Imagine waking from a blissful dream where everything was perfect, to drops of freezing cold water falling through a crack in the ceiling onto your face. Gradually, you remember a bitter argument you had the night before. Your head is aching, your eyes swollen and you don’t know why. What you do know is that you can hear your children crying. One of the poor little beggars is shuffling around looking for something to eat. There’s not a morsel to be had and not a dime to spend. Then you see a note nailed to the door. It’s from your partner and they’re not coming back. 

It’s the story of the blues. If this particular version of the story wasn’t entirely familiar to her, she sure sounds like it was, because few if anyone, sang the blues with as much conviction as Karen Dalton. Each note she chokes from her gut possesses an aura of total wretchedness, like words scrawled on a suicide note. 

Dalton was born in poverty in Enid Oklahoma, but experienced an itinerant roving lifestyle, eventually settling in an old disused goldmining cabin without central heating or running water, in rural Colorado. She lived a troubled life, one ravaged by substance misuse and poor health. Her peers (Dylan for example) regarded her as the greatest singer of her era, but she somehow contrived to evade commercial recognition. Dylan’s patronage was scant consolation for someone whose natural gift was so remarkable that it should have made her a household name and a lorryload of bucks along the way, but it wasn’t to be. Ultimately she wasn’t prepared to play the game and although she possessed great self-belief, her prodigious talent was matched only by a crippling shyness that would make her trans-Atlantic contemporary Nick Drake seem like David Bowie by comparison. Indeed Dalton had to be coaxed, even tricked, into recording her first album, entering the studio on the pretext that she would cut a song as a favour for her friend Fred Neil. Somehow she was persuaded by producer Nik Venet to sing a few more and did enough for him to assemble a half hour’s worth of material which eventually became It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best.

 The Cherokee Billie Holiday couldn’t write her own songs but it didn’t matter, because she rewrote others’ as she sang them, and what’s more she played the guitar “like Jimmy Reed” (as Dylan quipped) and the long-neck banjo for good measure (she was even the cover girl for Ode Banjos). She released only two albums in her lifetime. The second, In My Own Time, is a fairly mixed bag. Some of the selections seem incongruous with Dalton’s folk blues heritage, and at times the arrangements are an encumbrance, cloyingly at odds with the authentic spirit of the songs. Nevertheless, those bruised tonsils are in splendid form on the opening track, ‘Something’s On Your Mind’, perhaps her most famous interpretation of all, raw, peppered with wrong notes, cracks, unironed blemishes, and all the better for it. If she was around today, they would autotune the life and soul out of it. The album might have been worth including for ‘Katie Cruel’ alone. Dalton had been singing this traditional folk tune since she first held a guitar in her hands. Based on an old Scots rhyme – and prophetically biographical – it is here given a just treatment, far weightier than on 1966 or Cotton Eye Joe, two posthumous releases, both nevertheless deserving of an ear themselves. Besides Dalton’s mesmerising vocal performance, it benefits greatly from Bobby Notkoff’s electric violin, lending it the peculiarly eerie quality he likewise achieved on Neil Young’s ‘Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets’ on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It is a haunted masterpiece.

 But overall, the raw minimalism of her first outing is more sympathetic to her gruelling performances, steering clear of glaring misjudgements like ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You’ and the perfunctory professionalism of the session musicians’ performances. Thematically too, the first album, despite its broad range of material (Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, Tim Hardin) has an organic flow, culminating in two of the most crushingly beautiful songs you will ever hear. Hardin’s ‘How Did The Feeling Feel To You’ is stunning – Hardin often sounded as if he was struggling to get to the end of each line without recourse to a nebuliser; Dalton sings it as if her heart is about to give up at any moment. Here over the most fragile of melodies her voice bends and breaks over the prettiest of guitar lines which seems to sing along with her as if offering gentle reassurance to keep her going. If that is good then ‘Right, Wrong Or Ready’ is simply sublime, a genuine tearjerker. Penned by Major Wiley, I am never sure whether the tears it procures come from empathy for the singer or the miraculous beauty of the gently ascending chord sequence. It reminds you that music can take you places you may not have wished to go. But once there, you know you’ll have to come back for more. Don’t just take my word for it – go find out yourself and listen to them in the album’s proper context for a true appreciation. 

Elsewhere the influence of Fred Neil is most obvious, although it’s entirely possible Neil had been first rapt with Dalton’s pained voice and mimicked her style. Perhaps Tim Buckley is to Fred Neil as Neil is to Karen Dalton? Her take on Neil’s ‘Little Bit Of Rain’, a most delicate reworking is excellent, and the deftness to her playing on ‘Ribbon Bow’ a genuine treat. The Billie Holiday comparison is at its most apparent on ‘I Love You More Than Words Can Say’, which haemorrhages misery. When she groans those lines (“living without you is so painful, I was tempted to call it a day”) we don’t need any convincing that she means it. 

