‘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.
There’ll be one a day during advent, culminating with a whopping TWO as an extra Christmas treat on the big day itself. That will, of course, mean finding songs beginning with Y and Z, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
In the meantime, let’s start with A.
‘Alien’ is the penultimate song from The Singing Loins’ last album, …here on earth.
As with much of the album – and many of the band’s albums in general – ‘Alien’ is a celebration of humanity – however frail, however imperfect. The extra-terrestrial of the title finds himself quite enamoured with the people of Planet Earth. ‘I’ve grown to quite like them/the sad contrary human’, he confesses over a gorgeous interaction between clarinet, guitar and bassoon.
This in turn gives way to the rawest, most gloriously cacophonous of lo-fi codas, compellingly beautiful in its ugliness: much like the album as a whole.
While I was writing Do it Yourself, I was also reading a couple of great big, thick tomes by Dominic Sandbrook on British history in the late 1950s to 1970. And I saw some similarities between what I was read about art colleges in his book and the stuff I was finding out about the origins of The Pop Rivets and co. in my research.
Sandbrook’s latest series, Let Us Entertain You, has prompted me to revisit these similarities. Find out more in a piece I’ve just put on line: ‘This is the new art school‘.
As all musical cognoscenti the world over will know, the Mercury Prize will be awarded this week. It’s a funny old award which creates a great deal of excitement during the approach of the ceremony and – quite often – a great deal of bafflement afterwards.
In the past it’s seen M People triumph over Blur, Primal Scream and Paul Weller and Speech Debelle rise from obscurity to win the award – only to return to obscurity immediately afterwards. And given their time again, the judges might think twice about giving the award to bargain basement one hit wonders Klaxons in 2007.
Never one to miss out on even the most fatuous of tie-ins, I have a question: what’s your favourite Medway record of the last twelve months?
It could be a single, an EP or an album. The only constraints are your choice should be something released by a Medway act (or act originating from Medway) in the last twelve months. So that’s November 2014 onwards.
Head over to the Do It Yourself page on Facebook to post your nomination – along with a reason.
Would you like to read a new review? Of course you would. Click here to find out more about the latest offering from Theatre Royal. It’s an EP labouring under the title of You Sleep and (spoiler alert) it’s rather good.
If you want to catch more of them, they’re appearing at Homespun this very month.
Reading reviews of your own work is, perhaps, never a sensible thing. Responding to them, probably, is even worse a thing to do.
Nevertheless, having done the first of these things, I’m about to do the second.
Maybe I’m not very sensible.
People are always, always, always entitled to their opinion – about anything. It would be an utterly stupid person who would assume that anything they did would be greeted with nothing but exultant adulation. But perhaps some things should be addressed.
While there’s probably not much the dictaphone app on my phone, my interview transcripts and the people with whom I spoke can do to fight off allegations about dubious sources (or maybe there is), maybe something can be said about the view that Do It Yourself is simply the story – hagiography even – of Billy Childish and friends.
I don’t think it is.
As I readily admit throughout the book, Billy Childish is a divisive character. As, to a lesser extent, are some of his contemporaries.
But whether you like him or not, whether you love The Prisoners, The Milkshakes or The Daggermen or loathe them, you can’t really deny that they had a very important role in the history of music in Medway.
Do It Yourself: A History of Music in Medway is just that: a history. It will, by definition, dwell on the past – whether parts of that past appeal or not.
The best thing for those intrigued by Medway music of today, as some reviewers of the book have said, would be to go out and see some bands. Most definitely. You’ll find no argument from me there. The Homespun Festival is coming up in July and will be the perfect opportunity to do just that. I’ll be there and I hope you will too.
But if people are curious to find out what made Medway the vibrant musical place it is today, it might be interesting to dig around the rich past of the music from the area.
While there is, inevitably, a fair bit of time devoted to Billy Childish, Graham Day, Wolf Howard et al in Do It Yourself, there are many, many other bands and artists mentioned, lots of them very, very current. See, for example The Flowing, Funke and the Two Tone Baby (see video), Theatre Royal, Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society, Didi Bergman, That Massive Bereavement, Broken Banjo and countless other acts that have appeared on Medway Eyes compilations.
And there you have it: the case for the defence. If you want to know what’s happening now, a history book might not be the best place to turn to; if you want to know why it’s happening now, maybe looking to the past isn’t such a daft idea.
You can buy Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway direct from the publishers Cultured Llama’s website.
It’s available online from my publisher, Cultured Llama’s website (along with the usual online stores). But it’s also available in some bone fide physical bookshops. Baggins’ Bookshop in Rochester and Waterstone’s in Chatham have been displaying the book with no little prominence. Which can only be a good thing.
There was a fantastic launch night for the book back in April where Nick Hughes, David Read, Peter Cook and Stuart Turner performed. Cultured Llama and I had a fun old time selling copies of the book at the Rochester Sweeps Festival. And I’ve done a reading at the latest Seasonally Effected night in Rochester’s Dot Café.
Do It Yourself… covers a period from the mid-70s to approximately summer last year. But a lot of music’s come out over the last year. And it’s been a particularly busy time over the last couple of weeks. Bob Collins, The Treasures of Mexico and Theatre Royal all have new things for you to listen to and enjoy.
It’s my plan to write about some of these over the next few weeks. So keep your eyes peeled.
Catch up soon. I’m off for the proverbial cup of tea.
It began on 16 October 2012 when I walked into The Man of Kent, Rochester, ordered a pint of Biddenden’s and waited for a man called Bob Collins to arrive.
At that point I had only a fraction of the knowledge I needed to produce a 504 page book on the subject of Medway music. Bob, who’d once been in a popular Medway band called The Dentists, proved an excellent person to start with, not least because he was writing a book about Medway music too.
Within a couple of hours, he’d given me a fantastic survey of not just his band, but what had been going on in the area since the mid-70s to the present day.
904 days later, I receive a knock on the door from another Bob. This one’s Bob Carling, from Cultured Llama, the publishers of Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway. He has come armed with copies of my book to sign – and the usual small stash for me to keep and do with as I will.
In the days between those two encounters with two Bobs a lot has happened. I’ve interviewed Billy Childish while he busied himself with an enormous painting, I’ve enjoyed a cup of tea with Lupen Crook and I’ve drunk countless pints of cider in pubs in the name of research.
My fellow drinkers have included Bruce Brand (The Milkshakes, Thee Headcoats, The Masonics), Johnny Barker (The Daggermen, Johnny and the Bandits, The Buff Medways), Graham Day (The Prisoners, The Prime Movers and The Solar Flares).
Meanwhile Wolf Howard (The Daggermen, The Buff Medways, CTMF and many, many more) has popped round my house for a cup of tea (and admired my cat). It’s been a gas and, in a funny old way, I’m kind of sad it’s over.
Do It Yourself is now available to buy from the usual places for £15.00. You can get it direct from Cultured Llama’s website, but if you’re buying from beyond the UK, your best bet may be to go to Amazon or the like.
If you happen to be anywhere near the place the book celebrates on 23 April 2015 please swing by The Barge, Gillingham from 8.00pm. We’re having a launch party to celebrate the book’s arrival. Nick Hughes (Gash, Cenet Rox), David Read (The Claim) and Stuart Turner (Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society) will be performing.
There will be a quiz (“Are You a Medway Buff?”) and if you’re lucky I might even read an extract or two from the book. The night will be compered by the fantastic Peter Cook.
It would be fantastic to see you. I’ll even sign a copy of Do It Yourself, available for a one time only discounted rate.