LYRICS // Games (2007)

Reading Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation‘ a number of years ago, I was quite struck to find out that many of the smells of American fast food are actually manufactured in large plants off the New Jersey Turnpike and then added to the food during processing. As I was going through a difficult relationship at the time, I occurred to me that that which might smell sweet wasn’t actually all it appeared to be. The first line of this song came from that and hung around in a notepad, awaiting a song to fill it out.

Shortly before I left Britain for Japan, I once again became distracted by a dalliance with someone that I misconstrued to have greater meaning. I was dropped cryptic notes with quotes from Montesquieu and Anais Nin, that set my heart a-racing for a moment. Luckily, I managed to see it for the game that it was after a while and set on my merry way, bound for Tokyo, but not before I put my feelings to verse. The Turnpike Rose seemed to fit for this situation too.

When it came to writing a set of new songs for the Shelf Life album, as usual I trawled back through my archive of lyrical scraps to see if there was anything salvageable there. There seemed to be some useable lines and couplets here, so I took them as the bones and fleshed it out with a little more new stuff. The lines about the chameleon referred to my state at the time in Tokyo of having a variety of different personas that I used for different situations (teacher, rock singer, charity founder, Brit, etc) and that when one displays a variety of different guises, others often don’t know (or can’t tell) who the real person lurking underneath is.

The song was written to be a relatively simple one with an easy-to-follow chorus, and performed as a rather punky thrash. When it was recorded, a strong synthesiser element was added in the production, taking it away a little from its Pistols-inspired roots and making it quite poppy.

Lyrically, the song is about the games that boys and girls play in the early or pre-dating phase that can often end up to be just that – a game. The song can be heard on the band’s MySpace page and purchased from Shelf Life - Best Before End - Games.


Games

That scent, like a rose,
From the New Jersey Turnpike.
No-one else knows,
The smile on her face that she looked like.

Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.
Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.

My guises like clothes,
Changed for the moment or season.
No-one else knows,
What truths are in the chameleon.

Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.
Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.

Montesquieu and Anais Nin,
Knocked my door and came right in.
They asked first if I was able,
And left messages on my table.

We dallied a while and spent some time,
It helped us get through the summer.
No distant rainbows broke,
She moved on to play with another.

Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.
Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.

Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.
Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.

That scent, like a rose,
From the New Jersey Turnpike.
No-one else knows,
The smile on her face that she looked like.

My guises like clothes,
Changed for the moment or season.
No-one else knows,
What truths are in the chameleon.

Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.
Maybe, I didn’t want to name names,
Maybe, we stopped playing games.

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LYRICS // Vonnegut’s Blues (2006)

An early attempt at a political song with Shelf Life and our first original song written together.

‘Vonnegut’s Blues’ was written as a (loosely disguised) diatribe about the Bush administration, inspired by a piece written by the late American author Kurt Vonnegut, who was still alive when the song was written. The original article that prompted the song was discovered on Common Dreams, where the writer bemoaned the state of his country under Bush Junior. What got him through such times was music – always having good tunes to take away the pain – and that was the one thing that couldn’t be taken away from him. A sentiment I couldn’t help but agree with.


…’No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.’…

The opening lines check Rumsfeld, ‘him at the top’ would be Junior himself and ‘Number Two’ bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Mr Cheney. The chorus takes on the idea of peak oil and implores the audience to speak out about the parlous state of the future. The song was an attempt to write something quite simple and direct, lyrically speaking, instead of cloaking the message in elusive imagery.

I seemed to have had the opening lines knocking around my head for years and finally found a song that they’d fit. Long after it had been written and performed a number of times, I found myself one day singing along to an old Dylan tune. To my embarrassment, I found that I’d almost exactly lifted them straight from ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall‘ (‘…the executioner’s face is always well hidden…’)!

Should Dylan and Vonnegut therefore be listed as co-writers (pretty cool names to share your writing credits with at least)? Let’s just say that they provided some useful ‘inspiration’ for the song!


The song itself can be heard on our MySpace page, and purchased from Shelf Life - Best Before End - Vonnegut's Blues. Vonnegut’s book ‘A Man Without A Country‘ is also a fine read.


