Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: J

It's back! And not before time...

J is for…

… James (Swiss Toni)

At the risk of going all Nick Hornby on you again, I would say that this was definitely one of my All Time Top Five gigs. It’s right up there on the shorlist with Metallica, Queens of the Stoneage, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, Interpol and Morrissey*… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It is Thursday 25th June 1998, and James are playing a “secret” warm-up gig at Oxford Brookes University in preparation for their slot at the Glastonbury Festival the following night. James were absolutely fantastic; it was one of those rare gigs where everything goes right, where the stars and planets align, and where band and audience are both on absolutely tip-top form. To be honest though, the band themselves are only a part of the reason that this gig stands out in my mind. With the passing of every year, the memory of this concert is becoming ever more sepia-toned. This was a time in my life when I was starting to earn some real money for the first time, but was still young enough and impetuous enough to act on the spur of the moment and attend a concert 100 miles from home on a work night. It doesn’t sound that far (in fact, I think I’ve travelled further to a gig since then), but at the time it felt like a real journey just to act on a whim and to indulge my burgeoning love of live music.

I’m hard to please. I don’t know about you, but everything has to be “just so” for me to unreservedly say that I have enjoyed myself at a gig. I have seen some bands put on a fantastic show, but I have been vaguely unhappy because the girl standing in front of me kept pushing back into my personal space, or because those two idiots next to me kept talking throughout, or because it was a bit smoky, or because I was worrying about something or other. It is very rare that a show itself is so good that I will be able to put these other things out of my mind and just enjoy myself. Even some of my shortlist for the Top Five have are overcoming some pretty serious handicaps to make the list: Metallica were so good at the Milton Keynes Bowl that I now choose not to remember the hours I spent sat in the queues for the car park, and I have ALMOST completely forgotten about how Coldplay’s landmark set Glastonbury in 2002 was nearly ruined for me by those drunken irritants talking loudly about how they should go back to their tents and get wasted …

James were perfect though, absolutely perfect. I had worked all that Thursday, driven the 100 miles to Oxford to hook up with my mates, watched the gig (James were backed by theaudience, a half-decent indie band featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor on vocals), had a quick beer and then driven the 100 miles back to Nottingham.

It was brilliant.

Nowadays you’re lucky if I’ll venture out much further than my living room on a school night… But back then I was young and reckless, and the pleasures of staying in and re-organising my record collection would remain undiscovered for a little while yet.

* Not that I am an obsessive, but you do realise that I am now going to have to spend my evening working out who actually makes the top 5? I’ll probably wake up in a cold sweat in the night having remembered another gig that I couldn’t possibly leave out…

… Little Jeff (Paul)

For the last twenty years, one man dominated the Newcastle rock scene like a colossus. All the more impressive when you consider that he was barely five feet tall.

That man was Little Jeff, and he was THE rock DJ in Newcastle.

Formerly the resident disc jockey at the now dearly departed Mayfair, Jeff was about as far from your stereotypical DJ as it was possible to get. Short of stature, and long of hair, his little legs would see him waddle around, be it on the way to see Newcastle Utd play football, or simply to get another bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale from the bar.

For Jeff it really was all about the music, and he eschewed such ideas as cross-fading or cutting a track short. He just played records. In their entirety. Announcing them all in his broad Geordie accent as they came along and not caring that the dancefloor would often empty in the silence which followed the latest record, before the crowd swiftly surged back on to lap up his latest offering.

My favourite anecdote about Little Jeff, which typifies his approach to life and music is this account of one of his introductions to the next record:

"Would so-and-so go to the foyer – your friend has been hospitalised, they're not very well! Here's Metallica!"

Unfortunately for Jeff, and despite his protestations that "the bastards will never tear this place down" the Mayfair lost its battle to remain open, and is now the site of a shiny new cinema and Tiger Tiger nightclub.

Thankfully, that didn't stop him from carrying on, and the Newcastle metal scene followed him around the city, like children following the Pied Piper of Hamlin (if the Pied Piper had worn black, and played Korn for “aal the radgie bastards out there”.)

Sadly Little Jeff died on 19th July 2005 following several years of ill health. In his honour, a minute's noise was played at his most recent musical home Legends, and the night ended in typical fashion, with a piece of music wholly out of keeping with what had gone before.

