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Friday, 31 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#16: 'Happy New Year' by Shockabilly

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

And so we bid farewell to the year of 2010, and what a pivotal and important year it was for the three of us here at the ~Streetlamp~.

For not only was this the year I finally got married, but also Griff and Ray were my Best Men(probably the only time they'll ever be attired with THAT phrase!). And it was because of all this that the three of us went hillwalking on the Saturdays leading up to the wedding and thus came up with the concept of the ~Streetlamp~ Blog.
I can't speak for Griff and Ray but 2010 goes into my Top 3 Favourite years of my lifetime, along with 1983 and 1989.
1989 was an important year for me and Griff as it was the last year that we did all the really cool stuff you can get away with when you are young. It was also the year we consciously started doing things like taking cinema, art and culture more seriously. And of course the music was fantastic.
1983 was the year that Ray and I left school and is important because it's the year we put away childish things(yes, I know I used that phrase in the previous blog, but that was about 1983 as well) and started to experience all those things we had only dreamed about in the big, bad world of adulthood. And of course, once again, the music was fantastic.

It goes without saying that when we look back at 2010 we'll be able to say that the music was fantastic. We know it was because we devoted this Blog to it.

So I'll sign off my contributions to the Blog this year with the only wonderful song about New Year that I know of in my collection. The song is 'Happy New Year' by Shockabilly.
Now Shockabilly were a deranged trio of musical terrorists from the early to mid 1980s. They comprised of Eugene Chadbourne, Mark Kramer and David Licht and specialised in demented bluegrass-ish covers of famous rock songs, no cow too sacred. They also composed a lot of their own songs which, for me anyway, were always more satisfying than their covers. They toured with The Butthole Surfers(whom Kramer would later join when Shockabilly split) and The Fall, and were once sacked from Rough Trade Records because 'they weren't selling as many records as The Smiths'.
I bought all their albums when they were released and, just as with The Butthole Surfers, there was a time when I thought I was the only person in Central Scotland who knew or had heard of them! There was a time when, if asked, I would claim that their final album 'Heaven'(from which today's track is taken) was my favourite album of all time. I'm not sure if I was just being smart or obtuse, or if I really did love it as much as I claimed. Anyway, I still like the album a lot and, as I've said, I find the band's own songs actually quite moving in places.
And that's how it is with this track; it sounds like someone in a rather melancholy mood reflecting not just on the year passed, but on their life. It also throws in curveball lyrics like "To those who say have a Happy New Year// I have no fear// For in my dreams giant turtles roam the sky". Sounds like someone's spent Hogmanay binging on blue cheese and watching 'Gamera Vs Jiger'!!

As for Hogmany itself, I personally can't stand it myself, or the whole New Year thing in general. There's always that feeling that, in Scotland, you've GOT to celebrate it whether you want to or not. I'd happily just wake up on January the 2nd and get on with things.

And so we bid farewell to 2010, but we hope to see you all back here in 2011.
Thanks for all the support this year folks!


Monday, 27 December 2010

Griff says; It's the bear who would share.

Now that Christmas is well and truly over, it's nice to get back down to the straightforward business of bringing you the best in the world of indie releases with one we almost overlooked. Just before Christmas, Bearsuit, quirky, Norwich-based exponents of electronic, indie-pop released their brilliant new single A Train Wreck. You can download it as a free MP3 either from the band website or from the Fortuna POP! website. If you visit the latter you might also want to have a look at the other free MP3s that they currently have available from the likes of Crystal Stilts and The Pipettes. Hell, you might even consider buying some muic when you're there too; after all Fortuna POP! is the label that brings us music from the sublime Allo Darlin' and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
Fortuna POP! also have Bearsuit's new album 'The Phantom Forest' scheduled for release in February 2011.
Anyway, here's the video for Bearsuit's A Train Wreck:

We enjoyed that so much that we also wanted to bring you a personal, long-time favourite Bearsuit track; Foxy Boxer, released in 2007. Unfortunately, no video existed for it. Well, until now anyway. So, enjoy below, courtesy of Ray, Bearsuit's brilliant Foxy Boxer.

This track is featured on Bearsuit's 2007 album oh:io, released by Fantastic Plastic records, if you're interested. And yes, it features more songs in the same energetic and insanely catchy vein, so you shouldn't be disappointed. If you just want to download it as a free MP3 then you should be able to find it here.


Sunday, 26 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#15: 'Boxing Day' by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

And so....

If Christmas Eve was 1981, then Boxing day finds us in the glorious year of 1983.
Now 1983 was an important year for us here at the ~Streetlamp~ as it was the year in which we put away childish things. Indeed, Christmas 1983 I recall as the last Christmas that I would view with anything like the eyes of a child, most certainly because it was the last one that I could ever say that passed completely alcohol-free. It was all downhill from then.

