All posts by adrian

My Record Collection 48

J J CALE  – I really don’t know that much about this American country singer.  He is very unpublicised but has written some great songs, a couple recorded by Clapton (see c).  He plays a sort of chugging blues, like an acoustic ZZ Top.  I only have two albums – Special Edition – a sort of greatest hits.  This is the epitome of relaxed background music – the songs barely rise from each other and the record is over before you know it.  Best songs ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After Midnight’, but maybe that’s because I know them from Clapton.  This is pure America, but also almost narcotic.   I also have 5, another charity shop purchase.  This is so similar as to appear the same record.  Equally pleasant, but really you only need one J J Cale album.

CAMEL – A strange one, this.  I only bought this on a good friend’s recommendation.  Music from the film The Snow Goose.  And the lesson for today children is never listen to recomendtions.  When I have finally filled up my CD racks (not far off either) this is one for the charity shop.

CARS –  An American MOR rock band, who came to prominence in the mid-eightie – largely because of the song and video ‘Drive’ at Live Aid.  They had a string of hits and I have the Greatest Hits.  It is very good, competent, but somehow too samey for me.  Still, best songs – ‘Drive’ ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and ‘Just What I Wanted’


Lost In The Wild

Lost in the wild tangle of emotions I cannot sleep.  I toss and turn, throw the duvet off and instantly retrieve it, turn the pillows over, discard one then bring it back with a thump under my head.  Sleep still evades me.  My hand reaches over to the empty half of the bed; your empty; your cold half of the bed – and the nightmare thoughts flood back, overwhelming me like some freak wave.  I am wide awake; blinking back the salty tears.  I glance over at the clock – 2.30, and still you are out.  Out there somewhere.  Drinking in some late-night den, laughing, smiling into someone else’s eyes.  Or worse, in their bed.  Oh God, the thoughts simply won’t go away.

It isn’t even jealousy.  I am long past jealousy.  It is the longing, the desperate yearning that keeps tormenting me.  I long for her touch, her smile even – but all I get is her scorn, her sarcasm, her evil taunting of me, comparing me to him.  And yet…. still I love her.  I plead with her, I cry, I weep in front of her, begging for forgiveness.  Forgiveness for whatever I might have done, or not have done, for my inadequacy, for letting her down, for forcing her to reject me.  And none of it has any effect, she simply brushes past me, in her new red high-heel shoes and that little black velvet dress I bought last year for her birthday.  And as she sweeps past I have to admit that she looks incredible.  So stunningly beautiful, there is no denying that she is becoming simply irresistible.  Even at five months pregnant she looks wonderful, radiant, and with her slightly pouting belly and rounded breasts she looks splendid.  For all the good that does me.  It makes it all far, far worse, of course.

I think back to when I first met her, she was slightly plump then, a five-foot-two chubby teenager with spots and glasses, and lank slightly greasy hair.  But I loved her. It was love at first sight; her with her blinking eyes and long fringe that kept falling over her face.  I loved her back then when she was just sixteen and shy.  Oh, how shy she was.  I worked so hard to open her up to even my kisses.

No good thinking back though to that time of innocence.  We are long past innocence.  I suppose I stole her innocence.  Yes, you could say that.  But I was barely two years older than her.  She was my first, my only girlfriend.  The only girl I have ever loved.  Of course, we – well, I, was stupid and she got pregnant so soon, and twice at that.  And now she has shredded that love, torn it up and tossed it like so much wasted confetti into my face.  Confetti? We had no confetti at our wedding, and barely any guests.  It was a sad affair, the registry office cold and dismal.  Her parents refused to come, as did mine.  And even then, I knew I was losing her; that fervour in her kisses was missing by now, too often she would turn her face away and stare vacantly at the wall when we made love.

