Thursday, 22 December 2016

Gem Or Ashtray (J-K)

Jefferson Airhead - Scrap Happy. A baggy gem.

Johnny and the Hurricanes - Rockin' Goose. From a job lot at the car boot. It rocks. It makes goose noises. Obviously a keeper.

Grace Jones - Demolition Man/Warm Leatherette. As 80s as Margaret Thatcher fronting Cameo, which is what this sounds like. Better than you'd think.

KC And The Sunshine Band - Sound Your Funky Horn. Gem. Next.

Dave Kelly - Return To Sender. Blues bands bore the pants off me, partly because they're all the same, but mostly because I've never heard one to match the Dave Kelly Band at the Sub in Cleethorpes on (squints) 19th January 1983, probably not at 8.00 pm. One of the last nights I was able to drink illegally.
The version of Return to Sender is pretty dull, to be honest. The B-side is a good country-rock original, Dawn Surprise. I'm keeping it because I don't know where else to keep my ticket signed by DK and the (late great) sax player John Irish Earle.

Kingmaker - Eat Yourself Whole. The Wonderstuff without the wit, tunes or bounce. Ashtray.

June Kingston - Say You. I want to like this. JK used to be in the Mo-Dettes, who I saw when I was 16, and then she was the other voice on Our Lips Are Sealed. But no. Ashtray.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts - I Am. A Coati Mundi gem.

Bo Kirkland and Ruth Davies - You're Gonna Get Next To Me. Great backing track, but the he-says-she-says vocal has all the drama of an episode of The Archers. B-side is better. If you like it, look in the MIND shop on Flowergate.

Gem Or Ashtray (G-I)

General Public - General Public. One that I wanted to like, but never really did. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger's distinctive vocals, but without much of what made The Beat great. 80s sound. Ashtray.

The Gist - Love At First Sight. Another one from someone-who-used-to-be, in this case Stuart Moxham, the songwriter for the Young Marble Giants. As the Gist, he and his brother Phil (also from the YMG) had a great little instrumental on the C81 tape. The A-side is a slight but pretty song with dodgy vocals drenched in 80s sound.  The B-side (below) is better, sounding like a demo for a TV theme, written by another Moxham brother, Lewis. Not a gem but a curiosity to keep.

Girls At Our Best - Go For Gold. Oh, I remember this one now. Absolute gem. It's 80s indie day at Gem Or Ashtray. Callow middle-class female vocals delivering spiky lyrics backed by Wilko Johnson guitar (they wish) and drumkit-last-birthday drums. So many indie bands sounded like this, back then, but hardly any of them had the songs. This is sarky as you like, and catchy as hell.

Celibate Rifles & The Hard-Ons - Where The Wild Things Are EP. Early-90s punky rock, or rocky punk. I used to love this sort of thing. Now I just remember loving it. Give it six months.

Hefner - Christian Girls. Another band I saw live and then bought the single. Hard to believe quite how indie I used to be. B-side includes clumsy pedal steel. Obviously I'm keeping it.

Helen And The Horns - Freight Train. The most middle-class record in the box, possibly in human history. Sounds like a Radio 4 announcer auditioning for Kiss Me Kate. Gem.

Immaculate Fools - Immaculate Fools. A taste of the madeleine. Takes me back to somewhere I'm not sure I want to be - in a Banks's haze and Rothmans fog in the attic room of a large terraced house in Wolverhampton. Masses of acoustic guitars, plenty major 7ths and a gravelly voice that should be him out of the Psychedelic Furs but isn't. I might have seen them the same night as Helen and the Horns (in the  Wulfrun Hall - the little one behind the Civic Hall). Great record though. I'd forgotten. Gem.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Gem Or Ashtray? (D-F)

Dr John: Jet Set. Primitive, concussed hip hop. This ought to be an ashtray but I'm keeping it to hear the line: "Top o'the mornin' t'ya guvnor" at my leisure.

Drugstore: Nectarine. Really liked this band when I saw them live, but it’s comically of its time (1995) - overemotional, overdramatic, over and out.