Vonnegut’s Blues

The executioner’s kept hidden
He cuts from the bottom and the middle

No matter how bad it gets
We’ll have music

No matter where they take us
We’ll still have our songs

We’re on a flatout week
Until the oil supply peaks
The future’s looking bleak
So it’s your turn to speak

Him at the top is an accident
Dad and friends put him there for revenge

No matter how bad it gets
We’ll have music

No matter where they take us
We’ll still have our songs

We’re on a flatout week
Until the oil supply peaks
The future’s looking bleak
So it’s your turn to speak

Number Two is watching me and you
There’s not a great deal he’ll let us do

No matter how bad it get
We’ll have music

No matter where they take us
We’ll still have our songs

We’re on a flatout week
Until the oil supply peaks
The future’s looking bleak
So it’s your turn to speak

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LYRICS // The Tokyoite (2007)

Living in Tokyo for almost five years was a major and transformative period in my life. The city inspired me in so many ways and, perhaps bizarrely for a place that is considered so impenetrable for most non-Japanese people, opened many doors for me that I’d never dreamt I would one day walk through. Naturally, it ended up as the subject for a song.

The Western pop canon is littered with songs about London (‘London Calling‘), Paris (‘I Love Paris‘), New York (‘New York, New York‘) or LA (‘Under The Bridge‘). However, there are very few well known songs about Tokyo.

A cursory search of the internet turns up a few such odes and being someone who lived as an insider (yet always still being ‘a foreigner’), it is fascinating to see the perspective that Western artists have had of Tokyo. It seems to broadly fit into two camps – those who view it from afar as part of the ‘mysterious East’ and those artists who have passed through on some world tour or other and been bowled over by the entire ‘fish out of water’ sensations that they experienced. Many male writers seem to have focused on some groupie fling that they obviously had, where the woman in question seemed other-worldly and unattainable, other than for a fleeting moment, and she symbolises the city for them.

Heavy metal was happy to take up the ‘mysterious’ angle. W.A.S.P. in ‘Tokyo’s On Fire‘ spoke of ‘Big mondo fun, the land of the rising sun, A monster rising in my eyes’ going for obvious imagery and Godzilla shtick, while Saxon ‘had a dream about the mighty Shogun…Faded visions of the Samurai’ in ‘Walking Through Tokyo‘. At the end of the song ‘the Geisha gives on dying pleasure’ too, so they get the girl as well as the mystic past. In ‘Woman From Tokyo‘, Deep Purple got hooked on that which got Saxon. The singer ‘Talk(s) about her like a Queen, Dancing in an Eastern Dream’.

Bryan Ferry’s ‘Tokyo Joe‘ was bitten by the same bug – ‘My girl friday she no square, she like Lotus blossom in her hair…Geisha girl show you she adore you, Two oriental eyes implore you’. Judging by the rest of the song, if he made it out there at all, it doesn’t look like he got much further than Roppongi. The Bee Gees might not have even made it out of the hotel in their ‘Tokyo Nights‘ – ‘Well she took me away by saving life, I was down in the rising sun…Well I came for the moment and stayed till the end.’

Female artists have been just as overawed, even by Tokyo women, but of course in different ways to the boy rockers. In ‘Tokyo Girl‘, Ace Of Base (a band I could never have imagined ever finding a reason to write about when I began this blog, although the same comment could equally apply for Saxon) thought their subject ‘had got the moves to rule the world, that cute inscrutability’ which went on to rhyme ‘Tokyo Girl, you’re a mystery’. Gwen Stefani was ‘fascinated by the Japanese fashion scene’ and ‘just an American girl in the Tokyo streets’ in ‘Harajuku Girls‘. Although it’s not clear that she had a fling herself, Donna Summer in ‘Tokyo‘ ‘met this stranger there, so…was feeling somewhat scared…but all the ladies there were nice, the gentlemen politely out of line’.

Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn managed to resist the temptations that seemed to sway the other male writers that passed though, but was still pretty freaked out by the place, particularly after witnessing a car being pulled from a river. Stefani might have captured the flavour of Harajuku pretty well, but Cockburn got the urban sprawl feeling, mentioning ‘Pachinko jingle and space torpedo beams, Comic book violence and escaping steam’. He put ‘Tokyo‘ out in 1979, so he would have had a taste of things before the extravagances of the Bubble era. Elvis Costello barely mentions anything to do with Japan in ‘Tokyo Storm Warning‘. He could have been in a Tokyo hotel in the first verse, but then wanders off to talk about dead Italian tourists and the ‘Costa Del Malvinas’.

I might not have had a musical career comparable to any of the above artists, but I probably got to know Japan’s capital rather better.