And we had had to fight so hard for everything.  When she was first pregnant she begged me to take her away; from her mother, from her father and his drunken rages. We fled to Scotland where we heard you could get married at sixteen.  All that bus journey, as she slept soundly beside me, her head on my shoulder – I stared out of the window at the rainy night sky, as the town signs drifted by, Cambridge, Lincoln, York, Newcastle.  I was scared and alone; I had mucked up yet again.  All I had was this sleeping beauty beside me and the treasure she carried.  My very own family, after the one I had rejected a year earlier when I too had fled the life I felt trapped in – for a new life and a new start in London.  And now I realised I was messing up again, and not only my own life but hers too.  This was just another trap I was tumbling into.

It was dawn as the bus pulled into Edinburgh.  I trudged up steep streets and found a tenement with a sign ‘Room to Let’.  Five floors up, and I can still recall the stone staircase, each step hollowed out by millions of tired feet.  I went out to find a job and came back elated that I had found some temporary bar work.  She was suddenly smiling.  She had phoned her mother and gained a degree of forgiveness.  ‘We have to go back, it’s alright’ she said ‘My Mum said we can have the baby and live with her.  My Dad is sort of okay about it too.’  I had spent almost all of my money, just enough for the bus fare back.  And as the bus wound its long return journey and the towns drifted by in reverse order, she slept soundly on my shoulder and I stared out all night at the bleak rainy darkness.  It rained and rained and as I kept wiping the condensation from the window with the side of my hand – still, all I could see was rain.

Sometimes I feel it hasn’t stopped raining since.  Her father kicked us out six months after the baby was born. We ended up in a homeless hostel, and then in a temporary ground floor of a house waiting to be demolished.  It was here that she fell pregnant again, but worse than that she started going out with the woman from upstairs.  Drinking in pubs down the Holloway Road, while I stayed in looking after the baby.

And now she stays out until the early hours, and I lay awake, occasionally rocking the baby’s cradle, listening for the sound of a car pulling up and her drunken giggle and the click-clack of those red high-heels as she stumbles up our steps.  Which is worse, the waiting or her arrival?  I really don’t know.  I dread her not coming back, and I dread her coming in and taunting me with how good a lover he is, and how useless I am.  And still I put up with it, I stay and look after the baby, changing his nappy, making his food, washing his clothes, and worrying what the hell my sometimes wife is getting up to.  Hoping against hope that she will tire of him, of her ‘freedom’, that she will realise that he is simply offering her another trap.  That she will give him up and come back to me.

The months roll on and it gets no better.  Then the baby is due and we go together to the Hospital.  She holds my hand, digging her nails in as her contractions come one by one.  I am nervous, apprehensive. Desperately hoping that things have changed, that she still loves me.  But hope is all I have.  Hope is all I have ever had.

Six weeks later and she has gone.  With him.  She has taken the new baby, but has left me with the other one, now just 18 months old.  And this child, who smiles through everything knows nothing of the turmoil we have been through.  The desperate nights, the hours of lonely waiting were nothing to him.  He smiled though it all.  And as I drop the good-bye note and pick him up I realise that he probably has saved my life.

We start again; I paint the rooms, I find him a nursery, I buy some better second-hand furniture. We move into a GLC flat in Hackney.  I begin to get over her.  But I will never forget those nights, lying awake, listening for the click-clack of her heels, the drunken giggle, the fumble of her key in the lock.

I grow stronger, I will fall in love again, I will have more children.  But I will never forget her, her shy smile, those blinking eyes, that little black velvet dress and how beautiful she looked.  I will forgive her, maybe I had always forgiven her – but I cannot forget those wild nights, when I was lost in the tangle of my emotions.  When I wasn’t sure if I still loved her, or just the memory of her; when all I knew was that I was losing her.  I was lost in those wild times, and sometimes I am not sure I have ever recovered, if I ever found my way home – or if I am still wandering, still tossing and turning in my frantic search for some peace.   Even now somewhere inside, there is a little bit of me that still loves the memory of her, even if she did smile as she ground her high heeled shoe in the space in my heart I’d laid open for her.

Such is love.


