Richard Abberline is a DJ/Writer/Musician, based in Bristol, England, and this is where he comes to talk music, vinyl records, and anything that rocks (or irks) his world.
Richard Abberline is a DJ/Writer/Musician, based in Bristol, England, and this is where he comes to talk music, vinyl records, and anything that rocks (or irks) his world.
Yours truly has put together a radio show and thrown it up into the deepest reaches of that bearpit of sound that is Mixcloud. It follows the same sort of format as his old radio show for Radio Winchcombe 107.1.
If you missed this first time around – one of my favourite pieces.
Originally posted on mentionthebear:
We are hurtling through into the 21st Century, and as we do,we’re catching up on the late record producer Joe Meek. The beginning of the century ushered in an array of reissues, transposing his legacy from collector compiled cassettes into the modern age. In 2008, the film “Telstar” dramatised his life for the popcorn-crunching fraternity. Indie hipsters The Horrors raved about and covered his work. Currently there’s a kickstart-funded documentary in the works.
It was his birthday on Friday, and I decided to dedicate this week’s Hurly Burly Radio Hour to his legacy. Meek was a local character (Hailing from Newent in The Forest Of Dean), so it seemed even more worthy for community radio. Personal circumstances got in the way however, and in such tight time constraints I struggled to reflect his legacy. That’s why I’ve returned to the subject here. I’m also a bit miffed…
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In Autumn 1977, when NASA launched the Voyager probes to explore the mysterious reaches of Space, Scott Walker was presumably writing his contributions to The Walker Brother’s final LP, Nite Flights. Those songs would represent a drastic leap from the Pebble Mill MOR the Brothers had peddled for most of their seventies comeback, and re-establish Walker on the artistic path he’d trod (and abandoned) in the late sixties.
Virtually all of Scott’s work since, starting with those four songs he wrote for Nite Flights, sound like space itself – cold, dark, and virtually Impenetrable. In 36 years, with a total disregard to nostalgia and pop convention (are they any different?), he has only released four-full length albums and a handful of commissioned works. Around the time Voyager 1 had left the outer reaches of our solar system and entered interstellar space in August 2012, Walker was finishing up his latest offering Bish Bosch, which featured a song that suggested, in his mind at least, Scott had got there already.
The trajectory that Walker has travelled through the musical universe wouldn’t be so compelling and iconic without an understanding of where he started. The creator of Bish Bosch didn’t start his career like the classically-trained John Cale, who in 1963 was playing Satie’s Vexations for almost a day, but as a potential American teen idol . By the mid sixties, Scott was household name (in much of Europe and Japan) scoring enormous number one hits with The Walker Brothers, and even hosting his own television series for the BBC. It’s hard for the mind to fathom that the star who sang “Make It Easy On Yourself” in 1965 would be singing about a Brown Dwarf in 2012, but it’s this journey from the corridors of pop nurturedom to the outer limits of music itself that has made Scott one of the most respected artists in the realm of popular music today. Unlike so many of the elder statesmen and women in Pop, he has so vehemently avoided the nostalgia-chewing profitability of live performance or the guest-studded ‘comb back’ record. Those waiting for him to ‘give in’ are well advised to ‘give up’. The Voyager 1 of Pop is unlikely to return to Earth.
Yours truly has been a Scott fan for 15 years or so, after completing his Scott Walker vinyl collection with the acquisition of a copy of Climate Of Hunter this week, it seemed like a good time as any to start putting together a few vinyl mixes of his material. Setting aside the teen idol years (which I’ll come back to at some point, no doubt), which aren’t so important, I’ve devote the first part to the Walker Brother’s sixties recordings.
The Walker Brother’s are slowly sinking into the realms of footnote today. They pleasingly fill time on oldies radio, and have become the band that Scott Walker was in before he went ‘Solo’. They don’t have to cool enduring appeal that the The Beatles, The Stones and The Who do, because they are seen as, quite rightly so, more of a “pop” group, who didn’t write the majority of their material, and didn’t play on it either. Their flame is kept flickering by an ageing generation of fans who caught them first time round, and Scott Walker obsessives.