To me, the city that ended up feeling more like home than any other place I’ve lived (Brighton aside) was a very finely tuned machine that functioned so well and smoothly largely because its residents consented so willingly to the part they played in the whole picture – a form of ‘consensual citizenship’ missing from most Western cities. I’ve tried to convey a sense of that in this song.

The first verse ticks off some of the sights of the cityscape. The second one refers to the devotion that many workers (mostly male) have to their companies, particularly the globe straddling electronics giants like Sony and Toshiba. After the destruction of the city during the Second World War, it was the army-like discipline of these workers that provided the workforce that enabled Japan’s ‘economic miracle’ during the 80’s and 90’s. ‘Salaryman‘ is equivalent to ‘breadwinner’ in English, but is obviously more gender specific.

Even in the less prestigious jobs, many people at least give the impression of being dedicated to their work. When McDonalds opened their first branches in Japan, new staff apparently proudly talked about how they were ‘working for an American company’, and thus perhaps looked a little more internationalised than the generation of their more inward looking parents. Hostess bars appear to the outsider to be little more than gaudy, neon clad brothels, when most of them are actually rather different. Although sexual activity may be part of them, they are more like a modern equivalent of the old geisha tea houses, where beautiful young women are essentially on hand to flatter visiting male luminaries and the like. Many of Japan’s businessmen are more conversationally open with the ‘hostesses’ they visit than their own wives, as many of them feel unable to talk about the strains of work at home.

The fourth verse refers to the blend of deeply traditional and hyper modern that one finds in Tokyo. Japanese houses are still measured in terms of the number of tatami mats that can be fitted on the floor. On the street, one can find an ancient looking wooden shrine with a deep attention to aesthetics right next to some vast concrete tower block with all the wires on the outside.

The bridge (‘From the top of the mountain, to the waters of the ocean’) is a reference to the scale of the city, which feels like it stretches from Mount Fuji far off in the distance right down to Tokyo Bay. There is actually a significant amount of countryside between Fuji and the outer limits of the city’s edges, but it remains a totemic presence over the skyline on a clear day, visible from many of Tokyo’s higher vantage points. Fuji makes for a calming and commanding sight beyond the visual clutter of the cityscape.

‘Commuters pouring in through arteries’ is about the complex network of train lines, jam packed to fill even the smallest bit of breathing space in the early morning, that all feed into the centre of the city. To me, those office workers were the blood that kept the heart beating and the train lines the veins that delivered them. ‘Robots bow’, even in cartoon form on train station ticket machines, as automated apologies to an imaginary inconvenience. The volume of advertising is so much higher than anywhere else I’ve been, and all they seem to depict beautiful people and perfect lives – a kind of futuristic Asian version of 50’s picket fence America – thus ‘pretty faces tease’.

‘Lose myself in my headphone world’ – across the city, it seems like most people have a set of headphones in their ears. On those cramped trains, personal space is at a premium, so immersing oneself in an iPod or similar gadget is a way of creating distance between yourself and the person breathing down your neck.

‘Hold my breath for the quake thunder’ – having once been devastated by earthquake and living in region with the highest amount of seismic activity on the planet, it is very common to hear talk of ‘the next Big One’ – the next quake that will destroy the city yet again. Living with earthquakes does take quite some getting used to, but seeing that the Japanese don’t tend to panic during one, you learn to live with it after a while.

I’ve not written a great deal of ballads in my time, but it seemed to me that Tokyo was deserving of one. The song appeared on the Shelf Life album ‘Best Before End’ and can be heard on our MySpace page and purchased from Shelf Life - Best Before End - The Tokyoite.

The Tokyoite

On bullet trains and in pod hotels
The neon lights and elevator bells
Skyscraper high and in parallel
This machine and it’s heart beat on

Salaryman as foot soldier
Corporate beasts with a great hunger
It made me feel a little older
This machine and it’s heart beat on

I call it home – and it’s so alive
I’ll store it away – in my archive of times

In hostess bars and hamburger chains
A rat race graft where no-one abstains
Business symphonies to loss and gain
This machine and it’s heart beat on

In public baths and on tatami floors
Wooden shrines and concrete eyesores
I made my chances, how about yours?
This machine and it’s heart beat on

I call it home – and it’s so alive
I’ll store it away – in my archive of times

From the top of the mountain
To the waters of the ocean
A monument in superlative
The pinnacle of these islands

