Tag Archives: music

Bowie in review: ‘Black Tie White Noise’ (1993)

Black Tie White Noise

First released: 1993 (LP, MC, Cassette)

1993 - Black Tie White Noise - Front 2

First some context: It’s been 20 years since Ziggy Stardust, 10 since Let’s Dance, and 2 or 3 since Tin Machine. Bowie has been through the career low of the mid-late 80s, lived through the ‘group’ experience (not entirely unscathed by either), redeemed his good name with the ‘Sound+Vision’ tour and has fallen in love and got married to Iman. Pop/rock music has also moved on – 80s artifice is being pushed aside for a return to ‘unplugged’ and the post-rave, grunge generation is pushing ahead. Now he’s back with a new solo album. Producer Nile Rogers is back too, and wants ‘Let’s Dance 2’. Let’s see how Bowie reacts. Continue reading Bowie in review: ‘Black Tie White Noise’ (1993)

David Bowie (1947 –

More than two weeks after the shock announcement on David Bowie  and I still can’t bring myself to write ‘2016’ as the year of his death. Don’t get me wrong, I was never the world’s biggest Bowie fan. I never rushed out to buy any of his records on the first day of release, I’ve rarely delved eagerly into his back catalogue when remasters came out. Before last year I had never bought any of his records on vinyl (I bought two second hand, and one new), and I had only been the most casual of listeners of the key installments of his life’s work. Apart from the recent Nothing Has Changed compilation, David Bowie took up very little space on my CD shelves: another “Greatest Hits”  album, which I bought because it had the DVD with the videos, plus the Low and “Heroes” 1999 remasters which I seem to remember picking up cheaply from a closing down store. That’s about it. I recently bought his next-to-last album The Next Day partly out a ‘guilty’ feeling that i didn’t have that much Bowie in my personal collection, partly because the price dropped sharply after a few months of its release. It was played once then shelved. I bought 1997’s Earthling online a couple of years ago because I needed to make up a ‘3 for the price of 1’ CD purchase, and I asked a friend for advice. I don’t think I ever played it.

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Yet I was always well aware of his presence, his influence and his importance in the British music industry and indeed in popular culture since the early 1970s. Saying “David Bowie” was like saying “The Beatles”: it was British pop and rock, it was British culture however much ‘American’ or ‘European’ he had wanted to make it at times. Neither David Robert Jones or David Bowie could have been born anywhere else, and as such he is as much a part of me as the Union Jack, the BBC and beans on toast. As I stated in my ‘gut reaction’ post on my fb profile page, Bowie wasn’t always present but he was always there, he wasn’t always good but he was always great.

So perhaps now, I really can start to appreciate his music and the great body of work he left behind. Don’t get me wrong: in the seventies I knew the words and sang along to Starman, Space Oddity and “Heroes”. After more than a passing interest in Boys Keep Swinging in ’79, I caught up with him proper from 1980 onwards – I was thrilled when Ashes to Ashes got to no. 1, I heard the other singles but never got round to hearing the Scary Monsters album. As the eighties continued, how we danced to China Girl, Blue Jean and (appropriately) Let’s Dance, and how we sneered at his demise mid-eighties onwards (although I must say that Loving the Alien is always a song and a perfomance I’ve always held in high esteem). My interest was somewhat re-kindled with the surprise The Next Day album and even more so by the 2014 ‘single’ Sue (Or In A Season of Crime) a ‘kitchen-sink’ drama set to music which saw Bowie pushing forward barriers once more with atonal almost avant-garde jazz arrangements

Sue David-Bowie-Sue-Or-In-a-Season-of-Crime-New-Single-acid-stag

Sadly, much of the press and therefore public attention after his death has focused on his work in the 70s and 80s, and it would seem that he never produced anything of worth between the Let’s Dance album (1983) and the latest album Blackstar, released days before his death. Not so: Bowie ‘came back’ as a solo artist in 1993 after getting married, ‘settling down’ and generally getting back on track. It is precisely the ensuing albums (from 1993 to 2003) which interest me the most, and now finding out about what he was getting up to, how he was making and presenting his music, his art, and his persona during that period has become my latest curiosity (nay, obsession). My ‘gut reaction’ to Bowie’s death was to buy as many of these albums as I could: I quickly and cheaply sourced 1.Outside, Hours…, and Reality to add to the special 2xCD edition I had of Heathen bought second-hand form an Italian last year, again on a recommendation. ‘Classic’ albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Pin-Ups have little appeal to me. There’s no doubting the quality and breadth of any of these or indeed his work from Station to Station (first released forty years ago) and throughout “the Berlin trilogy” (’77-’79), but I feel these works have been discussed and analysed enough. My tendency is often to go for the ‘underdogs’, the lesser known, the minorities, so I’d like to go through those 93-03 albums as best I can in whatever time it takes. (Who knows, I might later want to do a total rewind…)

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In my upcoming venture I am grateful to the friends who have helped me source the necessary audio and visual material and of course to the internet sites such as Discogs, Musicbrainz for their meticulous cataloging of his work. Gratitude and esteem also goes to the mighty Pushing Ahead of the Dame aka bowiesongs.wordpress.com for links to songs, resources and general background information and trivia associated with each and every track. Don’t worry: i won’t even attempt to come near to that kind of writing, either in terms of quality or quantity.