But in 1965, when these three exotic-looking long haired Americans hit the UK scene, they triggered a teenage earthquake on the scale of Beatlemania. Within just a couple of years, after two massive number one hits, the group went their own seperate ways, with Scott setting off on the solo career that today earns him such critical acclaim.
The Group has come together in California, all rock N’ roll Journeymen of sorts. Their two lead singers, (Noel) Scott (Engel) and John (Maus) had been active in the business since their teens, treading the boards of the teen-idol scene. Coalescing in 1964 as a r&b beat combo to play the clubs of Los Angeles, they met drummer Gary Leeds, who had been an early member of garage greats The Standells, who would eventually usurp the Walker’s original drummer, Al “Tiny” Schneider. Gary’s strength wasn’t in the drum department, but his sheer force of nature – he had the gift of the gab and access to capital. Gary had toured England with PJ Proby in 1964, and was amazed that a demo singer like Proby, who meant nothing back home, could become a sensation in a smaller pond like Blighty. He suggested the Walkers follow suit, and with his father providing the necessary capital, set off for the UK in February 1965.
The Walkers had already recorded two singles with Nik Venet (The early Beach Boys producer) for Mercury Records. The second of these, “Love Her”, supervised and arranged by Phil Spector’s right hand man Jack Nitzsche, became a shock top 20 hit in the UK that spring. Philips, the label who distributed Mercury Records in the U.K., took the Walker Brothers under their wing, setting them up with Dusty Springfield/Shirley Bassey producer Johnny Franz. The first fruits of the association, a version of Bacharach/David’s “Make It Easy On Yourself” (originally a hit in the U.S. for soul singer Jerry Butler) – hit the number one spot, and all of a sudden, The Walkers were huge – teenage girls (“Screamagers“, as Scott would call them) would turn their shows into near riots, their fan club subscriptions overtaking the Beatles.
School girls would debate their favourite – The goofy drummer who spent more time clowning around than playing drums (He didn’t play on the records either, but he was the Walker’s de facto publicist and peacekeeper), the sensual poseur John, or the rather uncomfortable, sensitive Scott, who would often hold his hand in front of his face to block out the world whilst singing. – Scott’s blue romantic croon and brooding demeanour did him no favours, for it just caused his female fans want him even more.
After the success of Make It Easy On Yourself, and the top 3 “My Ship Is Coming In”, Johnny Franz would refine the formula happened on by Venet (Who, when recording Love Her, put Scott’s beautiful baritone up front) with spectacular results. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”, was originally a minor hit for the Four Seasons’ Frankie Valli, but was transformed into one of the most enduring pop singles of all time. With a typically aching Scott lead, a cinematic arrangement from Ivor Raymonde and a sound so huge you could run a London Bus through it, it stormed to the Top Of The Pops in March 1966.
The 23 year old Scott’s artistic restlessness was already evident even then. He had developed a strong friendship with his producer Johnny Franz, and using the knowledge he picked up from hanging around studios for almost a decade, played a significant role in how these records sounded – an unusually forward role for a pop star. The Walker Brothers’ sound owes a serious debt to the huge ‘Wall Of Sound’ productions of Phil Spector – heavily orchestrated ballads interspersed with a few more soulful R&B numbers to vary the pace. Although the arrangements were to get more classical (at the hands of arranger Reg Guest), and occasionally slip into jazz, their sound as such was incredibly static. They were at unable to eclipse a record as perfect such as “Sun”, but they tried anyway. Maybe they weren’t trying hard enough, as b-sides and album tracks show that an incredible amount of work was being put into Scott’s artistic development as a songwriter.
Scott had been encouraged to write material by his label, because the publishing rights for b-sides and album tracks were particularly lucrative. As well as developing his own “voice”, he had clearly chose some of the material they recorded. “I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” (an early work by songwriter Randy Newman) and John Stewart’s “After The Light Goes Out”(which shows up on the b-side of “Sun”) are very much on a par with the songs that would find himself writing – kitchen sink melodramas and caricatures such as “Mrs Murphy”, “Orpheus” and “Genevieve”. No expense was spared at creating these works, they are arranged meticulously for large orchestral forces – an approach that Scott has continued into his now current work. “Archangel”, an oblique organ led Engel number that was tacked on a b-side, sounds unlike anything anyone has recorded since, except Scott Walker. The fact that they recorded the pipe organ in a Leicester Square Cinema shows that these creations were being made with considerable expense and effort.