Commuters pouring in through arteries
Robots bow and pretty faces tease
‘Thanks for your custom, come again please’
This machine and it’s heart beat on

Lose myself in my headphone world
A soundtrack for this city absurd
And hold my breath for the quake thunder
This machine and it’s heart beat on

I call it home – and it’s so alive
I’ll store it away – in my archive of times

From the top of the mountain
To the waters of the ocean
A monument in superlative
The pinnacle of these islands

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LYRICS // She’s Coming Home (2007)

The best way to get from the heart of Tokyo to the main international airport is by the Narita Express, the smooth-as-glass train that glides through the concrete cityscape to break into the open countryside and paddy fields of Chiba prefecture, where Narita Airport is set. I made several journeys to and from Narita on this train, and although it is a slightly more expensive ride than the other options for getting there, it is by far the most comfortable and allows time and space for a nice doze before arrival.

One such journey on the Narita Express was to meet my sweetheart when she returned from a business trip to Hong Kong. I arrived in ample time, bouquet in hand, only to get a message on my phone that her flight was going to be delayed by several hours. There was nothing for it but to camp out in the cavernous expanse of the airport and wait it out. I helped myself to a good Thai meal and killed an hour feeding coins into a massage chair I came across. After a while of wandering and vainly glancing up at the arrivals board for a glimmer of news, lines of verse started coming to me.

When Shelf Life started writing the material for our debut album (‘Best Before End’), I turned to my notebooks for salvageable scraps that could make their way into songs. What had originally been written as a waiting poem turned out to be the basis for this song.

After many years of trying to be clever and wordy in my songwriting, I made a conscious decision to try and go for something simple and direct. Given the story above, they are fairly self explanatory. There is a little nod to The Beatles (unsurprisingly) in it, inverting the Sgt. Pepper ballad of a daughter running away from ‘She’s Leaving Home’ to…

The song itself was often used to open our shows with and is a positive-looking, rolling Stonesy blast. It can be heard on our MySpace page and purchased from Shelf Life - Best Before End - She's Coming Home.

She’s Coming Home

I speed through rice fields
And bamboo clusters
This is how it feels
Waiting for her return

The train moves smoothly
Like water down glass
I drift and slumber
And dream of lucky stars

Departure lounge blues
Held up on the arrival board
If you could be in my shoes
Sweet landing such reward

It’s a new feeling
I never had before
From floor to ceiling
What I was waiting for

Yes, she’s coming home
I’ve been living alone
For so many years
At last I’m in the zone

Departure lounge blues
Held up on the arrival board
If you could be in my shoes
Sweet landing such reward

Hong Kong’s only
A few hours away
She’s coming home
It’s gonna be a better day

Hong Kong’s only
A few hours away
She’s coming home
It’s gonna be a better day

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REVIEWS // The Fest Yet (1991)

I’ve never counted how many gigs and live shows I’ve been to in my life, but it could easily run into four figures. The very first one I remember was at the tender age of 15, seeing a band called Rodgau Monotones somewhere in Germany at the behest of my penpal of the time. I wasn’t particularly impressed with them and all I recall is thinking that they sounded a little like ZZ Top.

The first one that I went to by choice, probably not long after, was Julian Cope. I was 16 by then and Cope was touring the ‘Saint Julian’ album, his comeback collection after having ducked out of the scene whilst he recuperated from having fried his synapses a little too much for the pop mainstream. The key gimmick on this particular tour was a scaffold-like mic stand that Cope clambered on and which swung around as he kicked through his set. I left the venue, Cardiff University, as he was going through his seventh encore, a feat I’ve not seen replicated by any performer since. I guess by then I was hooked.

In the first half of my twenties, I substituted the desire to go abroad and explore foreign lands for standing in muddy English fields to watch as many bands as I could possibly squeeze in to three days. This was a time when the British festival scene was considerably smaller and there were only really two main events to go to – Glastonbury and Reading. Just attending these two was enough to stretch the limited student finances to breaking point, so it was probably just as well that there weren’t a lot of others going on. My first of the era was Glastonbury in 1990 and the last major festival I went to was WOMAD in 1995, having finally started branching out from solid indie rock.

At the end of it all, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t go back to the likes of Glastonbury unless I was playing there in my own band and set out on my efforts to put such a combo together. Still haven’t made it back yet. One day though, who knows?

