‘Strangeways… seems to be everybody in the band’s favourite album – it’s one of the very few things we all agree on nowadays’

Mike Joyce – picture by Paul Husband.

This week, Strangeways, Here We Come, the fourth and final studio album by influential ‘80s Manchester indie-rock band The Smiths – Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite group of all time – celebrates its 35th birthday.

By the time the record was released, on September 28, 1987, the band had split up, following the departure of guitarist, Johnny Marr.

Many people – the group included – view Strangeways, Here We Come as the band’s masterpiece, although, here at Say It With Garage Flowers, (whisper it) we think The Queen Is Dead, which was released the year before, deserves that accolade. But that’s for another time and place…

There’s no doubt about it, though – Strangeways, Here We Come is one of the greatest rock records of all time. The Smiths’ most ambitious and experimental album, it takes in ghostly piano-led pop (A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours), synth brass-assisted glam (I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish), eerie psychedelic atmospherics (Death of a Disco Dancer), witty black comedy set to a lilting acoustic guitar line (Girlfriend In A Coma), epic, orchestral melodrama (Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me) and macabre rockabilly (Death At One’s Elbow).

To coincide with Strangeways, Here We Come’s (unhappy) birthday, Smiths drummer, Mike Joyce, generously agreed to raffle off his silver disc of the album to raise money for Back on Track, a Manchester charity that he is a patron of.

Back on Track works with adults to help manage problematic drug/alcohol use, enable a crime-free life, improve mental health and wellbeing, or find a stable home.

To be in with a chance of winning Mike’s special copy of the classic album, enter the raffle here and make a donation.

In another kind gesture, Mike agreed to give Say It With Garage Flowers an interview, in which he shares his memories of recording Strangeways, Here We Come, talks about the brilliance of The Smiths, recalls some of his collaborations after the breakup of the band, and fills us in on his latest musical project, Love Tempo.

“Strangeways… is a great-sounding album – it’s very different from anything we had heard before, but then again I could say that about just about every Smiths album or track,” he tells us. We completely agree with him.

Q&A

So, let’s talk about Strangeways, Here We Come, which is celebrating its 35th birthday this month. It’s one of the greatest albums ever made…

Mike Joyce: Thank you.

You’re of the opinion it’s the best album The Smiths recorded – and you’re not the only member of the band to think that…

MJ: Collectively, it’s one of the very few things we all agree on nowadays [laughs]. From what I’ve heard, it seems to be everybody’s favourite. I can see why.

Why do you say that?

MJ: From a musician’s point of view and also what we’d experienced as a band prior to Strangeways…  The first album came out, expectations were high, then there was a difficult second album, and a third album where we were retaining the same threads, so we didn’t alienate all the fans we had. We had some very successful albums for a genuinely independent band and we didn’t know Strangeways… was going to be our last album. Well, I didn’t!

I think Johnny might’ve had an idea…

MJ: I don’t know – he certainly didn’t let on if that was the case.

It’s subjective – you speak to some people and they say the first album blows everything out of the water and that it’s miles better than Strangeways…but it’s like ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ ‘Orange is great, but what about blue, or purple? ‘Purple is superb – I’d forgotten about that one…’ It’s just whatever tickles your fancy.

Strangeways… is a great-sounding album – it’s very different from anything we had heard before, but then again I could say that about just about every Smiths album or track.

‘We had some very successful albums for a genuinely independent band and we didn’t know Strangeways… was going to be our last album. Well, I didn’t!’

Have you listened to Strangeways... recently?

MJ: I did listen to it not long ago, because Tim Burgess did a listening party for it. But I hadn’t listened to it in its entirety probably since the day it came out.

When I mentioned that during the listening party, people were very shocked. Do authors sit down and read their books? I don’t know…

I had a CD jukebox that held 200-300 CDs – when I was filling it up, I said to Tina [Christina – wife]: ‘Shall I put a Smiths album in it, or is that a bit tight?’ She said: ‘No – put one in.’ So, I said: ‘Which one?’ And she said, ‘Your favourite.’ So, I did. When we were playing it, Last Night I Dreamt… came on – of course it would, out of the thousands of tracks that are on there – and someone heard it.

They found it so moving that I think they were quite shocked – they didn’t really know that much about The Smiths, apart from Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, This Charming Man and How Soon Is Now? When they heard Last Night I Dreamt… they said: ‘Wow – is that you?’ I said: ‘Yes – it’s little ole me…’  It’s a big departure from anything…

I think if you listen to The Queen Is Dead, you can hear the direction The Smiths where heading in, which would eventually lead to Strangeways, like using the Emulator synth strings on the arrangement for There Is A Light…

MJ: Yeah, yeah – and on I Know It’s Over. 

But also on Strangeways… there’s rockabilly – Death At One’s Elbow – which is going back to some of The Smiths’ earlier stuff. And then there’s I Won’t Share You, which has a similar feel to Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.

Last Night I Dreamt… is my favourite song on Strangeways… and it’s one of my favourite Smiths songs. 

MJ: It’s one of mine, too.

I love the arrangement  – it’s like a pocket symphony. It reminds me of the Walker Brothers or a big ’50s orchestral ballad… 

MJ: It’s not the kind of tune you jam out –  it’s not just going with a riff and seeing what comes out of it, although we did do a bit of that. A lot of the time we ran through a lot in sound checks – we never sat down and said, ‘Right – let’s block book a rehearsal room or studio’. We just kind of jammed and blasted it out.

We had a great working relationship –  we could empathise with whatever the other guy was playing.

‘During Strangeways, Johnny was set up in the control room with an Emulator and he just started playing these incredible string and piano parts. I was taken aback –  I thought, ‘Hold on a minute –  where did he learn to do that?’

We never felt like we were struggling to get things done, further things or finish things when Johnny had come up with a riff. Sometimes, Johnny would come in the room and start playing and me and Andy [Rourke – bassist] would just start playing the drums and bass for it – that’s just what it was like. We knew what we thought was right for it, and, invariably, it was. I suppose it doesn’t happen that often for bands and songs because you’re working on a lot.

The Smiths (Left to right: Andy Rourke, Morrissey, Mike Joyce and Johnny Marr)

In terms of the Emulator, and the way that Johnny was writing at the time, I can remember during Strangeways... [in the Wool Hall studio, near Bath, Somerset ], he was set up in the control room rather than the live room and he just started playing these incredible string and piano parts. I know he’d played those on tracks before, but I was taken aback – I thought, ‘Hold on a minute – where did he learn to do that?’

Watching Johnny writing those parts and working out where they would fit… People throw around the word ‘genius’… but he did that without sitting down or rehearsing with a string section. He’d never been classically trained.

He’s also a better piano player than Morrissey is on Death of a Disco Dancer…

MJ: Well, actually I really like that piano part…

It’s atonal and it suits the song…

MJ: It’s just odd, which kind of goes with the man.

When Strangeways… was released, The Smiths had disbanded, after Johnny left the group. Were you sad that you never got the chance to promote the album or play any songs from it live?

MJ: No – I pulled my sadness back a few notches. I was slightly miffed – the finished article sounded so great – but I was more shocked about the split than not being able to play the songs live. That usurped it. I don’t think we would’ve done a Strangeways… tour – we might’ve played a couple from it.

‘I really like Morrissey’s piano part on Death of a Disco Dancer. It’s just odd, which kind of goes with the man’

Last Night I Dreamt… would’ve been tricky to play live at the time, wouldn’t it? Although Johnny has played it at some of his solo gigs in the past few years…

MJ: Oh, has he? The vocals, the bass and the drums are pretty bog standard – well, not bog standard, I’m sure Morrissey would be delighted to hear me say that – but with the string parts, it would’ve been tough, and there’s some percussion on there. I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve been that difficult to emulate.

We never rehearsed those songs [from Strangeways…]. Death of a Disco Dancer was just a take that we thought sounded great – we were just jamming with a rough framework to work from. The only time when we had an issue technically [live] was with How Soon Is Now? and that was with this bit [he sings the slide guitar part]. We tried it with a trigger, but it didn’t work – sometimes it was not sensitive enough, or it was too sensitive…

Picture by Paul Husband

So, with Strangeways.… turning 35, you’ve generously decided to raffle off your silver disc of the album to raise money for Manchester’s Back on Track charity, which you’re a patron of. How did you get involved with the organisation?

