Friday, 23 September 2011

Seminal Compilation LP's Part 1 - Fast Product - The First Year Plan

Growing up during the heyday of post punk and new wave I'd inadvertently heard of FAST Records a while before I became aware of, and bought the 'First Year Plan' Compilation in 1980.

I'd picked up a rather ragged ex-jukebox copy of Sheffield futurists 'The Human League' single 'Being Boiled' in newsagent John Menzies for pennies after hearing it on John Peel and wigging out to it's super futurist soundscapes. This stripped down proto electro pop left me reeling, with it's references to sericulture and Buddhists, these were things my tiny 15 year old brain had not heard mentioned in contemporary music. 
The creepy B-side 'Circus of Death', with it's Steve McGarrett, Hawaii 5-0 intro and comedic Dark Star movie dialogue outro (question..."Do you think there's really any intelligent life out there?..... answer.....Who Cares!) was a stark vision of the future, a distopian electronic nightmare unlike the shiny technology rich  future being peddled by the likes of Kraftwerk.

Front Cover

I stumbled on the 'Fast Records - First Year Plan' compilation downstairs in a tiny Virgin Records store in Birmingham. Other than the Human League tracks, I'd never heard of the other bands, though I'm sure they had cropped up in various John Peel radio shows of the time, but had flown under my radar, musically speaking. The album, essentially a catalogue of the first year of vinyl 7" releases from Fast, was a budget priced cheap fix licenced for distribution through EMI for those of us with limited pocket money, and questionable and often balked at tastes in music. Reveling in the sticky tape and xerox low fi approach, label entrepreneur Bob Last showed us how great music could be made available on a shoe string budget and a wing and a prayer. 

Fast as a label didn't last much longer than this release and few more EP's. The much collectable EarCom (Ear Comic) releases which were to release some of the earliest Joy Division records and influence the burgeoning Manchester label Factory. Tony Wilson often cited Bob Lasts Fast Product as a perfect way to run a label and adapted many of his ideas into the Factory model (giving everything a number being but one).

Back Cover

The Mekons were a revelation, four Leeds art punks who couldn't really play, but came up with a scratchy,  witty and sassy adjunct to The Clash' bravado of 'White Riot' in the track 'Never Been in A Riot'.
The B-side '32 Weeks' was a clever reference to how long certain items would take to buy, judged in minutes hours and weeks on a minimum wage (examples being, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of whiskey to drown your sorrows) .

Insert Front

Another bunch of Leeds art punks were Gang of Four, who became better known, it seems to me, in the last post punk revival of the early 00's for their stripped down, angular and spartan brand of white punk funk. They had three almost demo quality tracks that were later re-recorded for their debut classic 'Entertainment'.
The band were, to me, seemingly obsessed with the dehumanizing effect of the corporate work ethic and desexualisation of the workplace and wider society. 
'Damaged Goods', a paean to the burnt out worker, bemoans the plight of  a person become unit who 'can't achieve' (lyric excerpt ..."Damaged goods....send me back....I can't work, I can't achieve.....send me back") and is a haunting reminder of the feelings of many individuals during unemployment and recession.
'Armalite Rifle' is a sarcastic ode to the British Army's weapon of choice used in Northern Ireland troubles of the 60's and 70's.

Insert Back
Hailing from Scotland,  Scars debuted with the sinister and scratchy post punk of 'Adult/Ery' sounding not unlike Wire on their debut Pink Flag. The singer even has his Colin Newman inflection down pat. 'Horrorshow' has a great two tone guitar riff and sinewy/wire like bass with more than a passing reference in sound to Swell Maps.

The only weak tracks as far as I'm concerned are by the band '2.3'. 'The tracks All Time Low' and 'Where To Now'' bear more than a passing resemblance to early XTC (no bad thing), but they don't quite pull it off melody wise.