The Walker Brothers released 3 albums for Phillips – which, in the infancy of the Album form, try to balance styles in a way that has dated badly. Their Debut, Take It Easy With The Walker Brothers, sounds rushed (to capitalise on their swift success) relying very much on the R&B soul repertoire the Walkers played live – even though they rarely sounded entirely convincing. Their second record, Portrait is probably the most thought and executed. “In My Room”, which opens the album with an hook lifted from a Bach fugue, would no doubt spend a long time spinning on Count Dracula’s record player, if he ever had to move into a bedsit. On the centrepiece of the album, an take on Gershwin’s “Summertime”, The Walkers and Reg Guest recusitates this worn out old chestnut to life. With an orchestral tension turning the humid air to running gunge, Scott and John harmonize like real brothers. All of a sudden, a jazz group breaks out of the basement, creating a sense of unease and confusion that are underlined by the songs powerful finale. It’s the nearest the Walkers got to psychedelia. Their last album Images is not bad at all. made as the group were belting in for their solo careers(In the case of Scott’s bizarre number “Experience”, into Lederhosen), but searching for a huge hit to bow out on (“Everything Under The Sun”, “Stand By Me”, “Just Say Goodbye”) The aforementioned Scott numbers “Orpheus” and “Genevieve”, would’ve not been out of place on Scott’s first solo record.
John Walker often played second fiddle to Scott on the Walkers’ biggest hits (he often provided the harmony vocal), but was ultimately frustrated to convincingly take front stage. A great song written by Maus, “The Saddest Night In The World” even gets sung by Scott. When in 1966 they released a Solo Scott/Solo John EP, the writing was on the wall. Scott was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being a pop star, running off to monasteries to hide and deriding his records to the press. They’d also become seen as being old fashioned in the face of the much cooler beat groups. On one package tour they were supported by a young American guitarist called Jimi Hendrix, who ahem, stole their fire. The Walker Brothers didn’t play their own instruments – on the records, as their massive studio sessions were often recorded quickly in one take (minus the vocals or overdub), the guitar and bass was left in the more than capable hands of session musicians, who could get the parts right first time around(they ARE the unsung heroes of British pop). Live, the storms of kids who invaded the stage when they performed meant they were given a backing group pretty early on (with a drummer behind the curtain to cover the notoriously unsteady Gary). The band would split in march 1967. Scott and John would stay on Philips, using the same production team. They would reform in the 1970s when each of their careers were at a particularly low ebb, scoring an unexpected hit with Tom Rush’s “No Regrets” and at the very end, recording the paranoic post-punk sounding Nite Flights (to be covered in another post).
I limited myself to an hour to illustrate the Walker Brother story, but it’s not a “Greatest Hits”. I’ve put my emphasis more strongly on Scott’s development as an artistic force. Many of the singles sound formulaic, too much to take at once, and in my opinion, they trail off somewhat after the utterly epochal “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”. Most of Scott’s work as a writer are hidden on b-sides or albums, so they are well represented here. I’ve tried to create an engaging, especially for a younger neophyte, cause that’s primarily what I’m aiming for. Whilst I like a lot of the Walkers’ stuff, I must admit some of it will sound a bit old fashioned now. I hope Scott fans who haven’t checked this era out find something new they didn’t expect, Dusty Springfield fans should really enjoy the sound of these records : Scott Walker was her sort of male equivalent as a singer, and any similarities after all, aren’t coincidental : they shared the same label, producer and personnel.
I’ve taken all the recordings from original Philips releases – 45s, EPs and LPs. Virtually all are mono mixes (a lot of which are unavailable on CD) except a couple of selections on Images. Some of them are a bit crackly, and there were a few technical issues, but hopefully not too many for you to enjoy it.
* -There’s a false start to this, apologies…Was also meant to end with this – but I had enough technical difficulties I just had to leave it off!