For Christmas 1983, my main Christmas gift was what we used to call a 'Ghetto Blaster', i.e. a large, portable stereo radio-cassette player. With the money I got for Christmas that year I went into Stirling and purchased two new music cassettes, specifically for my new 'Ghetto Blaster'. I bought 'Queen's Greatest Hits'(stop laughing Griff!!) and 'Punch The Clock' by Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
'Punch The Clock' is a strange album in Elvis's oeuvre as it has almost become completely forgotten, and yet it was the NME's album of the year that year. That was why I bought it. God knows why I bought the Queen cassette!!
By 1983 most music had succumbed to that big brass sound that Dexy's Midnight Runners, Madness and to a lesser extent, The Teardrop Explodes had brought to the charts. And 'Punch The Clock' saw Elvis backed not only by The Attractions, but also The TKO Horns led by Big Jimmy Paterson whose trombone had led Dexy's brass section on the 'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels' album. Paterson's brass section add a real staccato punch to Elvis's songs which are already fairly energetic and heavenly melodic.
'Punch The Clock' doesn't seem to carry the same clout and kudos as, say, 'Imperial Bedroom', 'Almost Blue', 'Blood And Chocolate' or even 'Armed Forces', yet as I've pointed out, it was the NME's top album in a year that practically groaned under the weight of quality albums. Remember this is the album that contains not only Elvis's own brilliant version of the remarkable 'Shipbuilding'(see Griff's Blog), but also fantastic singles like 'Everyday I Write The Book' and 'Pills And Soap'.
If you are unacquainted with 'Punch The Clock' I can only but urge you to check it out, not just for the three tracks mentioned above, not just for the magnificent playing of the TKO Horns, but also for containing the only decent song about Boxing Day in the history of music!
The version below is taken from a performance on The Tube....this track was not broadcast however due to running over time.

Talking of Boxing Day(as in the 26th of December), a few years ago Griff and I were discussing what WE would put into Room 101 if ever we were on that particular TV show(or even found ourselves with the Orwellian nightmare of it's literary origins) and I happened to say that I would put Boxing Day into it. Why? Well, because as a child I pretty much gave myself up totally to the magic of Christmas and found Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so overwhelming that Boxing Day just seemed to be such a complete anti-climax. All those gifts now looked rather ordinary in the cold light of day. Having eaten so much chocolate the day before, that mountain of selection boxes and chocolate oranges just turned your stomach. And all those Christmas songs that had sounded so amazing in the run up to Christmas Eve, on Boxing Day just sounded complete bollocks. Furthermore, with our family, we tried to re-create the whole Christmas Day experience again on Boxing Day but this time down at my Gran's. Having to eat all the same food again, coupled with the fact that all the adults usually tended to fall asleep directly after dinner, and a hollow sense of going through the motions made Boxing Day the idiot cousin of the whole Christmas experience.
The only good thing about Boxing day is that it gave us one of my favourite Elvis Costello songs!

I can't quite recall what items Griff said he would put into Room 101 were, but I'm sure 'silly twats who can't go 24 hours without mentioning Marcel Proust' was pretty high on his list.

Quite right too!


No, Gordon, I think my Room 101 choice was Queen fans who refuse to come out of the closet about their secret shame. ;-)
Still laughing, here. You're going to wish you'd never told me this. This is a total 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for me the next time we have one of our famous extended musical arguments. Suddenly, my unaccountable purchase of Dire Strait's 'Romeo & Juliet' 7" is small beer (and it was already partly redeemed anyway by the Indigo Girl's cover version).


~Self Indulgent Addendum~: I hate to burst your bubble Griff, but I had Dire Straits 'Romeo & Juliet' AS WELL!!! How shameful for us! Maybe we should re-name the Blog ~The Streetlamp Doesn't Cast Mark Knopfler's Shadow Anymore~!!
And talking embarassing record purchases, did you know I have TWO singles by Modern Romance!! Now, one you can laugh off as a mistake or a prank, but TWO?!?! Do you think I should write a blog about them?

Friday, 24 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#14: 'Merry Crassmas'

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

If, back on Christmas Eve last year, you had said to me that the one band I would re-connect with to the point of obsession in 2010 would be Crass, I would either have punched you or suggested that you immediately seek psychological assistance.
For, as I have already explained at great length in my original Crass Blog, this was a band that Griff and I not only hated but couldn't even explain why we ever liked them in the first place. Often we would lament the wasted hours we spent listening to Crass when we could have been listening to 'What's Going On', 'After The Goldrush' or 'Nebraska'. You really have to understand just how much we REALLY hated them between 1985 and the beginning of this year....but that hatred only existed because we had once been SO passionate about them....their music, their politics and their stance.
It was back in the early Summer of 2010 that, as Griff and I at the height of our obsession with 'The Flats' by Mariel McCormack and Marie O'Hara/Botched Fairytale, sat trawling their Myspace page for influences etc and were surprised to see that they listed Crass as one of their Top 10. This led to a discussion about how Crass could be a major influence on a lot of new artists who weren't around when Crass released their original records. Griff practically bullied me into considering writing a Blog on Crass but I remained sceptical.
Once I started researching and writing the piece, it all fell into place. It became my favourite piece of my own writing and the one Blog I am most proud of. Yep, even ahead of my Smiths piece.

One of the reasons that Crass has become so important to us again is not just the music, but because the political landscape has changed again. This is probably one of the reasons that Crass had become so archaic in the first place. Cosy, complacent, bland governments(Major, Blair, Brown) failed to spark the wrath that Thatcher's government had.
Suddenly in 2010 we were presented with a government that the British public had NOT voted for, and who proceeded to make a bit of a Gareth Hunt of everything; students rioting because of massively increased tuition fees(which the Lib Dems said wouldn't happen), massive cuts in public spending, family allowances slashed, 12 year old boys arrested for protesting via Facebook against the closure of their Youth Club(Cameron's pre-Election rhetoric claimed that society needed Youth Clubs, but once in power began shutting them down....Yeah, arrest those pesky 12 year olds Dave, they might grow up to be Socialists).
We also face the unacceptable censoring of the Internet(see Griff's Blogs on Wikileaks), as well as Murdoch's biased News corporation indoctrinating the British Public how to vote, plus huge wastes of public money like the London Olympics and TWO Royal weddings coming up.
It really is like 1980 all over again!
Is it any wonder we feel the fire in the belly that Crass gave us all those years ago?
It's not that we tired of them, we just saw them as redundant as the political system in Britain bored itself to death.

