Goodbye to David Bowie

David-bowie-changes

It was a bit of a shock, wasn’t it.

David Bowie’s death was announced as we ate our breakfasts, had our showers and got the children ready for the day. ‘But he’s only just released an album,’ we all said – as if that might somehow have put some kind of a delay on mortality.

But then it all became clear. This was all part of the plan. David Bowie knew he was going and so the album was his way of saying goodbye: ‘Look up here – I’m in heaven’ he sings on Lazarus.

Tony Visconti got it right – being Bowie’s producers he was well placed to get it right – when he said how ‘His death was not different from his life — a work of Art.’ How could we expect it to be anything else?

I’m ashamed to say my knowledge of David Bowie is not as great as it could be. A couple of best ofs and three rarely listened to albums.

This will, inevitably change. Today, at work, I was listening to The Next Day, which I hadn’t yet properly got my teeth into and was kicking myself that I hadn’t properly listened to it before.

I’ll be getting my hands on Black Star at the earliest possible opportunity.

As to why I haven’t bitten the bullet with Bowie’s back catalogue when I’ve furiously consumed much of Dylan, The Beatles, The Clash, Pink Floyd and all the other grand masters of rock, I really don’t know.

It’s particularly weird because when I first fell  head over heels in love with all this modern pop music stuff, it was partly down to a Bowie song.

It was in an ‘A’ Level music class. In these lessons the four of us would often be asked to listen to some piece of music and analyse it to death: a Mozart symphany, a Beethoven sonata, a Monteverdi vesper – or ‘Changes’ by David Bowie.

The fact that the people who set the ‘A’ Level syllabus saw fit to put Bowie’s music alongside Mozart and Beethoven is the biggest compliment a schools examining board can probably make.

And it’s one that we should all make.

I listened to ‘Changes’ transfixed. The rising piano introduction, the horns, that voice. It was pure perfection. Whether or not I was able to identify any parallel fifths or notate the bass line by ear, I have no idea.I was probably just too bowled over.

It’s a magnificent song. But enough from me; it’s probably just best to listen to it.

There’s another David Bowie related memory I have from school.

We put on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I played Pontius Pilate. My mate Matt Mills played Caiaphas. And my friend Guy Grimsley played Herod.

While I was given a 1920s gangster outfit to wear, and Matt wore a dinner jacket, Guy was going to have the most fun in a glam rock outfit. The plan, originally was for it to be part Gary Glitter part Aladdin Sane.

Somewhere along the line the Gary Glitter news broke (this was 1997) and the director decided, rather wisely, to emphasise the Aladdin Sane element – and wisely so.

For many, many reasons.

Farewell, you rock and roller. Farewell.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: The Full Story

A-Z

You can blame a chap called Philip Kane for this. Back on 1 December, he posted on Facebook the social media version of the old chain letter thing that went as follows:

“So the idea is to fill facebook with music, breaking the monotony of nasty, divisive headlines and images on our news feeds.

If you ‘like’ this post, you will be assigned a letter for a musician, band, artist, song, track or dj to post to your time line with this text”.

I liked it. He came back to me with the letter R. I came up with Rodrigo y Gabriela & C.U.B.A.’s ‘Santa Domingo’ – as you do – and before you know it I’d committed myself to the idea of stealing the whole concept and coming up with some music of Medway origin (or, if you will, MOMO) for each letter of the alphabet.

26 blogs later and I can finally move on with my life.

It has actually been fun – not least because there’s been the opportunity to focus on individual songs in a way you might not otherwise. Being an alphabetical list, there’s been less need to focus on continuity and history.

One day we’ve had a song by Balance Lost (a current band), the next we’ve had a song that’s had two outings: once in the early 1990s and then just a couple of years ago. Then, the day after that, we’ve had a song from 2010 which expresses its boredom with Medway bands from the 1980s.

It’s meant there’s been a wide variety of styles and sounds which all goes to show what an amazing melting pot of ideas this small collection of towns in the north of Kent is.

If you missed any of the blogs, not to worry: here they all are listed for your convenience – in alphabetical order, obviously.