After her second album, Dalton retreated even further from the music scene, but even by the time she had cut those two albums, she was a little late for the party. By ‘69, the Greenwich Village folk blues boom was passé, but freed from their socio-cultural context, we can now appreciate how genuinely timeless her renditions of these songs sound today. When she died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 55, it had been 22 years since she had last set foot in a recording studio. Her legacy lives on in artists as diverse as Beth Gibbons and Madeleine Peroux, although by comparison, Peroux is a mere stylist where Dalton was the real deal. This debut album, released to little fanfare at the time, should serve as her definitive musical statement. (JJ)




From its taut rectangular opening riff, a delirious organ suddenly escapes like a rabbit from a trap, and we’re immersed in a swirling hypnodelic soup. The sound is fresh and yet strangely familiar, the melody whimsical, capricious, pulling in a multitude of directions. When my needle first dropped on ‘Sun Connection’, the opening track of The Blue Orchids’ debut album, The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain), I instantly succumbed to its spell. 

Martin Bramah had waited patiently for this moment. As founding members of The Fall, he and Una Baines had watched as MES tightened an iron grip he would never relinquish. Una had been first to depart. When Martin joined her in early ’79, it felt like something of an artistic liberation. 
Bramah would briefly reunite with Smith & co. in 1989, leaving after the rather splendid Extricate album. But after his first exit a decade earlier, the overwhelming feeling was one of relief: he now had the freedom to indulge his creative capacities in something which would manifest itself in the purest form of self-expression – music made by its makers, for its makers, “for the love and glory of it” as Bramah attests. His new project had originally been baptised The Blessed Orchids by Manc’s favourite punk-poet John Cooper Clarke. The band released two 45s on Rough Trade before producing one of post-punk’s greatest – and unfairly overlooked – albums.

It was a chaotic period, but one Bramah remembers with great fondness. Into the intoxicating mix were slung liberal portions of the Krautrock rhythms of Can and Neu! and illusive hints of The Velvets, Syd Barrett and The Doors, but if truth be told, it was difficult to neatly pin down the broad spectrum of influences at work. 

The guitars on ‘A Year With No Head’ are brilliant, at first possessing the wiry rhythmic algebra of Talking Heads, before they tiptoe gingerly across constellations of stars recalling the somnolent intricacies of Tom Verlaine’s quieter moments. ‘Hanging Man’ takes the TH a step further, pillaging the riff and the über neurosis from ‘Psycho Killer’ along its topsyturvy trajectory.
On the seething speed-fuelled pulse of ‘Dumb Magician’, it sounds like Michael Karoli’s guitar is lassoing the rings of Saturn, while ‘Tighten My Belt’ is a curious slice of dub-inflected No Wave funk which sounds like it’s migrated here from the Ottoman Empire. Musically this was a far more radical era. There was much more risk-taking and adventurousness, and space where this kind of bizarre melange sounded de rigeur.
As for influence, well how much UK indie music from the mid to late 80s was lifted from ‘Bad Education’ and ‘No Looking Back’? The latter is superb – like several other tracks here it sounds about 20 years ahead of its time, outflanking Interpol and The Strokes in as much the same way as the guitar at the finale briefly threatens to outpace its own feedback. The album closes with ‘Mad As The Mist And Snow’ which conjures a similarly portentous olde folke aura as ‘Space Odyssey’ – the closer on The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Bros classic. It may feel like an incongruous finale, but adds an even denser layer of mystery to proceedings.

It sounds almost as if the band existed in their own little bubble, oblivious to the ’82 zeitgeist. Comparisons with contemporaries such as The Teardrop Explodes, Swell Maps and The Soft Boys persist, perhaps because those bands had a similar genius for harnessing the energy of punk and marrying that to a looser (consciously or subconsciously retro) psychedelic approach. Relations between punk’s primal itch and psychedelia’s improvisational aesthetic were in the hands of Bramah & company, unusually cordial.
The album shipped 10,000 copies, peaking at #5 on the UK Indie Charts, but the momentum would be short-lived. Ultimately for Bramah, it would be more important to remain true to his principles than to achieve any significant commercial success. An opportunity to work with Nico was beckoning, but things would not work out quite as planned, and the band temporarily lost their way. But despite a few leaner periods, they are still going strong today, and released a fine record this year with The Once And Future Thing. (JJ)

Interview with Martin Bramah

 On reflection, was your first departure from The Fall more an artistic liberation than a cruel setback?

• Yes, you could call it an artistic liberation – I had proved myself as a composer/arranger in The Fall and I wanted the freedom to play with words too.

I have never thought of my departure as a cruel setback – I’ve always done things my own way in my own time. I left because I’d had enough of the situation at Fall HQ: Mark begged me to stay but I was determined to jump ship. It had been an intense two years and things were getting claustrophobic – plus Mark took it upon himself to decide what I had and hadn’t written without consulting me. You really can’t trust the writing credits on Fall albums – everything ex-members say is true in that regard.

> I think I read once that you had said those two Fall spells were distinguished by the shifting power dynamic – and that your second spell was characterised by an employer/employee relationship with Mark whereas in the beginning you had just been friends. Do you think when Una and yourself left in ’79, that marked the end of democracy and the beginning of Mark’s totalitarian leadership?

