Thursday, 23 January 2020

Marathon 4: The Miniskirt Waddle

70 mins Easy Run. It says a lot about the state of the Gazette these days (probably your local paper too) that I didn't notice a picture of myself on the back page until someone told me about it. The photo came from last Saturday's Great Run Local (a Parkrun tribute. We don't have an actual Parkrun here; the park is on a hill that would be classified as a cliff if it were nearer the water.) The disturbing grin is me laughing; the photographer was telling jokes as we ran past him.

The training plans I've had from the London Marathon and from the NSPCC warn runners off doing weekly races, owing to the injury risk of over-competitiveness. I can't see it myself, but best to follow the plan, so the picture is the last one of me doing a Parkrun until spring. I like to think that when I start doing 5ks again I'll be massively fit, having trained for and run a marathon.

Location: Whitby - Ruswarp Woods, cinder track, Hawsker Lane, Green Lanes, Church St., Larpool Lane. 

Weather: Mild, muddy underfoot.

Outfit: Whitby Running Club vest, almost-matching blue shorts, black trainers.

MusicElvis Costello and the Attractions - BBC Sessions 1977-83 (bootleg) 70 mins.

Someone should put this out. Elvis: The Pre-Eclectic Years.

Elvis Costello has spent decades trying to be a different artist on every album he makes. This became more prevalent from the late 1980s onwards, as he started using different bands, but he was fond of the volte-face even in his youth. By the time he had his first hits, he had already been in a folk duo and a country-rock band, and had played solo with electric guitar like an apolitical Billy Bragg. When he formed the Attractions, they proved willing participants in the game of musical dressing-up.

But that wasn't the whole story. In 1977, the newly-formed band were touring behind the album Costello had made with the Californian band Clover. The earliest tracks show the Attractions wrestling the material away from their predecessors and stamping it as their own with bullying drums, busy basslines and bumper-car organ. Only Blame It On Cain sounds like it did on My Aim Is True, and gives an idea of what the Attractions might have sounded like, had Costello not found himself lumped in with, and to some extent been inspired by, contemporary punk and new wave.

From then on, Costello was writing songs with the band in mind.  (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea would just be a mean-spirited rant without Bruce Thomas and Steve Nieve's mazy duet of a bassline suggesting the confident walk of This Year's Models parading down the Kings Road, set against Costello's stuttering guitar as the 'miniskirt waddle' of a young girl out of her depth in such company.  

As one gets older, ones interest in a particular artiste's personal journey, in which he "confounds expectations" by sounding different, writing a different kind of book, or painting in a different shade of green, diminishes. It is a pleasure sometimes to hear the songs in a different context - or in no context, just as songs. Sometimes rough in execution, these performances represent Costello and the Attractions as an imaginative band with a consistent sound, enthused by new material, playing songs rather than making artistic statements.

Occasionally it gets too rough. Costello's fourth album Get Happy!! was scrapped and then redone in a northern soul style after the initial recordings sounded a mess. A 1980 Peel session suggests that this was wise; good songs are buried under cymbals and slashy guitars. Much better is a Kid Jensen session of country covers - like the contemporary Almost Blue LP, but played with none of that album's Nashville cleanliness (or that might be because it was recorded off-air from Medium Wave.)

Scattered amongst the original material are a Merseybeats B-side, a Dusty Springfield hit, a trampling of Ray Charles' Danger Zone, Costello's own Shipbuilding, 'covering' Robert Wyatt's version, and the Beat's Stand Down Margaret, which reminds you how long ago all of this happened.

It ends with Pills and Soap, an abstract expression of disgust at the media, which reminds you of how little has changed since then. That one sounds modern too, deliberately cut-and-pasted in the way that none of the other material is.

Not a cheery end to 70 minutes well spent.

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