Echobelly: Insomniac. Another band I saw live in the mid-90s. Hyped to death at the time. I thought this was going to be the same as Drugstore but it’s a proper gem. Live, they sounded a lot like the Smiths, but this is their own thing. Big ambition, big chorus. Love it.

8-Storey Window: I Will. Sounds like an English Pearl Jam. I’m not that keen on the real Pearl Jam. Ashtray.

Fantastic Something: If She Doesn’t Smile (It’ll Rain). Not sure, maybe, oh I think… starts at Simon and Garfunkel and ends at the Beach Boys. Can’t argue with that. Originality isn’t everything. Gem. Instrumental version on the B-side won’t get played though.

Fantasy Funk Band: Smoove’s Fantasy Funk Band. All-sampled semi-bootleg. Sounds like being in between stages at a festival. Not a gem but a keeper.

Farmers Boys: Muck It Out. Great cover, great title, even a great sleeve note. I liked it once and I wanted to like it now, but it’s a parody of the 1980s, from the 1980s, that nowadays just sounds like a standard 1980s track. Ashtray.

Five Darrens: Beggars and Priests. Ordinary. B-side ‘Can’t Think’ is better. Keep for six months. If I don’t have a craving for mid-90s powerpop, I’ll charity shop it. Cute, the feedback at the end goes into the runout groove. Nothing on Youtube.

Floaters: Float On. My copy is pressed queasily off-centre. Singers start their verses by naming their star sign (‘Leo, and my name is Paul.’) The last guy, Larry, is louder than all the others and shouts ‘Cancer!’ just when your end-of-the-disco smooch might have been getting more arousing. Ashtray.

Gem Or Ashtray? (C)

Chi-Lites: Homely Girl. Terrible. B-side? Not bad. I'm wavering. Nah. If you like it, it'll be in the MIND shop on Flowergate next week.

Chi-Lites: You don't have to go. Much better. Gem.

The Cigarettes: They’re Back Again, Here They Come. Skinny tie early 80s mod-punk, somewhere between the Buzzcocks and Eddie and the Hot Rods. Major chords, choppily played; vocals like a fast, squeaky Bob Dylan. Almost all indie pop used to sound like this. Framing the song inside a short piano tune was a nice touch. The cover is a mod pastiche. Looks classy. I wouldn’t buy it these days, but I’m keeping it.

The Cigarettes: Can’t Sleep At Night. Mod sensibilities gone, replaced by post-punk paranoia. Shadow of the bomb and all that. Same label as B-Movie, and with much the same sound. Another non-buyer/keeper.

Patsy Cline: A Stranger In My Arms. Classic and all that. Rinky-dink blues, beautifully sung. The voice is drowned in musical treacle though, particularly the Jordinaires style backing vocals. Don’t know how often I’m going to play this. Might have to go to the MIND shop - which I think is where I bought it. B-sides are saving it though - a small band and no backing vocals. Version of Lovesick Blues is great. I’m sold. Gem.

Coldcut: Stop This Crazy Thing. That thing with swing band riffs over an electro track; Coldcut were doing it decades ago. Corny big beat (Tarzan samples, anyone?) and a Junior Reid vocal that doesn’t say a lot, but I’m keeping it. B-side version without the vocals better still.

The Commodores: Brick House. I got some Commodores singles in a job lot. ‘Easy’ and ‘Zoom’ aren’t going anywhere, but I have no memory of ‘Brick House’. Not surprising because it’s dull. B-side is a Lionel ballad, Sweet Love. Trundles along for ages, then a huge key change, then he starts preaching. I bet he leaves the piano and starts working the audience. Not working on me, I’m afraid. Ashtray.

The Commodores: Flying High. Sounds like an advert for Laker Airways. A bit of a quote from ‘Shaft’, then back to jingle mode. I know it’s incredibly hard to make music as smooth as this, so I feel bad when I say… ashtray.

Nicola Conte: Arabesque. Soundtrack pastiche. 60s Brazilian vibe via Italy 1999. Sax riff and vibraphone. Slow burner with fast drums. Tense. Gem.