• First of all, Una left The Fall in December ’77, not long after Tony Friel – I mention this because people tend to forget Yvonne Pawlett’s great contribution to the band in ’78/’79. 

The ‘totalitarian’ thing had been there from the start; it’s in Mark’s nature. At first it was Una who helped Mark hold the upper hand, as they were the only couple in the band and the ‘universe of two’ as they liked to refer to themselves. Then when they began to drift apart in the fall of ’77 Mark brought Kay Carroll in as his new manager/live-in-lover. Kay’s arrival was the real reason for the original band members leaving one by one because she always fought Mark’s corner and encouraged him to think of himself as a lone genius.

> What do you recall about the recording sessions for the album? Did you have much of a budget? Was it yourself or Tony Roberts who engineered/oversaw the final mix?

• Recording ‘The Greatest Hit’ was a blast from start to finish: a drug driven couple of weeks (mainly speed, weed n poppers at that point) in a converted warehouse on Blossom St. in Ancoats, Manchester. It was Tony Robert’s eight-track studio (he’d had the honour of playing drums on the classic ‘Gordon Is A Moron’ by Jilted John). Geoff Travis at Rough Trade figured Blue Orchids needed the good old-fashioned restriction of an eight-track tape machine, so we booked Tony’s place.

We didn’t have much of a budget really, but Geoff did hire the guy who had just produced ‘Ghost Town’ for The Specials to produce our album – well this producer (I forget his name) sat there for the first week, appalled at our antics and contributed very little. We finished all the recording in the first week and our Rough Trade paid for producer took the tapes home with him to do some rough mixes (he was famous in Birmingham for his ‘Lovers Rock’ mixes). When we heard the results we were not happy and so we went back into Tony’s place to mix the album ourselves, which took up the second week. Tony Roberts engineered the recording and I oversaw the final mix.

> I’m hearing the pulsing Krautrock rhythms of Can and Neu! and even Michael Karoli’s guitar landscapes on ‘Dumb Magician’. Elsewhere, traces of The Velvets, Syd Barrett here and there, and The Doors. What else do you remember listening to around that time?

• I love Michael Karoli’s guitar playing, he’s definitely in my top ten guitarists list. I was listening to all the above-mentioned artists of course – plus maybe Donovan, Richard Hell, Iggy Pop, The Modern Lovers and The Kinks.

> On ‘Sun Connection’ as well as elsewhere, the sound is warm and infectious. I’ve heard Una’s playing come in for a bit of criticism, as if she was using a different music sheet, but I love the way the instruments move away from one another to create this loose swirling hypnotic sound. Was there a bit of freedom to improvise there, or were the individual parts written that way?

• Sun Connection is a fusion of three musical ideas into one concept piece. I wrote all the guitar and bass parts with quite a rigid arrangement from start to finish. But with the keyboards I just told Una what key the various sections were in, and let her improvise, so the keyboards seem to flow through a structure, like light through stained glass. I think it works really well and no criticism has ever reached my ears.

> As a document, how far is The Greatest Hit the missing link between the frenetic post-punk of The Fall, Wire & Swell Maps and the jangling indie guitar sound of Felt and The Weather Prophets, which looked back to ’67 as much as to ’77?

• I am not qualified to answer this question, as I was not trying to be the missing link between anything. My main intention was to create something ‘in the now’ something modern but quite plain in a way. I was trying to drop all the baggage of rock cliché and say ‘Here I stand today – a young man in the city – this is how I feel – this is what I think – this is my spirituality – these are my aims.’ and so on. It is for others to decide where the album fits into the scheme of things.

> Was the album title a drug reference or a commentary on capitalist greed – it was recorded just as the impact of Thatcherism was leading to strife in the inner cities – as otherwise the lyrics don’t strike me as political, more personal. Who/what were the major influences on your lyric writing?

• The title of the album played on both those ideas, obviously, that’s what made it interesting, but it was taken from a line in Sun Connection: ‘Think I’ll go out, buy myself a soul – the greatest hit in the world.’ So getting a soul is the ultimate hit! Also there were so many ‘greatest hits’ albums out there in every bargain bin that I thought it would be funny to use ‘The Greatest Hit’ singular as it had never been done – again it appealed to my sense of the title being something plain. 

As to the major influences on my writing, that’s hard to say as I pull the germs of ideas from all over the place; books, movies, folk music, but as far as rock writing goes I was very influenced in my early efforts by the ideas that Bowie and Eno laid out in the late ’70s, like a lot of other young budding writers from that era. Ideas of deconstruction and abstraction, fragmentation and getting the essence of things – but I always put my own original spin on the things I write – I have studied the content, but I don’t imitate the style.

> The Greatest Hit sounds incredibly fresh today, almost as if the band existed in a bubble, insulating yourselves from the ’81/’82 zeitgeist. It sold pretty well. Are you frustrated that at the time, you didn’t really build on that momentum?