MJ: They asked me to be a patron – I had absolutely no idea what it entailed or about Back on Track, so I went to one of their open days, had a look round and listened to some of the testimonies of the people the charity had helped. It just seemed like such a wonderful place – helping people with rehabilitation from alcohol or drugs or anything that is stopping them being a part of society. It’s quite difficult for some people to come back into society, because all they’ve known are some frighteningly bad environments and they need to keep away from them.

‘The silver disc of Strangeways, Here We Come is precious to me, but I’ve got the memories of playing on the album and that’s more precious than anything’

Back on Track is a start for them and, apart from the obvious psychological and emotional battles, some of these people don’t have any qualifications – Back on Track can help with that and organise interviews for jobs that are available. To actually see and hear someone’s story when you’re sat face-to-face with them, and it sounded like it was all over for them, but, because of Back on Track it wasn’t… it was a no-brainer.

I thought that maybe I could organise some finances for Back on Track by raffling a disc. Everybody’s struggling at the moment and charities are no exception, especially post-Covid.

The [silver] disc of Strangeways… is precious to me, but I’ve got the memories of playing on the album and that’s more precious  than anything. Getting the accolade and receiving something made of glass, metal and plastic is wonderful, but I still received it – even when it’s gone and it’s raised money for the charity –  so I thought, ‘Let’s do it.’

I’m sure you’ve got a few other discs at home…

MJ: Yes, I have…

Thank God you didn’t choose to raffle off The Queen Is Dead. Timing is everything, isn’t it?

MJ: I don’t know if that would’ve been the best or the worst thing…

‘When I play with any artist, I really do have to find out about them – that’s why I’ve never done any session work. I want to know what their dreams and aspirations are, and what they hate and love’

You’d certainly have got some PR coverage out of it… Let’s talk about some of the other music you’ve been involved with after The Smiths. After they disbanded, you and Andy Rourke played with Sinead O’Connor. You’ve played with quite a few controversial singers, including John Lydon, in PIL, haven’t you?

MJ: I love it! When I play with any artist, I really do have to find out about them – that’s why I’ve never done any session work. I can’t go into an environment where it’s like, ‘Hi – this is Tony, this is Dave, this is Emma – off you go’. I don’t want to do that and I never will.

I have to understand a bit about these people – know them and feel them. I want to know what their dreams and aspirations are, and what they hate and love. I what to know everything about them because when I’m playing drums with these people, we’re having a conversation musically. I want to be able to give them what they want. We play a little bit – I know where their head’s at and what they want. By going and having a few beers with somebody, you can find out a lot about them, without asking them questions directly.

All the people that I’ve worked with are very interesting, intense and different. They’re very driven and some of them are very fragile – strong but not. They’re interesting characters and it’s fascinating, because I get to see everything – the audience, the singer, the band… I’m in a really privileged position, literally.

You played with P.P. Arnold, didn’t you?

MJ: Yeah – it was just a small kind of thing. I was working with a guy called Grant Ainsworth, who’s a fantastic keyboard player and a good mate of mine. We got in touch with her through our management at the time, but we didn’t really have the songs for her level of expertise. We did a couple of things – they were alright, they weren’t ‘chuck it in the bin’, but with her legacy, I felt someone like Mark Ronson should’ve stepped in there and done something superb with a full-on band. She was one of the Ikettes and she toured with The Rolling Stones – the stories that she had…

Have you read her book, Soul Survivor, which came out this year?

MJ: No – I didn’t even know she had one out. I’ll get hold of that. She used to talk to me about her and Jimi, who had a thing. I was like Jimi who? And she’d say, ‘Hendrix’….  and I’d say ‘Oh!’ And she’d talk about Brian being upset. And I’m like, ‘Brian? Brian Moore?’ And she’d say, ‘Brian Jones.’ It was unbelievable. She’s one of the loveliest people – inside and outside of music. That was a lovely little period of my life. We tried but we didn’t succeed, but I didn’t mind that – we didn’t have the right armoury for her, or to bring out the best in her. It was a great experience because she was such a sweetheart.

You and I have a mutual friend, singer-songwriter, Vinny Peculiar. You and Andy – and Craig Gannon, who was also in The Smiths – played with him, didn’t you? He’s such a great artist – his lyrics are wonderful.

MJ: Aren’t they just? That’s why I wanted to play with him. I heard his music and I thought ‘This is great’. I said to Andy, ‘Have a listen to this – these are good songs’. And they were – and they are. We had a good time playing with him for a few years, but I felt my time working with Vinny had come to an end – it had reached fruition. He’s a good friend – we went for a curry about a month ago. He’s a lovely guy.

The Smiths – Photo by Pete Cronin/Redferns

Why did you and Andy work so well together as a rhythm section? What was the chemistry? Didn’t Morrissey, or was it Johnny, once say you could’ve played with Elvis you were that good?

MJ: I remember that quote. I’ve not revisited it since you’ve mentioned it – it was 25 years ago and it was Johnny. He said, ‘If Elvis had had me and Andy as a rhythm section, he would’ve been a bigger star’. It was tongue-in-cheek, obviously. I love Andy – we got very tight on tour and we were rooming together. The way that I played and the way that he played worked together and so did the parts we wrote.

Andy’s quite a busy bassist –  he’s not a pedaller, he’s on the note. You can take his bassline away and it’s a song in itself. If I was a busy drummer, it would sound shit – there would be too much going on. I think that helped in the way that we played together – when I heard him playing those really busy basslines for the first time, I’d go very simple, which is what I do anyway. I like to play a rhythm rather than try and stamp my authority on the whole track – and that works. Our friendship was a massive part of it – we saw each other every single day for five years. It wasn’t just, ‘I’ll see you for rehearsals on Friday’.

Does it upset you when people say the legacy of The Smiths has been tarnished by some of the things that have happened since the band broke up?

I interviewed Johnny 20 years ago, when he’d launched The Healers, and he told me that other people – not just the band themselves  – had tarnished the legacy of The Smiths, like Warner Bros, who messed up a Best Of compilation when it came to mastering it and doing the artwork and the credits, etc.

‘If somebody doesn’t want to listen to a Smiths record for whatever reason, then don’t listen to it – it’s okay, I don’t mind’

And then there was the court case, which you brought against Morrissey and Johnny, and, in more recent times, Morrissey has upset people with some of his controversial views, so some people have decided they can’t listen to The Smiths anymore. Do we have to separate the art from the artist?

MJ: I don’t find it upsetting. We’re talking about somebody that I don’t know. Just because someone has a different view to me… With social media at the moment, I feel like there’s a lot of ‘get the pitchforks out’ if someone says something very different from what you’ve said. Of course I care, but I don’t find it upsetting. If somebody doesn’t want to listen to a Smiths record for whatever reason, then don’t listen to it – it’s okay, I don’t mind.

‘I can isolate 1982-1987 really well – that’s where my dreams were made and everything shone for me. Nobody can ever take that away. Whatever happens afterwards – people whingeing about this, or what somebody said… I’m not really that bothered’

Going back to the other thing you said about Johnny, maybe I’m not as intense as he is about those kinds of things, to be brutally honest. I could say,’Yeah – it’s a travesty and they’ve not done this or that,’ but, do you know what? As far as I’m concerned, I can isolate 1982-1987 really well – that’s where my dreams were made and everything shone for me. In terms of my musical aspirations, I’d arrived at them and nobody can ever take that away. Whatever happens afterwards – people whingeing about this, or what somebody said… I’m not really that bothered.

So, what are you up to now, musically? Any new projects? 

MJ: I do a bit of DJing – it’s a good night and I really enjoy the music.

What’s in your set?

MJ: It’s classic indie – Primal Scream, The Undertones, The Clash, Blondie. It’s the music that I like to listen to and have a dance to. It’s very simple – there are no curveballs in there. I enjoy doing that.

A few years ago, a friend of mine called Rick Hornby, whom I’ve known for 30-odd years, was living in London, doing some session work. He moved back to Cheadle Hulme [in Cheshire], which is about five or six miles away from where I live now. I’ve got a soundproof basement and I asked him if he’d fancy doing a bit of playing and he said he’d love to. So, he came down and we just played – there was no agenda. His guitar sound is superb and I was inspired by it. He was playing some really good parts, but I was more inspired by the sound – it’s a bit like the B-52’s. I’ve not heard a lot of guitarists play like that – it’s bordering on rockabilly, but a bit more modern.