Joseph Cotton: Musicians. Plinky-plonky electro dancehall. Growling MC prattles on about black race, white race, Japanese race etc. Probably dodgy as hell but I’m not taking notice and I like it. B-side is a voicing by Don Camilo - breathless and scared, Might be a gem, definitely a keeper. Not on YouTube.

Cowboy Junkies: A Horse In The Country. Total gem. Medium paced, understated, stoical and heartbreaking. I’ll be playing this over and over again.

The Cravats: Rub Me Out. A fearsome artefact of the Thatcher era. On Crass Records. Stencils, Letraset, blurred photos, screeching paranoia, self-loathing with muffled everything except for oddly tuneful sax. A keeper, mostly for historical reasons (“Was the world as bonkers as it is now when you were a boy, daddy?” “Nearly, darling. Listen to this.”)

The Crimea: Lottery Winners On Acid. Too long and drenched in echo, but a soppy love song. B-side tries too hard to be nasty. Not sure, so I’ll keep it for now. If it’s not getting played in a few months’ time, it’s going.

Gem Or Ashtray? (A-B)

My 7" singles are out of the garage and in the living room. There are plenty here that I never listen to. The charity shop awaits. It's time to play Hidden Gem Or Future Ashtray?

ABC: That Was Then But This Is Now. Hidden gem. I'm surprised. Since ABC reformed for the Mums and Dads circuit (and recorded a pretty passable Christmas song), Radio 2 has rediscovered the singles from Lexicon of Love, which will never have the freshness and serious/joke tension that they did the first time round. No one ever plays this, which has a punch to it, and isn't taking the piss.

Airport Girl: The Foolishness That We Create. Overlong twee indie. Ashtr... no, wait, it's a hidden gem. Saved by a cracking B-side "Striking out on your own" (which I can't find on Youtube).

American TV Cops: Atrocity Girl. I saw them live, aeons ago at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester, and it's a great title. Then I barely played it. Turns out it's a pop-punk gem. Best line: "The party's over, your boyfriend's dead." I can't find a video for it, so here's the song that the title refers to.

Aswad: Ways Of The Lord. Which are straight and narrow, apparently. Grit your teeth through the preaching and you'll find, as usual with Aswad, a pop-reggae gem. The dub version with fewer lyrics is better still.

Bearsuit: Drinkink. They made a great record called Hey Charlie, Hey Chuck. I think it was great anyway. John Peel played it so often when I was driving over to visit the future Mrs H that I probably just have happy associations with it. Anyway back in the early noughties (i.e. in the final days when music was hard to access) they didn't have it in Selectadisc, so I bought one of their other records instead, and it just gives me a headache. Ashtray.

Beautiful South: Song for Whoever. I never saw the Housemartins live, but did see the BS at their second or third gig when they were still raggedy and indie. They used a huge PA which collapsed and could have killed someone if the audience hadn't dived for cover. Innocent days. The meta-pop thing was interesting for five minutes, but now it's just annoying, and the BS went onto far worse things - particularly the interchangeable female singers, directly contradicting the stern message of this song. Prejudices about the BS aside, will the record be saved by the B-side? On musical terms it's a good track but the lyrics are another critique of songwriting. Can't be doing. Ashtray.

B-Movie: The Soldier Stood Alone. The single before Remembrance Day. This is nearly as good. Gem.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Siren - a Legend of the APEs story

I was up before the Germans. In trainers and a glorified string vest (fully breathable, seasonally adjustable, £159.99) I ran three laps of the complex, timing myself. Thirty minutes and a bit, which at my usual pace added up to something over six kilometres. I run at at eight minute mile pace, not bad for my age but a full minute slower than my peak a quarter of a century ago. Back then, I cared little for running; it was too easy, and to run at speed made me look unattractively keen. I mused upon what I might once have been capable of, had I put the hours in...