Finally, thank you David Bowie, and I really am very sorry I missed you first time round, but perhaps I was too busy paying attention to music by so many other artists, the majority of which you yourself no doubt inspired and influenced through your own art. We were always all just loving the alien.

Bowie salute

 

 

The food of love

Just looking back over this wordpress I started a few months ago, it seems to have turned into yet another music-oriented blog, the likes of which I’ve been writing in various forms for what seems like a decade at least.
I really did intend to write about other subjects, such as literature, history, current affairs and so on but it seems as if I always come back to the same subject. Music.
I do do other things in my life: I read, watch films, watch telly, go to work, travel, study, eat etc. yet none of those other things really seem to preoccupy me as much as music.
One thing I don’t do is cook, so yes, music really does seem to be my food of love. Thanks for that one Willy…looks like I’ll just have to play on.

A very Happy Un-birthday

Shakespeare baptism and deathI completely omitted to post anything in celebration of William Shakespeare’s “birthday”, commonly given as April 23rd (last week).

But as by now a lot of people know this wasn’t his birthday at all, and in fact we don’t actually know when he was born, only when he was baptised – 26th April 1564 and when he died – 23rd April (bingo!) 1616.

Anyway, should you wish to ‘celebrate’ in any way this week and you really don’t want to sit through another Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet then you could do no better than listen to this week’s Words and Music on BBC Radio 3 (click here), with 75 mins worth of “poetry, prose and music inspired by Shakespeare”. But click in haste as the broadcaste will be available but until next Sunday (4th Maye)! (weak attempt at Shakespearean language..)

Which brings me to my little grouch about Words and Music : why oh why can’t we have a download/podcast of each programme after they’ve been broadcast? These programmes are so well put together and of such good quality that it seems a shame they have to disappear after a week.

But as The Bard himself would have said: “Parting (with a one week only netcast) is such sweet sorrow”, or “If (words and ) music be the food of love, play on…”.

Happy Un-birthday Mr. Shakespeare.

edit: having published this post, WordPress spookily informed me it was my 23rd … 

Classical Clemency

Somewhat disillusioned with the state of modern popular music I seem to have drifted back into listening to classical music this year. I’ve always had a love/not-so-love relationship with classical music: it was never part of my childhood household but was always somewhat inculcated at school, where I was lucky to have some good music teachers who of course mostly tried to teach us about classical music, the use of the instruments and so on. Seems hard to believe now that Mr. B. played a different classical piece every single morning at assembly, breaking his routine only when the school orchestra had something to let us hear. Some of that must have got through into my developmental psyche, surely?

classical music

I was further exposed to classical music during the school holidays through a posh family where my Mum used to help out with household chores (they didn’t even have a telly), but we ourselves were too humble a family to be able to afford music lessons for me or my sister although to my parents’ credit we did have an old piano in the house.

My adolescence coincided to the post-punk/new wave years of the late-70s and early-80s and so classical music was definitely abandoned by the wayside. Oh follies of youth! Not completely however as I do still have some battered old cassettes of recordings by artists such as Satie and Vivaldi, and I think my love of (electronic) instrumental music are a consequence of a sub-conscious appreciation of the classics.

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Clemency Burton-Hill

But back to now, and indeed  and what better way to listen to and at least try and appreciate the genre than in the company of Ms. Clemency Burton-Hill, now presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Breakfast programme starting at 6.30 a.m. GMT.  Clemency is not just a pretty face (see pic.): writer, novellist, broadcaster, violin-player, blonde, intelligent, doe-eyed, and with an amazing posh-yet-friendly accent and soft tone, and of course has a massive knowledge of music – classical and other wise…what’s not to like?I

Clemency Burton-Hill’s breakfast show starts at 6.30 am every weekday on Radio 3.

*edit!! since writing this draft Clemency has read out on air an e-mail I sent to her with a request!  

*new edit: I removed the last bit. I’m a married man.