I did however get a crack at being a music journalist, when I wrote up a review of the 1991 Reading Festival. This was published in college rag The Printed Image and can be found in full glory below.

The Fest Yet

What does every journalist open a festival review with? Yes, a quick recap on the weather, of course. Naturally, arrival at the site was heralded with seriously heavy rainfall. Memories of last year’s Glastonbury Festival came flooding back, of having to cross oceans of mud to reach anywhere resembling a good view of the main stage. However, the mud soon ceased to be a problem, as you would cease to be too if you were trampled on by 30,000 pairs of Doc Martens.

It is very easy to find your way to the site if you’ve never been to the festival before. All you need to do is follow the long flow of greboes heading in the same direction. The festival goers took on the form of a funeral procession. Almost everyone was clad in black, but I suppose with The Sisters Of Mercy headlining the Sunday night, it was to be expected. For a finishing touch, the procession was complete with an array of flowers (admittedly all on James T-shirts though).

Friday 23rd

BABES IN TOYLAND delivered the first excitement of the day, and were obviously eagerly anticipated, judging by the mass migration towards the stage. Spearheading the new wave of all female US hardcore bands, the Babes set out to prove that they could make as much noise as the boys on the bill.

SILVERFISH turned up next to thrill us with their screaming guitars and blistering noise. The guitarist Fuzz, was clad in a tuxedo while Leslie happily swore at the audience as if she hated them. And with songs like ‘Total Fucking Asshole’, who’s to argue?

NIRVANA followed Silverfish, sounding even harder and grittier. Nirvana have recently fled the Sub-Pop nest to join the elder statesmen of hardcore, Sonic Youth, on Geffen. A major label doesn’t mean any compromise on their sound either. Introduced by John Peel as ‘another dandy little combo’, they kicked Reading into a higher gear in preparation for the bigger names that were to follow.

You can always hope for something special about the day when DINOSAUR JR grace the stage. J Mascis looked a little bored but that didn’t undermine their combination of soaring guitars, brilliant noise and great melodies. ‘I Live For That Look’, ‘The Wagon’ and ‘Freakscene’ all helped to drag out the sun, kicking and screaming, to brighten the day and the moods.

For all those suffering from hardcore fatigue, there was either the comedy tent or POP WILL EAT EATSELF, who changed the mood by giving the crowd an opportunity to dance instead of slam. The Poppies made a very spirited attempt to put on a good show, with smoke and backdrops, and they succeeded in being entertaining if a little tacky. All the PWEI classics were rolled out including ‘Def Con One’, ‘There Is No Love Between Us Anymore’ and material from the recent ‘Cure For Sanity’ LP. They really brought the crowds to their feet.

SONIC YOUTH, Friday’s co-headliners, were out to kill. By the second song, Thurston Moore was already hurling his guitar around the stage. This was a band who clearly belonged up there in front of an audience where they could take their fusion of experimentation and extreme noise considerably further. They slugged their equipment around so much that they had to tune up between most of the songs. Kim Gordon ended the set by jumping up and down on her bass guitar as if the instrument had offended her family, while Thurston Moore continued to hurl his guitar over the edge of the stage like a dog on an extending lead. It’s times like these that you’re grateful not to be one of Sonic Youth’s guitars! Highlights of the set included ‘Teen Age Riot’, ‘Mary Christ’ and ‘Dirty Boots’ (surely the theme song of the day).

Suffering blistered ears and a battered body from Sonic Youth, IGGY POP, Friday’s headliner, started out as a real anti-climax. He failed to make very much of an impression, despite his prancing around like Mick Jagger on heat, his claims of having been ‘sent here to rock this shit’ and the removal of most of his clothes (often dropping his jeans too). There was little distinction between the songs and there had been far more powerful bands on earlier. Still, I suppose even ‘living legends’ must have their time to warm up and Iggy Pop is no exception. ‘China Girl’ (yes, that one) broke the pattern by sounding different, and had me on my feet; ‘Real Wild Child’ got everyone dancing, while ‘The Passenger’ was even granted an audience singalong. By ‘Lust For Life’ the boredom had been forgotten. He encored with two Stooges songs, ‘No Fun’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. When we thought that it was all over he came back for one more song, the old R ‘n’ B classic that he had retitled ‘Louie Fuckin’ Louie’. It may have taken a while, but Iggy Pop showed us why he was up there at the top of the bill.