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We at Jon Horne's New Words apologise to readers for the inconvenience. I'm trying to sort it so that I can publish the stories on Kindle and leave them on here.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Ten Years White

(what we did on our holidays, August 2016)

I sit on and touch hot earth
Brush grass from the stone
Leave flowers, promise more
Across Helredale the North Sea waits
Gravediggers joke and make clay piles

White ghosts of rain on Europoort
Thirty thousand tons twist stiffly to dock
Wader bills of windmills spin, evenly
Moderating the east wind
Gusting across the continent

Flat factory roofs, canals and estuaries
Ruled straight by dredge and drained by mill
Give way to brown pine, French signs in
Hillside towns empty in daylight, rambling
Like brambles around Schengen

The meltdown factory squats like a great
Multi-legged beast across Saarbr├╝cken. Metre-wide
Pipes jointed and ready to animate
Red walls a scaled thorax, rippling
Decorated steeples, fodder for the machine creature

Basel’s motorway displays its wealth crassly
The city modest in comparison
Where money is made, grey good taste
Signs in spacious font in yellow-lit tunnels
To F, D, CH and I. I follow I.

A tunnel separates German from Italian, then
Lugano, private lakesides, even more flash cars
Terraces made for display are empty
As kettle-air predicts a thunderstorm
In the night, explosions. Rain drums on the roof.

The Mediterranean shines. Nice burns and grieves.
Deep cut valleys now one-way streets
I shut my window to windscreen-cleaners
A flick of the wiper, a curse in English
I park and shelter in an air-conditioned waiting room

I love the sound of an engine, although my ears ring
And I fear for my hearing. Against the ferry’s funnel
I doze in its shade. If you like, reliving the prenatal
Not that anyone believes that any more
I am surrounded by a pink sleeping bag and conversation

My daughter and I in goggles, face down in
Rena Majori bay, as clear as lemonade
Fish dimensioned like fine-toothed combs
Green over seaweed, sandy over sand
It takes time to see they are transparent

Pine needles mute footsteps. The canopy fends off
The sun. At six, it’s already too hot to be running
But we do, anyway. An empty beach awaits
The crowds. Tables line a wall. A generator hums
A drinks-seller brushes red dust from his van

Is Aruntas, risotto sand, pebbles in 1:20 scale
Kites, parasols and nods of recognition (not to us)
A shoal of silver somethings, black-eyed, shimmering
A wave in still sea, like curtains separating us
The shallow from the deep

Braided head, face heavy with foundation
Jolted glance at the sound of a male voice
Betrays the display of confidence
Factor eight at most spread over bare arms
And hands that have never held a steering wheel

Ever louder as night wears on, Oristano is on holiday
Here, daring all to hush them. An old man does
And they do. At three in the morning a shout: Marco!
To someone’s delight, Marco throws the first punch
And pulls up a tent in frustration. Mary is Assumed.

Mary, prone and mediaeval, decorates the church
Of Castelsardo. Wires go to the ceiling and I fear
She may be assumed theatrically. In a transept, fires of Hell
Engulf a soul like red ribbons around a cake. The dead
Of world wars, here like everywhere, share surnames

I am wearing the shirt I had on when my daughter was born
There are pictures to prove it, and they are her
Favourites of me, ragged and long-haired, holding her, 
Taken by her exhausted mother through tears
Propped up on pillows in a high hospital cot

We are boating on the Ard├Ęche, as busy as a motorway
She wants another picture, me in the shirt
Her beside me, both of us grinning in the sun
Taken by her mother, through splashes. She thinks
With growing sophistication, that it would be cute

A money-off deal: all-day hire of a canoe, plus barrel, oars
And a lift to and from the river. We have capsized
And I can’t see. I yell her name. Her mother finds her
Afloat, carries her to shore. This is the last time
I will wear the shirt. Irony frightens me

From here to home, a pleasant anticlimax. Longer on
Kilometres than drama, and I’m glad of that
No need to make anything up. Home to find
Eldest is well, home is standing, old cat is ailing
Ten years white, the van will be green next year

