Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Almost An Apology

Well folks, I feel I gotta say I'm just a little sorry for that last really rather dull Big Star/Alex Chilton post. Facts and references aplenty but not really much of a story to the actual Alex meeting itself was there? Clutching at straws a tad methinks - keen to let y'all know "Hey, I met Alex Chilton" - but little more to it than that and I'd like to think HOTTC can provide a little more glitz and glamour (or even grime).

After all you come to this blog for tales of edgy encounters with eccentric individuals, and not for repeated namedropping and transcripts of mundane meetings.

So eventually, we do realise we've got to give them what they want.....


Too Much Junkie Business with the late great Johnny Thunders.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Here's A Little Thing That's Gonna Please Ya.....

To a generation of 20 and 30 somethings, the name Alex Chilton probably attaches itself more to The Replacements than to the man himself, from their song "Alex Chilton" :

"If he was from Venus, would he feed us with a spoon? If he was from Mars, wouldn't that be cool? Standing right on campus, would he stamp us in a file? Hangin' down in Memphis all the while. (chorus:) Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round They sing "I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song. "Cerebral rape and pillage in a village of his choice. Invisible man who can sing in a visible voice. Feeling like a hundred bucks, exchanging good lucks face to face. Checkin' his stash by the trash at St. Mark's place. (chorus) I never travel far, without a little Big Star. Runnin' 'round the house, Mickey Mouse and the Tarot cards. Falling asleep with a flop pop video on. If he was from Venus, would he meet us on the moon? If he died in Memphis, then that'd be cool, babe.(chorus)"

I am pretty sure that most folk who hear that song investigate a little further and have the joy of discovering the wonders of Big Star. There was though, in the late 80's and early 90's, a period of a couple of years when Big Star was the band to namecheck. Be you Primal Scream, REM, Teenage Fanclub or any number of music writers, "Radio City" was an album of great influence and a useful reference point for anything loosely resembling (hate the term, love the genre) powerpop. Trendsetters as ever, me and my friends were listening to them many years before that, having re-diecovered the early 70's albums in the early 90's. To this day, Alex Chilton and Big Star are constantly on rotation round these parts and I reckon it's about time I did my bit to spread the word a little further afield.

What spurred me into action was Alan Yentob's "Imagine" documentary on the BBC a week or so ago on the Memphis born photographer William Eggleston, whose famous "Red Ceiling" picture adorned the "Radio City" album and whose "Dolls On A Cadillac Hood" was on the cover of Alex's solo album "Like Flies On Sherbert".

"Red Ceiling" by William Eggleston

"Dolls On A Cadillac Hood" by William Eggleston

It was Alec Chilton's 1978 solo single"Bangkok" that I first heard in 1980, and 'twas through the auspices of Mr Epic Soundtracks that I (as were many others - Bobby Gillespie and Alan McGee amongst them) was introduced to the wonder of Big Star. Firstly "Radio City", then "#1 Record" and eventually "Third" - as fine and varied (have you heard "Third"?) a trio of albums you could hope to hear.

Weirdly, it was through Tav Falco's Panther Burns, specifically the 1980 "She's The One To Blame" EP (and a still treasured copy of the first release of only 250 copies with 8" silk screened sleeve on Frenzi Records) that I came back upon Alex's solo work. As did much of Tav's considerable output, this featured one LX Chilton on guitar.......but let's talk about the charismatic Tav Falco some other time.

Possibly recognising he'd peaked as a song writer in the late 70's, the larger part of his recordings these past 25 years or so have been covers, and since the mid 90's, aside from the odd Box Tops reunion (did I mention that it was a 16 year old Alex Chilton singing lead

on million seller "The Letter" back in 1967?) it's been the new version of Big Star that's been his main focus. With original drummer Jody Stephens, Alex teamed up with the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to tour as Big Star. Great excitement preceded their London dates in August 1993, not least for myself. I certainly remember seeing Bobby Gillespie in attendance, and the word was that pretty much all the great and good of indie rock at that time gathered at the Clapham Grand. Of course it wasn't Big Star 1973, but there was magic in the air that night, as the Zoo Records release of the live "Columbia" album confirmed.

Anyway, we're hear to reminisce about my encounters with rock's elite, so, when Chris met Alex....it was just the one time, and it was (gulp) nearly 24 years ago. Alex and his band played a (slightly disinterested) show at London's Mean Fiddler on 16th October 1985, we were there and after the show Epic and I approached Alex for Epic to undertake part one of a planned interview which was completed a few days later at the house in Brixton where Alex was staying. A wide-ranging chat, it was the centre-piece of (and cover story - great picture by Bleddyn Butcher - for) issue 6 of my What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen magazine which was published in 1986 (and came with a 17 track compilation (vinyl) album.....copies still available folks).