So, on this snow covered Christmas Eve, I've chosen Crass(my band of the year) to serenade us into the Festivities. I should point out to anyone unfamiliar with Crass that two tracks below(both sides of their 'Merry Crassmas' single) is totally unlike the rest of their output. It was a bit of a novelty single, released when those awful 'Stars On 45' records were all the rage. This was a medley of Crass's most infamous tracks played in jaunty fashion upon a cheap Casio keyboard. And Santa is on hand too, to bid you 'Seasons Greetings'.

There's very little left for me to say now, but rest assured that here at the ~Streetlamp~, tonight we're gonna party like it's 1981!!
Merry Crassmas Everybody!


PS: If you haven't already done so, please check out our Festive Top Thirty!

It's interesting to read you write in the first paragraph about how our love for Crass turned to hate for a while.I think you've hit the nail squarely on the head when you say that it was precisely because we were so overwhelmingly passionate about them that this was the natural corollary; as best summed up by the famous Elie Wiesel quote "
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference".


Thursday, 23 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#13: 'Christmastime Is Here Again' - The Beatles Christmas Flexis 1963-1969

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

It's bizarre given the endless ubiquity of The Beatles that there exists a hidden world of Beatles recordings unknown to even some of the most savvy of their fans.
I'm talking of course about the seven flexi-discs that The Beatles issued to subscribers to their fan club every December as a special Christmas 'Thank You' to their most devoted fans. The discs contain Christmas messages, sketches, songs, surreal sound effects and all kind of Beatlesque nonsense.
What's particularly interesting about them is that if you play them in sequence; i.e. from the 1963 one up to 1969 in the order they were issued, you can actually hear a condensed history of The Beatles played out a lot more candidly than the official version.
The early discs, 1963-64, have a quaint old fashioned quality to them with all four Beatles huddled around a single microphone, nervously taking a turn each to wish all the fans a Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year. There are moments of comedy as they start faffing about and trying to put each other off, but they are a bit stiff and a little bland.
The middle period discs, like the cream of The Beatles music, 1965-67, are the real deal. It's on these discs, like on their official releases that they really let their imaginations run wild. The Goons influence really shines through too as the boys play out increasingly surreal Pantomimes full of non-sequiturs and mindless gibberish. Probably their finest Christmas flexi moment is the 1966 disc, recorded slap bang between the final sessions for Revolver and the first sessions that would bring forth 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane'. Just as The Beatles were at the zenith of their musical creation, so does their abundant creativity spill on to their Christmas disc.
And it's this one we bring to you as an example:

The late period discs, 1968-69, capture in full unflinching gruesomeness, the messy bitter end of 'The Greatest Pop Band Of All Time' in merciless detail. The four Beatles can't even stand to be in the same room as each other, so record their sections on their own.
Paul delivers his Christmas message via the kind of simplistic acoustic ditties that he introduced on The White Album and would subsequently base his early solo career upon. George really has given up on being a Beatle and literally phones his contributions in, what little there is of them. Ringo does what he's always done; plays the man of the people who still can't quite believe he's in The Beatles. His messages are still warm and friendly, long before he would start threatening us with Peace & Love. But it's John's contributions that are the most startling. On the 1968 disc he laments the bad press that he and Yoko have had and even takes a vicious swipe at his fellow Beatles for not being supportive of his relationship with Yoko. It makes for very uncomfortable listening, like listening to a tape of your parents arguing. On the 1969 disc, he and Yoko walk around the gardens of their home with John asking Yoko how she thinks the 1970s will be("peaceful" she hopes). It's odd and quite poignant to hear people talk about a forthcoming decade now that it's way back in the past. Especially as John would go into musical exile in 1975 only to reappear in 1980 with tragic consequences.
Most Christmases I dig out the bootleg CD 'The Beatles Christmas Album' which plays the seven discs in chronological sequence, and I always forget how depressed I end up feeling by the time it gets to the final tracks. As a hidden history of The Beatles, the discs are invaluable, but they do make for rather uneasy listening.
The only complete Christmas song The Beatles ever recorded was 'Christmastime Is Here Again' which was used in segments on the 1967 flexi. The version below is a slightly truncated version which was released as a B-side for the 'Real Love' single in 1995. If you get bored just fast forward to 1min 50sec and you'll hear Christmas messages by the four Beatles followed by John's 'Scottish Christmas', a Robert Burns parody that is actually quite funny.

"Everywhere is Christmas and I'm off to join the cheer!"


PS: If you haven't already done so, please check out our Festive Top Thirty!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The 2010 Streetlamp Festive Thirty

Do not adjust your monitors!

This is Ray speaking (If Streetlamp were The Marx Brothers , I would be Harpo)... and I find myself in the unusual position of wresting control of the blog and reluctantly taking centre stage tonight. Why so?... Well, in order to bring some order to proceedings here at Streetlamp HQ and to unveil (drum roll please, Gordon) the inaugural Streetlamp Festive Thirty.

It's a simple idea on the face of it; the three Streetlampers - Griff, Gordon and I - get together to have a pleasant trawl through the Streetlamp archive and bring you our combined favourite thirty pieces of music to feature on the Streetlamp this year.
It should go without saying that this is hardly a new concept and, quite frankly like most of Gordon and Griff's ideas, is obviously stolen from the late, great John Peel . As in John's famous Festive Fifties of the past, we decided to consider for inclusion all of those songs which have featured on the blog this year, regardless of their date of release. This means that the list is decidedly not a narrow 'Best music of 2010' but should instead be thought of as a 'Best of The Streetlamp 2010'. I hope that makes sense.