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

When Caroline Changed Her Name

Dawn lies in the bed where they spent their last night
No stranger to regrets, this one is a keeper, concerning
The morning when she packed his bag and sent him on his way
Just go, she said, without a smile, and now he’s gone

Trawling paid, then, if you were careful what you spent
Give him this, he never was one that she had to rob
Of his wages at the quayside as some wives did
When the boat disappeared in a swell, he left her in credit, just

And then, nothing changes. She was alone anyway
She looks after everything the way she always did
Money still comes in, for a while. But they’ll stop it
And when they do, she’s not a hope to fight them on her own

A drink with the girls proves too much. Alone on the sea front
Mirror ball flashes on the pier, like a lighthouse beam
Brief anonymity, lemonade and barley wine
Lead to unexpected smiles, a dance and then a pull

She sends Caroline, nine, off to school with a kiss
Pleats ironed, blazer frayed, face scrubbed of tears
In half-light, told not to tell, she didn’t see at first
A familiar shape in bed. A gasp of joy, then stamping rage

Thirty-one is too young to be wearing widow’s weeds
And too old to be choosy - isn’t that what they’d be saying?
Instead of glancing at her, furtively, and clicking tongues
And walking on, hands clasping the handles of shopping baskets

Half an hour of make-up, nails red, feet squeezed into
Unyielding patent leather. A skirt - not too long, eh
Men, polite or leering, greeted with the same smile
Marooned on the front desk, she is the face of the company

The girls in the canteen don’t ask, if she doesn’t want to tell
Listening to them while they smoke is better than the radio
Caroline is a worry - quiet, still reading picture books
She sees out seven months, then hands in her notice apologetically

The money made sees them through the hottest ever summer
She hides at the beach or on a coach, not at home
From the news. When the boat is declared lost
She wishes Caroline would cry, or let on that she understands

The new man, to whom Caroline now speaks sometimes
Proves a stayer. He has a mother and a sister too
Both so respectable that they don’t have to show it
Sharing a semi and a car, grandmother and aunt in waiting

The wedding is on Christmas Eve, Registry Office only
Drinks with the mother and the sister, no other family
In attendance. Late husband’s relations informed
One reply: Whatever they say, I wish you well. No clue as from whom

With inevitable pregnancy, another issue: Caroline and he or she
Cannot have different names. A long evening explaining
Registry Office once again. With folded arms, Caroline
Won’t sign. No need. The school receives the new name anyway

Monday, 20 June 2016

A Small Decision (sample)

I remember the moor, no longer in bloom but still having a residual vibrancy from the late-morning sunlight refracting through dew on brown autumn heather. There were still cows out on the lower fields, taking what for them would be last meals of fresh grass before death or winter hay.

I had half a second’s warning. Behind a blind summit was a dip just deep enough to hide a crashed car - or to hide a sheep, which is what they had hit before turning over. A white Escort, an ancient Mark Two, was on its side, one door half off. The body of the sheep lay on the verge, ten yards in front of the car. A man lay between the car and the sheep, on the road itself. He could have been sleeping in the sun. It is possible that he was still alive when we passed. I think I saw a woman still in the car, but that might be because I know she was there.


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Sea Glass

(Seaham beach, March 2016)

One day it will all be like this
Worn down, opalescent
Indistinct, collectable remains
Stone, shell, glass, china, brick
Rust and plastic
Nestling in sand, clay, coal
Preserved in coarse conglomerate

One piece, held up to the greying sky
Kidney-shaped, pink and smooth
Framed by small fingers, face proudly
Turned to the wind. Our girl
Keeps it safe
Wrapped in orange polythene
To be displayed or used, later lost

By things that are extruded hot
Will our civilisation be known
One in millions fossilised, the rest
Broken up and recycled
Except plastic
Sculpted by erosion, melted
Reformed by continental drift

Waves break on groynes, sending up spray
Blown ashore, it rains down
She squeals and scampers. Distracted
By piddock holes and green glass, I say
Don’t get cold
She pulls her hood up, it blows off
She slides on her knees in pebbles, laughs
And tongues a loose tooth