Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Remake Remodel - Cover Versions Rule!

As a certified music addict, the next best thing to a fabulous new band or musical discovery is a great cover version, especially if it's a track you've known and grown to love already.
I'm not completely sure of the magic 'X-factor' that makes a great cover version, it can vary from track to track, but for me, some of the best ones take the original recording, and re-work or re-imagine it into a whole new form that had never occurred to you or the original performer. Others could be musically or vocally similar whilst subtly adding a little dose of  the 'essence' of the band that's taken on the task. It could be that the music is altered beyond recognition, or even the genre, though sometimes it's a simple as someone giving an amazingly different vocal delivery or changing the lyrical accent to the song.
Having said all that, songs like the Bauhaus cover of 'Ziggy Stardust' or  Billy Chilldish' cover of The Who's 'Ivor, which are pretty much carbon copies of the originals still give me a massive vicarious thrill, so maybe I ain't as fickle as I like to think.

Here's a CD length compilation of some of my favourites, with  a few comments about each.

01. Intro - The Curse of the Crimson Altar

In my day, all good compilations started with a daft introduction to set the tone, so why change the habit of a lifetime.

02. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Ambition (Subway Sect)

Ambition was one of the B-sides of J&MC's great second single 'Never Understand'. A track so brim full of swagger that it positively wobbled on the record player. Huge slabs of screaming feedback, killer Glen Matlock/Sex Pistols style bass riffage and a slammin' 'Mo Tucker' bass/snare drum combo (played by Bobby Gillespie no less pop pickers) all elevate this track to epic status in my book.
I still prefer the cover version to the Subway Sect's original cult classic, and it was a stalwart of cassette compilations I made in the late 80's, so here it is for your delectation.

03. Cabaret Voltaire - No Escape (The Seeds)

This takes the original Seeds song and, whilst not quite turning it on it's head, adds a brave new and vaguely sinister 'electronic' sheen to the proceedings as only the Cab's can.

04. Rapeman - Just Got Paid (ZZ Top)

Whilst possibly having one of the most unsavoury band names of the last few decades (allegedly named after some Japanese 'anti hero' comic character) I'm go to gloss over that and mention that this is a great version of an already funky 'ZZ Top' track (on Three Hombre's if your interested in hearing the original). This was a Friday night fav' blasted out LOUD. For me it contains the essence of that great 'bonhomie' build up of a  night on the town in 3minutes 34 seconds of pure guitar attitude. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be 'Loose'.
Much of the Rapeman sound has spilled over into Albini's later band 'Shellac', though for me, after the first 3 albums they are an act of diminishing returns.

05. Devo - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. (Rolling Stones)

I love the factory floor machinations at the root of the songs rhythm and structure, plus the delivery sounds kinda daft, but that's why I like it. Who said a cover's gotta be serious or heartfelt. Alongside 'Mongoloid' this is Devo's finest hour for me.

06. Bauhaus - Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores [Live] (John Cale)

This is one of my fav' live tracks by any band ever. The maximum with the minimum guitar histrionics, the plodding bass riff, the strange 'syndrum' pulse and Murphy's laconic/madman vocal delivery just about send me to seventh heaven. Bauhaus were one of the first 'alternative' bands I got into as a young teen, and have remained firm favourites ever since. Much maligned by the music press of the time and haunted by the twin millstones of  'pretentious' and 'goth', I've always thought there were so more to them than this lazy critical put downs. From the outer realms of Northampton, and part of the whole 'DIY/post punk' mixing pot, they made the most out of their limited playing abilities, injecting elements of dub, funk and drama into their sometimes outlandish musical performances, and for my money, Daniel Ash is still one of the greatest unsung guitar hero's or our time. I wasn't even aware that 'Rosegarden...' was a cover version till many years after Bauhaus had bit the (ahem) dust.