Once the concept outlined above was agreed, I naturally assumed that it would be a simple matter for the three of us to get together around a lap-top in The Streetlamp drawing room, a well stoked fire crackling merrily in the grate and generous measures of fine port allocated to all.
From there, we would soon find ourselves slipping gently into the warm embrace of fine music and convivial companionship. Well, that's how it was supposed to happen. Unfortunately, passions began to run high as Griff and Gordon argued, counter-argued, horse-traded and jockeyed for position, with no end in sight. As unofficial UN observer to proceedings (I have many hats to wear), I can certainly confirm that they're very passionate about the music they love. Eventually, by sheer effort of will, I managed to drink both of them under the table. Upon hearing loud snores and mutterings, I gathered the many crumpled and scored-out lists of songs from all surrounding flat surfaces and succeeded in putting together a Festive Thirty that should please everyone. Well, I hope it does when they sober up.

With my thirty songs in place, the next question to resolve was; in what order should they be placed?
I knew this would be tricky, as the fiercest debate had raged around the coveted 'Number 1' slot. Just before passing out, Griff was still mumbling something about "The Flats by Mariel McCormack and Marie O Hara", while Gordon from beneath the table could be heard to mutter "If it's not Crass then I'm not playing" equally vehemently. Finally, I decided just to put them in alphabetical order. When Griff and Gordon come to, I can easily disarm them with an "art is not a contest, there's no place for league tables" argument.
.....So, ladies and gentlemen, is my pleasure to finally present to you

- in alphabetical order -

The 2010 Streetlamp Festive Thirty

Anorak City - Another Sunny Day
Armistice Day - The Cleaners From Venus
Back To High School - The Just Joans
Berkertex Bribe - Crass
Cuties - Little Punk
Dinah & The Beautiful Blue - Thomas Feiner & Anywhen
Fishermans Friend - Útidúr
Flashing Lights Have Ended Now - Foxes in Fiction
Going For Gold - Girls At Our Best
Goodbye Our Pastels Badges - Flipper's Guitar
Hey Boy,Your Oh So Sensitive – The Just Joans
In The Afternoon - The Revolving Paint Dream
In The Bleak Midwinter- The Innocence Mission
Isabella - Wild Honey
It’s Too Late - Rum Tum Tiddles
Lovely - Ralpheene
MarbleHead- Mittens
My Baby - Julia Stone
Now That You're Gone - Mellow Dramatic Avenue
Owllullaby- Cabinet of Natural Curiosities
Swine - Colorform
Swooky - mkf
The Colour of Black Is Black- Stephen Harrison
The Flats - Mariel McCormack & Marie O Hara
Think Big, Henry - Meg Hentges
We Could Be Pirates - Rum Tum Tiddles
Welcome Christmas - Love Spirals Down
W.H.A.L.E. - Kitten Pyramid
When My Darling Turns To Dust (Pt II and III) - Bad Braids
Wherever You Go - The Siddeleys

Merry Christmas and thanks for sticking with us throughout the year,


I suppose I should be grateful that we have Ray here to referee, or we might never have got this posted. It's still awful being forced to exclude some truly wonderful songs and excellent bands from the list though. I'm continuing to mourn the exclusion of Lady Lioness , Luna Moth , The Kat Cosm , The Felt Tips , Madame B , Nicely Dressed ... (Ray: that’s enough, Griff!) from this year’s list. There has been so much great music released from so many talented and friendly people that I could go on and on, but Ray is now standing over me menacingly with an empty port bottle raised above his head, so I'll quickly say thank you and Merry Christmas to you all, and note approvingly that we've at least managed to post a blog without mentioning Proust !



As Marcel Proust once said "All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last"; in this case, the state of mind being dulled by port excess. It has been such a pleasure to write about my favourite music this past year that in the cold light of day it doesn't really matter who, or what, has topped our Festive 30; I'm just glad to have contributed to what I feel is a rich and varied seam of music. To all the people who have followed our Blog and added their own views and comments, I cannot thank you all enough, so I'll just bow out by wishing you a Merry Christmas and hope that you'll continue with your very kind support. Or as Arthur Rimbaud would say....(WHACK!!!)....Ouch!!!!


Monday, 20 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#12: 'The Carol Of The Bells' by This Ascension

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

One of my most favourite pieces of Christmas music is the Ukrainian Bell Carol, better known these days as The Carol Of The Bells.
The Carol Of The Bells was written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and premiered in 1916. The English translation of the lyrics isn't really a proper translation as the original Ukrainian chant utilises the phrasing of the vocal in such a way that to try and translate it verbatim would make it impossible to sing! The first translation/version in English was authored by Peter Wilhousky. A slightly different English version called 'Ring, Christmas Bells Ring' featuring a more Nativity themed lyric is the version that is most commonly known today.