My Record Collection 47

The Byrds (continued)  Soon after recording The Notorious Byrd Brothers, McGuinn, on Chris Hillman’s advice recruited Gram Parsons to the band.  They had a few live tryouts nd it seemed to work, but Gram slowly began to take over the band.  Their direction went completely country, or more precisely what would become country-rock and eventually be Known as America.  Several groups were moving this way at the same time, most notably The Band, and Artists like Johnny Cash (see C) had never left the stage and were still having huge hits which sometimes crossed over to the Pop charts.  The eventual late ’68 album was called Sweetheart of the Rodeo.   And it really divided Byrds fans, many felt (just like with Dylan) that this was some sort of betrayal.  In fact the band never recovered their former popularity despite some fine albums and a few minor hits.  The album is pretty full-on country, but without the yee-ha; it still has those lovely chiming guitars and gorgeous harmonies.  Best songs ‘You ‘int Going Nowhere’ (another Dylan classic) the splendid ‘Hickory Wind’ and ‘Nothing Was Delivered’.  But a fine album.  Even though Gram Parsons had almost taken over the group he up and left after just this one record, later taking Chris Hillman with him, leaving McGuinn as the sole remaining Original Byrd.  One has to wonder if all these departures were more to do with him than with ‘musical differences’.  Still he did not give up, but recruited 3 new Byrds and went back to the studio.   The new album, Doctor Byrd and Mr. Hyde was a bit heavier, a bit looser, more bluesy but still with country inflections.  Best songs ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ (another Dylan song), the country tinged ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man’ and ‘Nashville West’ – but not really their best record. Better was 1970’s (Untitled) – a double featuring both live and unreleased songs.  I only recently got this on CD, and really it is excellent, especially the live songs.  I s aw them live at the rainbow in early ’72 and this reminds me so much of a great concert. Best of the new songs – ‘Old Blue’, ‘Yesterdays Train’ and ‘Well Come Back’.  But this album failed to chart, as did the next Byrdmaniax; though I have always liked this one.  Great songs – ‘Citizen Kane’ ‘Absolute Happiness’ and Jamaica say you will’ – a happier sound, but still the Byrds great vocals and ringing guitar.  This could almost be my favourite of theirs.

Then came (still waiting to be listened to) Farther Along’.  Continued arguments and one by one band members left.  Then it was decided to reform the 5 original Byrds for a new record on new label – Assylum,  The record came out in 1973.  I bought it and really loved it – though again it flopped.  In some ways this

is their most realised record – though as usual the band members, McGuinn in particular, were quite dissatisfied with it, and the planned tour and follow-up record were abandoned.  After this indeed McGuinn finally closed the book on the Byrds.  The band members went on to solo careers, which with the exception of David rosby, fizzled out.

Still, they were some group, and listening again they sound so modern, much more like todays music than even the Beatles.