07. The Mock Turtles - The Willow Song (Wicker Man OST)

Among the 1990 sway of 'baggy' bands tipped as the next big things, 'The Mock Turtles' somehow fell into the scene via the minor indie hit 'Can You Dig It?' and then sadly fell by the wayside rather quickly.
Lead singer/guitarist Martin Coogan (older brother of comedian/actor Steve pop pickers) wove a heady brew of 60's style folk pop and whimsy of which 'Wicker Man' is for me, the highlight. A delicately beautiful track taken almost lock & stock from the movies soundtrack, the only real difference being that Martin sings it instead of Britt.
The album 'Turtle Soup' with tracks like 'Kathy Come Home' is well worth seeking out if 60's tinged pop melancholy is your bag, with a similar vibe to bands like 'Shack', 'Top' and 'The Lilac Time'.

 08. Devandra Banhart and the Grogs - The Overachievers (Liars)

I feel I need to put my cards on the table Re: Devandra. I'm not a acolyte, I don't really rate him, and I feel he's over hyped and praised without much warrant, but, in the instance of the Overachievers cover version, I'm willing to eat humble pie, as this track is just an outstanding alt.folk re-imagining of the Liars bombastic ode to lazing about.

09. Paper Cranes - Blue Jean (David Bowie)

Taken from the outstanding double CD and charity covers tribute to Bowie'  'We Were So Turned On', Papercranes folk psyche version of the Bowie  pop smasher 'Blue Jean' is nothing short of amazing. Taking the pop pomp and froth away from the original and stripping it back to essentially guitar and voice has made for a rare cover version. Sung by a female in this instance, the vocal inflection and emphasis has been changed massively to make this essentially, a totally different beast than David had imagined on the terrible 1983 album 'Tonight'. In fact the emphasis has changed so much vocally as to make the actual song meaning different too. This is one of the best covers I've heard in, well ages, but I gotta say, ALL the versions on the Bowie trib' are interesting and rewarding reworkings.

10. Ministry - Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)

If your familiar with Ministry then you pretty much know what your getting with this one. Industrial strength beats at breakneck speeds with lashings of thrash guitar all topped off with Al's screaming tonsils. This is big, dumb and fun as hell. The whole album is TBH, so switch off your brain and enjoy (great to drive to by the way, though preferably you'll be on the motorway at the time). Pedal to the metal!

11. The Fall - Mr Pharmacist [Live] (The Other Half)

One of a slew of Fall 'garage rock' covers, which include 'Strychnine and 'Shut Up' to name a few. This is a live version taken from an odd Fall compilation album 'Northern Attitude', which, bizarrely, is one of my fav' Fall albums.

 12. NY Loose - Lust For Life (Iggy Pop)

This is just a great 'balls to the wall' cover of Iggy's uplifting ode to being clean.

13. Goldfrapp - Boys Will Be Boys (The Ordinary Boys)

This has a great vaudeville 'Wehrmacht disco' vibe to it that the original blandathon recorded by 'The Ordinary Boys' (never were a band so aptly named) could never have imagined. I just love the swanky horns and big band boosh, a futurist Goldfrapp re-imagining of  'Cabaret'.

14. Primal Scream - Know Your Rights (The Clash)

On 'Vanishing Point' Primal Scream found their mojo again for a short while. The single Kowalski was a great electro rock stormer that gave way to a few great covers. The first was a version of '? and the Mysterions' 96 Tears as if done by Suicide, and the other was a brave Happy Mondays/ Mungo Jerry funk stomper called 'Know Your Rights'. This version elevates the frankly banal Clash track from the over-rated 'Combat Rock' album into another arena. Another where I prefer the 'version' to the original.

15. The Rogers Sisters - Object (The Cure)

Arriving from the early 2000's 'post punk' infatuated underground, The Rogers Sisters changed the inference of the Cure's debut album track by having a woman sing it. It doesn't change the original massively, the guitars are still taught and sinewy, and the drums are still, er, drummy, but It's a track I like a lot nontheless.