‘Nelly The Elephant’ may well have come a-calling for Little Jeff, who presumably now DJs in a ghostly Mayfair in another realm, but his legacy in the North East lives on.

… ‘Jerk It Out’ – The Caesars (Pete)

Once upon a time I used to DJ in the best city in the world. And I played this song. Before I go any further, I want you to banish any thoughts of ads for iPods, or heaven forbid, shampoo. Back in the autumn of 2003, this song was pure class.

Back in the days when life was a bit more carefree, thanks to regular attendance at the indie night at Sophienclub in Berlin (every Tuesday night in case you were wondering) I somehow managed to wangle playing a set there. I should explain that this club night, run by a German chap called "Spencer", has been Berlin's mainstay indie night for at least 15 years.

I'd already played a few sets by the time I got hold of 'Jerk Out It' via compilation from my mate Andy. I'd heard the song a few times before in various club nights beforehand, along with some of the crowd. So when the time came to slip it into the set around 1am after a decent build-up including The Charlatans, Kula Shaker, Primal Scream et al, the crowd went ballistic to 3 minutes 17 seconds of infectious guitar pop with an unforgettable hook. Admittedly, this entry is a bit of a pat on my own back, but seeing over a hundred people going completely mental to a song you've chosen to play sort of sticks in your mind. Happy days indeed.

… journeys down memory lane (Caskared)

The Jennifers – the first really valuable record I bought from the vinyl store on the indoor market. I was trying to buy the most obscure and therefore brilliant thing I could. It was a fun piece of indie prog and I later found out that The Jennifers became Supergrass. A boy with an Inspiral Carpets haircut at college offered to buy it from me for £20 but I declined thinking it would go up and up in value. I think I missed a window.

Johnny Cash – the first time I really listened to Johnny Cash I was helping install an exhibition in Norwich. One of the artists was making a crazy Bavarian Behemoth of a piece and he brought his CD collection of rumbling low-voiced men with him including Johnny Cash who sounded so fresh and drew me in.

Joni Mitchell – the first folk for me was Joni Mitchell in a doctor friend’s house. It was a turning point from having just jangly music to something crafted in a different mellow meld. Incidentally it was also the first time I ever sat through an entire episode of ‘Top Gear’, so the two are inextricably linked to me. I wonder if there are any other ‘Top Gear’ / Joni Mitchell links out there?

The Jam – was what all of the Mods in my home town wanted to be. They wore synthetic fibre suits and kookie haircuts under giant khaki parkas. We would dance like jitterbugs to The Jam in fields or friends’ front rooms while stifling giggles at the mockney accents pouring out of nice middle-class Midland boys.

Johnny Mercer – “You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, you do”. It’s on the ‘LA Confidential’ soundtrack and it is impossible for me to listen to it and not beam from ear to ear. I was introduced to it in my first student flat. My reaction to the film and the soundtrack, I later found out, was a test by the boy who became my man.

Jackson, Michael – Bad was the second album I ever bought myself. Every song a classic and had me singing along in the back of my mother’s car when I listened to it on my Walkman. I listened to it solidly during a trip to Peterborough. The cathedral was accompanied by ‘Liberian Girl’, the botanical gardens by ‘Man In The Mirror’.

… joy (Ben)

joy n. intense gladness; rapture; delight; rejoicing”. Thus quoth the dictionary.

But does that bring us any nearer to understanding what joy is, what it feels like? Can it be put into words? I doubt it.

And yet we are all of us able to experience and recognise joy. It’s a feeling inspired or triggered by all manner of things – including music. The capacity to stir and intensify the passions of the listener is one of music’s most distinguishing characteristics. (Which is why, incidentally, so-called “chill-out” music is generally so repugnant to me – working (sometimes calculatedly) to dull the emotions by a gradual process of aural osmosis rather than stoking the fire.) And few emotions are intensified more dramatically by music than joy.

Forget dictionary definitions. Joy, for me, is the feeling I get when I hear the opening of Abba’s ‘Waterloo’. Or Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’, as it slows down into that glorious stomp. Or the riff in PJ Harvey’s ‘Big Exit’. Or the chorus of Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’. Or Dave Grohl’s drum breakdown in QOTSA’s ‘No-One Knows’. Or the solo in ‘Last Nite’ by The Strokes. Or the point at which Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ kicks in again. Or the entirety of The Futureheads’ cover of ‘Hounds Of Love’.