It's one of those pieces that swam around in my subconscious for many years after I originally heard it, I think, in a Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon movie made back in the early 1970s. If it wasn't Charlie Brown then it was definitely some American animated Christmas feature that I saw in my childhood and which, probably due to it's extreme tunefulness, latched itself limpet-like to my memories of childhood Christmases. I never heard it again for many years and I think I just assumed it was an American Christmas tune that we didn't get over here.
Then sometime in the mid-90s it began to seep out into the British celebration of Christmas, bringing with it, for me any way, the ebb-tide of childhood memory that certain limp-wristed lavender soaked French authors spend seven volumes, four thousand-plus pages and over a million and a quarter words just to eulogise cake dipped in tea go on and on about. I can't think of one off the top of my head, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Nowadays it's one of the pieces of music I most look forward to hearing at Christmas, and this was helped no end by a version of the song I heard about 10 years ago by a band called This Ascension.
Now, This Ascension, like Love Spirals Downwards who I covered in an earlier Blog, are one of those bands that very lazy people brand as Goth almost purely because their vocalist is a deathly pale woman with long black hair. But once again I would say that they deserve more to be called Ethereal, or Neo-Classical even. Again, the vocalist here, Dru Allen, possesses a remarkable operatic voice of immense purity and clarity that really draws you in and makes you want to hear more. The music is not so much like the Cocteaus this time though, more a kind of Dead Can Dance/Sad Lovers And Giants/Shellyan Orphan type of thing.

This Ascension hail(or rather hailed) from Santa Barbara, California and existed between 1988 and 1999 where they released several albums and supported The Jesus And Mary Chain and Chris Isaak amongst others. They reformed briefly in 2004 and have plans to reform again next year.
Dru would go on to make music as Falling You and Mirablis.
Check out their superb website where you can find out more and get some free MP3s.
Nothing short of rather magnificent!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#11: 'Space Christmas' by Shonen Knife

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

Moving away from the Hispanic lands for now, we find ourselves in Osaka, Japan for tonight's Wassail with the 1992 single by Shonen Knife 'Space Christmas'.
I like to imagine that this record is a kind of riposte to Momus's 'Christmas on Earth', which was featured here previously. Whereas Momus's track deals with the existential loneliness of a man who has given up his life on Earth for a life out in the far reaches of space, moving in his spaceship light years from now and reflecting back on the things he remembers from his life here, Shonen Knife seem to really celebrate the idea of getting in a spaceship and having mad Christmas parties up in space.
There's a real joyous energy about this track which, coupled with quirky nonsense lyrics("I'm waiting for Santa Claus// He's riding on a bison sleigh") which may either be nonsense or just a bad translation, that makes this a dizzyingly effervescent Festive treat. Like bingeing on Pear Cider!
Coupled with the striking cartoony image that Shonen Knife projected, it's no wonder that for many years I proclaimed this as my all time favourite Christmas song!

Now, I try to be positive about every band or artist that I write about in the ~Streetlamp~, in fact I don't really have to try as I tend to LOVE every artist I write about, but sadly Shonen Knife must be the exception. You see, Shonen Knife were NEVER as good as you always hoped they would be. Sure, the idea of three Japanese girls in cartoon attire playing a brand of psychedelic Punk Pop seems instantly appealing, but a lot of the records were dreadful. Especially the early ones.
In a rather onanistic reference that only Griff will understand; when we were in bands back in High School, a lot of the songs our bands wrote and played all sounded suspiciously similar. This is because EVERY song we wrote was in the same key. We didn't know back then how to compose songs in different keys, so everything sounded the same. And that's exactly what the score is with most of Shonen Knife's early work. Singles like 'Lazybone' just sound underwritten and underplayed. Had they not received Kurt Cobain's patronage I doubt that anybody would have taken any notice of them. Not that being a favourite of Kurt Cobain meant you were any good....The Melvins, anyone?
I bought one of their albums, '712', and it really is the most annoying and unlistenable rubbish. Half baked attempts at Rap, lyrics believing their own hype, and then so much laziness that they pad the album out by having their (American) producer come in with his mates to perform John Lennon's 'The Luck of the Irish', I mean....HUH?? What is going on here? Did they simply run out of ideas?

BUT....the 'Space Christmas' single and some subsequent releases like 'Riding On The Rocket' and 'I Am A Cat' proved that they COULD make the kind of records they always threatened to!
So, YEAH, 'Space Christmas' is a truly fantastic racket!

If only ALL their records had been that way!!


Friday, 17 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#10: 'Ríu Chíu' by The Monkees

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

In keeping with the Spanish language theme from the previous ~Winter Wassailing~ Blog(Sea Of Bees) we now present another interpretation of an Hispanic Hymn with the magnificent version of 'Ríu Chíu' by The Monkees.
As with Mark E Smith and Momus, I have long planned a full Blog on The Monkees but just never seem to find the time to sit down and compose it. I absolutely adore The Monkees and see them as one of the most pure examples of 'Perfect Pop'. It matters not a jot to me that they did not play the instruments on their earliest records, for they never claimed to be a real group in the first place! You never seem to hear Take That, Boyzone or Westlife pilloried for not playing on their records, but The Monkees were well and truly crucified over such a meaningless argument.
That's why I'm glad to bring this seldom heard track to you tonight, dear readers, for this track features NO instruments what so ever, but proves what gifted vocalists Dolenz, Tork, Nesmith and Jones were.
Unlike many of The Monkees songs, 'Ríu Chíu' only ever appeared on one episode of their TV show, 'The Monkees Christmas Episode' broadcast on Christmas Day 1967. The song also never appeared on any of their albums or singles and became a much sought after rarity amongst bootleg collectors. I finally managed to get a hold of the song via a Japanese import CD of rarities in the mid-90s.
The song is pure A Capella and all four of The Monkees voices compliment each other beautifully in a way you wish they had explored more in their heyday! It might have shut some of the critics up!