Saturday 24th

Saturday turned out to be an altogether more varied day with the emphasis on ‘pop’ music on the bill. The first (and only) disappointment of the day were FLOWERED UP. Imagine a third rate Happy Mondays with Cockney accents and all the songs sounding the same and you’ll get the picture.

That left the brilliant TEENAGE FANCLUB to make the first good impression on me and give me reason to stand up. They succeeded. Kicking off with the classic ‘God Knows It’s True’ and ending up with the rolling ‘Everything Flows’, they managed to pack in as much serious fun as possible. Teenage Fanclub were clearing playing for themselves and having a whale of a time while they were at it. They gave a more diverse element to the day’s billing with their swaggering Dinosaur Jr/Neil Young guitar sound.

Seeing as this year’s festival seemed to be full of those who’ve hit the limelight very quickly (Neds, Babes, Fannies), this gave a great excuse to put BLUR on. This is a band who both want to be big and who will be. Damon, the singer, loped on stage looking completely stoned and proceeded to spend the entire set falling all over the place like an Orang Utan with his spine removed. From catchy pop ditties to swirling hippy anthems, Blur smothered the audience with adoration and were loved in return. Damon must have been watching Sonic Youth (albeit in slow motion), the way he was knocking things over, including himself. If this man had a guitar, he would be dangerous. Whenever a roadie ran on to put back an unfortunate mic stand or Dave’s cymbals, Damon tried to mount him. Future headliners?

DE LA SOUL were so bad at Glastonbury last year that I decided to skip them this time, making THE FALL the next band to grace the stage. Even the existential miserable bastard Mark E. Smith seemed in high spirits today. He was actually smiling when he kicked the roadie off stage! Keeping with the band’s tradition of barely ever playing anything more than a couple of years old, this year’s ‘Shiftwork’ LP was really brought alive. This is quite sad because it means a largely excellent back catalogue gets ignored, with virtually the only ‘old’ song they played being ‘Big New Prinz’. Still, Mark does like to keep himself on his toes. An encore was called for and delivered in the shape of last year’s Festive 50 chart topper ‘Bill Is Dead’ and the title track from the ‘Shiftwork’ LP. ‘Always different, always the same, they are the reason I listen to pop music’, John Peel is quoted as saying when asked to describe The Fall. They are now in a league of their own.

That left two bands to round up the day and the best were (naturally) left till last. Simply put, CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE were brilliant. Rock festival purists would undoubtedly have been horrified at two guys running around on stage with a drum machine and backing tapes for accompaniment. Despite the fact that Carter are better suited to slightly more intimate venues than a 30,000 capacity outdoor arena, they didn’t let this spoil their set and their sound was far from lost in the open air. They were also very well received. The set was opened with ‘Surfing U.S.M.’ and continued with many faithful renditions of tracks from their last LP ‘30 Something’. When Carter play live, the songs sound no different from their vinyl counterparts, but that is testimony to how good their records are. That’s why it’s better to see them live; because you look stupid stage-diving in your bedroom. ‘Sheriff Fatman’ and ‘This Is How It Feels’, the Inspiral Carpets number, formed the first encore and ‘G.I. Blues’ closed the set completely.

Watching JAMES in concert is always both a pleasure and an experience. Tonight’s spot at the Reading Festival was no exception even though my view was mostly obscured by the large gut of a front row security guard. James have now reached a stage where you have to have an opinion on them. Every third person you pass on the street is wearing a James T-shirt. For a band that have been together in various incarnations since 1983, it’s a surprise that it has taken them so long to get this far. James have a back catalogue that many bands would kill to have written themselves. From the opening shot ‘What For’ (a single that deserved to be a massive hit), through to the end ‘How Was It For You’ (their first taste of Top 40 success) and the encore of ‘Come Home’, there was never a dull moment. All the old songs were revitalised and sounded as fresh as if they had been written yesterday. The new songs were all gems in their own right. Tracks like ‘Hymn From A Village’ tend to lose their vulnerability under the expanded line-up but that’s not to say that the song wasn’t done justice to. The band put so much energy and vitality into their performances, it’s as if each one is playing for the last time and is trying to outdo the other while still staying in complete harmony. Tim puts so much into it that he appears to be hyperventilating between each song. Of course, even bands of magnitude have their problems. The early part of the set was brought down by bad sound. It took times trying to start ‘Walking The Ghost’ before Tim gave up and went for another mic. But there are always the highs with the lows. After they played ‘Sit Down’, the crowd broke up the order by singing the chorus back to the onstage assemblage at such a volume that the band couldn’t carry on. It is moments like seeing the look of elation on Tim’s face as he sat and surveyed the mass of singing faces that make it all worthwhile. ‘Lose Control’ followed, stripped down completely to acoustic guitar and vocals. They manage to keep their stage shows fresh and alive by constantly changing their set around and making each show unique. James have finally arrived and they are untouchable.