Notoriously diffident, verging on awkward ("ornery" may be appropriate) he was both these that evening but to be fair, as an interviewee, pretty damned co-operative, and Epic got some mighty fine stuff out of him. I played my usual starstruck role and observed rather than involved, took a couple of photos of him and Epic, got him to sign a couple of original vinyl Big Star albums, my copy of the "Bangkok" single and various solo singles, and wallowed in listening to his lazy southern drawl. The cliche is that you should never meet your heroes lest they disappoint - Alex did nothing but live up to his reputation as rock's outsider, did not in any way disappoint and I loved him all the more for it.

For a fine, thorough telling of the Big Star story, get hold of a copy of Rob Jovanovic's "Big Star - The Story Of Rock's Forgotten Band".

Pleased to have played a small role in it's creation, having met up with and lent Rob my and Epic's collection of press cuttings, rare discs and photos (by the way Rob, still waiting for you to return the Jim Dickinson "Dixie Fried" album cover and one or two other bits and pieces....) it's somehow supposed to be being made into a film - the mind boggles.

More certainly, and I for one cannot wait, mid September this year sees the release of a box set by Rhino (God bless this label....) called "Keep An Eye On The Sky", 4 CDs including, of course, unreleased stuff as well as classics from the three original albums.


Many folks have covered Big Star tunes but there was one in particular I was keen to get hold of, and a few years ago I bought through eBay a copy of an album called "Love's Melody" to get a version of "September Gurls" by The Searchers (as in "Needles & Pins" etc.), recorded towards the end of the 70's. Of course it's now on CD ("Sire Sessions: The Rockfield Recordings") but here's my rip from the vinyl.....

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Music In Memoriam

It was a relatively new album to me at the time, but Laura Barton's review in the Guardian last year of Bon Iver's “For Emma Forever Ago” for some reason struck a chord.

I guess it was primarily her observation that time spent doing things other than listening to that album felt like time wasted. As is the wont of proper journalists, this is inevitably an overstatement, but not by very much. I know what she meant. This is an album I have grown to love in the last year or so, and one I've yet to tire of.

It's 18 month long part in my life has coincided with high levels of emotion for me and my family, losing my mother, my uncle, my uncle's partner, one of the family dogs and my boss in that time. Almost inevitably in such circumstances, and coinciding I guess with a modest advancement in years, I've found myself increasingly inclined to listen to music that might be best described as morose, maudlin even, prone on occasion to inducing tears.

Furthermore my mind has turned to selecting the music I want played at my funeral.

I guess I've always felt it was important to have the right music for the right occasion. To a degree it's about being in control – it used to be that I knew that I knew best – you were very much mistaken if your musical likes differed from mine. Eventually I descended from such high self regard, and grew to accept that I was not actually the sole arbiter of taste (though I still knew better than most....) and am now able to embrace (even) the fact that some people like modern so-called r'n'b, heavy though it maketh mine heart.

For me, this focus on getting it right started with mix (we used to call them compilation) tapes for teenage holidays, moved on to CDs for wooing the ladies (well, lady...my wife...) and then working out DJ sets for my brother-in-laws band's gigs. For some years now, as an extra, very personal (and admittedly low cost) Christmas present, I've been putting together a “Best Of The Year” CD (some years, a double CD) for family and friends. Like I say, I've always enjoyed foisting my musical taste on others – the rare party held at our house invariably ends with me plugging the iPod into the stereo and regaling all those present with a wide variety of sounds – not that there's much chance of more than a minute of any one song as there's always another great piece of music I want everyone to hear....and so little time.

As much as this though, it's the planning process itself I enjoy. Any collection of songs has to flow just right and/or be appropriate for the occasion for which it is compiled. My wife Wendy would no doubt confirm that before our wedding back in 1999, I was (perhaps a little to her frustration) more concerned with selecting the right music for, firstly, our wedding ceremony (if you're interested I went with “La Cavelleria Rusticana” by Mascagni,

“The Lonely 1” by Wilco and Semisonic's “This Could Be My Year”) and for the reception (for which I created four CDs worth of music) than any other marriage related issue. Though I'm sure that getting this right played no small role in making the ninth of the ninth ninety-nine the very best day of my life.

