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.....

1 comment:

Jonathan Rimorin said...

Thanks for this great blog! I found this looking for info on the late, great Alex Chilton (alas) and stumbled onto this. Look forward to reading more with great profit!