• Frustrated? No. Momentum can be a dangerous thing for an artist who wants to stay in control of the creative process – momentum means commercial pressures come into play that most artists find hard to combat – the daily drip, drip of sound business advice from those with a stake in your success. Momentum and Hype, I always run a mile when I see them coming! 

I make the music I want to make when I want to make it and I trust in it to work its way into the world by a kind of osmosis. I have never made music to make a living. I am that rare breed: The Great British Amateur – always much better than the professional because we do it for the love and glory of it.

But to answer your question: Yes, I suppose life did throw a couple of spanners into the works which stopped us conquering the world in the mid-eighties.

> How did the partnership with Nico come about? Where ultimately did it lead you?

• I was a teenage Nico fan. I had all her records. The last thing I ever expected was that she would turn up in Manchester – why would she? But one day she did.

Alan Wise my manager at the time called round to my place and asked me if I’d ever heard of this singer, a German woman called Nico… I said, ‘Yes of course,why?’ ‘Because she’s staying down the road at the Polex Hotel – do you want to come and meet her?’

It turned out Nico was staying at this cheap hotel in Whalley Range and she was looking for some musicians to back her. So we drove over there and I was ushered into her presence like she was some kind of guru cult leader. We talked about what I don’t remember but it must have gone well because we agreed to work togetheron her upcoming live shows, which I was obviously thrilled about. That led to a busy year of touring the UK and Europe acting as her backing band and support act, doing two sets a night. I learned a lot during my time with Nico for which I’ll always be grateful. However, the time came when I felt it we should draw a line under our work with Nico – we had our first album out and I didn’t want to become branded as being just her backing band. The trouble was that our rhythm section had slipped into heroin addiction, due to its availability around the Nicocrowd, and so they wanted to stay put on the gravy train.

This led to a split in the band, with our manager, bass player, drummer and crew all carrying on touring with Nico and her ‘Blue Orchids’ – while I put together a new line-up but lost some of the ‘momentum’ we had gathered up to that point.

> You’ve been making records to a smallish but loyal fan base ever since. What would you say have been the main developments in your music between the first album and The Once And Future Thing?

• No developments – every recording is different from the last – but has me at the core reacting to the times I’m in – making my ‘in the now’ statements with ‘style and flair’ as everything changes around me but stays the same! I have fun making records and I try and go deep into myself and the music but always putting the listener first – that is, always keeping the ‘layman’s ear’ (an idea I coined in the early Fall).

> The Awefull compilation gathers together the Rough Trade singles – and hopefully will open up your music to a new audience. You’ve been gigging too – notice any younger faces in the crowd?

• Yes, of course – the kids love this shit. lol

101. CHRIS COHEN – OVERGROWN PATH (2012) Guest Contributor: Gerry Love (Teenage Fanclub)

Recently TNPC celebrated the career of Scotland’s finest with a twin take on two Teenage Fanclub classics (TNPC #96). For that feature, Gerry Love kindly agreed to share his thoughts on A Catholic Education and Songs From Northern Britain. We invited him to select a favourite album of his own and to say a few words about it…

If I was going to make use of hyperbole, I might say that Overgrown Path is my Odessey & Oracle of the 21st century, but I’m not going to say that, I’m just going to say that it’s a brilliant record full of brilliant songs, and if you don’t know it you should spend some time with it. A modern DIY masterpiece, perfect in its construction, with beautiful melodic twists and turns and unpredictable, evolving, almost architectural arrangements, played and recorded entirely by its creator, Chris Cohen, it is one of the truly great records of the last decade.

If I was to describe it in terms of known landmarks I would say it’s somewhere in the direction of Broadcast, Mayo Thompson, Chet Baker, High Llamas, Raymond Scott, Alex Chilton, Stereolab, but Overgrown Path undoubtedly inhabits its own magical environment and is very much in the present tense. The song that pulled me in was ‘Monad’. No great story behind the discovery: out of curiosity I click play on the video one afternoon on youtube in late 2012 and as the suspended eerie intro holds and then switches and transforms into the ascending guitar line, I find myself already drawn in, optimistically engaged – I had heard great things about this guy – and as the cool melancholic vocal picks up the guitar melody and the song begins to unfold, ascending and descending, amongst those loose drums, smart bass lines, sharp guitars and warm keyboards, all perfectly weighted and measured, it was clear to me that I was listening to something truly special.

‘Monad’ is the type of song that appeals as much to your intellect as it does your emotions with its fluent complex patterns and deep chord progressions masked by the beautiful simplicity of the melody. I must have played it thirty times in a row. The following day I took a train into town and bought the album and it has been a regular soundtrack in my life ever since. Over nine songs, Overgrown Path presents a unique soft personal psychedelia, a highly evolved collection of cascading melodies, asymmetrical time signatures and grainy cinematic ever-changing arrangements. As the work of one musician, Overgrown Path’s artistic strength undoubtedly lies in its closeness to the original ideas, its undiluted, fully realised, creatively pure conception. Its musical strength lies in its blend of killer melodies and highly sophisticated atmospheric arrangements. Check out : ‘Monad’, ‘Caller No 9’, ‘Rollercoaster Ride’, ‘Optimist High’. (Gerry Love)


For TNPC 100, we’ve delved deep inside our record collections, warts ‘n’ all, for the tunes that changed the way we thought about music; the sounds that helped to shape our lifelong musical obsession. We celebrate the tracks that messed with our heads, remembering the songs that let us know we were not alone and those that made us feel we could take on the world.