‘Rick Hornby and I have started doing a bit of writing together and we’ve been to see an artist in Manchester – I can’t say who it is – but we’re going do to some recording with him in the States next year. He’s a guy from San Francisco and the band’s called Love Tempo’

We started doing a bit of writing together and we’ve been to see an artist in Manchester who he knows – I can’t say who it is – but we’re going do to some recording with him in the States next year and see what happens. He’s a guy from San Francisco and the band’s called Love Tempo. We’re going to throw it against the wall and see what sticks. I’m really excited about it. I didn’t think that I was going to do much more playing to be honest with you, because nothing had come along that made we go ‘wow’. This did.

I wasn’t that bothered if I didn’t get on a stage again, but, every time I go to a gig, I’m like, ‘God, I wish I could get up and play…’ but then that’s gone by the next day.

‘Fontaines D.C. have completely satiated my need to listen to new music. I’ve seen them live a few times over the last couple of years and each time they get better and better. They’re my new favourite group. I’ve not been as affected by seeing a band since I saw Buzzcocks when I was 14’

Do you listen to a lot of new music or go to many gigs?

MJ: I pick up bits and bobs. Until a couple of years ago, I was doing a radio show, and that dictated that I was keeping my ear to the ground and going to gigs a lot.  I listen to 6 Music and have the radio on when I’m in the car, but it’s mainly Talk Sport.

Fontaines D.C. have completely satiated my need to listen to new music. I’ve seen them live a few times over the last couple of years and each time they get better and better. They’re my new favourite group. I’ve not been as affected by seeing a band since I saw Buzzcocks when I was 14.

You played with them too, didn’t you? 

MJ: [Laughs]: Yes – I did.

Going back to The Smiths. How many times a week do people ask if you The Smiths will ever reform, do you get annoyed by it and what do you tell them?

MJ: Well, what day are we now? It’s Friday and you’re the first person this week. That’s not unusual. I don’t get asked very often, but, it’s usually in an interview situation, not when I’m putting my sourdough in my basket and it goes ‘beep beep’. I don’t get asked then.

In a working environment, like when I’m DJing, people ask me if there’s any chance of it happening. I think Johnny and Morrissey get asked a lot more than I do – probably ‘cos Johnny does a lot more interviews than I do. Andy probably gets asked the least because he doesn’t seem to be doing any live work at all.

‘If The Smiths reformed now and went and played, you wouldn’t be seeing The Smiths.  I like the idea of us not reforming. And even if they did, they might do it, but minus me! I was surprised it didn’t happen earlier’

I don’t get pissed off by it – it’s a natural question and I probably would’ve asked it of a band if I’d seen one member… Actually, I wouldn’t! Every time I see Ian Brown, I don’t ask him ‘When are the Roses getting back together?’

I think it’s because The Smiths had a relatively short career – only five years. A lot of people, like me, got into them after they’d split up – they never got the chance to see the band play live.

MJ: I think you’re right. I’ll tell you what, if The Smiths reformed now and went and played, you wouldn’t be seeing The Smiths.  I like the idea of us not reforming. And even if they did, they might do it, but minus me! I was surprised it didn’t happen earlier. There’s a reason why bands split up. They don’t say, ‘I’ll see you right I’ve got your number and I’ll check in every couple of weeks to see how you’re doing’. It never happens it’s a massive fucking breakup. It’s a divorce. People don’t ask you if you’re gonna get back with your ex-wife again! ‘It’s been 35 years, come on! You did love her…’

The idea of doing it? We’re all four very different people than we were when we were rehearsing in Crazy Face. It’s a lifetime that’s gone by.

The Smiths – photo by Stephen Wright

I think there’s a quote that Morrissey said: ‘Why would I go on stage with people that I don’t even know?’ Well, that’s exactly how I feel. I don’t know Morrissey and Johnny – I know Andy, because I’ve seen him since The Smiths split and up to the present day, but I haven’t seen Morrissey or Johnny, or sat down or spoken to them for 30-odd years. Why would I want to do that?

The financial gain is something that everybody talks about they say everybody’s got a price. Well, I don’t think so. It depends on how much you want the money, doesn’t it? Maybe you haven’t got a price and someone says: ‘We’ll give you £1oo,000,000  each.’ And the answer is still ‘no.’ ‘We’ll give you £5oo,000,000’ the answer is still ‘no.’ Maybe they’d then just leave them alone because it’s not going to happen. The rumours do come out it seems to happen just before either a Morrissey or a Johnny tour. I don’t know [laughs]... It make sense put it in the news…

There have been a lot of books published about the The Smiths, and Morrissey and Johnny have both written their autobiographies. Would you ever write one?

MJ: No. It’s funny – after an interview, usually, someone says to me, ‘Have you ever thought about writing a book?’ I have thought about it and then I think about not writing a book. It’s as simple as that. I have no desire, but a lot of people want to hear what I’ve got to say. Maybe it might happen, it might not happen… I just can’t be arsed. I know that’s not the most eloquent answer to your question.

There’s more to life than books you know…

MJ: But not much more.

To enter Mike Joyce’s charity raffle for Back on Track, please click here. 

https://www.mikejoyce.com/

https://www.backontrackmanchester.org.uk/

Mike Joyce – picture by Paul Husband

 

Best albums of 2017

IMG_2717 (2)

This year has been a remarkable one for new music – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the greatest in the history of Say It With Garage Flowers, which launched in the summer of 2009.

Most of my favourite contemporary singer-songwriters and bands unleashed new albums in 2017 and I was lucky enough to interview several of them to find out the stories behind the songs.

Sadly, I haven’t been able to arrange an in-depth chat with the man whose album has made the top-spot in this year’s ‘Best Of’ list, although we did come very close to doing an interview a few weeks ago, but it got postponed at the last minute. I live in hope that we can rearrange it for next year – both of us dearly want it to happen…

In the meantime, I will have to be content with listening to his latest record, A Short History of Decay, which is my favourite album of 2017.

John_Murry_1400_X1400

The second solo record by John Murry – an American singer-songwriter who was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, but now lives in Kilkenny, Ireland –  A Short History of Decay is the follow-up to his 2012 masterpiece, The Graceless Age – one of the greatest records of the last few years.

Back in 2012, I said of The Graceless Age: ‘It’s a deeply personal work that deals with the darker side of life, including drug addiction, loss and loneliness –  it’s one of those records that’s meant to be listened to on headphones, alone, late at night, as it draws you in with its lush orchestration, gorgeous, spiralling melodies and twisted tales. Misery seldom sounded so sublime.’

Five years later, Murry finally released its successor. It was always going to be a tough act to follow such a brilliant record as The Graceless Age, but for Murry it was doubly difficult. Since its release, he’d had personal problems and demons to deal with, including family issues and the death of his close friend Tim Mooney, of American Music Club, who had produced his first album.

Michael Timmins from Canadian alt-country act Cowboy Junkies came to Murry’s aid. He’d seen him supporting his band in Glasgow and was captivated by his performance – I’ve seen Murry play live 13 times and he is one of my favourite artists to watch in concert. His shows are intense and extremely powerful – you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always one hell of a ride. He is an extraordinary performer.

‘It was always going to be a tough act to follow such a brilliant record as The Graceless Age, but for Murry it was doubly difficult – he’d had personal problems and demons to deal with, including family issues and the death of his close friend Tim Mooney’

Timmins and Murry talked about making an album together – Timmins wanted to capture the rawness of Murry’s songs – and the result is A Short History of Decay.

It was recorded over five days in Timmins’ Toronto studio with a band comprising of his brother Peter (Cowboy Junkies) on drums and Josh Finlayson  (Skydiggers, Gord Downie, Lee Harvey Osmond) on bass. John brought along Cait O’Riordan (The Pogues, Elvis Costello), whom he’d met in Ireland – she contributed backing vocals to the album.

Talking about the sessions, Timmins said: “I felt that it was important that John got out of his own way and that we set up a situation where he would just play and sing and the rest of us would just react, no second guessing, just react and capture the moment. It was a very inspired and inspiring week of playing and recording. Very intense. And I think we captured the raw essence of John’s writing and playing”. 

