Saturday, 20 December 2014

Track Of The Day: Stephen Jones - 'Hey It's Christmas'

Former Babybird man Stephen Jones is not only one of RW/FF's favorite artists, but also a very prolific musician. Having released no less than four albums over the last two months under various different guises, the latest 'Arthritis Kid' was released yesterday via his Bandcamp page and has been described by the Sheffield legend as "probably the best music Stephen Jones has ever written... This is the album I could shut up shop after and retire - it is so bang on close to what I intended." Decide for yourself and have a listen HERE.

Meanwhile, following a few previous festive-themed tracks, Jones has posted three new Christmas songs online, with the promise of a whole album to follow. The lovely 'Hey It's Christmas' has been given its own animated video courtesy of Twitter user @IamHappyToast, adding a visual charm to a sparkling tune.

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 20th - Oasis - 'Merry Xmas Everybody'

Billed as "Oasis', despite the fact that this is obviously just the godlike Noel Gallagher playing an acoustic version of the Slade classic. This track was recorded as the theme tune to the 2000 The Royle Family's Christmas Special episode and was also featured on the 2002 NME compilation album '1 LOVE'. I love both versions equally I think. Slade's is like an instant Christmas party, while Noel's is more sentimental... most people (if not everyone) under a certain age will remember hearing the original as a kid, and for those the key change in Noel's version makes for a more reflective, nostalgic tone.  Slade's original "Merry Xmas Everybody" earned the UK Christmas Number One slot in December 1973, beating another Christmas-themed song, Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", which reached fourth place. By mid-January it was still at number one; it stayed in the UK Singles Chart well into February 1974...

Friday, 19 December 2014

REWIND: Felix - 'Don't You Want Me' (Hooj Mix)

Every weekend needs a dance classic, and this weekend's is a 1992 hit from Felix. While the original is a piano-led house track, the Hooj Mix amps up the rave vibes and evokes the buzzing dancefloors of the early 90s brilliantly. Felix was Essex-born DJ Francis Wright, and 'Don't You Want Me' sampled Jomanda's 1989 track 'Don't You Want My Love'. It reached number 6 in the UK Singles Chart in 1992. In 1995 and 1996, the song charted again, but in remixed form.

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 19th - Mogwai - 'Christmas Song'

I could have chose this amazing band's 'Xmas Steps' instead, but this track is just beautiful. I have fond memories of buying 1999's 'EP' and falling in love with this song. Stunning. "EP is Mogwai's third EP. All four tracks on EP were later included on the 2000 compilation album, EP+6. The cover of EP is similar to the cover of the compilation 'EP+6', as they both feature the same image, a movie still entitled "Watertower" by Scottish photographer Neale Smith, of a Water tower in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Scotland..."

Thursday, 18 December 2014

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 18th - Saint Etienne And Tim Burgess - 'I Was Born On Christmas Day'

Pure pop perfection. From "In 1993, Saint Etienne took part in the time-honored pop tradition of the Christmas single. "I Was Born on Christmas Day" is a duet between Saint Etienne vocalist Sarah Cracknell and Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess set to a house beat. The melody is very sweet and the vocals blend together nicely, Burgess displaying a healthy (and unusual) dose of restraint." Never been a fan of Saint Etienne, but this is wonderful. I first heard this on a compilation tape I bought back in 1996, a double album entitled 'The No 1 Christmas Album'.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Track Of The Day: Mogwai - 'Teenage Exorcists'

After releasing their most recent full-length 'Rave Tapes' earlier this year, Scottish post-rock heroes Mogwai have returned with a new six track EP entitled 'Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1'. The EP contains three new songs stemming from the writing and recording sessions for Rave Tapes, alongside remixes of three songs from that record by Blanck Mass, Pye Corner Audio and Nils Frahm. Recorded at the band's Castle Of Doom studio in Glasgow, and produced by Paul Savage, the EP is available in digital, CD and very limited edition 12-inch vinyl formats via the band's very own Rock Action label. Taking a noticeably melodic approach and journeying into more structured songwriting, the brilliant 'Teenage Exorcists' is the lead track from the EP.

'Rave Tapes' has been voted as Album Of The Year by the writers at God Is In The TV. The rest of the list can be found HERE.