Often there’s no correlation between the lyrical subject matter of a song and the emotion it gives rise to – which is why I feel my heart lift whenever Joy Division’s bleak masterpiece ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ comes on a pub jukebox.

There aren’t many what you might call “conventionally joyous” records in my collection. “Sad songs remind me of friends”, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite sang on ‘Cody’. For years I thought the line was: “Sad songs, my only friends”. And I understood the sentiment. Sometimes wallowing indulgently in self-pity to the accompaniment of depressing records – a kind of reverse psychology – is comforting and even strangely joyous. Many a time I’ve found myself reaching for the old favourites, Radiohead’s The Bends and Frigid Stars by Codeine. And the perverse pleasure derived from listening to downbeat records can be a communal experience – thousands of people stood in a field singing along to ‘Everybody Hurts’ with Michael Stipe, for instance.

But then ‘Everybody Hurts’ does have a refrain which exudes stoic determination and even a glint of optimism: “Hold on”. Perhaps the most surprising records are those which, against all the odds, prove to be above all else fundamentally joyous from start to finish. Both Eels’ Daisies Of The Galaxy and The Arcade Fire’s Funeral might be the product of dark days for the bands concerned, beset by the deaths of loved ones, but misery is by and large banished or, rather, transcended. It’s impossible to listen to either without feeling stirred, roused - joyful.

… jugs (Skif)

F’narr. Or, more accurately, jug and spasm. F’narr f’narr. Before the arrival of the sock-embellished world of cock-rock, this was possibly the most lascivious genre term musical history could provide. Yet, like the 50s skiffle music to which it is closely related, it was an entirely innocent style and prior to the Great Depression was THE music of the United States’ rural south.

Around the turn of the 20th century, stylistically catholic “jug” bands began to crop up in Louisville, Kentucky and were a tremendous spectacle that quickly garnered momentous success playing the full gamut through country, jazz, Ragtime and pop styles. Early jug bands were usually manned by African American vaudeville players, and as such Appalachian styles also featured and Memphis Blues, before it was known as such.

The first known recording, in the early 20s, captured Earl McDonald’s Dixieland Jug Blowers and while the style was largely killed off by big band and swing in more affluent times, jug bands continue to exist, such as the Juggernaut, Federal Cigar and Curbside Jug Bands. Indeed, an annual JugFest is held each October in Sutter Creek, California with “jammin’ and juggin’”, of course, a prominent feature of these gatherings.

The origins of the jug came from the spasm bands of the late 19th century. Spasms bands performed on the streets often using homemade instruments, one notable figure of this time being Ironing Board Sam. Other instruments regularly found in spasm bands were kazoos, whistles, harmonicas, mandolins, “bones” (spoons) and washtubs. The jug, the “poor man’s tuba”, was often called upon to make up part of a rhythm section, although players have apparently been known to break out into jug solo. Prior to banging on Placebo in an early-noughties indie-club, this was probably the most effective floor-clearance technique known to music.

To play a jug, you buzz through pursed lips over the mouth of the jug, this giving its distinctive hollow bass tone. That’s all there is to it folks, now you’re ready for a rigorous hoedown. Indeed, it is the ease of this, and the ready access to the apparatus, that makes jug and spasm so significant.

Jug and spasm bands had precisely the same effect on US citizens of the late 1800s as the skiffle boom had on post-war Britain, democratising music, making it accessible, allowing music appreciation to be more than a passive pursuit. So then, from jug and spasm we got the blues which, of course, begat rock ‘n’ roll and is therefore to blame for every single musical note you love today. How’s that for a sweeping statement? I’m glad no-one’s claiming this ad-hoc encyclopaedia to be in any way definitive.

Besides, music was invented in the early 60s wasn’t it?

… juniors (Jez)

Fishmongers, butchers, greengrocers etc. Tradition dictates that a family business passes through generations until a hypermarket crushes local trades like an elephant stepping on an acorn, or the eighteenth in line announces a love of musical theatre and rushes for the greasepaint of Broadway - or the monthly am-dram in the church hall. So it’s only fitting that the same should go for musicians.