They certainly did – A Short History of Decay is looser and much more raw than its predecessor. The wonderful first single, Under A Darker Moon, has fuzzy, fucked-up guitars and punk-rock sensibilities, but, at its heart, is a killer indie-pop tune.

My favourite track on the album is Wrong Man. A dark, stripped-down, Springsteen-esque ballad that deals with the breakup of Murry’s marriage – “I’m the wrong man to ride shotgun on your murder mile” – it makes for uncomfortable listening, but is such a beautiful song, with a simple, sparse keyboard and guitar arrangement. 

A Short History of Decay has its fair share of gallows humour, too. Despite its title, One Day (You’ll Die) is one of the album’s lighter moments  – a weird, mutated, but very catchy, pop-reggae (!) groove, with a guitar solo that sounds like it’s been lifted from the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll instrumental Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny.

Similarly, Countess Lola’s Blues (All In This Together) is another song with an irresistible, sing-a-long melody, but when the dirty garage guitar comes in, it kicks ass. 

The album’s closing track is a stunning cover of What Jail Is Like by The Afghan Whigs. I will scratch my way out of your pen, just so that I can claw my way back into it again,” sings Murry, over psychedelic guitar sounds.

It’s great to have him back.

This year also saw the return of another Say It With Garage Flowers favourite. Back in 2014, miserablist duo Pete Fij (Adorable and Polak) and Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) released their debut album, Broken Heart Surgery, which topped my end of year poll.

2017 saw them follow it up with the brilliant We Are Millionaires – an album that I played to death this year. 

As I wrote back in the summer, ‘like its predecessor, it’s full of deadpan humour and dry wit. With influences including John Barry, The Velvet Underground and Lee Hazlewood, and lyrical nods to movies The Third Man and The Birds, it’s like a soundtrack to an imaginary, downbeat, British, black and white kitchen sink-drama-meets spy-film – part Hancock, part Hitchcock – but this time around, there’s even some optimism.’

And while we’re on the subject of Lee Hazlewood, the legendary moustachioed maverick is a huge influence on Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee, whose third album, Broken Flowers, was another highlight of this year. 

His darkest record to date, it was written in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Nev’s rich, baritone voice is backed by lush, cinematic strings and the album moves from twilight country music to bluesy psych-rock and spacey, hypnotic grooves. First single, Open Eyes, sounded like Lee Hazlewood hanging out in Cafè del Mar.

Staying with Manchester melancholy, Morrissey came back in 2017 with Low In High School – his strongest album in years – but, sadly, the record was overshadowed by controversial comments he made in the press. Songs like the brassy, glam rock swagger of My Love, I’d Do Anything For You, the electro-tinged I Wish You Lonely and the epic Home Is A Question Mark would easily find their place in a list of his greatest tracks. 

Ex-Only Ones frontman Peter Perrett surprised everyone by releasing a superb solo album, How The West Was Won, which was loaded with wry songs in the vein of Dylan and Lou Reed.

Husband and wife country duo – and Say It With Garage Flowers regulars – My Darling Clementine – returned with the excellent Still Testifying. Their third album saw them building on the Southern soul sound that they explored on their 2013 record, The Reconciliation? More Delaney & Bonnie than George & Tammy, and with gospel leanings and luscious horn arrangements, it could’ve emerged from Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was actually made in Tooting, South London.

Another husband and wife duo who are no strangers to country music – The Rails – impressed me with their second album, Other People.

Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ray Kennedy [Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams], it was a darker, heavier and more electric record than their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Fair Warning

Moving away from the band’s traditional folk roots – it had ‘psychedelic’ tinges and  ’60s organ –  it wasn’t afraid to speak its mind and deal with modern social issues.

Gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan’s Gargoyle was also high up on my list of 2017 albums of the year. The latest in a long line of great releases by him, it continued to mine the seam of dark, brooding electronic rock he’s explored over his last few records. 

Singer-songwriter Richard Warren – who’s played guitar for Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers – returned with his latest album, Distentangled. It was less dark than some of his previous releases – more soulful and stripped-down – but still with a nod to the ’50s sounds of Sun Records, melancholy, late-night ballads in the vein of Nick Lowe, Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley, and twangy guitar instrumentals that could be soundtracks to arthouse films that don’t exist yet. 

A debut album that I fell in love with this year was This Short Sweet Life by Nottingham’s Torn Sail – coincidentally an act linked to Richard Warren, who played with them in a previous incarnation.

Written and produced by singer-songwriter Huw Costin, it was a haunting and gorgeous record –  sad, but also uplifting and spiritual – an intimate, late-night soundtrack for the lost and the lonely that reminded me of Jeff Buckley at times.

PP

Two of my favourite albums of 2017 weren’t actually from this year! Soul legend P.P. Arnold and Neil Young both released ‘lost’ long-players.

Arnold’s album The Turning Tide was a collection of songs from ’69 and ’70. Produced by Barry Gibb and Eric Clapton, the album was aborted and remained unfinished. Thankfully the master tapes were finally located, the tracks were completed and the album was issued 47 years later. It’s a great collection of groovy soul-shakers – her blistering versions of Traffic’s Medicated Goo and The Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want are guaranteed floor-fillers – and tender ballads, like the lushly-orchestrated gospel song Bury Me Down By The River. 

Young’s intimate Hitchhiker – it’s just vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica – was recorded in a single night, in Malibu, California in 1976, but didn’t see the light of day until September this year. I’m so glad it did – it’s up there with his best work.

The dark and menacing title track is jaw-dropping – a staggeringly honest autobiographical tale, which sees Neil on a road trip with just his drug stash for company, before things take a turn for the worse and he ends up a paranoid wreck who has to escape from the L.A. rock ‘n’ roll scene and hole up in the countryside…

L.A. is the home of singer-songwriter Marlon Rabenreither, who, under the name Gold Star, released his excellent second album, Big Blue, this year, and, funnily enough, it often sounds like ’70s Neil Young, as well as early Ryan Adams. 

I’d like to say thanks to Alex Lipinski who invited me to his album launch at Pretty Green in London’s Carnaby Street in November this year – I loved his latest record, the raw and bluesy Alex, with its mix of Dylan and the La’s.

And finally, I must mention the UK label Sugarbush, which continues to put out great jangle-pop, power-pop and psych albums on vinyl – both new releases and re-issues. This year saw Scottish guitar band The Carousels, who are on Sugarbush, release their gorgeous second album, Sail Me Home, St.Clair, which was heavily indebted to the sound of the Byrds’ 1968 country-rock cult classic, Sweetheart of the Rodeo

I’m listening to it now, as I write this article and sail off into 2018… 

Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2017 and a Spotify playlist to go with it:

1) John Murry – A Short History of Decay

2) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers We Are Millionaires

3) Morrissey – Low In High School

4) Mark Lanegan – Gargoyle

5) Nev CotteeBroken Flowers

6) My Darling Clementine Still Testifying

7) Torn Sail This Short Sweet Life

8) The Rails Other People

9) Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won

10) Neil Young – Hitchhiker 

11) PP Arnold The Turning Tide

12) Gold Star – Big Blue

13) Richard Warren Disentangled

14) The Carousels Sail Home, St. Clair

15) Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last

16) The Clientele – Music For The Age of Miracles

17) Ralegh Long – Upwards of Summer

18) Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

19) Mark Eitzel – Hey Mr Ferryman

20) Alex Lipinksi Alex

21) Little Barrie – Death Express

22) The National – Sleep Well Beast

23) Juanita Stein – America

24) Martin CarrNew Shapes of Life

25) The Dials – That Was The Future

26) Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Adios Senor Pussycat

27) Chris Hillman – Bidin’ My Time

28) Liam Gallagher – As You Were

29) William Matheny – Strange Constellations

30) Cotton Mather – Wild Kingdom

31) Matthew Sweet – Tomorrow Forever

32) Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders Scenery For Dreamers

33) The Jesus & Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

34) Duke Garwood – Garden of Ashes

35) Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution

36) Luke Tuchscherer Always Be True

37) Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom

38) Sophia Marshall – Bye Bye

39) Co-Pilgrim – Moon Lagoon

40) GospelBeacH Another Summer of Love

41) Bob Dylan – Triplicate

42) Papernut Cambridge – Cambridge Circus

43) Luna – A Sentimental Education

44) Steelism – Ism

45) The Len Price 3 – Kentish Longtails

46) Wesley Fuller – Inner City Dream

47) Hurricane #1 – Melodic Rainbows [UK version]

48) Alex Lowe – Rancho Diablo

49) The Blow Monkeys – The Wild River

50) Colman GotaFear The Summer

 

 

 

Best Albums of 2014

Pete-Fij-Terry-Bickers-Broken-Heart-Surgery-Signed

This year’s Say It With Garage Flowers number one album can be easily filed alongside Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker as one of the greatest breakup records of all time.