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 17th - Johnny Cash - I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

Taken from the 1963 album 'The Christmas Spirit', a record that is undoubtedly his best Christmas themed album. If you want a festive song that sums up the spirit of the season then here it is... 

'The Christmas Spirit' is a Christmas album and seventeenth album by Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in November 1963. It contains four original Christmas songs written by Cash and eight tracks originally penned by other artists, including "Blue Christmas", "Silent Night" and "Little Drummer Boy".

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Track Of The Day: Cast - 'Baby Blue Eyes'

Liverpool Britpop legends Cast are currently touring the UK and are expected to release a brand new album next year, which will be their sixth full length LP, and the follow up to 2012's 'Troubled Times'. Frontman John Power told Louder Than War (in an article which you can read more of HERE) that "there’s talk of popping into the studio in the New Year" and talked about the band's new track 'Baby Blue Eyes', their first new material in over two years. While it evokes memories of the classic 1995 debut 'All Change', there's a new approach in terms of the arrangement, and a more spacious sound is evident.

"It’s very much Cast but its a little move on as well.  It’s not so uptight and were not strangling each other to get where we’ve got to go. There’s looseness about the playing now but that makes it more intense and more dynamic and gives it more energy. I think when we were younger it was speed thrills and you think that’s the intensity. Whereas now it’s a looser groove and with that it’s got a heavier weight behind it... If and when we go into do these new recordings, which I’m getting focused about and that’s the intention to go in in January and February and get a new album done. Or at least an EP…that’ll be more of the same really. Verses and rhythms adding light."

The song can be downloaded for free via the band's Soundcloud page HERE.

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 16th: The O'Jays - 'Christmas Ain't Christmas (Without the One You Love)'

A lot of this year's Advent Calendar entries are underrated festive soul classics, and today's is a prime example. The stunning 'Christmas Ain't Christmas (Without the One You Love)' is a 1970 single by The O'Jays, composed by Philadelphia International Records songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Sad yet joyously upbeat, a review on describes it as a song where the "high-energy vocals and a bouncy cadence mask the down-in-the-dumps lyrics."

A Spotify playlist featuring many of this year's Advent Calendar tracks plus lots of bonus yuletide selections can be found HERE.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Track Of The Day: Errors - 'Lease Of Life'

Hypnotic choral sounds, vintage acid techno vibes and lots of odd, brilliantly indistinguishable multi-layered instrumental elements combine to excellent effect on this new offering from Glasgow trio Errors.

It's also the title track from their upcoming fourth album, which will be released on March 23 next year via Mogwai's Rock Action label.

Their previous 'Have Some Faith In Magic' (which you can read a review of HERE) was one of RW/FF's favorite albums of 2012, so this new one is something I will be anticipating eagerly.

In support of the LP, the band will be touring the UK in March and April. Dates below.

26 - Newcastle, The Cluny
27 - Birmingham, The Rainbow
28 - Sheffield, The Picture House Social
29 - Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
30 - Norwich Arts Centre
31 - Brighton, The Green Door Store

1 - Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach
2 - London, Oslo Hackney
3 - Bristol, Exchange
4 - Manchester, The Deaf Institute
10 - Aberdeen, The Lemon Tree
11 - Glasgow, The Art School

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 15th: Paul McCartney - 'Wonderful Christmas Time'

Although I do like to use the RW/FF Advent Calendar to point people towards overlooked Christmas tracks that they probably won't have been drowned in while out in the shops, sometimes I just have to go with the songs that mean the most to me over the festive period. And this one is as festive as it gets really. Yes it's overplayed and to call it well known would be an understatement, but I absolutely love the sparkling keyboard sounds on Paul McCartney's 'Wonderful Christmas Time'. Despite the fact that I love it so much, some music critics consider it to be one of McCartney's poorest compositions, and a few websites have bafflingly voted it the worst Christmas song of all-time. I must admit the single's B-side, a reggae version of 'Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer' performed on a keyboard, was probably Macca's creative low point. The delightful A side was released in 1979, and was performed and recorded entirely by Paul during the sessions for his album 'McCartney II', which is probably my favorite post-Beatles McCartney record.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 14th: Wham! - 'Last Christmas'

