The Beths come tearing out of Auckland, New Zealand like alien visitors surfing on a comet’s tail with their towering new single “Silence Is Golden”. If you thought it was a cover of the Four Seasons/ Tremeloes hit of the same name, think again, this is a 21st Century song and not a dusty cover. The Beths are singer and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes, (I assume that is where the band gets their name from) guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair, and drummer Tristan Deck. The Beths release their third album ‘Expert In A Dying Field’ in September and after listening to “Silence Is Golden” I will be all over it, and so should you.
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It’s the 22nd December and I reckon some kids can already hear the reindeer pulling hard on the old bearded weird one’s sleigh. That means of course that we are now up to Day 22 of this years advent calendar blog posts. The 22nd letter of the alphabet is ‘V’ so todays entry in the ABC of British bands is Visage.
Visage were formed in 1978 by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan after the pair had hosted club nights at the Blitz night club in London. They were really keen to find new music to play to their paying punters and finally they opted on producing their own. Egan recruited Midge Ure who he had worked with in the Rich Kids and the three of them recorded a cover of the Zager and Evans one hit wonder from 1969, “In The Year 2525”. The band’s line-up was then enhanced with keyboard player Billy Currie off of Ultravox and three former members of Magazine; John McGeoch, Barry Adamson and Dave Formula.
Their first album, entitled ‘Visage’ was released in November 1980. It made the top 20 in Austria, France, New Zealand and the UK. It also climbed to the top of the German album charts. The band’s highest charting album in the UK was 1982’s ‘The Anvil’ which reached number 6. “Tar” was their first single and it failed to chart when released in 1979. However the second single was “Fade To Grey” which was a hit across the world. It made the top ten in Austria, France, Italy, Belgium, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. It hit the number one spot in Germany and Switzerland. None of their other singles have been anywhere near as successful.
Earlier this month the band released an album called ‘Orchestral’ which has reworkings of their best songs by a symphony orchestra. In 2009 Rusty Egan and Steve Strange appeared in Living TV’s ‘Pop Goes The Band’ where former bands are given a make over and return the favour by undertaking a one-off performance. Strange also appeared in an episode of classic TV series ‘Ashes To ashes’ playing “Fade To Grey” in the Blitz club with Visage II keyboard player Sandrine Gouriou. That episode was set in 1981. Steve can also be seen, along with other Blitz regulars, in the 1980 video for David Bowie’s UK number one, “Ashes To Ashes”. Now it’s time for you to relive those Blitz days and maybe get yourself blitzed with eggnog while listening to Visage.
December 11th, what a kinky day this is going to be. It is day 11 in this years advent calendar blog post series which regular readers will know is the ABC of British bands. The 11th letter of the alphabet is ‘K’ so todays band is the Kinks and that is why it is a Kinky day!
Brothers Ray and Dave Davies along with friend Pete Quaife formed the band in Muswell Hill, London in 1963. In spite of the sometimes acrimonious relationship between the Davies brothers the band kept going for more than 30 years before finally calling it a day in 1996. The band had their first UK chart hit in 1964 with “You Really Got Me” which went to number one. This song is often credited with being the first heavy metal riff. (Although the phrase ‘heavy metal’ was allegedly first heard a few years later in the lyrics of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”). The Kinks had two further UK number one singles; “Tired Of Waiting” in 1965 and “Sunny Afternoon” in 1966. They also climbed to the top of the singles charts in Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium and New Zealand. I can only assume that the band were a little too English for the Americans. Their first US singles chart hit came in 1981.
Ray and Dave Davies were the 7th and 8th children in their family, the first six were all girls. Their sister Rene died on Ray’s 13th birthday. She had given him his first guitar as a present that day. The band took their name after hearing the word kinky used in British 1960s TV show ‘The Avengers’. Pete Townshend off of the Who once said that Ray Davies was his favourite songwriter of all time. Whilst Marianne Faithfull said that Ray was ‘Very Gothic, creepy and silent. Uptight and fearful of everyone’. Either way I am definitely a fan of the Kinks and I would like you to take some time out to enjoy a selection of their best songs.