16. Mudhoney - Urban Guerrilla (Hawkwind)

Hawkwind's 'Urban Guerrilla single was released at the height of their success in 1973, the band unfortunately released the song just before an IRA bombing campaign in London, so the BBC refused to play it and the band's management reluctantly decided to withdraw it fearing accusations of opportunism, despite the disc having already climbed to number 39 in the UK chart. Still, this is a killer version from grunges great lost hero's.

17. The Cramps - Primitive (The Groupies)

The Cramps recorded so many great homages to their hero's, it's hard just to pick just one, but this track from the outstanding debut LP 'Psychedelic Jungle' has a hint of vulnerability that Lux, Ivy ,Brian and Nick didn't often display.
It's a song about doing things 'your way', by the band 'The Groupies' who only released one single (which you can hear on the outstanding box set collections of 60's garage punk, Nuggets and Pebbles).

18. The Sonics - Louie Louie [Live] (The Kingsmen)

Louie Louie must be THE record with the most 'versions' recorded by other bands that I can think of, but 'The Sonics' live version is by far the best. For one it's LOUD, with great sounding overdriven guitars, and a pure animalistic vocal delivery by one of THE most legendary sets of lungs in the garage rock pantheon Gerry Roslie . There's nothing not to like about this song, hell it's so good it should be the national anthem.

19.Two Lone Swordsmen - Sex Beat (The Gun Club)

DJ and performer Andy Weatherall was best know for his storming DJ sets and trips into the outer realms of electronica until the release of 'Double Gone Chapel' when he re examined his rock n roll roots and added a nice electro twist to the precedings. If I'm honest, this is a workaday but enjoyable version of a great Gun Club track from their debut psychobilly classic 'Fire Of Love'.

20. The Teardrop Explodes -Read It In Books (Echo & The Bunnymen)

This is not strictly a cover version, as both Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch both wrote this song together and recorded versions around the same time. But for me, The Teardrop Explodes version has the edge over the Bunnymen's. Maybe it's it's bombastic horn section, or just the that it's a little more focused and driven than Mac's, but it's deffo' one of my favourite 'Teardrops' tracks, taken from their outstanding 1980 classic pop album 'Kilimanjaro'. 

21. Thin White Rope - Yoo do Right (Can)

Thin White Rope did a few covers in their time, of which probably my favourite is a hauntingly psychotic recording of the Lee Hazelwood/ Nancy Sinatra track 'Some Velvet Morning'. They also did a fair rendition of Can's 'Yoo Do Right'. Maybe not as hypnotically grooved as the original, but there's a certain rawness to the proceedings that I kind like.

If you choose to listen, here's hoping you find something to enjoy too.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Unsettling Sounds

I do most of my music listening on the hoof, so my Walkman is an invaluable piece of kit that pretty much goes everywhere with me. Obviously this isn't an ideal listening condition, as quite a bit of background noise inevitably leaks in, and most tunes are compressed to a medium rate MP3. At any given time my Walkman probably loaded with 60% of music new to me, I'm a sucker for the 'new' and spend a few hours each week scouring the web for stuff that sounds interesting. The other 40% is oldies and favourites from all over the musical spectrum.

Anyhoo, this week whist out and about, the 'shuffle' function has thrown up more than it's fair share of 'creepy' tracks. Or at least tunes that at one time or another have creeped me out big time. Now this could be cos' of the content of music or lyric, the original listening conditions, the context, or just where my head was at the particular time of listening. For me, more than a few of the recordings still have that 'hair's on the back of the neck' factor that's hard to pin down, so I thought I'd compile a short 'tape' of the stuff for your perusal.
Much of it I guess falls into the 'industrial' realm of music, but don't let that put you off.

Unsettling Sounds is here for your, ahem, enjoyment.