'Ríu Chíu' was composed circa 1550 by Mateo Flecha, a Catalanian composer of Madrigals. The song was found in a tome known as the Cancionero de Upsala, a volume of mostly anonymous Spanish carols and hymns.
The full lyrics are as follows:
(I've included some rough translations where possible. The phrase 'Ríu Ríu Chíu' doesn't actually mean anything, it was included to represent the call of the Nightingale! Don't say you don't learn things on the ~Streetlamp~!!):

"Riu, riu, chiu
La guarda ribera
Dios guarde el lobo
De nuestra cordera
(The river guards her
God kept the wolf away from Our Lamb)

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisole hazer que no pudiesse pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera
(The raging wolf sought to bite her
But God Almighty knew to defend her
He chose to make her so that she could not sin
No Original was found in that virgin)
Riu, riu, chiu, etc.

Este qu'es nascido es el gran monarca,
Cristo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hanos redimido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu'era infinito, finito se hizera
(This one that is born is the Great King
Christ the Patriarch clothed in flesh
He redeemed us when He made himself small
For the Infinite was made finite)
Riu, riu, chiu, etc.

Muchas profecias lo han profetizado,
Y aun en nuestros dias lo hemos alcancado.
A Dios humanado vemos en el suelo
Y al hombre nel cielo porqu'er le quisiera.
Riu, riu, chiu, etc.

Yo vi mil Garzones que andavan cantando,
Por aqui bolando, haciendo mil sones,
Diziendo a gascones Gloria sea en el cielo,
Y paz en el suelo qu'es Jesus nascieta
(I saw a thousand boys (angels) go singing,
Here making a thousand voices while flying,
Telling the shepherds of glory in the heavens,
And peace to the world since Jesus has been born)
Riu, riu, chiu, etc.

Este viene a dar a los muertos vida
Y viene a reparar de todos la caida;
Es la luz del dia aqueste mocuelo;
Este es el cordero que San Juan dixera.
Riu, riu, chiu, etc.

Pues que ya tenemos lo que desseamos,
Todos juntos vamos presentes llevemos;
Todos le daremos nuestra voluntad,
Pues a se igualar con el hombre viniera.
Riu, riu, chiu, etc"
It seems almost disrespectful after that but here's some other larks from that particular episode....and check the actions at 'gay apparel'!!


Griff says; The truth will set you free

I think we are all pleased and relieved that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has finally been released from custody in time for Christmas. Hopefully, he can now go on to successfully refute the allegations against him. However, there is someone else I'd like to write about tonight, someone who is in some senses the forgotten man of this entire episode; Private First Class Bradley Manning (pictured). An article on pfc Manning couldn't be more timely as today he is 'celebrating' his 23rd birthday at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico where he has been held in solitary confinement since July 29, 2010.

For those of you unfamiliar with his story, Manning was an intelligence officer assigned to a support battalion with the Contingency Operating Station Hammer, in Iraq. US army agents arrested Manning in May 2010 based on information received from federal authorities provided by an American informant, Adrian Lamo, in whom Manning had previously confided. Lamo said that Manning claimed, via instant messaging, to be the person who had leaked; a video of the Granai airstrike , around 260,000 US diplomatic cables and the notorious "Collateral Murder" video. This last is a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people on July 12, 2007, in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff. Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded. The US military had previously refused to reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured. After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement". Please watch the video and make your own mind up. I must stress, however, that the video is extremely disturbing. It is worth noting that although this video is now in the public domain, the Apache crew and those behind the cover up depicted in the video have yet to be charged. Private Manning, on the other hand, continues to be held in solitary confinement and denied exercise. Additionally, he is under a suicide watch, a status most often used as an excuse to humiliate a prisoner by stripping them of their belt, shoelaces, and anything sharp or breakable while implying (to them and to anyone outside) that they are not in their right mind. Manning's lawyer expects a court martial in the Spring of 2011. If convicted of all charges, Manning can expect a maximum jail sentence of 52 years.
If Manning did release this information to Wikileaks then technically he is in breach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, specifically; communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source. There is a wider sense of justice, which we can apply here, however. I believe that when a government secretly engages in such consequential activities as aggressive wars, justified by at best questionable and at worst fabricated intelligence, covert bombings and assassinations, and diplomatic maneouvering designed to support such global meddling, the people in whose name that government acts – and who could suffer retaliation – have a right to know. Manning may have, allegedly, broken US military law but in doing so he has blown open the furtive, cloak and dagger machinations of supposedly democratic governments and exposed them for the corrupt, self-serving, military-political-economic elites that they are. So tonight, the Streetlamp would like to remind you all of the continuing travails of this man who sought to bring this information to the public at such extraordinary personal cost. So, what was Manning's motivation? Why would he take such a risk, and how many of us could say we'd do the same? Perhaps these extracts (below) from his messages to Lamo in May of this year best convey the ideals that we should all seek to serve:

(2:21:32 pm) Manning: its sad

(2:22:47 pm) Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious

(2:23:25 pm) Manning: i could've sold to russia or china, and made bank?

(2:23:36 pm) Lamo: why didn't you?

(2:23:58 pm) Manning: because it's public data

(2:24:15 pm) Lamo: i mean, the cables?

(2:24:46 pm) Manning: it belongs in the public domain

(2:25:15 pm) Manning: information should be free

(2:25:39 pm) Manning: it belongs in the public domain

To assist Private Manning, please see

I'd like to finish by offering a beautiful song from a band that normally wouldn't make it into a 'Griff says' piece. The song is Soldier's Poem by Muse and it is written from the perspective of a soldier who cannot find a reason to explain why he has repeatedly risked his life and exposed himself to horror for an uncomprehending and complacent public. According to Muse's Dominic Howard; “It’s about a soldier in prison, who feels abandoned by a country that’s falling apart."