Are you excited yet? It’s less than three weeks to the big day where we all eat too much, drink too much and regret that over indulgence the next morning! But in the meantime I am rationing my chocolate intake to what is behind the pathetic little doors of my Spiderman advent calendar. I’ve said it before but why is all the chocolate shaped like Christmas things? How about some shaped like doctor Octopus, The green Goblin, the Lizard or even Spidey himself? Chocolate manufacturers please take note!
Anyway it’s December 6th which means that todays songs will contain the number six. It’s an easy concept really isn’t it. The first song for today is “6 Underground” by Sneaker Pimps. The song comes from the Hartlepool bands album ‘Becoming X’. It was their first chart single when it reached number 15 in the UK when it was released in 1996. It was re-released the following year when it made the top ten at number 9. It also made it to number 45 in the US charts that year too. The song was used in the film ‘The Saint’ in 1997 which led to its reissue. The open melody on harp is a sample from the soundtrack of 1964’s James Bond movie ‘Goldfinger’. The band took their name from and article in the Beastie Boys ‘Grand Royal’ magazine. It was about a man who the Beasties used to tracked down classic box fresh trainers and sneakers.
The second song for today comes from down under and it is New Zealand’sSplit Enz with “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” taken from their album ‘Time And Tide‘. The song is about the time it took for early pioneers to sail from Europe to New Zealand and Australia. It was released in 1982 and because of the Falklands war it received hardly any airplay in the UK. The Powers That be felt that references to leaky boats in a time of naval conflict would be inappropriate, so it only managed to reach number 83 in the UK and an even more lowly 104 in the US charts. It fared better in Australia where it went to number 2. It also made it to number 7 in both New Zealand and Canada. The song was written by Tim Finn brother of Neil Finn who was also in Split Enz. the pair went on to form Crowded House. The tune has been covered by artists ranging from Marillion to the Wiggles.The band were originally called Split Ends but they changed to Split Enz before their first Australian tour to emphasise their New Zealand heritage with the nz in the name.
Regular readers of this blog will know that the 80s is my least favourite musical decade. however there were certainly some musical gems released in that dastardly period. Notably one of my favourite albums of all time; “Lexicon Of Love” from one of Sheffield’s finest bands, ABC in 1982. It was masterfully produced by Trevor Horn with stunning arrangements from Anne Dudley. For me this album really hasn’t aged at all.
Lead singer and now the only original member left wrote most of the songs from the experience of being dumped by his girlfriend. But there is an excellent piece of trivia relating to one of the wonderful singles spawned by the album, “The Look Of Love” that I only heard about recently. Just after the line ‘When your girl has left you out on the pavement’ you can hear a female voice in response singing ‘goodbye’. Apparently this word is performed by the girl who dumped Martin Fry. Apparently Trevor Horn felt that this was a good idea. I have done a little research to find out the name of this woman, but I have so far drawn a blank. So if you are her or you know who she is I would love to interview her about her part in music history!
The single reached number 4 in the UK charts and number 18 in the Billboard charts in the US. It went further in Canada and France where it reached number one. It was also a big success in the US Dance Chart were it also hit the top spot. The ‘Lexicon Of Love’ album went to number one in the UK album chart and achieved the same in both New Zealand and Finland.
Oh my God when will these bloody gifts stop arriving. I mean I love my true love to bits but where in the hell am I supposed to put 11 bloody pipers piping. I’ve never like the cat strangling sound of bagpipes anyway. Enough of my woes, I’m sure that you have worked out that it is now day 11 of my 12 days of Christmas series of posts, hence the 11 pipers piping. Will there be many pipers left after all the proposed UK defence cuts? Military personnel in the UK Armed Forces are expected to fall from 102,00 to 82,000 by 2018 and it is expected that a number of regimental bands may not survive the proposed mergers of residents.