But therein lays a problem. The beauty of our musical heroes relies on them breaking the mould. But unfortunately the industry isn’t run by philanthropists, just some blokes trying to make a quick profit by whatever means possible. Easy marketing ploys mean the juniors will always get a crack at pop stardom through need for very little capital outlay. Just a few who have given it a go: Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon, Marc Bolan’s boy who was so talentless he didn’t even have a first name.

Of course some buck the trend. The Wainwright clan write beautiful songs about how deeply they hate each other, and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl would’ve made her Dad proud.

However, have sympathy for the likes of Zowie Bowie. Watching your old man dressing up as a Nazi, while conducting drug fuelled bisexual affairs, after pretending to be a goblin, all the while having Jonathon Ross trying to stick his head further up his Dad’s arse – well, it’s enough to make you want to become a tradesman.

… Junior / Senior (drmigs)

Every summer has its media anthem. By this I don't mean the great song of the summer that we all whistle and hum; I mean the song that every black-rim-bespectacled media flunky uses to trail their extremely average Channel 4 reality TV show, or BBC2 home improvement show. In 2003 this song was 'Move Your Feet' by Junior / Senior. Now whilst I don't hold any particular torch for this tune, I will forever hold Junior / Senior in my respect. Why? Well it's like this.

More often than not the summer media anthem is selected during the moneyed urbanite's late spring pilgrimage to the vogue hedonistic party island of the time. A previously small band gets parachuted to notoriety, and huge wads of cash either go up the band's noses, or into their wardrobe. As the money rolls in, their egos boom, and it's a fast track to Monte Carlo, or more commonly bust. Junior / Senior, however, maintained some grace.

My personal recollection of the song was that it was initially crap, then really irritating, then fleetingly I wondered if it was OK, until I came around to the “just irritating” conclusion. The public however thought differently, and the juggernaut that is the music establishment crunched through the well-practiced gear changes to make it ubiquitous. Hence come Glastonbury, their presence was assured.

As per usual they turned up looking like members of Weight-Watchers trying to recreate the 'Anfield Rap' look (complete with wonky baseball, ‘tache and phat gold chains). Not normally an outfit to endear charm. However, the post-set interview with Jo Whiley was memorable for its humility. When asked how did it feel performing at Glastonbury, they meekly responded by saying how they were really nervous because they didn't feel as though they had the musical calibre to perform there. Particularly citing that just because their song had been received well on the clubbing circuit, they didn't necessarily think they had a place at Glastonbury. They were reassured that their set had gone down well, which it had, and were invited to do a live backstage set for the BBC coverage (and probably Jarvis Cocker, Cerys Matthews, and whoever else was propping up the free bar).

What followed, was the like watching the scrawny kid who gets bullied come off the bench in an under-15 football match and score a penalty in the final minute. They nervously tuned up, played 'Move Your Feet' with everything they had, and then appreciatively shuffled off to sincere applause. Whatever your opinion of their music, you have to respect their integrity.

A glance at their website indicates that they're still going strong. And although I might not be buying their music any time soon, I wish them the very best of luck. Sincerity like that deserves reward.

… Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu (Del)

They're justified and they're ancient, I hope you understand.

The Timelords aka The Kopyright Liberation Front aka The Forever Ancients Liberation Loophole aka Rockman Rock and King Boy D aka Jimi Cauty and Bill Drummond aka aka The Jams aka The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu.

Ok, here we go, time to push the boat out. I believe The Jams are the greatest punk band ever. There. Said it. Done.

"What?" I hear you cry. "They made cheesy dance records, and pratted about. What are you on about?"

Well, it is, of course, not as simple as that. Here were two music industry stooges who were sick of the whole affair. Bill was a former member of Big In Japan (along with Holly 'FGTHollywood' Johnson, Ian 'Lightning Seeds' Broudie and Dave 'Country House & Teardrop Explodes' Balfe). He managed Teardrop Explodes and Echo And The Bunnymen. Jimi was a veteran of Stock Aitken and Waterman makeweights Brilliant. They had grown sick of the music industry. So they took the piss and turned on their masters, creating KLF Communications, their own label, their own terms.

