Walking on gilded splinters

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Iain Rowan
Posted on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 01:45 pm:   

Or, things that I have been listening to and enjoying over the past few months, not to mention a fair bit of rambling deviation.

The *big* disappointment was hearing the Libertines. They'd been touted as the new Clash, so when I got the chance to hear them I was like a kid on Christmas morning. Imagine my disappointment when they turned out to be the new Sham 69. Yack. Punk by numbers.

I haven't heard anything better this year than M.Ward's albums End of Amnesia and the Transfiguration of St Vincent. Listening to these albums made me wistful. Remember, something whispered in my ear, remember when you used to play the guitar. To write songs. Remember sitting for hours in front of a four track, trying to capture that sound that was in your head. Remember trying to write the best songs you could, capture that perfect moment when the music and the words just came together, remember way back then before you sold guitars and the four track and the fx box, and wouldn't it be fun now, remember all those songs, all those songs...and then I remember yes, Iain, but they were *shit*. Slight drawback. Anyway, Matt Ward's albums are fantastic. Bits of Neil Young, bits of Tom Waits, bits of Nick Cave but not sounding anything like any of them.

On a broadly similar tip is the music I've been listening to by the Willard Grant Conspiracy. Vaguely alt-country/folksy melancholia, but terrifically strong songs, shades of Nick Cave but less theatrical.

I only heard Lisa Germano for the first time the other day when I heard 'From a Shell', which is just a perfect little song. But there's a catch, and it's one that I hate. I listened to it, loved it, listened to it again, thought right, now I want to hear more of her stuff... but with that feeling, that horrible feeling, that had-it-before feeling that comes when you hear a song, fall in love with it, listen to everything else by the artist that you can lay your hands on...and find out that the first song you heard is the best thing that they've done. Time will tell. But 'From a Shell' is just lovely.

Been listening a lot to Franz Ferdinand recently, but when I do something's been nagging at me. I've read reviews that have pointed out an influence from some of the Eighties Scottish guitar bands, like Orange Juice and Josef K, but although you can hear some of it there, that's not what was bugging me. Then it clicked. More than anything else, they reminded me of the Monochrome Set. It's in the mannered vocals, in the way the guitar and bass bounce along - Franz Ferdinand are their own band, and they are a long way from being derivative, but once the comparison had struck me, there was no getting away from it.

And that's really no bad thing because I have a soft spot for the Monochrome Set, and have done ever since I heard them for the first time on a record (young people: it's a big black CD that you can go wiggedy-wiggedy-wack with if you move it backwards and forwards, as I found myself explaining to my son when he heard De La Soul and wanted to know what made the "wiggedy-wiggedy-what does it all mean" bit on The Magic Number) that almost everyone I knew owned: the 1983 sampler from Cherry Red records called Pillows and Prayers. The Monochrome song on Pillows and Prayers was Eine Symphonie Des Grauens, which the band claim reached number one in Bolivia. The Monochrome Set are one of those bands that occupy a special place in my heart (that makes them sound like arterioschlerosis, which is somewhat unfair), and Bid was one of England's most under-rated songwriters and his songs, and the Monochrome Set's music, deserved much more attention. Deserves.

No matter where you went, someone would have Pillows and Prayers tucked away amongst everything else, despite Cherry Red being a small label and many of the bands being obscure even by indie standards (Piero Milesi? Joe Crow?). Perhaps it was because it was sold at only ninety-nine pence. Pillows and Prayers had tracks by Felt, Tracey Thorn, both on her own and as part of the Marine Girls, and as part of Everything But The Girl (can't help but think that was cheating, Tracey love), Eyeless in Gaza, Attila the Stockbroker - and um, Quentin Crisp. First time I typed that I typed Quentin Crips and thought of a very smartly turned-out street gang. I was talking to Robert Wexler a while back (if you haven't read "In Springdale Town" then do, it's well worth buying, and I'm really looking forward to "Circus of the Grand Design") and found out that he'd had a copy of Pillows and Prayers too, several thousand miles and an ocean away. Maybe it was some kind of viral plan to market Attila the Stockbroker so that no part of the world could escape A Bang And A Wimpy.

There was a Pillows and Prayers volume two, but it was the anti-Volume One, as I don't know a single soul who has bought it.

But on googling, I found out that there was actually such a thing as a Pillow and Prayers DVD. It's a bit more than ninety-nine pence though. Sell out!

[Should have known update. The singer out of Franz Ferdinand used to be in a band called the Karelia. Who made an album. Which was produced by a man called Bid. Which is the same Bid who was the singer and songwriter for the Monochrome Set.]
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Posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2004 - 09:13 am:   

I haven't heard of the Libertines, but am wary of anything labeled the "new." Though the new Sham 69 is still better than a lot of things.

Recently picked up a used copy of the Monochrome Set's 2-cd compilation called Chaps (it's subtitled A History 1979-97). Some great stuff.

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Iain Rowan
Posted on Friday, July 02, 2004 - 02:40 pm:   

Google google...looks like a good compilation. The one I have only has the first two albums, and we've got Jack floating around somewhere.

Dunno if you know, but Bid is still making music and has a new band/project, Scarlet's Well.

I've only really listened to a couple of things they've done and I'm not as keen on it as on the earlier MS stuff. Still interesting though. Very Kurt Weilly, some of it.

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