A – The Singing Loins – ‘Alien’

B – Funke and the Two Tone Baby – ‘Bella’s Kiss’

C – Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society – ‘Call Me Dave’

D – Brigadier Ambrose – ‘Decembered’

E – Thee Headcoats – ‘Every Bit of Me’

F – Wheels – ‘Forget It’

G – The Dentists – ‘Gas’

H – Bob Collins and the Full Nelson – ‘Holy Man’

I -Theatre Royal – ‘I Believe in Father Christmas (Don’t Get Me Socks)’

J – Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris – ‘Jump at the Sun’

K – Frau Pouch – ‘Krakthulu’

L – The Claim – ‘Losers Corner’

M – Broken Banjo – ‘Might As Well Be Hell’

N – Hand of Stabs – ‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’

O – The Daggermen – ‘One More Letter’

P – The Prisoners – ‘Pop Star Party’

Q – Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire – ‘A Quick One – Pete Townsend’s Christmas’

R – The Ambience – ‘Rome’

S – Balance Lost – ‘Shield Against the World’

T – The Kravin’ “A”s/Suzi Chunk – ‘Tripwire’

U – The Love Family – ‘Up in the Air’

V – The Flowing – ‘The Voyage’

W – Lupen Crook – ‘World’s End’

X – CTMF – ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’

Y – Bear vs. Manero – ‘YRANYRBYM’

Z – KILL RPNZL – ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’

Find out more about many of these bands and artists – and many, many more, in my book: Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: Z is for ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’

We’re here. We’ve finally done it. The end of the road, last hurrah, the final curtain; we’ve got all the way to Z.

And we’ve reached it the only way possible: with a band whose devotion to the consonant is second to none.

KILL RPNZL

I mean, with a song title like ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’, you’ve got to listen to it, haven’t you.

KILL RPNZL are part of a growing movement within Medway to make the loudest, dirtiest music EVER. Bear vs. Manero who provided the Y offering are part of it. As are Frau Pouch whose Joe and Suzanne Wise have curated some of the noisiest gigs available courtesy of their Motherboy events.

This vowel-phobic band are made up of three people: Elle Mayne on bass, Aaron Mcnulty on “guitar/mouth words” and Ollie Crook on drums. But despite the paucity in numbers, they can stir up one hell of a racket.

‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’ is a throbbing, gnarly racket of a song – full to bursting with angst ridden lyrics about ghostly homes, aching bones and open wounds. And it all boils down to the age old tale of incompatibility and insecurity: “You’re still the one that acts so cold to me/I’m still the one that needs your company”.

It’s all been said, played and sung before, not least by Brian Molko and friends. And yet ‘Zombie…’ is far from being without its appeal.

Its driving, riff heavy bass line alone is enough to rouse even the most lethargic of post-hardcore rockers. Played loud and live, in the sweaty, claustrophobic confines of a dance floor that’s packed with like minded lovers of fast and noisy clashing, bashing and thrashing, ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’ can only achieve more than the desired effect.

Since the song’s release two years ago, KILL RPNZL have developed and evolved into something even bigger and better. ‘Duo‘ for example, from this year’s EP Fear Itself,  takes things to a whole new spectacular level of organised chaos with a million things happening at once: quite a feat for a three-piece.

In the meantime, ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’ provides an ear-bashingly frenetic introduction to the manic world of KILL RPNZL. Just remember: things can only get madder from here.

Find out more about other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: Y is for ‘YRANYRBYM’

Yes. All right. All right. I know. Back when I first started this blog thread, I promised it would culminate on Christmas Day with two entries representing Y and Z.

However, timing wasn’t my strong point on that occasion and the final two entries are slightly late. Sorry about that. Anyway, without further ado, let’s hasten on to the wonderful world of the letter Y.

Bear v Manero - Paunch

Back in November, I posed a question: never mind the Mercury Awards, what’s the best Medway record of the year? At four nominations, I didn’t get an amazing amount of feedback to be honest. But an astounding TWO people: that’s a WHOPPING FIFTY PERCENT of those who returned an answer pointed toward Bear Vs. Manero’s Paunch EP.

With such a large percentage of people recommending the band, clearly they are overall winners, beating both KILL RPNZL and The Len Price 3 who share a measly 25% of the vote, and therefore Bear vs. Manero are worthy of a great deal more attention.

‘YRANYRBYW’ comes from half-way through the Paunch EP. It’s short and sweet, clocking in at just one minute 42 seconds. For the musical cognoscenti among you, it’s in 6-8 time (1-2-3-4-5-6) which is relatively rare in the world of rock and roll. And it’s a belter of a tune.

Given its brevity, B. vs. M. manage to cram an amazing amount of ideas – both musical and lyrical – into the song, making it a highlight of the EP. Many of the band’s other songs can be defined by the distorted bass leading from the bottom with the kind of intense rhythmic thuds that could rival fracking in their potential to cause earth tremors. But in ‘YRANYRBYM’, something different happens. The opening salvo comes from a guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Arctic Monkey’s song.