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My Record Collection 46

The Byrds – I heard the single ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ long before I knew Dylan’s original version.  In fact, The Byrds brought Dylan to a much wider audience. Their take on the song was simply brilliant, those fabulous ringing guitars and the sweet vocals just make the song wonderful.   But back then in 1965 I was so in love with the Beatles that I had no time for these new American kids -they seemed to be copying the Fabs with their haircuts and all. But listening now to their records which I bought much later, I realise they were just as important, just on a different trajectory.  Their first album, Mr. Tambourine Man, has all the landmarks of the Byrds sound – the country twang, the chiming guitars and the gorgeous harmonies.  Best songs ‘I’ll feel a whole lot better’, ‘Bells of Rhymney’ and another Dylan classic ‘Spanish Harlem Incident.’  An incredible debut.   Later that same year they released Turn Turn Turn; this is a more folky record, maybe in the rush to release a follow-up they had not written quite so many new songs.  The record companies worked bands pretty hard in those days.  There are, as became their trademark, a handful of Dylan covers and a few traditional folk songs.  The best was the title track , ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ and ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’ plus a bonus track on the CD re-issue ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’.  1966 saw Fifth Dimension, and you could really feel the band moving on.  This was the year The Beatles put our Revolver; in many ways ’66 was the revolutionary year, when Psychedelia was just beginning.  This record was far more experimental with the wonderful ‘8 Miles High’, which many took as a drug song when it is about flying to London, the weird ‘What’s Happenin’ and the brilliant ‘Mr. Spaceman – there was still room for the more traditional and beautiful ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.  Lead singer Gene Clark (see C) left in the middle of recording and vocals were completed by Crosby (see C) and McGuinn.  Interestingly no Dylan covers this time – the band were now writing their own material.   A year later they released ‘Younger Than Yesterday’, a somewhat mixed record, it doesn’t seem to hang together.  Maybe the band was struggling or experimenting with acid by now.  Some songs are good ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star’ and the Dylan cover ‘My Back Pages’, some really spaced out weird guitar breaks McGuinn called Raga Rock, vaguely Indian but meandering and boring.  And a couple of Crosby slow songs which seem to be going nowhere.  Early ’68 saw a better album The Notorious Byrd Brothers.  But even here the band seem a bit disjointed; hardly surprising as drummer Michael Clark and Crosby both left during the recording of the record, though they both feature on many of the songs.  Not a bad record surprisingly – the band moving into newer sounds and using brass in some tracks even.  The delightful ‘Goin’ Back’ – a Goffin King song, never bettered reminds us of the original folk-pop sound of the Byrds. Now many people say that the country-folk sound first came about on ‘Sweetheart’ , their next album with Gram Parsons – but the seeds were sown and are all too apparent on this very good record.  Songs like ‘Old John Robertson’ would fit perfectly on the follow-up.  But really there isn’t a poor song on the record – a treat; in some ways the excesses of ’67 were being redressed, just as The Beatles were doing with the White Album, the Byrds were doing with Notorious.  Fave songs also include ‘Draft Morning’ and ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’



My Record Collection 45

Tim Buckley This was Jeff Buckley’s father, though he died when Jeff was a small boy.  Tim was a singer songwriter in the mid-sixties; he never really achieved fame, but he was around.  He died of a heroin overdose in 1975.  I only have one record  – Goodbye and Hello from 1967.  Strangely for a 1967 record it sounds more dated than the Beatles and the Byrds records.  But I still like it; naïve and gentle and angry by turns it still sounds good. Best songs…’No Man Can Find The War’, ‘Once I Was’ and the psychadelic ‘Phantasmagoria in Two’.  A sweet record.

Jake Bugg For those of you who may feel that I have yet to move into the current Century, I do, quite regularly, try out new artists.  One such was Jake Bugg; and really he is quite good; very much in the singer-songwriter vein – this record could have been released any time in the last sixty years.  It is remarkably lyrical and gentle.  But…somehow it hasn’t made me jump up and go straight onto Amazon to buy more – I have the one self-titled album.  Not that there is anything wrong with it – just that my playlist (ever-changing) is full of new stuff by established artists, as well as re-listening constantly and in alphabetical order (no-one ever said I wasn’t anal) to my old favourites.  Best songs ‘Lightning Bolt’aand ‘Simple as This’.  But the name is stuck in my back-boiler mind and while whiling away time in charity shops if I come across any others of his I may well snap them up.

Buffalo Springfield – Well, this was the band that many people think started it all.  The country-rock thing, which has turned into Americana.  But the Byrds (see B soon) were well down this road too; the truth is always more complicated.   The band was just one of those emerging out of California in the mid-sixties.  But it did have Neil Young and Stephen Stills in it.  I have a collection (they only made three records, and Neil had left by the last one), called Retrospective.  It is pretty good, but Neil’s songs really stand out; best songs – ‘For What it’s Worth’ ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ – but it is all quite good really. Just over two years and the band had split – the rest is History.

Eric Burden – again a charity shop purchase.  Of course I knew him from the Animals. I s aw the CD and thought I would see what he was up to…it is a live album and quite good, very bluesy, and he does a few Animals songs too.  But this was simply a touch of nostalgia on my part.  An excellent version of Tobacco Road too.