Better believe it, our lives were saved by rock’n’roll…



Sometimes I wonder how I came to be such an obsessive music fan as many of my earliest memories are of being terrified by what I heard – most of all this, the first piece of music to have a real hammer-blow impact on me. Even in Deodato’s laid-back, funky version, the wah-wah – a new sound to me – was like a cat yowling into the night, and those rising opening notes, darting like a bogeyman, remained as imposing as Strauss meant them to be. It only multiplied when I heard it as used in 2001 – the tympani simulating the voice of God like no music before or since. Even now, it feels disturbing, recurring through the maddest, oddest, most plain disconcerting U certificate film ever made – and Kubrick didn’t even intend to use it at first.


A birthday present I proudly took to the school Christmas party, with my name pencilled on the label – and a scintillating, feverish instrumental from France, an unmistakable product of its time and simultaneously 20 years ahead of it. The spring-heeled clavinet and squealing primitive synth belong in the time of The Goodies and power cuts – but then come the handclaps of a funky flamenco and a barely-audible but making-all-the difference scat vocal, and in a blind test you could easily have it down as Air or Daft Punk, as well as fitting right into the belle epoque of Jean-Michel Jarre, Space and even Magma.

My time as a rock and metal fan was brief and brought to a swift, sudden end by punk but before then, I found it close to impossible to see beyond the cape-sweeping of Queen, particularly on this marauding opener of A Night At The Opera, with Freddie denouncing an anonymous critic every bit as louchely as you’d expect. Their decline, fast, sharp and irreversible, began very soon afterwards.

The first punk record ever to make it into our house. It’s always been overshadowed by Peaches, No More Heroes and Golden Brown but it was a top 10 hit as well. I can’t say it put a swagger in my pre-teen step but it felt like it did – and the trick was replicated on the breathless b-side, Straighten Out.


A true eye-opener. My introduction to reggae, to dub – and to the knowledge of racism’s evils. How can it be that this is as topical as ever?

I could have chosen dozens of songs to represent my realisation that music didn’t begin and end with the charts but this stands out for creating an apocalyptic vision with nothing more play-in-an-hour guitar, creaky sound effects and cave-dweller percussion. They’re usually remembered as a novelty act for Where’s Captain Kirk? and their practice of changing their name every year (Spizz Oil/Spizz Energi/Athletico Spizz ’80/Spizzles). They were far better than that.


Around two months before their abrupt end in dreadful circumstances, I got properly into Joy Division through Unknown Pleasures and this electrifying, white-knuckle single. Punk was now over – the future was underway.

My record library not only helped me keep pace with the precipiate present; it was also invaluable in my endeavour to sort out the past. I finally took Blonde On Blonde out, some eight months after choosing an audiobook of I, Claudius instead, and it soundtracked a bright spring rather than a gloomy, drenched summer. Its majesty was immediately apparent; this is the song that hit first and hardest.

I saw them supporting Echo and the Bunnymen at Glasgow Apollo in 1981; liked them. They issued this single two months later; I thought it sounded good and mentally filed it away. Just over a year after that, I was unable to dislodge a particular melody from my mind. It turned out to be Revolutionary Spirit – I declared it my favourite song of all time and have continued to do so ever since. All the power, drama, magic, mystery and beauty you could seek in music is here, with the velocity and dynamic of a fleet of planes taking off. Just hear it for yourself; I’d only diminish it by trying to describe it further.


The library triumphs again. The Madcap Laughs is not entirely a comfortable listen, and it’s questionable whether some moments on it should have been included at all, but at its finest, it’s a man attempting to make sense of the world in the only way he can and offering to share that world with us with wit and generosity. While Men at Work and Bonnie Tyler were scrabbling across the airwaves, this was all I wanted to hear.

I’ve always been a dabbling dilettante when it comes to dance but I know what makes sense to me when I hear it. This impossibly beautiful and richly crafted tune rose above the nosebleed anthems like Excalibur thrust out of a swamp.

In my most recent review, of Pylon’s Gyrate, I neglected to mention that their influence has found its way to the present, not least in this band from, appropriately enough, Athens. Tense, compelling, glowering yet tender – and gloriously devoid of millennial whoop (PG).


The Teddy Bears – To Know Him Is To Love Him (single)

In amongst my parents record collection was this single. I think it was where I discovered that music could be more than the words and notes committed to tape. There is something else captured on this that is utterly transporting. As David Briggs would say – It’s got the spook.