Quite. Tonight, as we think about Bradley Manning languishing in prison, it's worth considering whether, in the words of the song, "you think you deserve your freedom". If you do, and if you think that those, like pfc Manning, who have made the greatest sacrifices to protect that freedom also do, then please consider those small acts that you can perform in the fight for truth and justice. If you think that it's wrong that "There's no justice in the world" then you don't have to accept that it will always be that way. You can fight back. The recent, massive, extra-judicial intimidation of WikiLeaks is an attack on democracy. We urgently need a public outcry for our democratic rights to a free press and freedom of expression. Never has there been a more vital time for us to do so. That's why I would encourage you to sign the Avaaz petition to stop the crackdown and then copy and paste and forward the link to the petition (below) to everyone you know.

Also, find out how you can support Bradley Manning here.


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#9: 'Feliz Navidad' by Sea Of Bees

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

I have to admit that I am flying blind on this one tonight.

For you see this is not the Blog I had intended to write this evening. The song I had chosen to write about remains the same, 'Feliz Navidid', but the artist is now Sea Of Bees.
Let's see how we got here.

'Feliz Navidad' is one of, if not THE most popular Christmas song to have emerged from Latin America. It was written by the Puerto Rican singer/songwriter José Feliciano in 1970, and has proven to be a massive hit amongst the Spanish speaking populace of North and South America, although it still remains fairly obscure here in Britain, and indeed in most of Europe.
The version that I had originally chosen to write about tonight was by El Vez, the Mexican Elvis and one-time Morrissey support act! I originally heard El Vez's version about 10 years ago on an Indie Music Charity CD and was immediately seduced by his incorporation of Public Image Ltd's 'Public Image' into the track. This is the version that this Blog was supposed to be about, however when I went to search for a video clip to accompany the song on the Blog, the only version I could find once again had the Union Flag as it's sole image, and as I had already been berated by Griff for this in a previous Blog, I didn't want to stoke his ire once again.
Then, as I was looking through the other versions of the song that were available, I stumbled upon this rather gorgeous version by an artist called Sea Of Bees. Immediately smitten, I knew this was the version I had to write about.

So who are/is Sea Of Bees?
Well, Sea Of Bees is the pseudonym used by Sacremento singer/songwriter Julie Ann Bee aka Julie Baenziger aka Jules. The music is very Folk/Pop with a remarkably clean production sound that really accentuates Julie's incredibly pure voice. This vocal clarity gives the song an almost hymnal quality, and the backwards guitars give the song a slightly psychedelic, slightly woozy you've drunk too much Advocaat(Egg Nogg for our American readers). There's something very folksy and primitive about this version of the song that makes it a perfect ~Streetlamp~ Festive Favourite!

If you are intrigued by Julie's music having heard this track, then please check out her own excellent website here, where you can acquire a free download of her rather wonderful song 'Marmalade', plus be sure to check out her, Myspace and Facebook pages.

All in all, a wonderful new discovery for us.
One I'm sure Griff will be rather partial to.

And if you'd like to hear El Vez's version, click here.

And here's the original......

......from the bottom of my heart!


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#8: 'A Christmas Song' by Jethro Tull....Yes, really!!

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

That it should come to this!

First, a James Brown article, and now Jethro Tull! Yes....THAT Jethro Tull! The beardy, flute playing Prog Rockers. In the ~Streetlamp~!!!!

Actually, that's all a little unfair. Jethro Tull have never really been Prog Rock, more Folk Rock. Actually more Folk Pop/Rock with a little Jazz thrown in, if we are being really honest. And....there are a couple of tracks on the Tull's first couple of albums that wouldn't have looked out of place in one of Griff's Blogs! Add to that, recent fanboy patronage from such left-field characters as Nick Cave and John Lydon, and maybe Jethro Tull featuring in our hallowed pages isn't such an odd thing after all.
So why are we featuring the Tull then?
Well, this Christmas song is actually a favourite of Ray and I, which we first discovered back in the Winter of 1984.
You see a couple of things happened within music(and I feel I should point out that I mean chart/Radio-friendly music when I say that) back then that changed the way music was presented to the public forever.
First of all there was Bob Geldof's Band Aid charity record that ensured multimillionaires would never have to feel guilty again as long as they wrung their consciences out in public every now and then, and in doing so hijack major events; Seasonal festivities, disasters etc, and maintain a high profile which could almost never be dented because the song would get dragged out again and again. And again. And again. I mean, here's a point....did you know that terrible cross-dressing one-hit-wonder Marilyn appears on the Band Aid single? How do I know? Because every time they show that wretched video, he's there!! In fifty years time or so, people will be watching that video and saying "Who's that rather masculine looking girl then? Don't remember her. How did she got on this cavalcade-of-stars?".
The second thing was the 'Now That's What I Call Music' series of albums that gave the public ALL the big hits of the day in one easy to digest dosage.
It was inevitable that both franchises would collide and, voila....'Now That's What I Call Christmas' released in the Winter of 1984 with the Band Aid single leading the way. Now, what was interesting about this was that this was the first time that ALL the big Christmas Pop hits(Slade, Mud, Wizzard, Jonah Lewie, even Bing Crosby) had ever been collected in one volume....and it made for quite interesting, if rather uneven listening. Of course, now you can't move for the many, many, MANY compilations of Christmas hits, but this was the first.