Kate Bush – just how many fantastic Artists flourished and flowered in the fertile soil of the Sixties and early Seventies?  Kate was just one more precocious teenager who sung like an angel and had the classic English rose looks too.  I have only her greatest hits (and Red Shoes on cassette) but have always meant to buy others of hers.  Her debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’ has hardly been bettered, even by Kate; it is preposterous and crazy and quite wonderful.

Bernard Butler – he was the guitarist with Suede, one of the Britpop bands of the mid-nineties, not one of my favourite groups – but sort of okay.  The record, Friends and Lovers is alright, I quite like it.  But not enough to buy anything else by him.  So it goes…


Three Revolutions

1 – America  1776 This was a Revolution by relatively wealthy landowners and merchants who had colonised the east coast of America.  They rebelled against the authority of the British Crown; essentially this was a revolt against taxation without representation.  Largely because these colonies were so far away the revolution was not easily supressed.  Eventually these separatist colonies formed a Union and elected a President, who unlike the kings of Europe had no hereditary succession but were to be elected.  They also had a declaration of citizens rights.  These were two new departures and had lasting consequences.  The importance of the individual and the idea of the pursuit of happiness, even if in early drafts this was the pursuit of property – were indeed a new basis on which to run society.   And this persists to this day in the ideas of Conservativism, that individual freedom is more important than any consideration for others.

2 – France 1789 This was really a different type of revolution, driven by poverty and oppression of the masses by the Aristocracy.  The Revolution was soon hijacked by a few radical individuals who pursued those born into riches and power ruthlessly.  Eventually this led to the rise of a new ‘king’ – Napoleon.  But the ideas of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality are still at the heart of the French constitution; that all men (not sure anyone was that concerned about women) are brothers and free from oppression and equal under the law.  These ideas have been more or less universally accepted by most Western countries – and are in some ways the opposite of the American ideal.

3 – Russia 1917 This was again brought about by incredible hardship, but also military defeats and an unbending Royalty.  This was a longer lasting revolution, and again it was taken over by a corrupt elite.  The main idea of this communist pursuit was that the individual was completely at the service of the state; the state being the physical manifestation of the will of the people.  Of course, this failed, but not after scaring the ruling elites in most other Nations to their core; the fear of the mob was the main driver of the huge increases in standards of living for poorer people in the West.  Without the Russian revolution decent working conditions, decent housing, health services and education would have been far harder to achieve.  Without the example of Communism they are slowly being eroded.

No-one can say if there will be any further Revolutions, but it doesn’t seem likely.  But the battles continue – the individual versus society, the freedom to do as one likes against the freedom from the oppression by those who are stronger than others, Government for the rich and powerful or for the many, the power of the individual against the power of the state.  Many died, especially in the last two revolutions – but the ides still live on.  We must never forget them.


My Record Collection 44

Bright Eyes – every so often, and far too often, the music press decides on the next big thing.  And Bright Eyes was one of these.  They re  actully a band, or to be honest a one man band; Conor Oberst.  They sort of ignored his first few albums, but raved about Digital Ash In A Digital Urn – which I bought.  I sort of wish I hadn’t; it is okay, pleasant voice, okay songs, etc; etc;  But not a favourite by a long way.  A couple of years back I also bought Letting Off The Happiness in a charity shop.  The name was familiar and I thought I’d give him another listen.  This was an earlier (1995) record.  And it is even worse…in fact, having re-listened I may just take them both to the nearest charity shop, where they belong – or, I may not.

Jackson Brown was around form the early Seventies, and his name was bandied about – but my ears were too full of James Taylor and Neil young and Joni and Leonard, and of course Bob – that I had no time for him.  But of late I bought his greatest hits The Next Voice You Hear.  Well it is okay, the songs  are competent, the singing is good – but somehow it just doesn’t do it for me.  Nothing to complain about really, just doesn’t excite me at all. A pity really, but there you go.  I also have a live double album Love Is Strange, from quite late in his career.  Quite Latin tinged.  Again, perfectly pleasant, but not special in any way at all.