01. Throbbing Gristle - Hamburger Lady
Throbbing Gristle

This song used to freak me out massively. The sloooow metronomic bass drum, the slightly queasy droning keyboards, the haunting high pitched 'klaxon' interludes and the unsavory subject matter all collude to make this more than a little eerie. I realise that T.G. made a career out of being 'weird', and attracted all sorts of nutters and misfits to their strange form of art terrorism, but I feel this was their crowning moment of bizarre. In terms of modern music, it's pretty tame, but back in 1978, there really were not that many bands doing stuff quite so odd

02.The Butthole Surfers - Strangers Die Every Day
Butthole Surfers

Back in the mid-late 80's, The Butthole Surfers were the freak band 'de rigour'. Just about everyone who thought of themselves as a 'head' dug them. Their live shows were a riot of noise, smells and psychedelics that somehow their oddball records never quite lived up to. But their second LP proper 'Rembrant Pussy Horse' did have some genuine  'bad acid' moments of which, for me, Strangers Die Every Day' was the most disjointed. That sad minor key church organ refrain coupled with the unfathomable megaphone distortion of the lyric, the animalistic sounds and tape echo time manipulation all set a up a heavy 'downer' mood that permeates the whole track.

03. Test Dept - The Fall From Light
Test Dept

Test Dept were the ultimate industrial band who, like Einsturzende Neubauten, actually used industrial tools and environments to create and de-construct music. Heavy on rhythm and atmosphere, I don't think they ever made a better record than this track (though the album length interpretation of the Welsh poem Brith Gof  on the 'Goddodin' LP comes close). I first heard 'Fall From Light' in 1984 on the John Peel show, bookmarked between The Fall's 'Man Whose Head Expanded' and the Frank Chicken's 'We Are Ninja' (I know cos' I've still got the cassette somewhere) and to say it gave me the willies would be an understatement. Those delayed 'beaten' metal sheets and scrapings, the slightly 'bolshevik' sounding viola and the sung/spoken vocal all come together to evoke a post apocalyptic place of quiet desperation.
The track gave me massively uneasy, but, even so, I played it to death, almost wearing out a 'groove' in the lovingly coveted Peel tape. Each time it would turn up, I'd test my resolve by resisting pressing the FFW button and the urge to skip forward. Over time, it's lost some of it's early frisson and with familiarity, it's become an old favourite, and it's still a mighty fine song. I finally bought the double 12"'box set' of 'Beating A Retreat' second hand from the sadly defunct Reddington's Rare Records in Birmingham. It's still a thing of beauty, though the other tracks sadly didn't live up to the promise of 'The Fall From Light'.

04. David Bowie - After All

This is probably the most conventional track on the compilation, though for me, it still holds a sheen of 'otherness' that despite playing thousands of times I've never been able to shake. I find it just plain unsettling. The lyrics are not something I've managed to fathom greatly, though there's a heavy air of disappointment and sadness running through them and the song as a whole. The "by jingo" refrain I find particularly strange and alluring, and the occasional use of mellotron, tuba and the slightly 'greasy' keyboard sounds add a weird off kilter vibe to the record. Mind you, the whole of the album' Man Who Sold The World' has a ''not quite with it' vibe which I used to find uncomfortable to listen to full stop. It's a record I return to often though, as it's such a satisfying listen.

05. Sonic Youth - Ghost Bitch
Sonic Youth - 1983

I first became aware of Sonic Youth around 1985. They supported Nick Cave in the UK on his first solo tour to support the 'From Her To Eternity' album. It was a mid week gig, and there was only about 30 people in the audience, mostly for Nicky boy (as was I). As American 'no wave' punks, Sonic Youth were not like any British punks I knew. They took to the stage in 'normal' clothes, no leathers or mohawks, and went on to tear the ass out of everything, I was totally bowled over, it was love at first sight.  My 18 year old self had never heard any like them and I was totally sold. During the concert, guitarist Thurston Moore's amplifier caught fire, and the stage crew leapt up, extinguishers in hand to douse the flames. Thurston shooed them away exclaiming to them "NO, let it burn" and continued on with the song and the rest of the set, amplifier still smouldering, adding a real air of menace and danger to the precedings. Plus after they played, they came down and mingled and chatted to the crowd, which at the time was something I'd never seen any British punk band do. They were truly lovely people and I bought their record on the spot. Getting it home, it totally freaked me out, all of it, i found it an unsavory listen, except for the single 'Death Valley 69' which got many repeat plays, it was the most 'normal' track on the album. The rest had to wait a full 2 years before I finally 'got' it. I still find the whole album astonishing, and 'Ghost Bitch' will always be a slightly eldritch reminder of a great night out.