Sunday 25th

Seeing as the Main Stage had such a patchy line-up, I decided to spend most of the day in the Mean Fiddler tent. Naturally, it took a few bands for the atmosphere to warm up. WELL LOADED did nothing for me at all. They in fact sent me to sleep. TOASTED HERETIC were marginally better, yet still not enjoyable. LOVES YOUNG NIGHTMARE were fairly good, or worth applauding anyway. The tent packed out for the next artist, CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, appearing in trademark red beret and round shades. He was great, giving us a run through his greatest moments, including old Damned favourites ‘New Rose’ and ‘Smash It Up’, and ‘Glad It’s All Over’. He left the stage with a cry of ‘Buy my records, you fucking bums!’

THE POPINJAYS sprang up next to inject a bit of fun into the proceedings with bouncy melodies and catchy choruses, after legions of Damned fans left the tent. The girls didn’t look as if they expected to go down too well. Despite this, they were very well received.

Swansea’s very own indie favourites, THE POOH STICKS, followed some out of place jazz band. They were really good, even though I knew none of the songs. Amelia Fletcher guested to add some sugar to the harmonies and Hue finished off by squirting the audience with a water pistol!

FATIMA MANSIONS were the next band that I saw in the Mean Fiddler, who were just fascinating to watch. Cathal Coughlan has enough venom in him to put a charging rhino to sleep, while his excellent choice of songs showed that it is possible to sing about political matters and not come across as a load of pretentious toss like THE GODFATHERS (Main Stage). He must come off stage completely exhausted after his performance of a marionette in a cyclone. Fatima Mansions closed with the epic ‘Blues For Ceausescu’.

NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN were the only band on the Main Stage that I bothered to see anything of, and that was only about twenty minutes worth. The Neds played a selection of new songs and their hit single ‘Happy’ in the short time that I saw them. They were as energetic as ever and looking as if they were having a great time, which is what it’s all about really.

NEW FAST AUTOMATIC DAFFODILS proved themselves to be as effortlessly brilliant as ever, exuding their gritty funk grooves to the point where the tent felt more like a club than a gig, and everyone was dancing. New FADS are not as raw as they used to be but that does not make them mellow by any stretch of the imagination. Tracks included ‘Big’, ‘Fishes Eyes’ and ‘Man Without Qualities’. The crowd were seriously disappointed when the band left the stage and didn’t come back on. Because there were so many bands on at this tent, they all had to play condensed versions of their normal length sets.

The choice between the headliners was easy. It was either a case of standing in a field amongst a bunch of preening goths listening to the pretentious drivel of THE SISTERS OF MERCY or packing myself like a sardine into the Mean Fiddler to experience Bristol’s finest, THE BLUE AEROPLANES.

They were well worth the wait. People who were pissed off about New FADS short set soon forgot their grumbles. As is always the case with The Blue Aeroplanes, there seemed to more people up on the stage than down in the crowd. Their mixture of ‘beat poetry’ with layers of guitars (and a weird Polish dancer) seems to work every time now. The band rolled off such favourites as ‘Jacket Hangs’, ‘…And Stones’, ‘Yr Own World’ and their Paul Simon cover of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’. Even the indecently young looking guitarist Rodney Allen got his own singing spot. Gerard looked like Rodney’s father next to him, placing a firm parental hand on the young lad’s shoulder. Are The Blue Aeroplanes pretentious or brilliant? Probably a bit of both, but that’s OK because sometimes pretension works. Tonight, The Blue Aeroplanes soared. But they do prompt the question: Was Gerard Langley born with those shades on, or what?

If you want to know what the festival was about; not being able to shower, shit or shave properly for five days, eating cold junk food and drinking warm beer, but being able to see loads of brilliant bands, don’t ask me or take notice of any of the reviews. Get yourself a ticket for Reading ’92 and experience it for yourself!

(all pictures courtesy of www.musicpictures.com except for Iggy Pop, courtesy of Reading Evening Post)

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Filed under 1991, Reviews