Jeff Buckley – a very interesting character.  He was the son of Tim Buckley, a Sixties singer-songwriter who infamously took his own life.  Jeff only made one record in his life Grace, before he too died far too young.  Co-incidence, who knows?  But Grace (1994) is a remarkable, record; some self-penned songs and some covers -most notably ‘Hallelujah´by Leonard Cohen.   He had a remarkable voice; high and clear and very emotional, it almost feels as if he is on the point of crying at times.  Well, he died, before fame cold reel him in.  Only one album recorded too, even if it was brilliant.  But a live record soon came out – Mystery White Boy.  Excellent live versions of many of the songs from Grace, and a few others too.  As live albums go it is pretty good, but a bit overlong.  Also demo’s and half finished songs for a proposed second album emerged – Sketches for my girlfriend, the drunk.  Well I find this all a bit tedious.  These are mostly unfinished songs and very samey.  I imagine that even more junk will be exhumed and presented for sale – but I won’t be buying them. Grace was brilliant – but we will never know what else could have been…

He died while swimming in a river in 1997, and his reputation has only grown since then.  His version of ‘Hallelujah’ is hailed by m any as the best of all time – but I still prefer Leonard’s….He died while swimming in a river in 1997, and his reputation has only grown since then.

The Brexit Fiasco

Well, even the most hardened Brexiteers are now looking crest-fallen.  Their only alternative to accepting a weak and woolly Brexit is to bring down their own Government, cause a General Election – and still almost certainly be left with a disaster of a Brexit on their hands.

The problem is, and has always been, that Brexit will be a disaster.  Even if we simply left but remained in the Single Market and Customs Union we would have been weakened economically and, just as importantly, as a strategic power.  There is a saying that there are two types of European Country – ones that have realised they are small countries, and those that haven’t realised it yet.  And Britain is definitely still in the second camp.  We no longer have an Empire, we belong to a Commonwealth which largely despises us for our Colonial past, and hangs together more through loyalty to the present Queen than anything else.  There are simply three main economic power blocks in the World today – America, China and Europe.  And our only real hope in the future is to remain part of Europe.  Stay in and change things from within.  Even if we leave with nothing (which is still unlikely) we will have to obey all the EU rules if we want to trade with them at all.

But, it looks as if there will be an almighty fudge.  This is the only way out of the mess we have driven ourselves into.  We will technically leave in March next year, champagne corks will pop, Mrs. May will be toasted.  But, nothing will change – and nothing will have been decided -YET.  Everything will be postponed and decided in the (at the moment) 21 month transition period, where there will be NO transition at all until yet more compromises are squeezed out of the very sour lemon that is all that will be left of our negotiating team.  We will undoubtedly have to remain in the (or some sort of) customs union.  And we may even have to continue accepting European free movement – possibly with some face-saving conditions.

The whole thing has been a fiasco, from start to finish.  And whatever finally emerges will be worse than what we had and have so needlessly have thrown away.



The Serena Controversy

I am really quite amazed that there is any controversy at all.  I did not watch the whole match but the incident has been replayed almost constantly on 24 hour news, and also the rather petulant press conference after the match.  Let me firstly say that the Williams sisters, and Serena in particular have been incredible role models, overcoming prejudice and achieving so much in the sport; in fact they have been so dominant for over two decades that by their longevity alone they are wonderful.

But the debate has centred on Serena’s argument that she was treated badly because of sexism by the umpire in particular and by the whole tennis establishment in general.

Now, let me also say that, sadly, Serena lost her temper and abused first her racquet and then the umpire, even stating that he would never umpire another match of hers.  I am not sure if even she has the power to order that, however – it was a poor performance on this occasion.  She had done incredibly well after having a difficult pregnancy and birth only a year before to have got to the final, when women 20 years younger than her were swept aside by her brilliant tennis.  But yesterday was not a good day for her.  She was already losing, and her outburst was punished according to the rules.

