My Record Collection 55

Leonard Cohen

From the ridiculous (at times) to the sublime.  And I know that many people think Leonard is depressing, but I have found him to be understanding, serious at times, funny at others and ultimately uplifting.  To even attempt to understand matters of the heart is incredibly difficult, I know this as a writer myself; but to write unbelievable poetry – and put it to unique and warm melodies is simply incredible.  Only Dylan and Joni have really come anywhere close to Leonard in the modern era.

Now, a bit of History.  I first heard Leonard in 1969.  His first album had crept out, practically unnoticed two years earlier.  Carol and I were temporarily staying with three Canadians I was working with.  We had been thrown out again by her parents.  We slept on the sofa in a basement flat, sharing with not only the Canadians but an ever-changing mix of young women and men.  It seemed one long constant party; lots of drinking, smoking and loud music.  But as the nights wore on Leonard’s first album was put on the turntable and I fell in love with it.  Each song is basically just guitar (and he is a very good player too) and voice.  His producer paid Leonard the compliment of reading a book during the recording and interfering not at all.  When I got my first record player this was the first record I bought.  I must have played it thousands of times – and I never tire of it.  Every song is brilliant from ‘Suzanne’, through ‘The Sisters Of Mercy’ and ‘So Long Marianne’ right through to ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’.

Now Leonard was already 33 in 1967, an author and poet; and had been singing his poems to friends for a few years.  I think that the songs on this debut were probably the best he had at that time; he notoriously takes a long time to perfect his lyrics.  In many ways this album has never been bettered, in its bleak but very effective production it lays bare the words beautifully.  Love it.   Best line “If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn, I will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem”

1969 saw his second album Songs From A Room. It is of course excellent, though I have always relegated it to the second tier – despite three great songs ‘Bird On The Wire’, ‘Nancy’ and Lady Midnight’.  Maybe it is the production with the Electric Guitar and Orchestra seemimg to impinge on his vocals, maybe it is the bleak few songs about fathers and sons, maybe it is just me – because on re=listening it is of course great.  Just maybe not as great as his debut.  Best line – ‘Nancy was alone, a 45 beside her head, an open telephone’.  That simple item – an open telephone – is the moment of genius in the song.

Next – we have a live album ‘Live at The Isle of Wight 1970’.  This was not released until this century but it fits on here, as he was singing songs from mostly his first two records.  Well here we have a very early and nervous Leonard, talking a bit too much and uncertain of the crowd – many of whom would never have heard him before.  No real surprises here, but good renditions of his early songs.  Nice to hear him talking between songs, even if he was talking nonsense at times.  He recited a few snippets of poems too.   Best lines “Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir – I have tried in my way to be free” an old song but a great line

Third album came a year later – and this is simply one of the very best – ‘Songs Of Love and Hate’.  What a great title – and the cover photo of an almost drunk Leonard sets the scene for some really emotional songs.   And from the opener ‘Avalanche’ the scene is set; some self-loathing, some worship, a lot of confusion – and miles of poetic intensity.  Musically it is a step forward too, the almost jolly ‘Diamonds in the Mine’ and the almost spoken ‘Last Year’s Man’.  But though all the songs are excellent the best are the two which were still in his live shows right to the end – ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ with it’s confusing trio (or is it a quartet) of characters – and ‘Joan of Arc’ a wonderful evocation of emotion and sacrifice, an epic poem indeed.  But the best line is ‘The skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend.’  I am never sure what this really means but like all great poetry it simply works.

To complete this section we have maybe the strangest record in Leonard’s catalogue – Live Songs. (although Dear Heather comes close). Maybe because Leonard had not released anything for two years – a lifetime back then for recording artists – this mish-mash was released.  A handful of rather bland live versions of songs from his second album plus a 13 minute track ‘Please Don’t Pass Me By’ which he never officially released.  This song sounds almost as if was just a chorus and the rest made up during the performance.  He also sings a folk standard ‘Passing through’ which is quite wonderful. .  But the record is completed by a live reading of his morbid poem ‘Queen Victoria’ in a hotel room.  Bizarre in the extreme.  He later said ‘The album Live Songs represented a very confused and directionless time. The thing I like about it is that it documents this phase very clearly.’ Best line “Please don’t pass me by, for I am blind but you can see – Oh I’ve been blinded totally, please don’t pass me by.”

