s definitely nothing wrong with either Get Behind Me Satan or Icky Thump – but perhaps everybody just got over the novelty of seeing a two-piece band on stage (something that the Black Keys helped with).

I remember reading an interview with Jack White in the early 2000s and he was saying how important it was to remain an enigma to their fans. ‘As soon as the music press find out everything about me, I’ve had it’ – he said, of words to those effect. Perhaps everybody just got bored of them. There used to be a load of mystery around Jack and Meg White’s relationship – are they brother and sister or husband and wife? – and as soon as it was revealed that they were a divorced couple, suddenly they didn’t seem so special anymore.

This album is the soundtrack of Jack White’s marriage to Karen Elson – the Jean Paul Gaultier supermodel who went to my secondary school (she was in the year below me). Icky Thump is surely a reference to the infamous Yorkshire martial-art Ecky Thump from The Goodies television show. I still find it hilarious that Karen Elson would have taken Jack White home to meet her parents in Oldham. Funnier still is that while he was there, somebody brought up The Goodies in conversation. White and Elson’s marriage didn’t last long unfortunately so now I can’t claim my hometown to be the home of a rock star. Well, unless you count Barclay James Harvest.

No matter how I try, I can’t separate Icky Thump from a certain video I saw online once starring a young ‘actress’ being showered with more than just compliments. Whoever has uploaded this particular compilation had used the White Stripes song to soundtrack every highlight (and unless you’re offended by anything at all, don’t dare try and track this down). Good times!

Hit: Icky Thump

Hidden Gem: 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

Rocks In The Attic #292: Various Artists – ‘The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album’ (1988)

RITA#292A quarter of a century ago – talk about travelling through time! A relic from my childhood, I remember buying this on vinyl when I was ten years old and very much into Dr. Who. If I remember correctly, I bought it from WH Smith on Market Street in Oldham – and I can almost picture the corner of the store where the music section was.

Sadly this album is also a relic of the era when Dr. Who was very, very naff – the era of the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. A couple of years ago I met the man himself, together with his second companion Sophie “Ace” Aldred at a convention. I really wasn’t that excited to meet him – almost as if I blamed him personally for being a lame duck Doctor. Sophie Aldred was still as hot as hell though.

And anyway, I was more excited about meeting the eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, sat further along the signing table. It wasn’t his connection to Dr. Who I was bothered about – it was his role as the titular “I” (or Marwood) in Withnail And I. McGann autographed a black and white publicity still from the film, scrawled “PONCE”, and drew an arrow to his character. Fantastic!

But anyway, back to Dr. Who. This album of incidental music from the McCoy years (bookended by some earlier versions of the title theme) is delightfully naff. It’s almost nostalgically naff – and that’s the one thing that’s wrong about the current incarnation of the series on the TV at the moment. It’s too modern, too sexy and just not naff enough.

I have other problems with the modern Dr. Who – the absence of cliffhanger endings, the overuse of the Daleks, the fact that the Doctor can now control where the TARDIS lands, the overuse of the sonic screwdriver as deus ex machina – but I guess overall it’s just too damn slick.

Stop messing with my childhood, BBC. It’s Dr. Who – it’s supposed to be a bit crappy!

Hit: Dr. Who (1980)

Hidden Gem: Gavrok’s Search

Rocks In The Attic #263: Thin Lizzy – ‘Live And Dangerous’ (1978)

RITA#263One of my favourite live albums, and a great opportunity to write about the time I saw Thin Lizzy play live.

When I first found rock music and the guitar in my early teens, I very quickly found Thin Lizzy – a perfect and oft overlooked meld of the two. I can remember hearing the riff from Jailbreak for the first time, and it blew my mind. It sounded so wrong and yet so right. They seemed to come along at just the right time for me that I was confident enough on the guitar to pick things up by ear, so by listening to their records, and with a little help from my guitar teacher Dave Taylor – who was a huge Lizzy fan – I found I could play most of their stuff pretty easily.

I first met Dave when he used to come into our sixth form college and give group guitar lessons. It was always amusing to see what level of hangover he would have when he walked in every Wednesday morning. I have a permanent vision of him walking in, wearing sunglasses and looking very unkempt in a green and yellow polo shirt. I then had private lessons for a couple of years, but when I went to University, the distance between us meant that I stopped having lessons and drifted out of touch. Over those three years, he went from giving guitar lessons in a room in his house to buying a section of a mill in Oldham and installing rehearsal rooms and a recording studio.

I would eventually use these rehearsal rooms with my first regular gigging band, Delta 7, but another band would use them in the interim. Thin fucking Lizzy!