Broken Heart Surgery by singer-songwriter Pete Fijalkowski (Adorable and Polak) and guitarist Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) is intimate and stripped-down, with nods to Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, John Barry and The Velvet Underground. A raw, deeply personal, melancholy album, it documents the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath, but is shot through with plenty of gallows humour and deadpan wit. 

On the record, there are several lyrical references to material possessions – leaving them behind, or being saddled with someone’s else’s old stuff. There’s a lot of emotional baggage involved, but also a lot of physical baggage, too… There are some brilliant lyrics on the album – some of which made me laugh out loud when I first heard them. For example, “Hope – it’s more addictive than coke. Yeah – it’s cupid’s cruel joke…” (Betty Ford) and  “[she] just left me with cutlery and a whole pile of her duff CDs…” (Queen of Stuff).

320793_117329211709659_1448593624_n

When I spoke to Pete earlier this year, he told me: “I wanted the album to reflect the various aspects of a breakup, so while some of the subject matters are taking place more in the head, there are others that have a very physical location and an obsession with small details – the division of objects between a couple (Breaking Up), the forgotten objects left behind in a now half-empty flat (Queen of Stuff) or the changing soundtrack to a couple’s life as their relationship deteriorates – from furtive whispers and kisses, to slamming doors and uneasy silences (Sound of Love).”

Asked what he wanted to achieve with the album, Pete said: “First and foremost, I wanted to make an album that I was proud of.”

Rest assured, he can hold his head up high – it’s a stone cold classic.

While we’re on the subject of masters in melancholy, Morrissey made a welcome return this year with World Peace Is None Of Your Business – his first album in five years. His best long-player since 1994’s Vauxhall & I, it was a glorious comeback record, with epic ballads (I’m Not A Man, Mountjoy), unabashed pop songs (Staircase At The University, Kiss Me A Lot, The Bullfighter Dies ) and lavish, exotic arrangements, including mariachi brass, strings and flamenco guitar.

Alas, due to a dispute with his record label, Harvest, the album is currently not available on Spotify or iTunes, so, instead, here’s a YouTube clip of the mighty Staircase At The University…

Other notable 2014 albums included Fair Warning by folk-rockers The Rails; Charade – the debut album from LA-based country singer Meg Olsen; A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye by San Fran garage-psychers Cool Ghouls ; Phantom Radio by the Mark Lanegan Band, which explored dark, electronic territory; The Breaks by former Boo Radley Martin Carr – gorgeous, lush guitar pop – and Alexandria by alt. country artist Chris Mills, which was his first album in five years and saw him team up with a new backing band – The Distant Stars.

Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt impressed with his solo album Hendra, which featured former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler on a poignant set of songs that, at times, recalled the legendary John Martyn, while Cherry Ghost’s latest record, Herd Runners, was a soundtrack for the lost and lonely, similar to Richard Hawley’s late night laments…

Chris Mills
Chris Mills

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention News From Nowhere – the ‘long-lost’ debut by ’90s Britpop band Speedy. Recorded in 1997, the album finally saw the light of day earlier this year and was well worth the wait. The band even reformed and played live for the occasion. 

I  played a small part in getting the album released – a 2009 blog I wrote about the record attracted some interest and one thing led to another…

Here’s a list of my favourite 30 albums of 2014 and a Spotify playlist to go with it. 

1) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery

2) Morrissey – World Peace Is None of Your Business

3) The Rails – Fair Warning

4) Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio

5) Martin Carr – The Breaks

6) The New Mendicants – Into The Lime

7) Chris Mills & The Distant Stars – Alexandria

8) Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners

9) Ben Watt – Hendra

10) Meg Olsen – Charade

11) Johnny Marr – Playland

12) Cool Ghouls – A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye

13) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

14) The Delines – Colfax Avenue

15) Beck – Morning Phase

16) Speedy – News From Nowhere

17) Temples – Sun Structures

18) Cleaners From Venus – Return To Bohemia

19Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

20) Kings of The South Seas – Kings of The South Seas

21) Gallon Drunk – The Soul of the Hour

22) Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows

23) Little Barrie – Shadow

24) Tweedy – Sukirae

25) The Autumn Defense – Fifth

26) Neville Skelly – Carousel

27) Johnny Aries – Unbloomed

28) Pete Molinari – Theosophy

29) Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

30) Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything

There’s a club if you’d like to go…

grcsmiths3-copy

Earlier this month, I headed up north to attend the Glossop Record Club Smiths night in deepest, darkest Derbyshire, where I spent an evening listening to albums by The Smiths and Morrissey – on vinyl – in full. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

In the lyric of The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? Morrissey sings, ‘There’s a club if you’d like to go – you could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go, and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home, and you cry and you want to die…’

At this month’s Glossop Record Club Smiths night, I’m pleased to say that no one stood on their own, and plenty of people shared their love and mutual appreciation of The Smiths and Morrissey. A few people left on their own, but they weren’t harbouring any feelings of misery and despair – instead they were just happy that they’d spent an evening in the company of like-minded individuals, listening to classic albums by The Smiths and Morrissey on vinyl and hearing an eclectic playlist of music related to Manchester’s masters of melancholy.

Glossop Record Club describes itself as the musical equivalent of a book group or a film society. Once a month, music fans meet up at Glossop Labour Club in Derbyshire to listen to albums – on vinyl – in full. Mobile phones must be switched off and there’s no talking while the main albums are being played. But there’s also plenty of time to drink and have a chat about the music you’re listening to.

Organised by record collector Simon Galloway, Glossop Record Club has been running for over a year. Past sessions have included nights devoted to Bowie, Merseybeat, Sun Records and John Peel. Guest speakers are invited to talk about their specialist subjects and attendees are encouraged to bring their own records to play on the night.

My first visit to Glossop Record Club was for The Smiths special, featuring guest presenter and Smiths/Morrissey enthusiast Gavin Hogg. I made the long train journey up from London – ‘home of the brash, outrageous and free’ specially, clutching my carefully selected vinyl – a 2013 7in picture disc of Morrissey’s The Last of The Famous International Playboys and Johnny Marr’s recent single Easy Money – also on 7in.

 

Sean Hannam
Sean Hannam

 

Simon Galloway introduces the listening session and spins some Smiths and Morrissey-related sounds, including songs from his favourite Morrissey 12in Everyday Is Like Sunday (Sister I’m A Poet/Disappointed/Will Never Marry – 1988) and The The’s The Beat(en) Generation – from the 1989 album Mind Bomb and featuring Johnny Marr on guitar and harmonica. We are also treated to some Smiths rarities, including a reggae version of Girlfriend In A Coma. What was that Morrissey once said about reggae being vile?

 

IMG_3586

 

Guest speaker Gavin Hogg then sets the scene by telling us how he fell in love with The Smiths more than 30 years ago: “I heard This Charming Man on the radio and saw The Smiths on Top of the Pops in November 1983 – the world changed from that point. It was Morrissey’s big quiff, his love beads, outsized ladies blouse and the gladioli he was swinging around his head and knocking all the Top of the Pops balloons out of the way. You also had Johnny Marr with his Rickenbacker and his cool Brian Jones hairdo.”

He adds: “I didn’t really know much about what The Smiths were singing about – it was something to do with a desolate hillside, a bicycle and returning a ring, but I instinctively knew there was something more nourishing about what The Smiths were doing than Marilyn or The Thompson Twins, who were also on the same edition of  Top of the Pops.