Songs Of Leonard Cohen

My Record Collection 54

Cockney Rebel – This group, the creation of lead singer and songwriter Steve Harley ( see H), burst onto the scene in 1972 or maybe it was ’73.  Anyway.  Heavily influenced in their style by Bowie – make-up and brilliantly designed satin-lapelled dinner jackets, but musically far more unique.  And Steve had a very sarcastic pronounced vocal delivery, instantly recognisable.  Featuring a resident electric violin and for the first 2 albums a full orchestra on most songs, they were certainly different.  In their way almost as influential as Bowie and T Rex, who the music press lumped them in with; I think they probably influenced Roxy too.

I bought the first album The Human Menagerie after hearing the incredible single ‘Sebastian’, which though never a hit was played on Radio 1 a lot.  To say I had never heard anything quite like it, is a cliché – but almost true in this case.  The songs were, to say the least, weird.  Sebastian itself is about – well I really don’t know despite thousands of listens.  There were very short songs like ‘Chameleon’ which builds and then stops; a couple of rockers – ‘Crazy Raver’ and ‘Mirror Freak’; and the piece de resistance, the final track ‘Death Trip’, which despite the title is quite an optimistic lyric (maybe); this song is a tour de force, a mini-symphony with grand swoops of strings and brass, choirs and recurring themes and at least three great melodies.  It remains one of the all-time classics and possibly my favourite Cockney Rebel album.  I saw them a few times with Joybells and we both loved them.  And still barely anyone knew about them.  This is often the most exciting period for both fans and band.

Within a year they released a second album – the much rawer ‘The Psychomodo’. This one spawned the hits ‘Judy Teen’ and ‘Mr. Soft.’, but overall it is not such a likeable record; too many shouty songs with no charm to them.  The record is saved by two classic songs; ‘Cavaliers’ and ‘Tumbling Down’ which resurrect the orchestral sweeps and great melodies of the first album.  But already the cracks were appearing and the band more or less revolted. Harley either let them go, or sacked them, depending on who you listen to.  There was no doubt that he was incredibly arrogant, and although a great songwriter he obviously had a higher opinion of himself than most of the music press, who he pissed off royally.  Mind you the departure of the band inspired him to write his biggest selling song ever – ‘Come Up and See Me (Make me Smile)’ which became a number one hit and is a favourite on the radio still.  Steve’s next record, The Best years Of Our Lives, credited now to Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel had a completely new band except for the drummer.  It is certainly better than Psychomodo, but there is no orchestra now at all and the songs, though good seem to lack something.  Maybe I am just being hypercritical.  Best songs ‘It Wasn’t Me’, ‘Panorama’ the title track – and of course ‘Come Up and See Me.’  And of course as so often happens – listening again, this is really quite a good record.

Album number four soon arrived – ‘Timeless Flight’.  And suddenly all the bombast and posing was over; this was almost a grown-up record; quieter, more reflective and actually really good.  Best songs are ‘Red is a Mean Mean Colour’, ‘All Men Are Hungry’ and the classic ‘Nothing Is Sacred’.  But the whole mood of the record is almost gentle, more slow numbers – and his vocals are better too.  Steve has (at a concert I attended) almost apologised for this record; no need to apologise – it is great as it is.

Later the same year and the last real Cockney Rebel album came out ‘Love’s A Prima Donna’.  The addition of Duncan Mackay, who later joined 10cc (see T) deepened the sound and two tracks are practically instrumentals and down to Duncan.  Steve returned to full on rock/pop group with this, which turned out to be the last official Cockney Rebel album. Some good songs overall and a splendid cover of George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes The Sun’.  Best songs – the title track and ‘Love Compared To You’.  But on the final track ‘Is It True What they Say’ Steve enters a world of his own adoration and disappears up his own arsehole….

Which is apposite as after this he went solo, dropping the Cockney Rebel completely.  And apart from a couple of cracking live albums and compilations – that is it from Cockney Rebel – at times the glammest of the glam, and a great little band.

The Human Menagerie

Where Are we? Does Anyone Really Know?

I could ask that question about almost anything these days; in fact it is probably the first thought I have on waking.  And truly I don’t think that anyone knows anything anymore.  The internet with all of that information, every encyclopaedia in the World and more is simply too much for anyone to take in.  The news leaves me more confused than before switching it on.  There are Climate Change Doomsayers and Deniers.  There are Trump Haters and Worshippers.  And most of all Brexit is still the huge dividing line in Britain.