Order is almost immediately restored with the arrival of the thunderous bass but for almost half of the song there is a battle royal between guitar and bass before the bass emerges victorious for the remainder.

Bear vs. Manero use the lyrics of the song to attack hipster, gentrified pretensions (“right clothes/especial shops in Dalston” ,”skinny mocha lattes” and an interest in “Peruvian drum ‘n’ bass”). There are sarcastic sneers of you “you’re so edgy“, “you’re so different” and “you’re so cool“.

You’ll find nods to Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. And it’s entirely possible the band have heard Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ at least a couple of times.

It’s a seething, sneering, searing triumph of a song, culminating in a final put-down of “you are right, some of you are right/cos you’re wrong”.

Fifty percent of my survey’s respondents can’t be wrong. Bear vs. Manero really are quite magnificent.

Find out more about other Medway bands, covering a period from the mid 70s to 2014 in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy Bear vs. Manero’s Paunch EP from their Bandcamp page. Or take a look at their website for more information.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: X is for ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

CTMF - All our Forts

CTMF’s ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’ from their 2013 album All Our Forts Are With You sees the coming together of two motifs from Billy Childish’s musical palette: the twentieth century’s two world wars being one; instrumental interludes being the other.

There’s been a long strand of references to World Wars One and Two (often focusing on German participants) in Childish’s music since The Milkshakes appeared beside a German Junkers Ju 52 on the cover of their 1984 album The Milkshakes in Germany.

(Is it just me, or does “Junkers Ju 52 sound like a bingo call?).

Since then, there’s been a cheerily named Headcoats album, The Messerschmitt Pilot’s Severed Hand – together with a song of bearing the same name – and The Buff Medways’ entire visual presentation revolved around band members dressed as soldiers from The Great War. One album was even named 1914 after the year in which that conflict began.

The Musicians of the British Empire continued with the military theme – both in dress and song: one particularly obvious example being ‘Merry Christmas, Fritz’, inspired by the 1914 ceasefire, from that band’s Christmas 1979 album.

So the appearance of a CTMF tune referencing the 1943 attack by small Royal Navy submarines (the ‘X-Craft’ of the title) on the German battleship Tirpitz makes perfect sense.

‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’ consists of a guitar line imitating the regular dot and dash pulses of Morse code.

It’s played over Wolf Howard’s incessant, thunderous drumming. All of which makes for an intense, claustrophobic sound perfectly recreating – through the medium of music – a life of tension beneath the sea.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: W is for ‘World’s End’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Lupen Crook - Pros and Cons

My introduction to Lupen Cook came in the form of songs like ‘Dorothy Deserves’ and ‘Lest We Connect’, songs which revel in a macabre disarray and manic chaos.

And there’s much to like in the songs: fantastically, imaginative tunes full of fast moving musical ideas and lyrics spat out with machine-gunfire rapidity.

But for all the allure of the havoc and disorder, it’s the songs which slow down, pull back and mull things over which make the more lasting impression.

Certainly this is the case with the songs from Waiting for the Post-Man which Lupen Crook recorded as a solo, largely acoustic project – a means by which to grieve over the loss of his close friend, Matthew Stephens-Scott. It’s a beautiful, beautiful album, openly honest with its heart carved out on its wrist.

‘World’s End’, from that album’s predecessor, The Pros and Cons of Eating Out, comes from a time before Stephens-Scott’s death; he even contributed a lyric to another song on the record. But, amidst all the whirlwindery of ‘Dorothy Deserves’ and ‘Lest We Forget’, it too gives itself time to meditate – to take a break from all the disarray and discord.

The song is a reflection on the chaos. ‘It’s just here I realise the beast I have become,’ he admits at one point. He’s been ‘thinking dark and desperate things’. Elsewhere, there’s the realisation that he’s been ‘missing out on the best years of this life’. Most telling are lines speaking of how:

One day I’ll find the heart
And with the aid of only madness, wonder when that day will start
A storm so revealing that my thick skin might shed.

Such lyrics betray a quest for sanity: the need to be at peace. Later in Lupen Crook’s catalogue of songs, would come the realisation that being ‘perfectly imperfect’ (‘Note to Self’ from British Folk Tales) might be something to accept and move on with.

But here, in ‘World’s End’, the search has not yet finished. It has, though, uncovered some beautiful gems along the way.

Find out more about Lupen Crook and plenty of other Medway musicians in my book, Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy ‘World’s End’ from iTunes. Find out more about Lupen Crook’s current project, The Lost Film Foundation on their Facebook page.

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