Addio Abbado

It was with some sadness that I read yesterday the news that Italian orchestra conductor Cluadio Abbado had dies in Bologna at the age of 80. Ironically i was also preparing a blogpost about classical music, my appreciation of which was also thansk to seeing Abbado both in performance and in TV interviews , where he always came across as a very modest and friendly person, not at all the musical ‘snob’ one may associate with a person of such importance and standing.

abbado shirt

I remember one story in particular where he told of his s batons, specially handcrafted in Vienna, being stolen prior to a performance in New York sometime in the 1960s. Abbado promptly went out to a music store where all he could find as replacement was a baton made of plexiglass. That baton has stayed with him ever since.

His work with younger players and youth orchestras is also reknowned, always encouraging youngsters even with little experience to play in groups .  He also spoke often of his hate of limits and boundaries especially between countries. A truly international figure who I am sure will be greatly missed.

Well done to Classic FM for getting a special tribute programme together last night, whereas Radio3 failed to defer from the usual Monday night opera spot.

  

Twenty-fourteen

Hello and welcome back. It is with no small amount of shame that I realise how long it’s been since I last posted here on this blog and for that I must apologise.  It’s a brand new year, 2014, and one that I have realised is full of quite a few special anniversaries, not least my own fiftieth birthday which is all too rapidly approaching.

One hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War is probably the one that will get the most coverage.  Its historical importance is of great significance of course: from shaping Europe and its individual countries and indeed leading them, and the world, into war once more just over twenty years later. Reading material on the events of 1914 is abundant, although I am glad to have completed Paul Ham’s excellent and succinct  1913: Eve of the War on Kindle at the end of last year.

WWI diary extract (Nat. Archives / BBC)

On the same subject I also learned from the Today programme this week that The National Archives have made availabl eon-line a series of WWI diaries which give an amazing insight into the war and the men who were involved. You can sign up for free in order to help with the mammoth task of ‘tagging’ the diray pages with names, dates, places and so on. See Operation War Diaries (in collaboration with Zooniverse).

mcww1Similarly the BBC are also producing the usual high quality specialist broadcasts regarding World War 1 under the Music and Culture of WW1 umbrella. Check out the podcasts page and in particular Radio 3’s WW1 – Music on the Brink highlights page.  (NB  it doesn’t seem to be appearing on i-tunes!)

 

More 2014 anniversary posts to follow!

Like a Virgin..?

…or would you just prefer the usual, sir? … really bad and possibly sexist joke to come back with after such a long time away, but I just had to get it off my chest. Anyway all this to mark the fact that Virgin Records are celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year with a whole lot of special record re-issues, new compilation albums, an exhibition and the like. Details are all given over on the special “40 years of disruptions” site.

richard-bransonI suppose it’s right in a sense to do all this since Virgin has come to be one of the most well known commercial success stories, and brands, of our age. Starting firstly with a student rag (aptly named ‘Student’) then moving on to slightly illegal grampohone record trading, young upstart Richard Branson (right) went on to form the Virgin record label, which then became a chain of record stores, then an airline company, then a mobile phone company, a chain of gyms, and even a bank. Whatever you think of Branson you’ve got to hand it to him – he had great insight and courage, and perhaps most surprising of all knew very little about music.

Although Virgin Records actually issued four LPs on their launch in May 1973, the most famous is of course Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells which bears the all important V2001 catalogue number. Close on its heels came Gong’s Flying Teapot and  Faust’s Faust IV. The label set out to be a flagship for prog rock, much in vogue at the time, even though Oldfield’s debut was almost a genre in itself and indeed, as some may say, was the start of the ‘new age’ genre which materialised much later. Oldfield’s early life  and work and the making of Tubular Bells (and Virgin Records) was the subject of a recent BBC4 documentary. Catch up with it if you can.

Personally I  associate Virgin Records more with the label’s second phase, ie. the punk and new wave years, when they turned their  back on prog, Oldfield et al in favour of the new upcoming bands such as XTC, The Human League, Magazine, Simple Minds and (as they used to say on the telly adverts) many many more.  Flicking through my own vinyl collection from back then it’s surprising to see how much “Virgin” there was, some of the best music often dressed in some of the best sleeves too.

Catch up with Virgin40 celebrations here, and have a browse around their shop (or  “store” if you will) here.

Just remember duckies

I really don’t want to turn this blog into another music blog, although since said art form does occupy quite a lot of my time, energy and brain-cells then there will be quite a lot of it here too.

Woke up with this ear-worm this morning, probably because I played it yesterday afternoon trying to concentrate on the lyrics and vocals properly for the first time. I’d Rather Be High is from Bowie’s latest album The Next Day and I reckon it’s one of the best tracks on it. Valentine’s Day has been chosen for the next single although I think this would’ve been a better choice, especially given its Beatle-y feeling in the vocal harmonies. It must have been hard to get the drums right.