Although the RW/FF Advent Calendar is billed as a collection of "festive selections that aren't as overplayed" as the stuff you'll be hearing in the shops, today's Christmas treat is one of the most popular and more recognisable tracks from this year's line-up of tunes. There are always different yuletide songs that stand out each year, and this is one of two particular ones that's sounding better than ever this year. It's also (by far) one of the two best songs George Michael ever wrote. Released 20 years ago, it came out during the same month as other legendary Christmas songs including Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'The Power Of Love' and the original Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas'. After the latter went to number one, George and Andrew Ridgeley had to settle for the number two position. 

Track Of The Day: Superfood - 'Right On Satellite'

There's so much great new music around, but because the mainstream media doesn't seem to promote or support most of it, a lot of stuff gets missed by even the most avid music enthusiasts like myself. So despite acclaim from the NME and lots of others, I was completely unaware of Birmingham combo Superfood until I heard them last week on Cam B's weekly Eclectic Hour radio show on my local station Melksham Town Sound. I picked up their debut album 'Don't Say That' yesterday while out Christmas shopping in Bath, and it's brilliant. Heavily evocative of the Britpop era, yet spiced with enough freshness and originality to make it perfectly relevant. I recommend them highly... From it (and featuring an intro that brings to mind Menswear) here is the superb 'Right On Satellite'.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 13th: David Bowie and Bing Crosby - 'Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy'

As a massive David Bowie fan, I used to class this as one of his most bizarre and surreal moments. I still do, in fact. But I never used to like it. Now however, Christmas just ain't complete without Bowie 'n Bing. The most unlikely thing for the Godlike polymath to have done right in the middle of his cocaine period, and after releasing 'Low' and 'Heroes' would have been to sing a Christmas song with Bing Crosby. And yet that's EXACTLY what happened back in 1977. Bowie's voice during the 'Peace On Earth' part = bliss. Very possibly paying homage to Crosby with his vocal delivery too. You simply cannot fail to love the awkwardly scripted introduction either... Wikipedia tells it better than I could: 'Little Drummer Boy' is a Christmas song written in 1941, while the 'Peace on Earth' tune and lyrics, written by Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, and Alan Kohan, were added to the song specially for Bowie and Crosby's recording.

The track was recorded on September 11, 1977 for Crosby's then-upcoming television special, 'Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas'. The pair exchanged scripted dialogue about what they each do for their family Christmases, before singing "Little Drummer Boy" with a new counterpoint with original lyrics written for the special, "Peace on Earth". Bowie's appearance has been described as a "surreal" event, undertaken at a time that he was "actively trying to normalise his career". He has since recalled that he only appeared on the show because "I just knew my mother liked him". Buz Kohan was not sure that Crosby knew who Bowie was, but Ian Fraser claimed, "I'm pretty sure he did. Bing was no idiot. If he didn't, his kids sure did." According to co-writer Ian Fraser, Bowie balked at singing "Little Drummer Boy": "I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?", Fraser recalls Bowie telling him. Fraser, along with songwriter Larry Grossman and the special's scriptwriter, Buz Kohan, then wrote "Peace on Earth" as a counterpoint to "Little Drummer Boy". Crosby performed "Little Drummer Boy", while Bowie sang the new tune "Peace on Earth", which they reportedly performed after less than an hour of rehearsal.

Crosby died on October 14, nearly five weeks after recording the special at Elstree Studios near London; in the U.S., the show aired just over a month later, on November 30, 1977, on CBS. In the United Kingdom, the special first aired on December 24, 1977 on ITV..."

Friday, 12 December 2014

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 12th - Bert Jansch - In the Bleak Midwinter

The late great Bert Jansch, who we sadly lost a few years ago in 2011... Herbert "Bert" Jansch was a Scottish folk musician and founding member of the band Pentangle. He was born in Glasgow and came to prominence in London in the 1960s, as an acoustic guitarist, as well as a singer-songwriter. He recorded at least 25 albums and toured extensively from the 1960s to the 21st century. "In the Bleak Midwinter" is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti written before 1872 in response to a request from the magazine Scribner's Monthly for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in Rossetti's Poetic Works in 1904 and became a Christmas carol after it appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Gustav Holst.