Those attending the night were asked to vote online in advance for The Smiths album that they wanted to hear played in its entirety. Gavin tells us that the winner of the poll is The Queen Is Dead – by 45 per cent – which is met with much enthusiasm by the – mostly male – crowd – myself included.

Released in 1986, The Queen Is Dead is my favourite album by The Smiths – in fact it’s one of my favourite albums of all time – and is arguably Morrissey and Marr’s masterpiece. An emotional rollercoaster of a record, it starts with the epic garage rock assault of the title track and takes the listener on a journey through music hall comedy (Frankly, Mr Shankly), funereal balladry (I Know It’s Over), sublime jangle-pop (Cemetry Gates) and doomed romanticism – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, which is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever written.

 

IMG_3589

Before we settle in to listen to The Queen Is Dead, Gavin gives us the lowdown on the album: “It’s regarded as The Smiths’ finest moment – although I think there’s a case for all of the albums having classic status,” he says. “It was released in June ’86 – it was The Smiths’ third album. Their musical abilities had developed and progressed – they started doing different things.

“Morrissey’s lyrics on the first two Smiths albums were about his diaries and his life up to that point. By the time of The Queen Is Dead, he had started to expand the things he was writing about. It was recently voted the Greatest Record of All Time by the NME – I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but it shows you what high regard it’s still held in.”

He adds: “The title track is heavy and starts with some feedback – Johnny Marr was listening to a lot of Stooges and MC5 when he recorded it. Frankly, Mr Shankly is a music hall number, Bigmouth Strikes Again is like an early Rolling Stones song and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is one of the most well known songs by The Smiths.

“When [music journalist] Nick Kent reviewed the album when it came out, he said it was the album that, in due course, history will denote as being the key work in forcing the group’s philistine opposition to down chisels and embrace the concept of The Smiths as the only truly vital voice of the ‘80s.”

Adds Gavin: “If you’re a Smiths hater – and there maybe one or two of you here tonight – then you should down your chisels, have a listen and see what you make of it.”

He then puts The Queen Is Dead on the hi-fi and all of us sit in silence, as the opening sample of Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty  – from the title track – gives way to a shriek of feedback, Mike Joyce’s thundering tribal drums and wild wah-wah from Johnny Marr.

As we sit and listen, it’s clear that The Queen Is Dead is an album that is designed to be listened to loud and on a great hi-fi system – it sounds fantastic when it’s cranked up. At certain points during the playback, some of my fellow listeners and I exchange knowing nods and smiles, as we hear specific musical references, instrumentation and lyrics that we know and love. There are several times when I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Gavin Hogg and Simon Galloway
Gavin Hogg and Simon Galloway

Speaking after the listening session, Simon says: “Who knew there were so many Smiths fans in Glossop? There was a special moment – Bigmouth Strikes Again (Side Two – Track One of The Queen Is Dead). As the acoustic guitar and drums blasted out, the Glossop Labour Club became a sea of nodding heads and tapping feet, with air guitar, air drums and lots of singing along. It was a wonderful sight and it was a reminder too of the old side one/side two dynamic. In the digital age we sometimes forget how important the sequencing of songs and sides were – and are – on vinyl. Both our featured albums were perfect examples of getting it right.”

Indeed, the second album we’re going to listen to is Morrissey’s Your Arsenal from 1992 – but more on that later… Before we sit down to concentrate on Mozzer’s glam rock/rockabilly-inspired classic, there’s a chance to grab another pint and hear some more records that have a connection with tonight’s featured artists.

Simon plays the superb Getting Away With It by Electronic – the supergroup that featured Johnny Marr, New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys. There’s also an airing of Take Me by Adult Net, featuring fifth Smith Craig Gannon; while my friend – and regular Glossop Record Club goer – Matt Hill gets the opportunity to play Sandie Shaw’s version of The Smiths’ Hand In Glove – from her 1988 album Hello Angel. I’m pleased to say that my Morrissey picture disc is also chosen to be played – heaven knows, I’m miserable now…

Matt Hill
Matt Hill

 

We are also treated to a cover version of Ask by Gigolo Aunts and a rendition of Panic by The Sidebottoms, featuring Manchester cult hero Frank Sidebottom, whose music is a regular feature of Glossop Record Club.

As Simon tells me: “It seems we have quite a few Frank fanatics among our attendees. It all started quite innocently when Gavin brought one of his records along to the Cult Heroes session last November. The following month Brett [another regular visitor to Glossop Record Club] brought his Christmas record along, and then someone suggested that we should try a find a relevant Frank song for every session. He’s probably been featured more than he hasn’t. It’s a challenge people seem to enjoy. Daft sods!”

After the Sidebottom in-joke, Gavin then introduces the Your Arsenal listening session by giving us some background to the album: “There’s quite a different sound to this record – there are some elements of rockabilly, as it was Morrissey’s first album with Boz Boorer, who was in rockabilly band The Polecats. The other musicians on the album are also from the same rockabilly scene. Mick Ronson produced the album – so there’s a glam rock sound to it, as well.”

He highlights the influence of T Rex’s Ride A White Swan on the track Certain People I Know and the nod to Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide on I’m Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday.

Says Gavin: “There was some controversy when this album came out. There are some darker elements in the lyrics, dealing with football hooliganism [We’ll Let You Know] and racism [The National Front Disco].”

Gavin finishes his presentation by reading a humorous extract from Morrissey’s autobiography, in which the singer talks about recording Your Arsenal with Mick Ronson. It ends with Morrissey recounting a bizarre telephone conversation he had with Bowie…

Gavin Hogg
Gavin Hogg

Next up is Your Arsenal – my second favourite Morrissey album (1994’s Vauxhall & I is top of my list), which blazes its way into the Glossop Labour Club with opening track You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side – a rockabilly riot of a song with a filthy guitar riff that sounds like it was half-inched from the theme tune to the ‘60s Batman TV series. Like The Queen Is Dead, Your Arsenal is another album that sounds great up loud – Mick Ronson’s superb, dynamic production work and the songs’ great arrangements really come into their own when played on the PA.

However, it’s clear that some of the Record Club attendees find songs such as The National Front Disco uncomfortable – there’s a definite sense of uneasy listening – and some people’s attention starts to waiver during the second side of the album. This is a shame as it means that we can’t fully enjoy the more subtle tracks, such as the wonderful, haunting acoustic ballad  Seasick, Yet Still Docked – surely one of Morrissey’s finest compositions.

After the final song on Your Arsenal has finished – the punchy arena rock of Tomorrow – there’s another chance to hear some of the records that tonight’s attendees have brought with them, as well as some of Simon’s weird and wonderful selections.

Highlights include Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, The Jam’s That’s Entertainment, which was covered by Morrissey, and For The Dead – the debut 7in from ‘90s Smiths sound-alikes Gene – one of my own personal favourites.

Glossop Record Club regular Brett plays us recent tracks from 2014 albums by Johnny Marr and Morrissey. He chooses Easy Money from Marr’s Playland and Staircase At The University from Morrissey’s World Peace Is None Of Your Business. Enthusing about the latter, he exclaims: “It sounds like Girlfriend In A Coma brought back to life.”

Brett
Brett

Later on, over a beer, Brett tells me that he has a huge collection of British comedy records. He points out some connections between vintage British comedy and Morrissey. Firstly, the school in the film Carry On Teacher is called Maudlin Street Secondary and Morrissey has a song called Late Night, Maudlin Street. Secondly, Carry On star Joan Sims appeared in the video for Morrissey’s single Ouija Board, Ouija Board.

It’s these kind of pub conversations about obscure pop facts that make me want to become a regular Glossop Record Club visitor. What better way to spend an evening than listening to albums – on vinyl – in full, with a bunch of people who are passionate about pop music.

This night has opened my eyes – and my ears.