We now have spent almost two years to come up with a deal for exiting, but still no real idea of the future trading relationship….exactly what were they doing in that time?   And even this deal, imperfect, flawed, but at least something is almost doomed to fail at the second hurdle (having limped over an ever distrustful and fractious Cabinet).  It seems almost certain that the ‘deal’ will not command a majority in Parliament.   Labour, because they are the Opposition, will of course oppose it; the SNP, because they are Scots, will oppose it, as will the few smaller parties.  But far more seriously the DUP, who May has pandered shamelessly to – will vote it down.  But worse than that many, maybe as many as 80 Mad Brexiteers will also vote it down, preferring the chaos of an immediate and final break with the EU rather than any degree of sense or continuity.

So, I repeat, where are we now – does anyone know?  Labour’s demands for a general election will not happen.  It would take many Tory votes to get this and they are running scared at the moment.  The idea of a Second Referendum is slowly gaining traction but unless either Corbyn or May asks for it, it won’t happen.  And even then the EU would have to grant us time to organise it – probably six months.  Then what would everyone be voting on?  The original question again? Or the current ‘failed’  deal or No deal,  or a three way including Remain?  And even worse – what if we get the same result – or even a very close one again.

Nothing will begin to heal the wounds of Brexit.  And the country will continue to drift aimlessly while everything just gets worse.


My Record Collection 53

Eric Clapton – It was the early seventies when graffiti started appearing saying “Clapton is God”.  Now I must declare that I never subscribed to this point of view; in fact I didn’t really like him that much.  I sort of missed Cream, and Led Zeppelin too, in fact at that time it was all too heavy for me – I was into singer-songwriter music, mostly acoustic too.  That is not to say that I don’t recognize that Eric was a genius guitarist; and, later on, an excellent singwriter and a half-decent singer.  I did once tape a series of his concerts at The Royal Albert Hall, amd has a greatest hits on Vinyl.  Now, all I possess is ‘Complete Clapton’, which of course is not at all complete, but a decent double album none the less.   I like the big hits best ‘I shot the Sherriff’ ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight’.  He also did great version of ‘Cocaine’ and ‘Round Midnight’ by J.J. Cale (see C earlier).  The album is in chronological order, and I like the middle (late Seventies, early Eighties) perios best.  A nice listen, but it hasn’t encouraged me to either buy any more or to deify him.

Gene Clark – was lead singer in The Byrds (see B).  but he left after a handful of albums.  He seems to have drifted somewhat and had a sporadic and pretty unsuccessful solo career. My sole album of his is No Other.   It is okay – but not half as good as any Byrds record.  Oh Well.

Guy Clark – Thus is (yet) another old American country singer.  Just the one album again, ‘Platinum Collection’ I really quite like it, as I nearly always do country music.  Sometimes I wonder why I ever listen to anything else….hahaha.  Guy sings sweetly and writes most of his own songs – best are ‘Comfort and Crazy’, ;Rita Balou; and ‘She’s crazy For Leavin’’.  I do have a live album of Guy, Waylon and Townes Van Zeldt (see V) which is excellent too.

Petula Clark – Now, before you die of laughter – this was a give-away CD in one of the Sunday papers, which has maybe doen more to kill the Music business than even X factor.  I picked this up in a charity shop, and it brings back old memories…okay, so it is corny.  And it was actually quite enjoyable too.


Remember The Fallen

Sunday 11th November 2018

Today of all days, exactly 100 years after the end of The Great War we will be remembering the fallen.  That war, though fought because of stupidity from the politicians and kings of the time, changed so much – and yet so little.  And the senseless loss of life, the mud and the blood and the rats and the lice of the trenches, the noise of the ceaseless heavy artillery, the stench of the rotting bodies, the cutting down of a generation of young men – was for so very very little.

And every year our very own politicians will lay wreathes and declare how sad it all was, and how we must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and then tomorrow go merrily on their way selling arms to the Saudis, cutting vital public services and rewarding the rich.