Ramones – Rockaway Beach (It’s Alive)
The first noise that drowned out all the crap around me. Because the opening lyrics define rock’n’roll to me. When the Ramones albums were only available on import It’s Alive gave you twice as many songs for only £1.00 more and that was important in those days.

Velvet Underground – Heroin (Live 1969)
I bought the Velvets’ albums in a weird order. Luckily I had a fellow TNPC’er to help guide me through. I’m glad I heard this LP early though. I think hearing Lou rap about football made them seem so much more accessible and easier to identify with. The sleeve notes are among my favourite (along with Husker Du’s Warehouse Songs and Stories). Pull up a cushion.

Jesus & Mary Chain – Somethings Wrong (Psychocandy)

From hearing their 1st Peel session in late 1984 to seeing them in early 1986 the Mary Chain owned me. For a long time I thought this was the greatest song ever recorded.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Sad Waters (Your Funeral My Trial)

I bought this for someone and in the end couldn’t bear to give it away. Released as a double vinyl, it was so good it was a week before I played the second record. Still the highpoint of an incredible body of work.

Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me (Five Leaves Left)

A fellow TNPC writer loaned me the Heaven In A Wild Flower compilation c. 1988. I discovered that if I set my record player to 7” it would drop perfectly on this track. I would then play this on repeat for several hours at a time, and allow its meditational healing power to wash over me. Nick Drake has been a near constant companion ever since.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (Astral Weeks)
In the late 1980’s, Melody Maker in the UK issued a magazine called Pop! The Glory Years containing some of the finest music writing I’ve ever read. The piece on Van Morrison opens “Think about all the people you ever knew. Some of them are dead now, others have been lost in the slow unwinding of the years, gone mad, burned themselves out; others are out there, busy with their lives, happy with what thaey have become. It will have been a long time since you last saw these people you know and maybe loved, but listening to Astral Weeks will bring them back into your life.” That is about as close as anyone has ever got to summing up this masterpiece for me.

13th Floor Elevators – Slip Inside This House (Easter Everywhere)

An avid collector of Nuggets, Pebbles, etc. psych garage compilation, no amount of garage rock could prepare me for this. Sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of grasping its elusive meaning before just giving into the trance cooked up by Roky and Stacy.

Bobby Bland – I’m Not Ashamed (Two Steps From The Blues)
The re-release of Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train provided a treasure map to a world I barely knew existed. Soul music rarely gets deeper than this.

Galaxie 500 – Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste (Today)
The first track I heard by them (thanks John Peel). Turning an acapella Jonathan Richman track that barely lasts two minutes into a psychedelic epic is some kind of genius.

Debra Keese – Travelling (Build The Ark)
Digging deeper into the world of reggae in the mid to late 1990’s opened up whole new sonic vistas to me. Along with a series of incredible re-releases on the Blood and Fire label (Keith Hudson, The Congos, Yabby U, Horace Andy etc.) a local record shop (Fopp) had 3 Lee Perry triple vinyl box sets for £5.00 each. The Upsetter, Open The Gate and best of all Build the Ark. This is a song that never fails to take me into the mystic.

Six Organs Of Admittance – Eighth Cognition/All You’ve Left (School Of The Flower)
Aiming for Alice Coltrane but ending up somewhere else is no failure. A perfect gateway both to the earlier and later work of Ben Chasny, and also a multitude of other artists. (TT)



I was brought up on a diet of Debussy, Stevie Wonder and bossa nova, stuff my mam listened to, so I had an ear for melody. And Burt is really the king of melody. Herb can’t sing on the other hand, but hey…

I mind hearing this on the radio, and feigning illness from school the next day in the hope that I might hear it on the radio once again. Lying on the couch, my mam hoovering the living room, and me, fingers on the ‘record’ button – having to tell her to stop when it finally came on. I can’t quite understand what it was that appealed. That multi-tracked vocal probably sounded like the future to me, even though Sweet by then were obviously a relic from the past.


The first band I thought of as ‘mine’. I took this home from the library and played it all summer (’81 I think). It was the perfect antidote to all that NWOBHM guff that all my school mates were listening to. They used to stand playing air guitar in a line and shaking their hair to their Saxon records, while I just stood aside entirely bemused. I remember being really upset finding out Japan had split, just as I had discovered them.


Adam Ant selected this on some radio show in 1985. When I heard it I lost interest in going to the football. I started perfecting my forlorn indie kid look and buying the NME. Yes, I blame the Velvets. I immediately bought the banana album, which kind of shocked me by its abrasiveness, but there was no way back.

Well, it’s the most thrilling introduction to a song ever isn’t it? Then it’s a Martian singing outside some radioactive power plant, backed by the loudest garage band in town.

Well, who doesn’t like ocean sounds, a bit of improvisational jazz and Dionysus crooning over the top?


I resisted hip hop for a while, but this was the turning point. Insanely radical, sharp intellects, precision programming and ‘that’ noise, whatever the hell it was. They made better records but this was the bomb.