Music played at Glossop Record Club - Smiths night
Music played at Glossop Record Club – Smiths night

 

 

Here’s the entire playlist from the night:

Morrissey – Sister I’m A Poet/Disappointed/Will Never Marry (Everyday Is Like Sunday 12″, HMV, 1988)

The The – The Beat(en) Generation (Mind Bomb, Epic, 1989)

The Smiths – Girlfriend In A Coma (reggae version)/Death Of A Disco Dancer (alt version)/Paint A Vulgar Picture (alt version) (Unreleased Demos & Instrumentals, bootleg)

The Smiths – Asleep/Unloveable/Half A Person/Stretch Out And Wait (The World Won’t Listen, Rough Trade, 1987)

 

THE SMITHS – The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade, 1986)

SIDE ONE: The Queen Is Dead/Frankly, Mr. Shankly/I Know It’s Over/Never Had No One Ever/Cemetry Gates

SIDE TWO: Bigmouth Strikes Again/The Boy With The Thorn In His Side/Vicar In A Tutu/There Is A Light That Never Goes Out/Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

 

Electronic – Getting Away With It (7″, Factory, 1989)

Adult Net – Take Me (10″ blue vinyl, Fontana, 1989)

Sandie Shaw – Hand In Glove (Hello Angel, Rough Trade, 1988)

Morrissey – The Last Of The Famous International Playboys (7″ picture disc, Parlophone, 2013)

Julian Cope – Drive, She Said (Peggy Suicide, Island, 1991)

Gigolo Aunts – Ask (7″, Fire Records, 1993)

The Sidebottoms – Panic (cd single, 11:37, 1993)

 

MORRISSEY – Your Arsenal (HMV, 1992)

SIDE ONE: You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side/Glamorous Glue/We’ll Let You Know/The National Front Disco/Certain People I Know

SIDE TWO: We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful/You’re The One For Me, Fatty/Seasick, Yet Still Docked/I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday/Tomorrow

 

Mick Ronson – Billy Porter (7″, RCA, 1974)

David Bowie – Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (7″, RCA, 1974)

T.Rex – Ride A White Swan (Ride A White Swan, Music For Pleasure, 1972)

Roxy Music – Street Life (7″, Island, 1973)

The Jam – That’s Entertainment (Sound Affects, Polydor, 1981)

Johnny Marr – Easy Money (Playland, Warner Bros, 2014)

Johnny Marr – Generate! Generate! (The Messenger, Warner Bros, 2013)

Morrissey – Staircase At The University (World Peace Is None Of Your Business, Harvest, 2014)

Vincent Gerard & Steven Patrick – I Know Very Well How I Got My Note Wrong (7″, Factory, 1989)

Magazine – A Song From Under The Floorboards (7″, Virgin, 1980)

T.Rex – Metal Guru (7″, EMI, 1972)

Gene – For The Dead (7″, Costermonger, 1994)

Nancy Sinatra – Happy (7″, Reprise, 1968)

Sandie Shaw – Girl Don’t Come (7″, Pye, 1964)

Morrissey – Suedehead (7″, HMV, 1988)

Lou Reed – Satellite Of Love (Transformer, RCA, 1972)

Morrissey – Everyday Is Like Sunday (12″, HMV, 1988)

Sandie Shaw – Please Help The Cause Against Loneliness (Hello Angel, Rough Trade, 1988)

The Smiths – Rubber Ring (The World Won’t Listen, Rough Trade, 1987)

 

 

For more information on Glossop Record Club, please visit http://glossoprecordclub.wordpress.com

 

Blood on the tracks

Crime writer Mark Billingham’s latest novel, The Bones Beneath, includes a 40-song playlist intended to soundtrack a road trip that occurs in the book. I spoke to him about his love of country music, Elvis Costello and Morrissey and what makes the perfect pop song…

Mark Billingham: ©Charlie Hopkinson
Mark Billingham: © Charlie Hopkinson

“Country music is perfect for crime fiction – the stories are so dark, but also beautiful and entertaining,” says Mark Billingham, sipping a pint of lager in his favourite North London pub, The Spread Eagle, in Camden.

I’ve lured one of the UK’s top crime writers here to talk about his brand new book, The Bones Beneath, which is the twelfth novel in the bestselling Tom Thorne series – but also to quiz him on his love of music.

And quiz him I will, because he’s no stranger to having his music knowledge tested. In the last few months he’s won TV’s Celebrity Mastermind – his specialist subject was Elvis Costello – and triumphed on the game show Pointless Celebrities. He scored a pointless answer thanks to his knowledge of 1970s Elton John album tracks. But more about that later…

Mark – like his fictional creation Tom Thorne – loves country music, both dark and cheesy, although, as he is quick to point out, he hates Garth Brooks. Their mutual taste in music has manifested itself in a 40-song playlist, which is included in the hardback version of The Bones Beneath – published by Little, Brown on May 22. The list also includes explanations as to why each particular song was chosen.

The Bones Beneath

The Bones Beneath sees Thorne coming up against his old nemesis, serial killer Stuart Nicklin, and is partly set on a remote, windswept Welsh island that harbours some dark secrets. The first section of the book is a long road trip, which involves a six-hour drive, as Mark explains: 

“At one point, early on, the character Holland says to Thorne, ‘what are we going to be listening to?’ They joke about it – Thorne says that he’s got a Hank Williams playlist that will last all the way there. However, ‘stuff ‘ happens and they never get to listen to anything. Thorne would’ve had the playlist ready – obviously – so I just put it in at the end of the book, as a bonus for people who buy the hardback. It gave me a chance to include some of my favourite music and to talk about it.

“There were certain artists that were always going to be on there  – Hank Williams, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams – but I also wanted to put a few newer people on it, who maybe Thorne doesn’t listen to yet. So, I had to have some Richmond Fontaine and My Darling Clementine on there.

“The playlist is Thorne’s, it’s not mine, but a lot of those songs would also be in my list of my 40 favourite songs – He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones and Galveston by Glen Campbell – but I’d also have God Only Knows by  The Beach Boys and any number of songs by Elvis Costello, The Smiths and The Beatles, who are bands I grew up with. I’m still inordinately fond of every piece of music that meant something to me from the age of 13. The stuff I listen to now tends to be country, but I’ll always have a place in my heart for Slade, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Morrissey.

“I went from glam rock – I was watching it on Top Of The Pops when I was 12 – to prog. I was probably the world’s biggest Genesis fan…and then I got into punk, although it wasn’t an overnight thing. It wasn’t like I threw away all my Yes albums when the first Clash album came out!

“I went to see Television, supported by Blondie, at the Birmingham Odeon. That was a massive moment for me. From then on, I was into the tail end of punk…by the time punk reached Birmingham [where I grew up], everyone was already into post-punk. When I heard the first Elvis Costello album, I left prog behind, but it wasn’t always easy. I once got beaten up in Birmingham by two blokes and their girlfriends for wearing skinny jeans…”

I’d like to ask you about My Darling Clementine – a contemporary country act that we both love. You first got into them by reading an interview with them on my blog, didn’t you?

Mark Billingham: Yeah – you turned me on to them. They [husband and wife duo Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish] are the modern George Jones and Tammy Wynette. They’re a married couple and they’re both fantastic singers and brilliant songwriters. They have an incredible chemistry and they put on a fantastic show. They’re just a kick-ass band – one of the best country acts I’ve ever seen. I’ve put 100,000 Words by My Darling Clementine on the playlist – it was the first song of theirs that I heard. I’ve always been a big fan of country duets.

One of  My Darling Clementine’s big influences is Elvis Costello. Wasn’t it Costello’s 1981 album Almost Blue – a record of country cover versions recorded in Nashville – that first got you into country music?

MB: Exactly – it completely opened my eyes. That album was massively important for me. I was vaguely aware of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, but when I first heard  Almost Blue, I became a true believer. I bought it because I was a Costello fan, but it completely turned me on to country music and I think I’m right in saying it did the same for Michael and Lou from My Darling Clementine.It’s the reason that the playlist in the book finishes with Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used To Do?) which is the first track on Almost Blue.

 

 

You’re also a big fan of  The Smiths and Morrissey, aren’t you?

MB: I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard This Charming Man. I had some speakers rigged up in the bathroom of my student flat and I connected them to a radio. I used to listen to John Peel in the bath. It was me that was in the bath, rather than John Peel. I can remember having one foot in the bath and one foot out of it when he played This Charming Man – I thought, ‘what the fuck is this?’ I went out the next morning and bought the first Smiths album. It absolutely changed everything – I adored The Smiths and I always will. I’m still a massive Morrissey fan, though I don’t think I’d want to meet him – I’ve heard a few stories about him…well, it’s all there in his book. The world needs Morrissey – I think he’s unique. He’s as good a lyricist now as he’s ever been. I saw The Smiths at a GLC gig [Jobs For A Change festival – County Hall, London, 1984] and can remember it vividly. They were incredible…

Have great lyricists like Costello and Morrissey influenced you as a writer?