Whilst the beautifully crafted eulogies bring a tear to my eye
It's the music that's played that really makes me cry

So to the emotionally charged surroundings of a memorial service and the selection of appropriate music. As I say above, I've had more opportunity in the last year to consider this than anyone would choose.

For my mother, whose interest in music had never been especially specific, the family chose a selection of popular classical pieces to accompany the one especially relevant choice of “Jerusalem”, the hymn of my mother's beloved Women's Institute. Words and tune I have always loved and as ever, it extracted a powerful and stirring rendition from the many friends and family gathered to remember her.

At my uncle's magnificent memorial service, alongside Fairport Convention's elegiac “Meet On The Ledge” (Excuse me, I've a little dust in my eyes....)

and a traditional Irish drinking song, once again “Jerusalem” was played, this time as the old school hymn, and of course a tune I will now forever associate exclusively with my mother. Tears flowed freely – not least because the date of the service coincided with the anniversary of mum's passing.

At my uncle's partner Marie's funeral it was Sandy Denny singing the exquisite “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” that brought us all to tears.

My concern in making sure the music suited the magnitude and mood of the occasion of a memorial service probably began a few years ago when as well as being asked to deliver the eulogy (the proudest and at that time most moving experience of my life) I was amongst those asked to suggest a piece of music to play at my friend Kevin Godfrey's (Epic Soundtracks) funeral service – his own song, the gorgeous “There's A Light Up In The Sky” was the consensus choice, and never more fitting. Some years later, I suggested for his brother Nikki Sudden's funeral a song from his last album, “Green Shield Stamps”, a paean to more innocent and childish times, but was, thankfully, over-ruled as the wondrous “Stay Bruised” (from the “Treasure Island” album) prevailed and resulted in truly one of the most moving five minutes you could ever imagine.

So I know what song I want played at my funeral.

“Re:Stacks” by Bon Iver.

It's a song about gambling. Cards in particular. I have rarely gambled and certainly never played cards for money so it's lyrics have no relevance to my life. But it is the most beautiful song I have ever heard and invariably sends a shiver through me if it hasn't already reduced me to tears. Really. It is a hypnotic sparingly constructed tune beautifully played and hauntingly sung by Justin Vernon, and you must listen to it. It cannot fail to move.

There may be other songs yet to be heard to add to the list of preferred funeral music, but I know that "re:Stacks" will remain a constant.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

More Self-Abasing Bollocks

For an hour or two, generally just one evening a week, I trawl my way through the world of blogs, mostly music oriented, partly with a mind to keeping up with what's new and what's happening – a desperate last hurrah for someone nearing 50 perhaps, but there you go – and partly to see what I'm up against. Oftimes not a lot, though one or two provide inspiration - check some of the links in the sidebar. But I'm wearying of what I've seen a fair bit recently – bloggers moaning that noone is leaving comments – all those hours spent lovingly crafting another epic post and nothing coming back from their readers - bloggers threatening to pack it all in if such disinterest persists. Pitiful really. Bless.

From my perspective though, whilst it'd be cool to think someone might be reading this, truth be told I'm doing it, when suficiently inspired, for myself and nobody else – writing this all down with a view to creating a reasonably professional looking record of me wittering on about some of the more interesting things I've been involved with over the years, interspersed with the odd clip or piece of memorabilia to provide some perspective and, dare I believe, a touch of gravitas. That's not to say that interaction wouldn't be unwelcome, but given my own reluctance to comment on other folks' blogs, and it has to be a pretty special piece for that to happen, I can hardly expect it myself. Dig the humility, huh?

This is my baby, it's probably only me checking it out every day, and I'm certainly not living in expectation of feedback. We'd all like to be loved and appreciated, but that's not really what these postings are all about and I can't believe I'm the only blogger who thinks this way. I'm sure to be one of many who will talk about but probably never get round to writing a book, so poor substitute though it may be, this will more than likely have to do. It will be as good as I can make it and I'll enjoy every minute I spend writing it even if it ends up being for an audience of one.

So I guess this makes “HOTTC” little more than a vanity project – no surprises there as you are reading the words of someone who compiled his own “Vanity CD” of clips of me and my magazines and records being mentioned on the radio, me being interviewed on the radio, me interviewing rock stars and them saying nice things about me – yes, I've previous in this field. One of life's more harmless vices I'd say, and best just leave me be.

So, and I'm probably just talking to myself, the blog continues. Let (intermittent) service resume.

(Anyone out there though?)