Most of the 1960s material is served up on this budget 2 cd compilation, which also features unreleased studio tracks from the era. Each album was released by Mercury with bonus tracks in the 1990s, and these are very good if you can find them. There’s also a tacky looking boxset that gathers up everything including their 70s recordings. If you want ‘em on vinyl – most of the original Philips LPs, EPs and 45s can be gotten easily for peanuts due to (much) more supply in the market than demand (50p-£10).
The Saints – I’m Stranded(1976) Fatal Records (AUS) / Power Exchange PX 242 (UK)
I was in a hostel in Brisbane, Australia – worn out, feeling unloved and on the edge of despair after what felt like the worst week of my life. It didn’t help that Brisbane, once you’d got through the museums, was incredibly dull. I had two weeks left in Oz, and no remaining reason to stay there.
I was sitting in the computer room, trying to figure out how to get out of Brisbane, at least. I was listening to my iPod on shuffle to drown out the teenage pubcore yelling (Brisbane seemed to be a gap year holocaust of UK 18-30ers) when, all of a sudden, The Saints’ (I’m) Stranded burst out of nowhere, tearing me a third earlobe as it went:
“Like a snake calling on the phone
I’ve got no time to be alone
there is some one coming at me all the time
babe I think I’ll lose my mind
’cause I’m stranded on my own
stranded far from home”
A.Perfect.Summation.Of.My.Mind, huh? Even more perfect for the fact that the Saints came from that very hole I had found myself in – Brisbane. Never has a moment in my life felt so perfect, so true, so cruel, so hilarious. It tasted like Ecstatic Truth.
I originally thought that The Saints may have recorded the song in England (where they eventually decamped), but after going to Brisbane, I wasn’t too sure they could get so nostalgic about the place. It was actually recorded in a cheap studio in Brisbane in june 1976. After the group couldn’t find a label to release it, they pressed up 500 copies themselves (as Fatal Records). In the UK it was eventually released by an independent label Power Exchange Records & Tapes, who specialised in of all things, soul music.
While that might sound unusual to say the least, there was no “Punk” labels, or for that matter, “Punk” records (at least outside of The U.S.A.) when (I’m)Stranded was released. Sounds Magazine deemed it the “Single Of This And Every Week“, the week before The Damned released ‘New Rose’. Not only is (I’m) Stranded one of the earliest Punk Singles; It’s one of the best, delivered with so much sloppy petulance that it could make coachloads of pensioners quake with fear.
Whilst any excuse to bring up this fantastic record is justified, I’m primarily writing this to celebrate the power of the iPod Shuffle, even if I don’t particularly have any great love of Apple. By unexpectingly nailing the perfect song to my most inperfect moment it somehow put me in a peculiar secular state of grace. That Steve Jobs-inspired moment of divine intervention would mark the upturn of my Australian fortunes : The next thing I knew, I was out of Brisbane (due to act of unforseen hospitality),watching Bad Seed Conway Savage work his way through a sublime piano set (and a bottle of red wine) in a backgarden in Melbourne. Fine times. R.A.
Dedicated to, with fond memories, to A.M. & J.P.
Okay…I’ve moved in to this cheap room at the crowded tenement of net.thought that is wordpress.com. As you can see by the picture above, I need a bit of a tidy up; but if you are careful you can wander around. There’s some new and old content up, lurking in the menu bars, so do check this out if you have the time or inclination. I shall be winding down the mentionthebear site in due course.
I’ve just moved to Bristol, England. That’s the birthplace of Cary Grant & The Pop Group, folks. I’m not used to these bright lights, live entertainment on tap, but I’m liking it. I’m currently looking for opportunities to get some DJ work and (gulp) start playing shows again – hence the DJ FAQ and Performer sections in the menu. If anyone has any suggestions or connections that may help, please get in touch, or direct people here. Youtube freaks and list geeks find some fun to be had with the Cine101 and Bad Top Ten pages. There’s also a page where you can listen some of my old radio shows and dj mixtapes, or read articles on things such as ahem, ‘Clambake’ here. More content shall be coming soon, so do come back, though let me sort the record pile out first ;)