MB: I’ve actually written a short story about Costello and Morrissey, and maybe one day I’ll find a home for it. It’s about them meeting at Heathrow airport on the day that Thatcher dies. They’re trying to get out of the country because they’re being hounded by the press for quotes because they wrote Tramp The Dirt Down [Costello] and Margaret On The Guillotine [Morrissey]. They’re just sitting there in the airport lounge. Actually, I don’t refer to them by name, I just call them The Hat and The Quiff – and they’re having a slightly awkward conversation about anger and notoriety, with Morrissey complaining about the tea…

What is it about crime writers and music? Some of your contemporaries, like Ian Rankin, who writes the Rebus novels, and Peter Robinson, who created Inspector Banks, also fill their books with music references. Music is very important to the central characters in those books, as well as to the authors themselves…

MB: I think it’s a particularly male thing. There was a radio show called Music To Die For a few years back, which was about crime writers and music. Ian Rankin presented it and it featured the likes of me, John Harvey and American writers like George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly. It was really hard to find female crime writers who used music quite so much [as men do] in their books. There’s that kind of slightly tragic, sad, male thing going on. When male crime writers get together, they give each other compilation CDs! We don’t talk about books – we talk about music, almost exclusively. We can sit and talk for hours.

It’s a lot of fun hanging out with crime writers – it’s like being a member of a really cool gang. Somebody once described crime writers as being the smokers of the literary community – ever so slightly on the outside. They’re naughty, but they’re clearly enjoying themselves.

So many crime writers are basically frustrated musicians and the love of music that’s there in their books is not just a gimmick. Ian Rankin does genuinely adore Mogwai and The Rolling Stones and Peter Robinson loves the music he writes about. I’m equally passionate about country music. It’s great, because it means I can get characters to take the piss out of Thorne [for his country music taste]. I get the piss taken out of me too, but I’m not ashamed to say that I also really love the cheesy country stuff, too. He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones is consistently voted the best country song of all time and I’m not arguing. It’s got everything – a cheesy choir, a voiceover – Billy Sherrill [producer and arranger] basically threw the kitchen sink at it. It’s a fantastic story, with a brilliant twist. It breaks your heart…

 

 

Have you been on Desert Island Discs? 

MB: No, but I’ve been on several shows like it, and strangely, one of the songs I always pick is I Did What I Did For Maria  by  Tony Christie. It’s about someone who is about to be executed for killing the man who raped and murdered his wife. A nice, cheery pop song. It was actually the first single I ever bought – I must have been 12  or something like that. Maybe I liked it because of his voice or the horns, but the truth is it’s a really dark story. It’s weird that it was the first song that I wanted to go out and buy with my own money.

Maybe that’s what started off your interest in crime stories and dark tales….

MB: I’ve always loved story songs, like Ode To Billie Joe by Bobby Gentry. That’s another fantastic story hidden behind a gorgeous melody. I listen to music for pleasure – not necessarily to hear interesting chord progressions. Does the song do something to me?

He Stopped Loving Her Today makes me cry. Honey by Bobby Goldsboro –which is one of the cheesiest songs of all time – makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I can’t explain it.

Books and films and plays have moved me, but nothing can affect me like the perfect three-minute pop song – like God Only Knows by The Beach Boys. They have the power that some literature or films simply don’t have. Whether it’s Wichita Lineman, I Want You or There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – they’re all twisted love songs and they’re all on my list [of favourite pop songs]. If you can write the perfect pop song… It’s like writing a wonderful short story. I think that a great short story is better than a good novel. If I had the choice of writing an opera that people would still be performing in 100 years’ time, or the greatest pop song ever written, I’d go for the pop song every time.

Would you like to write song lyrics?

MB: Oh god, yes. I’d love to. That’s the dream – Costello phones me up and says, ‘I’ve got this tune, but I can’t write any lyrics for it’.  Like that’s ever going to happen…

Elvis Costello and Mark Billingham (left to right).
Elvis Costello and Mark Billingham (left to right).

You’re a big Nick Lowe fan, aren’t you?

MB: Nick Lowe is awesome – he’s a master class in elegance – a quite brilliant songwriter. Lyrics like, ‘That untouched takeaway, I brought back the other day, has quite a lot to say’ – from his song Lately I’ve Let Things Slide. It’s just perfect.

What new music artists are you into? Have you bought any records by new bands recently?

MB: Well, I tend to wander round Fopp for an hour and just end up coming out with old stuff – some of which I’ve already got on cassette and vinyl. I must have every Costello album in six different versions…

What’s your favourite album of all time?

MB: If you made me pick one now it would probably be Imperial Bedroom by Elvis Costello. If I could only take one album out of a burning house it would be that. I think Costello is the finest singer-songwriter of his generation, bar none.

You like The Beatles, too, don’t you?

MB: I’m a massive Beatles fan. How can you not be? Whenever I meet people who say they hate The Beatles, I want to slap them! Even if you don’t like what they were doing in ’62 or ’63, you’ve got to like Rubber Soul and Revolver! There’s never been another band in history that has progressed quite so much in five years. They were incredible – they turned the world upside down, like no other band has ever done. I’m actually working with someone right now who professes not to like The Beatles at all. He knows who he is!

Are you a Bob Dylan fan?

MB: I’m a Dylan fan, but I’m not a Dylan obsessive. For me, I can do with four or five of his albums – Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks, Desire.… There are a few other artists who I feel like that about – Tom Waits, Neil Young… Their back catalogues are so huge and too daunting. I’m much more excited about finding a band like My Darling Clementine [who’ve only had two albums out] – I’m in on the ground floor. And in five years’ time, when they’re massive, I can get quite cross about it. Tell people I was there at the beginning…

You’ve recently been showing off your superb music knowledge on the TV shows Celebrity Mastermind and Pointless Celebrities…. You won both of them.

MB: I’ve been a shameless whore. The sad truth is that I just love quizzes. Anything where there’s a buzzer involved, I go mental. On Pointless, it was a magical moment. Up came ‘Elton John albums’ and I leant across to my partner and I said, ‘I’ve got this’. I grew up with those albums and I had them all. I knew every track on them. I like doing music quizzes and I love setting them. If I’m on a long road trip with a friend, we’ll make huge playlists and play beat the intro. I have no life…

Maybe you could have incorporated a music quiz into The Bones Beneath?

MB: Actually, I would have loved to have made the playlist into a CD, but it’s a logistical nightmare. I’ve used song lyrics in my books a couple of times. In my first book, I used a lyric from Costello’s Radio Sweetheart – I had to pay for that. Like Elvis hasn’t had enough of my money over the years! Morrissey let me use lyrics from Bigmouth Strikes Again for free – good old Mozza. But most of the time it’s very tricky, so I try to avoid it where I can

So, what’s next for Mark Billingham?

MB: I’m doing a secret book, but I can’t say very much about it. I’ve written it with three other people – the crime writers Martyn Waites and Stav Sherez and the comedy writer and music journalist David Quantick. It’s a music book and there are some jokes in it. I can’t really say a lot more than that at the moment. I can say that we’ve all had enormous fun writing it…

Are you working on a new Thorne novel?

MB: I’m halfway through a new Thorne book – it will be out a year from now. I’ll finish that in September – hopefully – and it will come out in May 2015.

Do you think certain members of the literary community look down on crime writers?

MB: Well, there’s occasionally that slight element of literary snobbery, but sometimes it goes both ways and I think the lines between the two genres are becoming increasingly blurred. It’s fine by me – I’m very happy to be a crime writer. I don’t have pretensions to be anything else. I’m never going to deny that I’m a crime writer, in the way that some people do, even though their books are full of murder. The ones who claim to feel constrained by the conventions of crime fiction or say that they’re ‘transcending the genre’. We all want to push the boundaries, but it doesn’t need ‘transcending’. If you don’t want to write it, fuck off and do something else. No one’s putting a gun to your head…

Here’s a Mark Billingham inspired Spotify playlist

Mark Billingham’s latest novel, The Bones Beneath, is out on May 22. It’s published by Little, Brown.

http://www.markbillingham.com