I missed all that C86 stuff because I was too busy buying all the cool LPs from the NMEs ’85 Top 100 list (as well as from the original Perfect Collection book) to notice what was going on, so I only really got to grips with new sounds around ’87 – no bad thing: the next few years produced an abundance of astonishing music on both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s a great track from a band that seems to have slipped from collective memory. This is the EP version.

I was asked the other day, if I preferred Dylan or Cohen. Not an easy question, but lyrically, Lenny was untouchable. The melody got me first, and the words still shake me to the core. A relationship song but not about ‘that’ relationship. Is he singing to his friend/’brother’ or to himself? A song for grown ups, as anti-pop as its possible to be.

I think I heard this in 1992 or thereabouts. I think it’s the greatest production job I’ve ever heard. Take a bow George Goldner!

DJ PIERRE – MUZIK IS LIFE (Life Long Mix) (1992)
This alongside Derrick May’s remix of ‘Sueno Latino’ was the soundtrack to the early ’90s for me. You can say what you like but Chicago and Detroit were where it was at. A patient, building, hypnotic, disorientating, ecstatic noise.


Loud City Song is proof that popular music is alive and well. There are still fearless pioneers out there, amongst them Kendrick Lamar, Daniel Rossen and Julia Holter, who writes like a mad poet and sings like a schizophrenic ghost. (JJ)

98. GYRATE – PYLON (1980)

One point to clear up and get out of the way immediately – Pylon are not a footnote in someone else’s story. Sure, their fellow Athenians REM covered their 1981 single Crazy – but it was a devout act of homage to a band without whose influence and tutelage they might never have crawled from the South. In fact, Peter Buck felt driven to despair the first time he heard it, so far did he (wrongly) feel it was beyond his own band’s reach. This is Pylon’s story.

They emerged at the dawn of the ’80s, a time of mystery and wonder, when the reviews and releases pages of the NME and Sounds were filled with names which fascinated but which, short of turning up on one of about three reliable radio programmes, would remain unattainable and undiscoverable. Even if they appeared in a record shop, to gamble pocket money away on a potential  disappointment was an overambitious folly and so there would be a lengthy wait before I would discover the truth behind Half Japanese, Tin Huey, the Bush Tetras – and Pylon, who were, for purely alphabetical and alliterative reasons, filed in my mind alongside Pyrolator.

Geographically, they were very much a Southern band – singer Vanessa Briscoe and drummer Curtis Crowe, both native Georgians, came together with Virginia-born, Georgia-based bassist Michael Lachowski and the late Floridian guitarist Randy Bewley in Athens, Georgia’s university town which was already a more invigorating and challenging musical proposition than some entire states. Georgia had previously offered vast riches – James Brown,  Little Richard, Ray Charles, Otis Redding – but the common ground Pylon and their peers had with them appeared to amount to naught and Pylon less than most. It seemed like Rothko next to Grant Wood, ee cummings next to Walt Whitman.

Or so it seemed. In fact  the band themselves have revealed to TNPC that the soul, country and blues which surrounded them all seeped in in some form. Not least the influence of Brown’s arid, frantic funk of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which pulsed far, notably at the end of the ’70s to Talking Heads and James Chance in New York and to Gang of Four and the Pop Group in the UK. Pylon closed this particularly spiny loop with their terse and quite thrilling interpretation. And while they were contorting rock into quixotic new shapes, they were still playing a form of edge-of-the-seat rock and roll and you can definitely trace a line back through to those ripest peaches.

One of the first things you notice about Gyrate, from the earliest seconds of opener Volume, is how far Crowe’s  bass drum is shunted to the foreground. It remains a leitmotif throughout the album; it’s blunt force but not bludgeoning, a thing of knockout blows but not black eyes – the kiss of the Louisville Lip. It hunts in a pair with Lachowski’s bass, which declaims and proclaims as eloquently as the same instruments in the hands of Hook, Weymouth or Wobble, while Bewley’s guitar doesn’t so much jangle as oscillate and, yes, gyrate like a kinetic sculpture in a gale. And Briscoe is a proudly abrasive singer, less in rage than in exultant celebration of the fizzing commotion she describes and surfs upon.

So many moments rush through, like snapshots of an unforgettable holiday. Feast On My Heart, with its gleeful riff, deliriously seesawing bridge and wall-embracing climax, is what college radio was invented for. Precaution shares a plot of land with the Cramps’ contemporary Sunglasses After Dark (and therefore also Link Wray’s Fat Back) but races well ahead into the new decade, running into the Fall at the other end. Human Body is lighter, poppier almost, but is still several time zones away from anything that could be described as commercial. Danger uses every one of its 339 seconds to justify its title with deep echo, screams and slide guitar that slips along like a train through 4am silence. Driving School also cleaves the calm with what initially sounds like the intrusion of an alarm clock but, as it envelops the song, takes on the timbre of a member of Kraftwerk’s choir or even a heavily processed Jew’s harp (Pylon have revealed the source to be a TV set – see Q &  A), all to a breathless sequence of postcards from behind the wheel (“Caution, red light, bus stop, turn right/Reverse, forward, neutral, low gear”).