06. COIL - The Auto Asphyxiating Hierophant
Coil - Time Machines promo shot

I could name dozens of Coil tracks that I find weird, but this is what turned up on the player, so I went with it.I think it's the slightly un-nerving  sweeping electric violin juxtaposed with those enormous reverberating kettle drums that I find unsettling. Those multi-tracked boy/girl dicta-phone vocals, just low enough in the mix to make you concentrate to listen to the words, drawing you further into their 'nightmare culture'.
The premature deaths of Johnn and Peter means that there will never be any more Coil releases, which is something I find unbearably sad, as they have been a constant in my (uneasy) listening life since their first album Scatology came out in 1984.

07. Suicide - Frankie Teardrop
Suicide 1978

THE standout track from Suicide's debut 1977 album on Demon Records. I don't know anyone whose heard this track that hasn't felt a little 'weirded out' by it. I think, subject matter aside (the story of a guy who is driven to kill his family through abject poverty) it's the screams that get you. Your initially lulled by the motorik drum machine and gorgeous resonant keyboard drifts before, literally descending into hell. Don't listen in a darkend room, it'll give ya the willies for sure!

08. Cabaret Voltaire - Photophobia
Cabs - 1979

Cabaret Voltaire are another act whose early output up to 'Red Mecca' pretty much all leaves me more than a little uneasy. The track 'Photophobia'  is a track that for me evokes a place and time as much as just being creepy.
 Growing up in 1970's Birmingham, the city was encased in a concrete collar know as the ring road.
To access the city centre shops or museums from any direction, you had to 'promenade' through a rabbit warren of subways, all dimly lit, graffitied and stinking of piss. Many were long, and by the time you reached halfway, you were enshrouded in the reverb of your own footfalls. They were bad enough to navigate during daylight, but at night they took on a paranoia all of they're own. If you were unlucky enough to be followed into the underpass, a game of cat and mouse would sometimes ensue, where one or other protagonist would speed up or slow down they're walking pace, trying to avoid contact with the other unknown party.
If you came across a gang, then forget it, just give into the fear and run.
Cabaret Voltaire's early use of  heavily processed instruments, dark subject matter and the claustrophobic reverb is guaranteed to unsettle and get those 'hackle's' raised. It's hard for me to contrast the wonderfully 'post industrial' paranoid of early material with the later 'funk/dance' elements that crept into their sound, that I feel watered down their vision somewhat. Actually, I think after Chris Watson left to pursue his 'sound/recording engineer' role (he's credited, if not on just about every BBC wildlife programme nowadays) they changed direction massively.
'Photophobia is taken from their outstanding debut album 'Mix Up'

09. Gary Numan - Asylum

Asylum, rather bizarrely was the spooky B-Side to Numan's massive breakthrough number 1 'Cars'.
It wouldn't be out of place on one of those cheesy Hammer style horrors like Death Line.
It's a totally evocative track.You can imagine the protagonist scurrying through narrow dimly lit damp and slime encrusted tunnels, desperately employing the 'legendary' glance backwards trying to espy the villain who quietly pursues our doomed hero/heroine to their sticky end.
All plinking piano and arpeggiated Minimoog glassiness, it truly has an eerie vibe right up to the terrible 'spoiler' ending of 'carry on' descending notes. Still, it's a great tune.