I don’t know how Dave made the connections with the band but in 1996, various former members of Thin Lizzy decided to get back together and start touring again. Guitarist John Sykes took vocal duties, with guitarist Scott Gorham, drummer Brian Downey and keyboard player Darren Wharton joining the reunion. The only non-member of the band was Marco Mendoza, who played bass.

Not only did they use Dave’s studio, but they chose the most inauspicious venues in the whole world – Oldham’s Queen Elizabeth Hall – as the location for the first show. Seeing Thin Lizzy play without Phil Lynott may sound like sacrilege, but they were awesome and after the opening bombast of Jailbreak, Sykes took the opportunity to dedicate the whole show to Lynnott. Critics can say what they want, but it was Lizzy up there, and I love the band so much I’d be the first person to admit it if they didn’t deserve the use of the name.

This was probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen – one of my favourite bands, reforming for the first time since their leader’s untimely death, rehearsing in my guitar teacher’s rehearsal rooms and playing for the first time in a local venue more famous for wedding receptions and tea-dances. I even bought a t-shirt from the merch stall which was manned by Dave’s wife and daughter (not the same person by the way – as far as I know, Oldham doesn’t suffer from inbreeding, just a bad gene pool).

I like to think that if I hadn’t gone to University when I did, and continued to see Dave for guitar lessons, I might have had some involvement in the show – I’d have happily been a roadie if it meant the honour of carrying Scott Gorham’s guitar amp.

Live And Dangerous is a great live album, capturing Lizzy on the road at their peak (and featuring an appearance by a pre-‘& The News’ Huey Lewis on harmonica on one track). The album does sound slightly over-polished though, and band members over the years have admitted to recording overdubs on some of the songs. While producer Tony Visconti claims that the album is only ‘75% recorded in the studio’, band members have claimed that it is ‘75% live’. It’s disappointing either way, and makes me suspicious of all other albums that claim to be recorded live.

Hit: The Boys Are Back In Town

Hidden Gem: Massacre

Rocks In The Attic #221: Super Furry Animals – ‘Outspaced’ (1998)

RITA#221With many thanks to my university housemates of my third year, Ferg and Kaj, this album was my introduction to the Super Furries. Most other people found the band through their debut, Fuzzy Logic, which I turned to next, but this b-sides and rarities album was an ample introduction to one of the best – and most enduring – bands to have emerged during the ‘90s.

There’s nothing to dislike on this album – the Welsh songs from their Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwllantysiliogogogochynygofod (In Space) EP (a reissue of which I have in my 7” collection), their Moog Droog EP, and numerous b-sides from their first couple of albums. The jewel in the crown is The Man Don’t Give A Fuck – a 1996 single built around an obscene lyric from Steely Dan’s Show Biz Kids.

That song followed me around for a while – not only was it always one of my fall-back songs to play when DJing after I left university, but a poster for the single adorned the living room of a later shared house, thanks to fellow SFA-fan Moo.

Some b-sides albums by bands can be very patchy affairs, without the coherence of a studio-album’s structure to pull it together. SFA are such an odd band – playing across so many different musical styles, and making huge left turns at every single point in time – that this album gels just as well as their studio albums from around the same time. Because of that, I’ve always regarded it as album number three proper, due to the place it falls in their chronology.

This album holds some very nice memories – Ferg endlessly singing Guacamole to himself when the album was first released, seeing SFA play live at Glastonbury a year later and watching them encore with The Man Don’t Give A Fuck as a van drove slowly into the crowd assembled at The Other Stage (when people started to climb onto the van, a large black fellow, presumably the driver, looking like B.A. Baracus, also got up there and started throwing people off into the crowd – this whole bizarre scenario was captured in the film of the clip available on their Songbook DVD), playing songs from the album during my DJ sets at 38 Bar / The Castle in Oldham, and generally just coming back to these songs time and time again.

Hit: The Man Don’t Give A Fuck

Hidden Gem: Dim Brys: Dim Chwys

Rocks In The Attic #141: Herman Kelly & Life – ‘Percussion Explosion’ (1978)

This is another throwback to my days DJing in and around Manchester. When I started DJing on Friday nights at 38 Bar / The Castle in Oldham, I initially wondered how I was going to fill so much time, from 7:30pm to midnight every week.

I’d heard that a friend of a friend, Danny Buckley – who we would rechristen Danny Beetle – was an aspiring DJ, so I roped him into playing for an hour or so each week. It was probably very good for me that I did this. Danny opened my ears to many different types of music that I never would have unearthed myself.

One such example is Dance To The Drummer’s Beat, by the ‘70s Miami band Herman Kelly & Life. This track really grooves, punctuated throughout by an overdose of cowbell which, to borrow a phrase from the liner notes, sounds like a ‘beautiful, twitching, ticking musical time bomb’.

Hit: Dance To The Drummer’s Beat

Hidden Gem: Do The Handbone