They formed The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and released a twisted hip hop record full of uncleared samples and Bill's Scots rap rants, 1987: What The Fuck's Going On?. It was political, angry, hilarious, shambolic and in places genius. It had haunting African vocals, raps on Aids and the monarchy and bits of The Beatles, The Monkees, Stevie Wonder, Hendrix, The Pistols, Samantha Fox and Julie Andrews. They only cleared one sample on the whole album (courtesy of The Fall) so it was just asking for litigation. Abba threatened to sue over the use of ‘Dancing Queen’, so The Jams had little option but to pull the album. But – and this takes real cheek – they reissued it, without any of the offending samples. So most of the record was just yawning silence. But there were full instructions on how to recreate the record in the comfort of your own home.

Then they released "the most nauseating record in the world". A mash-up classic. The Sweet's 'Blockbuster', Gary Glitter's 'Rock ‘N’ Roll Part 2' and the ‘Dr Who’ theme, contorted into a pissed up dancefloor anthem, it hit #1. Then they wrote a book, ‘The Manual’, detailing how they did it, and therefore how you could too. One band made the Top Ten in Europe by following it to the letter. Edelweiss - 'Bring Me Edelweiss' reworked Abba to more ridiculous extremes. But they actually bothered to get

Then come The KLF years. Most punk bands rely on three chords. Acid house anthem 'What Time Is Love' only bothered with three notes. And was rereleased approximately six times, along with an album of "cover" versions, all of which were actually done by... The KLF. They also rereleased ‘3am Eternal’ in five or six different incarnations. The same with ‘Last Train To Trancentral’. And ‘Justified And Ancient’ was five years old by the time it hit the Top Ten. If it ain't broke... They invented ambient by accident with their piss-take-yet-genius Chill Out LP.

Their biggest album, The White Room, was a remixed version of an unreleased album soundtracking an unfinished movie from two years previously. And by 1992 they were the biggest band in the world, almost completely by accident, recording techno records with the first lady of country, Tammy Wynette, and dancing around dressed as ice cream cones, playing inflatable guitars.

Then they looked in the mirror and released they had become everything they hated. It wasn't fun any more. So, at the 1992 Brit Awards, they performed ‘3am Eternal’ with hardcore metal group Extreme Noise Terror, and machine-gunned the audience of industry types (with blanks, but they didn't know that at the time...). They sent a motorcycle courier up to collect their Best Band gong. They dumped a dead sheep outside the aftershow party. And then they deleted their entire back catalogue. No more KLF records. Ever. Quite frankly, it makes The Clash's 'Complete Control' rant against the record industry sound like the next Ashlee Simpson single. One music journalist said that deleting their back catalogue was the equivalent of burning a million quid.

So they did.

And as an act of nihilism, a complete rejection of society's values and everything it holds dear, nothing beats burning a million quid. It was dirty money, tainted by the way they'd earned it, as slaves to the industry machine. They wanted to reject the hold of money, the whole idea of the hollow dream of being a millionaire. They were also, of course, completely insane. So they burnt it all. They were first ever to do such a thing, and probably the last. You want punk? The Sex Pistols put a safety pin through the Queen's nose. The Jams stole someone else’s music to ruthlessly satirise the monarchy and then burnt her portrait on bundles of £50 notes that they'd earnt from an industry they despised.

Kick out the Jams, motherfuckers!

* * * * *

Amen to that!

Thanks to Swiss Toni, Paul, Pete, Caskared, Skif, Jez, drmigs and Del for their contributions this week. See you here same time next week for K.


Blogger Ben said...

Paul: Little Jeff = legend. Pure and simple.

Caskared: Boys with Clint Boon haircuts - those were the days. Not even Clint Boon himself has one now, I don't think.

Skif: What do you mean this "encyclopaedia" isn't definitive?! ;)

Jez: The Webb Brothers were OK. But then I guess there's Enrique Iglesias - but then what would you expect from Julio Iglesias's son?

Del: What a bunch of hilariously entertaining nutters! Do you know of any books about them? As self-publicists I imagine they'll have written one themselves... A friend of mine and Paul's has been round to Bill Drummond's house in Norfolk - no mention of piles of money waiting to be burnt. And last I heard of Jimi Cauty he was releasing an EP as part of a collective called Blacksmoke, the title being 'Fuck The Fucking Fuckers'...

4:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I caught the tail end of the Mayfair. I am still holding out and intend on never frequenting the Tiger Tiger in protest...which as I live in Vilnius is quite easy to do!

9:59 pm  

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