But as well as remembering, even if it just for a day, the dead of that and other conflicts – we must never forget how the end of The Great War solved nothing; how just a mere twenty years later we were plunged into another World War, where millions more, mostly civilians, were to die.  We must never forget how the punishment levied by the ‘Victors’ led almost inevitably to Fascism.  And we must never forget how Nationalism and the culture of scapegoating others (in that case the Jews) led to Dictators, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin – strong men all, who killed millions in their crazed ideaologies.  And how dangerous the blaming of others (in this case Muslims) will lead us down that same dangerous road.  We must watch our very own strong men – Xi-Ping, Erdoghan, Netanyahu and Trump, as they erode our freedoms……..

And even after that Second World War, how quickly conflicts sprung up – Malaya, Korea, Vietnam – as new enemies were dreamt up by our leaders.  We must never forget that despite all the grand words and the creation of the UN, it was deliberately emasculated from the start.

And we must never forget that despite the ‘lessons’ learnt from Wars, we keep starting them.  Iraq, Syria and now the Yemen, not to mention the almost constant wars in Africa.  Our leaders will profess how they abhor the horrors of War – as they sell their true weapons of mass destruction, as they sign for a new generation of Nuclear Weapons, as they design ever more devastating missiles, as they plan Cyber warfare, as they commission drones and robot weapons.

No, we must remember the fallen – but we must also work relentlessly to prevent the fallen of the future.

Image result for poppy images free remembrance

My Record Collection 52

Mary Chapin-Carpenter – is an American singer-songwriter in the new Country/Americana style.  She emerged in the late eighties, early nineties and I bought three of her albums.  A lovely rich warm expressive voice, especially on the ballads, and she could rock out too.  I saw her live once, and she was very very good.  Something about American performers – they seem so professional, so natural in being up on stage, whereas often British artists seem nervous – almost undeserving to receive the applause.  First album was ‘Stones in the Road’ – best songs; the title song and ‘John Doe No. 24’ and of course the song which made me buy the record ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ (if only women had said that to me….hahaha).  Her best record was the follow up ‘Come On, Come On’.  This is a triumph – it just rolls along from song to song.  My favourites are ‘He thinks He’ll Keep Her’ (a feminist anthem if ever there was one), ‘The Bug’ a Dire Straits song sung better even than Knopfler, and the classic ‘Passionate Kisses’.  It seems rare for any performer – let alone a woman, to really express sexual desire in their songs; Joan Armatrading springs to mind too.  There really is nothing wrong with wanting kisses, and the more passionate – the better.  The last of hers I bought was ‘Party Doll’, which at the time I didn’t realise was a live album.  Now, I used to have an issue with live albums – oh, I still bought them if they were by Dylan or Leonard or a real favourite – but they so often didn’t contain anything new, no new tracks and almost studio perfect renditions, that I shied away from them.  Of late I find I can’t get enough of them – so, it goes.  This is a brilliant album – and I now ask myself why I haven’t bought more of hers…  And there is no answer, I buy albums on a whim, or some sort of desperate need to own everything by certain artists.  And with Dylan for instance – no matter how bad they are I still keep coming back, tongue drooling, for more.

Tracy Chapman – We first saw and heard her, I think, during the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert (he was still jailed at this time, but the concert was huge and BBC showed it.  I taped it of course).  She was one of those fill-in people while the roadies changed stuff back stage.  And she was incredible, a simple acoustic guitar and a voice – oh, that voice.  And her songs were of struggles of poor people at the hands of the rich, women at the hands of men, and they blew everyone away.  She became a huge star and her debut album was massive – but then her star faded, she soon burnt out.  It seemed she really only had a few songs of great quality.  But wow, what quality.  I did have a couple of her records on vinyl, but now only have a Greatest Hits Collection.  And the best are of course from her debut album ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Talkin Bout A Revolution’.

Chemical Brothers – I am reminded of that scene in ‘Death In Venice’ where Dirk Bogarde goes into an Italian barbers and has his hair and moustache painted with black ochre – in order to appear much younger than he really is.  I went to a couple of V. festivals with my daughter and watched as the Chemical brothers did an incredible show.  Pulsating dance music, lights flashing and the whole crowd jumping around.  And in a live setting this stuff works; in the quiet of your front room it is hardly the same.  My daughter regularly buys me ‘new’ music (which is actually probably twenty years old) and mostly I like it.  Though not my genre at all, I can see why it works – except for Rap, which I still do not really like.  Anyway I have one album of these dance artists ‘Surrender’.  I think….well, just like Dirk Bogarde with black running down my face like clowns tears I really don’t like it that much, or rather I have no real connection with it.  Probably we all love the music of our younger years for just that reason.