10. Liars - Read The Book That Wrote Itself

I found much of the Liars second album 'They Were Wrong So We Drowned' more than a little eerie upon initial listens. Taking a massive cue from Sonic Youth's 1985 LP 'Bad Moon Rising' there was much tribal drummage and strange guitar tunings and processing evoking a slightly uneasy vibe to many of the tracks, inspired, so I read by the Broken Witch legends of old Bavaria. I'd be lying if I said it's become one of my favourite records, as it hasn't, but it does get the occasional airing, when I feel the need to be a little creeped out. Plus, it's a lush gatefold LP in white vinyl. Mmmmmmm  white vinyl!

11. Boris Mejart - Ballet Masque
Boris Mejart ?

I've got to confess I've no idea who Boris Mejart is, the track 'Ballet Masque' was sent to me on a compilation made by a friend, who in turn, has no idea either. All I can say is I fell in love with the slightly 'queasy' keyboard refrains and drifts, the spartan plinking piano, the mellotron-esque burbling's and the general air of awkward creepiness it evokes. I guess you'd file under 'Hauntology', but if I'm honest, it's far better than much of that genre I've heard.

12. Nurse With Wound - I Am The Poison
Stephen Stapleton aka NWW

I've been  a fan of Nurse With Wound for some time now. Spawned from the same scene as Coil and apocalyptic folker's Current 93 the track 'I Am The Poison' (bass/voice by 'Death in June's Tony Wakeford) is still for me his most unsettling aural outpouring, which is taken from the 1990 United Daries EP 'Soresucker'. Whether it's the metronomic 'plucked' bass, or the faintly menacing half sung/half spoken vocal I don't know. The staccato guitar screeches and random percussion samples don't help. Of all the tracks I've posted, this is the one that still freaks me out slightly. Hell, look at the back cover if you're not convinced.

Would you buy a coat from this man?

Well, if you tune in, hope you find something to unsettle you too.

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Future Has Been....Cancelled

I've been aware of the last Atlantis shuttle mission for quite a while, but watching the final launch on TV earlier today, inexplicably and from nowhere I found myself filling up, proper choked.
It seemed to me to be the end of an era.

The future had been cancelled. 


I got to pondering why this affected me so and realised that since childhood, I've taken an enormous interest in space travel. To most people the various forays into space have become something normal and everyday, when in actual fact, to me it will always remain something extraordinary and remarkable.

For me as a child in the early 70's, space travel WAS the future. I had no doubts that by the time 2010 came around that we'd all be flying in hovercars and jetting off to the various planets on holiday, necking food pills and wearing silver suits.

The reality, as we all know is a little more mundane.

Or scarey

It's been hip for some time to berate the U.S. It's general 'struttin' world persona, damning foreign policies, the questionable political choices and skewed world view, but back in my childhood, we all dreamed of living there one day. The adverts in the Marvel and DC comics I loved seemed packed with wonderful trinkets and curios.
Compared to 'austere' Britain of the 1970's, they seemed to have it all. 


I truly believe that those Apollo moon missions are one of the crowning achievement of the 20th Century if not one of mankind's greatest achievement. Breaking free of the mother planet and actually setting foot on a distant world, WOW, I still think it's the coolest. To strive and endeavor to discover brave new galaxies and explore impossible worlds, meeting exotic new races and species along the way was something our star gazing, stone circle building ancestors could never have dreamed of even in their wildest hallucinogenic fantasy's. But we did it, (well the 'brave new worlds' bit anyhow). We left our atmospheric womb and hurtled towards the future on a gleaming lance of fire.

Meteor Storm Over Stonehenge

Most rockets from the 60's and 70's, these impossibly futuristic phallic behemoths were, in reality, as near to the Wright brothers 'spit and string' biplane as it is to have and still make it out and back safely. Those early rockets were giant elevations comprised mostly of highly volatile fuel, pipes to deliver it, wires and primitive 'calculator strength' computers encased in the thinnest of skin. All that thrust just to jettison the tiny manned pod into the radioactive, airless and gravity free environs of 'space'. A terrifying, rarefied place where the tiniest mistake could (and sadly sometimes did) kill you. 