Harold Darke's anthem setting of 1909 is more complex and was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008...

Thursday, 11 December 2014

REWIND: Cast - 'Sandstorm'

One of the most unfairly dismissed bands of the 90s, Liverpool four-piece Cast released four albums between 1995 and 2001 before splitting. They reformed in 2010 and returned with a fifth LP 'Troubled Times', which you can read a review of HERE. Earlier this year, the first four albums were all re-released as deluxe editions, which also included all of the bsides as well as lots of rare and unreleased tracks. Read an epic overview of those reissues HERE, where their classic 1995 debut 'All Change' is described as an album that "shows how a great melody can make a few basic chords and not the most original of styles sound fresh, exciting and very much like the product of magic. 

The terrific psychedelic-tinged rocker 'Sandstorm' is still as exciting and empowering nearly two decades later, and on this remaster that fantastic guitar solo seems to stand out more. Without a doubt, a true anthem of the period. It was the first Cast song I ever heard, and I seem to remember seeing it first on The ITV Chart Show, before going out to Bath that same day and buying the cassette single.

The album shot to No. 7 in the UK charts, reaching double platinum and went on to become the fastest selling debut album in the history of the Polydor label, outselling the likes of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who and The Jam. 'Sandstorm' itself reached number 8 in the UK singles chart.

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 11th - Belle And Sebastian - 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel'

Another one taken from that brilliant XFM compilation 'It's A Cool, Cool Christmas', released back in 2000. I have memories of buying that CD from HMV in Bath on a cold Winter evening. This Belle And Sebastian version of 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' is of truly haunting beauty... By the way, the photo you see on the right is of my homemade 'Merry Christmas' compilation that I put together last year, made from some Christmas cards and the plastic packaging that they came in. Think I might give it a spin later in fact...

Allmusic writer Tim DiGravina described 'It's A Cool, Cool Christmas' as "inspired good fun", calling it "without a doubt, one of the better alternative, holiday collections". RTÉ described Belle and Sebastian's "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" as a "beautiful ethereal version"..

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Track Of The Day: James - 'Let Us Die'

It's rare to find a band still making some of their best music after being together for over 30 years, but indie legends James are doing just that. Even more surprisingly, the B sides they're producing outclass the stuff that most groups and artists release as singles, strange since only the hardcore fanbase will ever get to hear them. Packed full of elegant melody and sprinkled with something of a noticeable Krautrock influence, the superb 'Let Us Die' can be found on the B side of their newly released digital single 'All I'm Saying'. And only a band as great as James can afford to throw a fine song like this on a B side.

The lead track is taken from the band's highly recommended 11th studio album 'La Petite Mort', which was released back in June earlier this year. A review (which you can read HERE) opines that "to hear them making music as strong and potent as this after 30 years is an absolute joy. 'La Petite Mort' is a dazzling addition to their discography and easily their finest collection of songs in years."

ADVENT CALENDAR: Dec 10th - William Bell – Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday

Some sublime seasonal soul... William Bell (born July 16, 1939) is an American soul singer and songwriter, and one of the architects of the Stax-Volt sound. As a performer, he is probably best known for 1961's "You Don't Miss Your Water" (his debut single); 1968's "Private Number" (a duet with Judy Clay, and a top 10 hit in the UK); and 1976's "Tryin' To Love Two", Bell's only US top 40 hit.

'Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday' was released as a single in 1967 on the Stax label.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

REWIND: Manic Street Preachers - 'Archives Of Pain'

After scoring their most substantial amount of critical acclaim in years with this year's 'Futurology' album, the Manics have also been marking the 20th anniversary of their astonishing 1994 classic 'The Holy Bible'. This week saw the release of a deluxe edition boxset, and last night (December 8th) the band played the album in full for the very first time as they kicked off a short tour at Glasgow Barrowlands.

A dark, traumatising work of claustrophobic intensity, the record was completely at odds with the celebratory Britpop scene that was kicking off at the time, and alienated many of the band's casual fanbase. 20 years on, it still sounds as powerful and frightening as ever. From it, here is 'Archives Of Pain'.