Now you may wonder what all this has to do with me, Ray and Jethro Tull? Well, Ray and I used to play this album a lot back then because a)we'd never owned all those songs before, and b)because we're such suckers for the whole Christmas scene, and remember we were still in our teens.
And so we came to listen to Christmas music in the same way that we would listen to conventional music, almost adopting some Post-modernist Ironist stance. And, as I was only just finding my way amongst the music of the past back then(by frequenting second hand vinyl shops and snaffling anything that looked cool from the 60s or 70s), I happened across a copy of Jethro Tull's 'Living In The Past' album. And there, sitting proudly was 'A Christmas Song'. I remember taking the album into Ray's house purely because of this track, because as I've said, we had become partial to listening to any obscure Christmas songs for their novelty and for their P*******n evocation of cherished memories.
'A Christmas Song' begins almost as though it's going to be a straight reading of 'Once In Royal David's City' with Ian Anderson's flute ushering us in amidst sleigh-bells before mandolin and bongos join in. After the first couple of lines from 'Once In Royal David's City' appear verbatim, Ian's lyrics become darker and more pointed and you realise that this is in fact a bit of an attack on the soulless-ness of the modern Christmas as he juxtaposes the simplicity of Christ in the manger with the bacchanalian excesses of yer average Christmas office party. As the song builds and builds upon a rather wonderful string section, Ian rails against how hollow the Christmas experience has become and how spirituality has been replaced by 40% proof spirit.
But in the ironic ending Ian bids that we not take him too seriously as, after all this is merely a Christmas song, and therefore virtually throwaway sentiments, ending with the humorous aside, "Hey Santa....pass us that bottle, will ya?".

This song was part of Ray and I's Christmases for many years, so it's nice to share it with some of you who would probably never think of listening to Jethro Tull.
I guess we could all do with beardy, straggly haired, long-coat wearing flautists standing on one leg in our lives!


Oooh (yawns and stretches), I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that Gordon had posted a blog on Jethro Tull, yeah... Jethro Tull, and that somehow he'd manage to work another reference to Proust into it. I mean, as if. That's just crazy. Ha ha..... ha?
What? Nooooooooo!
(only kidding, Gordon. stay unpredictable)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

~Winter Wassailing~#7: Four Festive Frolics from The Fall

A Selection Of Seasonal Songs In The ~Streetlamp~ Stylee!

Here at the ~Streetlamp~ we're not just here for the nice things about Christmas; tinsel, presents, too many sherries, days off work! But we like to deal with more unpleasant festive twaddle too; hard packed snow, sheets of black ice, Visa bills in January, botulism etc.

And so we feel it's time to roll out the Christmas Grinch....or should that be Grouch? For today we look at the Festive oddities turned out by knotty curmudgeon Mark E Smith and his ever changing army of musicians collectively known as The Fall.
I love The Fall and have done since even before The Smiths. In fact, if The Smiths had never existed then it's almost certain I would consider The Fall as my favourite band of all time. It must be something about Northern grit, or a certain Salfordian attitude/humour that has made me so fond of both Mark and Morrissey. That and the fact they are two of the finest wordsmiths(pun intended) to emerge in our generation. But whereas Morrissey deals in a doomed Northern romanticism, Mark is more like a sage or an oracle, or even the great Mancunian Philosopher.
Didactically obtuse and scathingly intellectual, there are many who just don't get Mark or The Fall in general, but those who do usually give in completely and defend The Fall's outsider stance to the death. Once again I have to confess that I have planned a Blog about The Fall for a long time but for now we are just going to concentrate on a few Festive finaglings.
And what better place to start than with the very excellent 'No Xmas For John Quays' from the fantastic debut album 'Live At The Witch Trials'. "The X in Xmas is a substitute crucifix for Christ" states Mark in the intro before we fly into a furious Post-punk maelstrom pummeled along by the extraordinary drums of Karl Burns! I swear the drums practically sing on this song, as if Karl is playing a tune on them, using three beats where most dull drummers would use one. This is a very witty and scathing song about down and outs at Christmastime, peppered with comical asides like "Good King Wenceslas looked out// Silly bugger he fell out!".
It's always been a point of discussion amongst Fall fans whether 'John Quays' really means 'Junkies' or not. I'll stay on the fence!

Next is a couple of tracks that The Fall recorded in one of their many legendary Peel sessions. Both these stem from the one session and I'm sure John would have been doubly pleased, a)because it's The Fall, and b)because John always wished that bands used his sessions to record tracks that they wouldn't normally record elsewhere.
First up is a cover of the perennial Rock'n'Roll Christmas track 'Jingle Bell Rock', most famously recorded by Bobby Helms but covered by almost everyone from Chuck Berry to Hilary Duff. In typical Mark fashion he extemporises his own scowling lyrics for the track.

Then it's a cover of the quaint old hymn 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing' here rendered as a snarling, spitting take on the song like some mad drunk uncle raging hard in the back of the church. Some people actually have the cheek to suggest that Mark goes out of tune at one point on this song, but I'm damned if I can hear it!

And to wrap up we have Mark's most recent Seasonal Rant, a track called 'We Wish You A Protein Christmas' which is actually a version of The Fall's own 'Proteinprotection' with added tinsel and snowflake lyrics. Once again Mark doesn't let up on the vitriol and slurs menacingly "The only thing good to that the politicians are on holiday", a sentiment I'm sure we all share at the moment.

And there you have it....The Fall's Festive Greet.
And just like John Peel himself said of The Fall....."Always different, always the same!"
Just like Christmas really!