I still marvel at those pictures of 'earth rise' taken from inside the Lunar Module. A small and fragile blue and white blip, sitting alone in the inky blackness of the void. A place, as far as we know, unique in nurturing and sustaining life, a precious and beautiful oasis in the vast and cold cosmic emptiness.


Earthrise II

Earthrise III

I had a huge poster of this iconic picture of Buzz Aldin on my wall, and would stare at it for quite a while at bedtime, wondering if I would ever do something similar.

Buzz Aldrin

I always found something slight sad, unsettling and lonely about the single boot print photo in the moon dust.

The shuttles were a great leap forward in the respect that you no longer needed to waste vast resources to reach the 'outer realm'. You could recycle and reuse much of the technology time and time again, not only saving large sums of money, but also time. I can remember watching the very first shuttle launch at school in a geography lesson. The teacher thought it such a monumental event we were allowed to miss study and sat in awe as this white and black ceramic encased delta winged space 'aircraft' hurtled skywards, piggy backing and flanked by 'gleaming needle' fuel cells of huge power and proportion.

Space Shuttle Enterprise in Full Flight

Somehow, the future seems further away than ever today, again we are earthbound, trussed and landlocked if you will, bound tighter to the globe, less free to explore the 'vastness', the umbilical has shrunk again. No longer will we soar space wards at improbable speeds, only to land safely a few days or weeks later ready for the next 'mission'. I always imagined a huge fleet of shuttles tooing and froing to a giant helical space station visible on only the clearest nights, but the most that NASA ever had was two running concurrently. Yes, I know that the Chinese and Russians still have space travel, and others are striving forward towards it, but these faintly sinister 'superpowers' have sometimes appeared more like secretive real life Bond villains than thoughtful and trusted distant cousins. I'm not so sure they are ready to share their toys with us just yet, whatever they say.

Soyez Rocket

The world is a much different place today technology-wise thanks to the endeavors of those early space scientists and cosmonauts. Many of the inventions from the space race have leaked into the public realm and are here now enriching our everyday lives (transistors and sat nav are just two examples). In the 80's much noise was made about a certain Fischer pen that was expensively invented for Americas astronauts to write in space. The claim was that it could work in zero G and even write upside down. It always made me chuckle that the Russians got around this problem by using pencils.

I suppose in truth, my childhood future HAS arrived, but somehow it's not quite how I imagined it. Jarvis Cocker put it succinctly on the distopian Pulp album 'This Is Hardcore, and to paraphrase the lyric briefly it goes something like “We were brought up on the space race, and are expected to clean toilets”. I think that sums up my feelings today admirably. Where once we looked towards the stars, dreaming of a better world where everyone was equal and where nobody would want for anything. We would all have food, clothes and shelter, be educated and be working towards a common good living in the 'utopia' we all thought we were due. I now wonder if this will ever happen.

Somehow, in the last few decades, we've turned in on ourselves, micro-cosmically navel gazing our way through life. The technology that was supposed to bring us closer has in fact driven us further apart and into isolation. We appear more inward looking and self absorbed, more obsessed with the minutiae of unimportant people we will never know, and who will, in all probability never know us. The technology that was supposed to free us to have better lives appears to have enslaved us instead. Were forever told how things in our life make us bigger, better, faster, stronger, but the reality appears that we seem to have less time for each other than ever before. We exist only to 'accrue', 'stuff' has taken us over. The high and lofty ideals of yesteryear, the 'were all moving forward together' idioms seem marginalised and irrelevant to the average person. It's now seen as the last bastion of crackpots an dreamers.

In truth, I'm as guilty as the next person, but I wish I wasn't.