But on to some happier thoughts, I have picked two piper related songs for you today, albeit rather tenuous in the case of the second one. but the first song comes from one of my favourite bands from my early teenage years. It’s Chairmen Of The Board with “Pay To The Piper”. Most of the band’s biggest hits were Holland Dozier Holland compositions which may well have been recorded by the Four Tops had HDH remained at Motown rather than leaving to form the Invictus label. The song reached number 13 in the US Hot 100 and only managed a lowly number 34 in the UK in 1971. “Pay To The Piper” was the band’s fourth single. Their first single “Give Me Just A Little More Time” is their best chart performer on both sides of the Atlantic peaking at number 3 in both countries. I am amazed that the band didn’t do better from a chart perspective, they recorded some classic songs. Big kudos too for recording the excellently titled “Shaggin’ The Night Away”.
The second song for today is a little more tenuous as I mentioned earlier, it’s “Because We want To” by Billie Piper (geddit?). More people probably remember Billie more for her acting these days than for her time as a pop star. I loved her as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who, didn’t you? “Because We Want To” from 1998 was Billie’s first hit single and the first of her three UK number ones. It also made the top 10 in Ireland, Sweden and New Zealand. It was also the official song of the Women’s World Cup in 1999. That tournament was held in the USA and was won by the host nation who beat China on penalties after a nil nil draw. England sadly failed to qualify.
And finally another Billy Bonus with Laurel and Hardy dancing to Chairmen Of The Board’s “Shaggin’ The Night Away”
My true love has given me quite a few things so far to help me celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. I’m not quite sure what to do with todays gift of 8 maids a milking; any suggestions? In reality though the milk maid was replaced by industrial milking machines many years ago. Back in 1995 there were 35,741 dairy farmers in the UK, in 2011 there were only 14,793. Surely we are consuming at least as much milk as in 1995 though, aren’t we? Maybe these farmers just own bigger farms and dairy herds these days. I have a tenuous connection to the UK dairy industry as my Dad was a milkman for nearly 30 years. I worked as his milk boy from 1970 to 1975. As for todays songs, well let’s just say I am very satisfied indeed with my choices. Firstly I bring you a classic from what is in my opinion an unsung band, the marvellous Be Bop Deluxe with “Maid In Heaven”. The song featured on the bands ‘Futurama’ album from 1975. It was later used as the lead track on the Hot Valves EP and under that guise it reached number 36 in the UK singles chart. The band was formed in 1972 in Wakefield, Yorkshire and the only constant member was leader and guitar hero Bill Nelson. It was Nelson that wrote “Maid In Heaven”. Paul Jeffreys was the bands bass player for a short time in the mid 70s. He also played with Cockney Rebel, the Warm Jets and the Electric Eels. He sadly lost his life aged just 36 as a passenger on Pan Am flight 103 which was brought down over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. Today’s second song comes from what I would consider to be another unsung band, although they did shine quite brightly from 1995 to the early ‘noughties’. Butch Vig, producer of the seminal Nirvana album ‘Nevermind’ was trying to put a band together during 1994 and decided that he would like to try things with a female vocalist. He and his friend Duke Erikson were shown a video of Shirley Manson singing with Angelfish and decided that she might be perfect for the band that became Garbage. I believe they were very much correct. The track I have selected is, rather obviously, “Milk” from the bands eponymously titled début album from 1995. (Hmmmmm, 1995 eh? Did Garbage precipitate the demise of the UK Dairy industry?) It was the fifth single to be released from that album, following “Vow”, “Only Happy When It Rains”, “Queer” and “Stupid Girl”. The album made it to number 6 in the UK and number 20 in the US, it did make it to the top of the chart in New Zealand though. The single of the song reached number 10 in the UK in late 1996 but failed to make the top 100 in the USA. It wasn’t the bands highest UK chart placing, they had five other top 10 hits. It did marginally climb higher than their James Bond theme song “The World Is Not Enough” from 1999, which stalled at number 11. The song is Shirley Manson’s favourite from the album and was written by Shirley, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. Some versions of the song feature some vocals from UK trip hop maestro Tricky. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P99KwIZlsVYhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALuZRsFaXas