Wednesday 31 January 2024

Day 31: Josienne Clarke – Onliness (songs of solitude & singularity)


Today’s disc (the last in this month’s series of 31 albums and 12-inch singles) is the 2023 album Onliness (songs of solitude & singularity) by Josienne Clarke. It is a grey vinyl album and the most recent record in this series. I barely buy vinyl now but I am a big fan of this musician/singer/songwriter so I made an exception. I bought my copy on Bandcamp, I think, and you can too (vinyl, CD or just digital – go here). Here is a taste of the album, her song The Birds, which appears both on Onliness and on an acoustic selection of six tracks released later in 2023 as only me onliness:



I have written about Clarke on this blog before. In 2021, for a series of pieces about individual songs, I interviewed her about her song Done (read that interview here). Done, which is a magnificent song, makes an appearance on Onliness too in a lovely new version that I now love even more than the earlier recording. Here is that new version:



Clarke is, for me, an artist in the fullest sense of the word – she has an individual voice and a really specific way with words and sounds that gets things just right. The album starts gently, builds to some heights and big tunes (country anthem, anyone? Try Homemade Heartache) and then winds back down to a delicate close. I could keep posting tracks all week because every song is a hit waiting to be found, each one holding nuggets of truth. Have a listen to Chicago on the album, for example, and hear what she did with a crap experience a few years back – made it into pure gold.

Clarke has devoted fans but I do wish more people appreciated this brilliant artist. She said in the interview in 2021 “I’m only ever doing ‘one person hears it and recommends it to someone else’, that’s just how my career goes. It’s a slow burn.” Well, I’m doing my bit, I’m recommending again, and again, and again. Support individual artists, support creativity, support talent. Here’s another lovely piece of work from Onliness (the last track on the album):



So that’s me (and us) at the end of another series of posts about life and music (intro post for this months series here). We started on 1 January with The Wombles and have taken in a good sprinkling of genres along the way. Will I keep all these records as long as I’m here on this earth? Or will I send one or two on their way to go and live with someone else? I’m no closer to that kind of decision but I have enjoyed working out why I’ve kept these particular discs and donated or sold others. 


I don’t know about you but here it’s been another long January full of new years, birthdays, nightshifts and memories (am I obsessed with memories? Maybe...). Every January (on about 22nd) I say “I’m never doing this again” (a blog series). I mean, who’s reading, who cares? And then I think of something else I want to write about and off we go. Self-expression does help, somehow and in some way. It’s not everything but it’s worth a go.


Thanks for reading if you made it this far. I’ll leave you with a poem about life and music that I wrote a few years back that is in my wee book Turn. 




You get to a milestone; 

You look around, take stock. 

Maybe you sit down, 

Have a drink of something, 

Maybe with friends, 

Maybe not. 


You review the route so far, 

What’s loved, learned, lost. 

There is a soundtrack, 

You recall some of it. 

Maybe the greatest hits, 

Maybe not. 


Tuesday 30 January 2024

Day 30 – Ella Fitzgerald – Ella in London


A very quick one today. This disc is an album of my Mum’s – an Ella Fitzgerald live album from 1974, recorded live At Ronnie Scott’s in London, April 11, 1974. It’s not typical of my Mum’s very small record collection (mostly Andrew Lloyd Webber and big-name opera sopranos) so I would guess someone else gave her this as a present (maybe her sister, Kit, who was the fashionable one of the 3 sisters). 


My Mum died in 2010 and I have kept some of her other albums, mostly for old time’s sake. For example, I’ve still got the Evita album, with Julie Covington as Eva, that got a lot of music-to-make-a-Sunday-roast-to play in our home for a few years after it came out in 1976. I probably still know the whole thing by heart – my Mum loved it. I was always fascinated by lines like, “Screw the middle classes! I will never accept them! My father’s other family were middle class and we were kept out of sight, hidden from view at his funeral”. And people think musicals are all froth.


This Ella Fitzgerald album though, I don’t think I ever heard Mum play it. I probably started to listen to it when visiting her years later (still ages before streaming) and trying to find something to play that wasn’t opera or a musical. I particularly gravitated towards one track – her version of You’ve Got a Friend (hear it here). I love what they do with the song in that version (particularly for some reason “Ella’s got a friend in London, London’s got a friend in Ella” and the clinking of glass in the background here and there, gotta love a cocktail atmosphere). Musicians on that live album are the Tommy Flanagan Quartet (Flanagan on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, Keter Betts on double bass, though the album notes say Keeter, and Bobby Durham on drums).


I’ve been a Carole King fan as long as I’ve known she exists and she wrote You’ve Got a Friend of course (it’s on Tapestry and she released a version of the song in 1971, as did James Taylor at around the same time). Now we have another musicals fan in the family it seems totally apt that we saw the Carole King musical Beautiful some years back and can report that it is amazing (daughter Heather wrote about it here). I think my Mum would have enjoyed the musical (lead song: “You’ve got to get up every morning, With a smile on your face, And show the world all the love in your heart”). The show is a tough tale but with a hard line in positivity, very much my Mum’s vibe. I would add, these days, that it’s actually OK to be miserable in the morning as well, because life is complicated, but we all know what CK was getting at. Here is a live version of the title song from King, in 1973:


Just one more post in this series. Lots of shifts this week, so it will be short and squeezed in. See you tomorrow for that. 

For the first intro post to this series go here. 

Monday 29 January 2024

Day 29: Various – Horizon Leeds Vol 2


Today’s disc is really a series of discs (vinyl and CDs) and it is, as promised yesterday, all homegrown. So, as we’ve established, in the mid 1990s I was living in Leeds and DJing as one half of Daisy & Havoc. We had quite a bit of DJ work in the city and some paid guest slots further afield. Everybody knew at this time that one of the best ways to get more work and moved up the bill was to have a record or a remix that made your name. So, like pretty much everyone else in the game, we did work on some music of our own. I did more of the DJing so Daisy took the lead on this side of things, working with producers and friends to see where it would go.


One of the best pieces of music we were involved in making was probably the one on this 1995 Horizon album. I can’t actually remember who was behind this Leeds music project but you can see that both Dream FM (the pirate radio station we played on) and The Herb Garden (a club fanzine based in Leeds) have their names on the back of the album. The whole album is on this clip (our track Call It Booty starts at 6m 26s):


Some names in the track listing have been mentioned already this month (Richard Brown turned up on Day 23, for example) and luckily I do have the sleeve notes to help me out (written by Nick Robinson, my then editor at Record Mirror). Bands like Black Star Liner were pretty well known at the time locally and lots of Leeds clubs were part of various tracks (the jazz club Dig! in Dig! Alliance, Back 2 Basics DJ Ralph Lawson in Spikey and another local DJ Rob Tissera in S Factor). In my early Leeds years Rob was one of the DJs I heard most often (when he was a king of Italian piano house) but like many others he went off into faster house and trance (and is still there from what I can see, doing pretty well). He has a book  out this year too (The Smiler – A DJ’s Life). One part of Glamorous Hooligan is probably the person from this selection who has gone on to the most success, if not particularly in music (Dean Cavanagh is a screenwriter, novelist and playwright who works regularly with Irvine Welsh).


Our track was a collaboration with Lex Loofah (Huddersfield’s John Gilpin, he was here on Day 23 as well) and I still really like the sound of it. We did play it in clubs (as you can tell from the state of our promo copy, below). I don’t remember the album getting much coverage or play generally though – Madchester we were not.


A year earlier we had produced a single of our own called Sit on my Bass (on our label Tool records). We made it with friends down in London (producer Nick Woolfson, then involved in the label Jamm Records with his partner at the time Lisa Sanchez, now a singer and musician). Our record (hear it hereand that’s neither of us talking at the start) wasn’t quite what we wanted it to be but we did make a video to go with it that was much more our thing. I can’t share it here as (a) it’s quite rude (various breasts, including mine, at least one dildo, not mine, lots of things being licked, mainly food) and (b) I only have a VHS copy of it now. It is on YouTube somewhere (someone else put it up ages ago) but I don’t know where. It was played regularly in the club Vague where we worked (quite a few regulars featured in the video) and we did have a lot of fun making it. 

We sampled You Suck by Consolidated featuring the Yeastie Girlz for Sit on my Bass, from this record:


Thanks, no doubt, to our best London music friend at the time Simon Plaskett (a producer and press/promotions person), we did another remix for a record label called Slate (below, artist: Mothballs, track: Instinct of Self Preservation) but nothing much happened with that. I think our heart wasn’t really in the 4/4 beats by that point but Simon was a great supporter of ours and he got us gigs, reviewing jobs and lots of other things I have forgotten by now. He is still making music it would seem (heard his name on the radio recently, something to do with The Clash?).

Better, perhaps, than some of our house music, is the track we did for another Leeds project, 1995Saturday Sessions

This project was put together by Ricardo Barker, Howard Taylor and Andy Wood and our track was called Sold (hear it here, spot the movie sample). You can tell it was a lot more influenced by our taste for Tricky, trip hop, beats and such (see yesterday and Day 22), plus Ricardo, or Ricky as we knew him then, is a really good keyboard player. He went into film and teaching as a career, more here. I spot another name I know on track one too (calling Nigel Lister, currently appearing with Ian McKellen in something serious).


I’m not the only one in our house with vinyl and CDs with something like their name on of course. My partner of over 25 years was making music too back when we met. He was part of a techno duo called Turbulent Force and they even had an album in 1995. It looks like this:


They played at the huge Tribal Gathering, had records released, had music played on the radio (by John Peel, for example, see here). Their music was put out by Emissions Audio Output (an Andy Weatherall label) and Sabrettes, a sister label to Weatherall’s Sabres of Paradise, run by Nina Walsh. They used other band names too (Primordial Soup, Pom E Granite, Shadow Company) and their music was pretty full-on techno, try this for size:


In the last few years he has made some quite different music under the name MarKived (find some of that here, one track even has a bit of our daughter, Heathers voice on it too). Its a family affair.


Back tomorrow with added jazz.

For the first intro post to this series go here. 


Sunday 28 January 2024

Day 28: Propellerheads – Dive


Today’s disc is the 12-inch single Dive by Propellerheads. It was released in 1996 by one of the leading big beat record labels of the time, Wall of Sound. Big beat was the next stage for slower breakbeat music (after the Bristol trip hop phase mentioned back on Day 22) and Propellerheads were one of our favourite artists for this. The two guys in the band were pretty low profile (as far as I know) – I didn’t even know their names till looking them up just now (Will White and Alex Gifford). Here’s Dive (must be played loud):


By the mid 1990s house music felt like it had been around forever and for me, despite the odd good track or mix, the appeal was wearing a little thin (partly from just having heard so much of it, hour after hour, day after day, month after month). It was a bit of dilemma – because of our residency at Leeds club Vague we got paid more as guest DJs to serve up non-stop house music (the harder end of that being expected more and more) but we often really preferred playing other things. As mentioned on Day 22 we did also have a fairly regular job in the small room (back bar) of a place called the Cockpit in Leeds (I think the DJ booth was probably the serving point for food during the day, it all smelt like chips). It was the total opposite of our job at Vague (think feather boas, coke, high heels) because the Cockpit was more an indie club (baggy jeans, spliffs, trainers) and the back bar we played in worked well with drum & bass, big beats, rock, hip hop, all sorts. Our favourite drum & bass track for this job was also mentioned in an earlier post (L Double’s Asylum project and Da Base II Dark).


Propellerheads music was perfect for this space and we played Dive and Take California and possibly their collaboration with David Arnold On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as well (both above  I still have those 12-inch singles). Their next single History Repeating featured Shirley Bassey and was another great track but I don’t remember playing that as I think that’s around when DJ work came to an end for us for lots of different reasons. Mark and I have still got the CD of their 1998 album Decksanddrumsandrockandroll in our family collection and we play it in the car when the driver needs to stay awake (it’s very stirring music). 


The CD does have a picture of White and Gifford (but it’s quite hidden inside the cover):


Thinking about this era of DJing reminds me of all the other great big beat/break beat music Daisy and I played back then. There was 1997’s ETA Casual Sub and 1995’s Why Hawaii by Alëem. The whole album by Alëem (1997’s Sound Season on the French label Pro-Zak Trax) is excellent and highly recommended. Here is Why Hawaii:


Back tomorrow with some homegrown stuff.

For the first intro post to this series go here. 


Saturday 27 January 2024

Day 27: Grace Jones – Portfolio


Today’s disc is a 1977 album that I bought in the 1990s – Portfolio by Grace Jones. I bought this album for one track in particular (La Vie En Rose) after hearing it on a film. The film was 1994’s Prêt-à-Porter (called Ready to Wear in the US). There is talk of a particular Grace Jones video made to go with this track but I can’t find that anywhere (the talk mentions a nipple reveal so maybe that’s why). Here is the album version:


I already knew and loved a few Grace Jones tracks when I bought this (Pull Up To The Bumper, My Jamaican Guy, Private Life, Slave to the Rhythm). They were all 1980s tracks and very much part of the Backroom Classics genre mentioned back on Day 21. Somehow her La Vie En Rose had passed me by though, despite being released in 1977 and then again in 1983. 


This track saved the movie Prêt-à-Porter because generally it was a big disappointment. In the 1990s I did sometimes write film reviews, attended the Leeds Film Festival religiously and was a big fan of Robert Altman movies (The Player in 1992, Short Cuts in 1993). I was looking forward to Prêt-à-Porter, possibly even went to a midnight press screening, but what a long bore it was. And then (towards the end I think), La Vie En Rose came on and suddenly it was worth the late night entry and the hours of dull dialogue.


I’ve realised as I’ve written these posts quite how much film music is in my favourites library (yesterdays post, for example, and Day 2s). Albums like the Magnolia soundtrack and the Into the Wild soundtrack are music I’ve never stopped listening to. Just this week I saw the movie The Holdovers and whilst it is a good film, the song by Labi Siffre that is used in the film (Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying) – well, that is just marvellous. Here’s the great man with that song (and if you haven’t yet watched the documentary Labi Siffre: This is my Song get thee to the i-player tout-de-suite):



But back to Miss Jones. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you listen to the rest of the Portfolio album as it is pretty terrible. It was her first album and it appears it took the record label a few years to work out what to do with this particular artist – there are much, much better versions of songs like Send in the Clowns and What I Did For Love out in the world. And yet La Vie En Rose (produced by Tom Moulton, arranged by Duke Williams) is fantastic, taking an already great song and making it into something new.


The song, most of you will know, was first sung by Édith Piaf (and written by her and Louis Guglielmi, also known as Louiguy). It’s also the name of her 2007 biopic that I ill-advisedly watched at many thousand feet on the way back from Canada in 2011 (remember I hate flying anyway and am usually the other side of several Valium and a couple of beers once in the air, plus, spoiler, not all flights end well in that film). She lived 1915-63 and here is her version:

Back tomorrow with some big breakbeats.

For the first intro post to this series go here.