Sunday, 23 March 2008

Jeux sans Frontiers

Whilst in Manchester for a lightning visit I met up for food and drink in the Cornerhouse with some old friends. Bruno, once the bass player in my French band, Dynamos, now resident in Salford, and even older friend Otto Smart.

Otto had just returned from a ten date tour of Spain as part of Roger Quigley's other project At Swim Two Birds. Otto also plays with Roger and Mark Trainer in Montgolfier Brothers, Mark is otherwise known as Gnac. Not to be left out Otto is also part of Curvilinear. All fine and dandy, but what Otto really should be known for is his solo work under the nom de plume - The Otto Show.

His songs are beautifully intimate, intelligent, eccentric and English. Subjects range from the observationally humorous ' Frowning Baby' to ancient mythology- 'Furies,Come', there's even a rendition of RL Stevenson's ' Good and Bad Children'.

So far The Otto Show, sharing its name with an episode of the Simpsons, has produced two albums. The first, self titled, released on Spanish label Annika in 2004, was actually recorded several years earlier in Brittany. With the assistance of me and my band, and particularly les fréres Goujon, Nicolas and Francois, the whole thing was recorded in about three days. Most of Otto's contributions were memorably first takes.

Francois would later be part of duo Octet, signed to Diamond Traxx / Discograph. The people at his label were so taken with Otto's recordings that they invited Otto to play at an Octet gig in Paris. A scratch version of the band on the album was hastily rehearsed for the concert at La Maroquinerie.

The second album, 2005's 'The Very Spit of...', on Manchester's Vespertine and Son, was an even more remarkable affair. Otto had been making home recordings on to a Fostex X15 cassette four track recorder since the 1980's and Richard and Roger ( Vespertine ) decided to compile a collection of the best of these songs, unembellished and as I'd first heard them as far back as 1984.

Otto has a mass of excellent new songs, and despite a positive review of 'The very spit of...' in the Daily Telegraph of all places ( and a couple of return trips to Spain ) - he seems to have as much trouble as ever getting anyone to release them. He's contributed a vocal and lyric to Francois' latest project ( Pyjaman ) - ' Queen Mary ' ( is real fun ) ' and you can hear it on his Myspace. I play a few notes on the track myself , how incestuous can you get?
photos and cornerhouse drawing : Caroline Johnson

Sunday, 9 March 2008


Currently grooving to :

Footsteps - Bricolage. So Orange juicy it must be ... Bricolage are from Glasgow, and signed Memphis Industries.

Grounds for Divorce - Elbow. Enormous tune from Guy Garvey and co.

Witchfinder General

Only half awake yesterday morning, I heard the newsreader announce : "Last night Lady Thatcher was driven from her home in Belgravia..." happy thoughts of the baying mob, torches blazing, played upon my mind for the rest of the day.

Five Odes to Joy.

  1. Stand Down Margaret - The Beat
  2. Tramp the Dirt Down - Elvis Costello
  3. How Does it Feel ( to be the mother of a thousand dead? ) - Crass
  4. Margaret on the Guillotine - Morrissey
  5. Blue - Fine Young Cannibals
Honourable mention : the last 45 seconds of 'A Country Practice' - Half Man Half Biscuit

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Monday, 3 March 2008

Plat du Jour

May I recommend the rather wonderful The Ting Tings, whose Great DJ single is available today, albeit probably in download form
only, their vinyl and cd releases so far have been as rare as hens' teeth.
Having caught them first on Channel M, Manchester's local telly / satellite station, I had the good fortune to meet Katie and Jules whilst providing comedy Englishman translations for the kind people of French radio station Le Mouv' -at the Transmusicales festival in Rennes last December. After their storming set- a contender for 'La Revelation du Trans '- I had a chat with Katie. She originates from Leigh, in Lancashire, which I was very happy about, being a Lancastrian in a strange land myself. They'd also spent some time in Brittany, trying some early recordings, and so could share that " where is everyone? " sensation that you get in rural France.
The pair have been based at the Islington Mill in Salford, a sort of 21st Century bohemian artists' dwelling, recording and playing in its own venue. The group released a first single ' That's not my Name ' through Manchester's Switchflicker Records.
As members of the defunct Dear Eskimo they had already been swallowed up and spit out by major label Mercury Records, without releasing a note of music. However, when we spoke Katie had only been playing her guitar for seven months, and knew just five chords. This adds to their garage pop charm, although the duo's stripped down arrangements are anything but naive, having a sort of Toni Basil immediacy. I discovered that they had a liking for the Talking Heads / Tom Tom Club which makes sense. They seemed to have avoided becoming cynical and battle hardened despite their previous experiences, honing their songwriting down to the essentials. Good, memorable tunes. Expect hits.
An album on Columbia Records is due later in the year.

( photo from : Le Mouv' )

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Stomping in Pop

The unfortunate death of Mike Smith, lead singer with the Dave Clark Five led me to ponder on an overlooked sub-genre of Stamping, Stomping and generally percussive use of the feet in the history of Popular music. The DC5 apparently pounded out the rythmn to their May 1964 number 2 UK hit ( number 4 US ) "Bits and Pieces" by stamping on an up turned door on the studio floor.
A recent documentary on the girl groups, for BBC Radio 4 - gave us an interesting revelation from ex-mod and PWL svengali Pete Waterman, now a showbiz pal of one of Motown writing team Holland, Dozier or Holland ( I can't remember which ). Barely credible it may seem, but the stamping which starts the Supremes 1964 classic ' Baby Love', ( credited elsewhere to teenager Mike Valvano ) relied for its uneven quality on the fact that the stompers drafted in to bolster the sound included the janitor, who had a wooden-leg!
Blondie's reworking of Randy and the Rainbows 'Denise'- Denis,Denis also features some welcome 'footsteps', as Debbie Harry politely describes them in her excellent book with Chris Stein 'Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie'.
More recently Londoners ' The Flaming Stars ' appeared to employ a healthy smattering of stamping on their excellent " Spilled Your Pint " single ( Vinyl Japan 2004 ), and merit a mention on the strength of the cover which features a picture of the Stack-heeled silver platform boot of Sweet guitarist Andy Scott.
After this I'm afraid that the trail goes cold. Does Toe Rag Studios, home to all things analogue, own an old door for stamping on, or have we heard the last of the stompers?

  • Bits and Pieces also sticks in the mind as the flanged-drum ( another genre? ) theme for the sonically confusing Radio One Roadshow competition of the 1970's, wherein contestants would have to guess the hits of the day from montage of short sound clips. Listened to on a medium wave transistor radio, this baffling 30 second burst of cut-up noise must surely have inspired some future laptop musician?

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Hello Playmates.

Friends and family have grown weary of my fund of 'rock trivia', for want of a better description. As my Dad once said:
If you could remember as much about your maths homework as you do about pop music...
so after some bullying, here it is, welcome to my unhealthy, obsessive world.