If you think this forward thinking release may be for you, have a listen Here

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Vestiges - Derelict Demolitions

I have to do a fair amount of driving in and around the city of Birmingham for my job, often taking me to areas I wouldn't generally see in my normal day to day toing and froing. To which end, I've started to notice more than a few of what I would consider once proud public buildings and factories that are due to be demolished, or are in a state of severe disrepair or dereliction.  

I've decided to take my trusty 'carcam' (an ancient 5 megapixel Acer camera I keep in the car in case of 'accidents') to a few sights, just to record them before they finally bow out in a hail of dust, debris and 'salvage'. Apologies about some of the picture quality, a 'hinky' focus and poor low light definition are probably to blame.

The recent (ish) recession and downturn in property development sees many 'new' schemes put on hold, which gives these often architecturally beautiful 'dinosaurs' a last view of the skyline before being reduced to rubble.

Compared to the modern steel and alloy 'retail park/built to a budget' alloy box monstrosities, many of these old fellas show a degree of civic pride that has all disappeared from city planning today. The eye for detail is something we seem to have lost in modern times, and most I expect would have cost considerable sums to build in their day. Be that in the stonework, terracotta tiles or ornate brickwork. Most are built to a more human scale, they impress without making you feel dwarfed by what you see. Many are obviously Victorian, when I guess the sense of civic pride was strongest in Britain, but many sites span many 'ages'.

Anyhoo, here's a few pics from a not yet demolished, mothballed regeneration project which is sited less than 1/2 a mile to the North East of Birmingham  city centre, based around the Millenium Point Thinktank Museum , the new Matthew Boulton Colleges and old areas of Bordesley and Nechells Green. The Grand Union Canal runs through site, which looks like it may have been a thriving community some time back. Now it's all blocked off roads and empty plots which back onto the main Birmingham Ring Road. It's hard to believe that this was probably a heavily populated place where generations lived and died. Today the area has a forlorn and destitute feeling about it, heavy with the presence of 'past lives', especially at dusk when these pictures were taken.

The Moby Dick pub Circa ????

Unknown Factory circa 1899

Ahh, the entrance of the 'proles'

Gutted Remains 1

Office Staff entrance with eponymous 'Willy' graffiti

Gutted Remains 2

Derelict Communties

The Eagle & Tun, one of three derelict  'terracotta' pubs in the vicinity

Two strange little workshops dwarfed by office blocks

The Woodsman opposite Curzon St Station, the old 'entrance' to Birmingham

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Sons Of T C Lethbridge - A Giant

First released in 2003, this is a great double disc CD with accompanying booklet is a homage to the great paranormal investigator T.C. Lethbridge. Disc one is a great Kraut/Psych informed rock out on the themes and titles explored in T.C Lethbridge's books, whilst the second CD is a spoken word biography of Lethbridge by another great paranormal researcher Colin Wilson. Wilson highlights the breakthroughs and most prominent research of Lethbridge's later years, with some fascinating insights and asides, all delivered with a warm, friendly tone that anyone who has heard him speak on radio or TV (sadly, less so now) will recognise at once.

T.C. Lethbridge, explorer, archaeologist and paranormal researcher
Lethbridge started his career as an archaeologist, eventually becoming keeper of Anglo Saxon Antiquities at Cambridge Museum, remaining there until 1957 when he bored with what he called "The academic trade unionism" of his profession. Moving to 'Hole House' in  Branscombe, Devon in 1961 kick-started what many consider his more interesting passion 'parapsychology. From 1961-71 (the year of his death) he produced no less than 16 books on the subject, ranging from witches, ghosts and ghouls and several on dowsing with pendulum's.

The Son's of T.C Lethbridge first live appearance was at Julian Cope's 'Rome Wasn't Burnt In A Day' event at Hammersmith Lyric which ran from October 30th - November 1st 2003.
Featuring members of Spiritualized, Dogntank and Julian Cope Group it is I feel an unsung classic of out-there-ness, all sweetly packages in a dayglo cover.
Listen  Here  And Here

I've had 'A Giant' for some years now and it always seems to get dragged out as Autumn draws near. There's a melancholy to those Kraut inspired wig outs that seem to fit the season admirably.