Like much of Gyrate, Driving School’s lyrics are stacatto, almost cut-up, but one theme which does push itself forward is a desire for purpose. Working Is Not A Problem goes beyond the commonplace dead end job,  sticking-it-to-the-man posturing and locates in it a drive to maintain a goal where there seem to be none (“Putting things in boxes/I look at them and pack them”) while Read A Book similarly transcends the notion of learning more from books than TV with the urgent exhortation “Don’t be afraid.” It may have on occasion been  a source of mirth within the band but the intent is plainly there – nothing so trite as Follow Your Dreams but at least make some kind of mark.

A second album, Chomp, was at least as barbed and spidery as Gyrate. I could just as easily have chosen it but Gyrate edges it on the shock of the new test. Since then, they’ve continued to function, despite the sudden and shocking death of Randy Bewley 2009, and can currently be seen under the banner of Pylon Reenactment Society. The ripples from their boulder spread as far as Throwing Muses, Pavement and Sleater-Kinney – as far detached from the rock ‘n’ roll silliness they were born into as from the hipster whimsy that prevails today. Gyrate will make your head spin. (PG).

Q & A – Vanessa Briscoe Hay and Michael Lachowski

To an outsider, the music of Pylon appears to bear little relation to the musical heritage of the South in general and Georgia in particular. Received wisdom, rightly or wrongly, perceives Athens as an enclave apart from Georgia but to what extent has the state shaped Pylon’s sound?

VBH: I think being of the time and place that Athens, GA was at the end of the 1970s contributed to who we were and how the sound of the band progressed.  There were influences from Georgia and the South that were in the background for me personally. Music from artists like Georgian James Brown and the proximity to Atlanta and the musical offerings there shaped a lot of my early interest in music. Blues, jazz, rock and funk were just a short drive away and on the radio. My parents were super interested in country music and I would be remiss if I didn’t credit early exposure to female artists like the Carter family and Patsy Cline with the innate knowledge that women could be equal to any man. But, the music of Pylon was tremendously influenced by music not on the Georgia family tree. The new music of our college years made a tremendous impression which was mostly coming from elsewhere — places like England, Germany and New York. We shared and listened to records at parties. If we liked the record, we might keep flipping it over and dance to it.

The bass drum sound on Gyrate is extraordinary. Was it a conscious decision to have it as powerful and prominent as it is?

ML: Ha! We just wanted Curtis’ drums to be kick ass on the record just like they were live — but that’s impossible. It sounds like the drums are in balance to me, maybe I’m just used to his style. I hear a clamped-down echo on the snare, probably our way of trying to fatten it up without just turning it up more in the mix; that’s what really comes forward in the mix to me. Curtis was a barely controllable power house and he saved our band from being a nerdier sound experiment.

How was the buzzing sound on Driving School achieved? I love it but I’ve never been able to pin it down.

ML: That’s made by interference from a cathode ray TV screen, and it is regulated by adjusting the vertical hold on the screen to make sounds that “rev up” and down — which sounded a little bit like car engine sounds, so we used it on Driving School. (The vertical hold control disappeared from TV’s long before the cathode ray screen did.) This was discovered by accident; Randy and I used to practice in our apartment (way before we had the rest of the band members), and we’d have my old black and white TV playing just for its industrial aesthetic — because in Athens we could barely pick up any TV channels over the antenna since all but one of them was coming from Atlanta which is over 100 kilometers away — and it would just display active static with shifting bands of grays and the occasional glimpse of an image. At one point I leaned close to the TV while adjusting the stereo or turning on our tape recorder, and we heard the buzz. I played with the controls until we found we could change the sound. We went through some considerable effort to bring a TV with us for our live shows, sometimes it was more trouble than it was worth — but people were always fascinated when that sound was created “somehow or another” live onstage with me fiddling around behind a television.

On songs like Read A Book and Working Is No Problem, there seems to be a real ardour for purpose and fulfilment. Did you feel this was something lacking in your peers, particularly compared with the nihilism of a good deal of US and UK punk?

VBH: I can only speak for myself and not point a finger at what was lacking in others. These two songs came out of a genuine feeling that I had that it was okay to read, to work, to be yourself. I came from people who worked very hard and took education seriously and who didn’t have a whole lot of respect for having others who had never worked telling them what they should think or do.  Fulfillment for me has it’s roots in finishing the job, doing what I say I am going to do. There is nothing more satisfying than using creativity and knowledge to come up with solutions to complete a project. That said, Read a Book can be a very silly song. The band sang it to me at lunch one day and embarrassed the crap out of me.

ML: Ha ha, I’d love to be reminded of how we came to be singing Read a Book to you in a restaurant, Vanessa! Working Is No Problem is one of my favorite Pylon songs, and it is my favorite for the lyrics — I always loved the composition of those words and the revealing earnestness behind them. Vanessa wrote the lyrics to both of those songs. Pylon’s lyrics ranged from artsy to silly to earnest, but we always meant what was said and took our fun seriously.