Now, you could argue that the umpire was inconsistent (but not in this match – as the Japanese girl did not behave badly) – but as we know too well, referees are often inconsistent, even in the same match.  But not on this occasion.  Had Serena just accepted the point deductions, firstly for her coach attempting to advise her (he has admitted this) and then for smashing her racquet this would have all been forgotten.  But her verbal abuse and later press conference sadly made the situation far worse. Her accusations of sexism are quite ridiculous.  Many men have behaved badly and argued with the umpire and most have been punished for it.  Incidentally this all started with McEnroe and Connors who bullied umpires in order to unsettle their opponents.  It seems a particularly American lack of Sportsmanship.

In all sports the referee or umpire should be respected and any dissension should be punished.  I am also appalled in football to see players surrounding and shouting at the ref.  Send them all off – men or women, makes no difference.  I am amazed at the furore this sad incident has stirred up, with many women joining in and saying it was sexism.  None of them has even acknowledged how badly Serena behaved on this occasion; she has not apologised to the referee or to the tournament or to the public.  If we want to have a sensible discussion about institutional sexism let us at least be grown up about it and stop defending the indefensible.  This trivial storm in a teacup does nothing to promote women’s equality and in fact diminishes the real struggle many poor women face; after all Serena is incredible well-paid, even for coming second occasionally.  We should all be concentrating on real sexism, in the workplace and how it applies to women who don’t happen to be multi-millionaires.


My Record Collection 43

Billy Bragg continued – Five years later and Billy brought out a new LP; William Bloke.  I am sure that musicians suffer, just like authors from writer’s block, or maybe it is a lack of confidence, a fear that you will never match up to your former glories, or maybe just life – marriage, kids, etc: get in the way.  And also the money from previous hits must help and soften the desire to put out another record.  Joni once said that “No-one ever asked Van Gogh to paint another ‘Starry Night’.  Maybe not the best example; but we do expect a lot of our current musical heroes, we simply expect them to keep coming up with brilliant tunes and great lyrics.  Some have managed it, but most fail – or not exactly, but they and we realise that their best was behind them.  Anyway, the record; it is okay, though not his best, he sounds a bit tired, no joie de vivre, no excitement, no anger in his voice.  But some good songs – ‘From Red to Blue’, ‘The Space Race Is Over’ and ‘Northern Industrial Town’.

Then a break of 6 years until 2002’s England, Half English. Well this is much more like it.  Billy is playing with his touring band ‘The Blokes’ and this is a far more upbeat album.  Much more like some of his earlier ones, the songs are good too.  The whole point of the record was to say that English now means multi-cultural, black, brown and white all mixed up but with English values.  Impossible to define but after all the anti-immigrant shit swilling around, a pleasant and refreshing change.  A few very good songs, rolling along ‘St. Monday’ and ‘Another Kind of Judy’ – the sublime ‘Sometimes I see the Point’, and the heavy political ‘NPWA’ (No Power Without Accountability). We almost thought we had the old Billy back – but he had other ideas, or rather other paths to tread.   He collaborated with American band Wilco to write and sing songs based on some lost lyrics of Woody Guthrie.  The result Mermaid Avenue was quite interesting.  But, it didn’t feel like a Billy Bragg record, a few songs are good – ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ and ‘Ingrid Bergman’. Then another gap until 2008 and Mr Love and Justice; not a great record really.  The songs are okay I suppose, but something seems missing.  It may just be that an old man getting angry isn’t half as attractive as a young one, and Billy was at least fifty by now.  Best songs – ‘The Beach is Free’ and ‘Sing Their Souls Back Home’.

The last Billy record I bought was 2013’s Tooth and Nail.  But this really isn’t a Billy Bragg album at all.  It is a very competent Americana one, and worst of all sung in an American accent.  Well, the songs are okay – as sad country songs, but I want Billy to sound like Billy Bragg.  Still a few good lines ‘If you continue chasing rainbows, you’re bound to end up getting wet’.  I am not sure if I will buy any more – unless the critics declare he is back to his old self again.   But just to finish off  – the icing on the cake, is a brilliant compilation album; Must I paint You A Picture’ – all the best of his early records.  Makes me smile every time I hear it.

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