Friday, 21 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #16

It's time for the infamous Bingohandjob show! There really can't be anyone who was ever a fan of R.E.M. who isn't aware of this, but here goes anyway. In 1991, the band embarked on a low-key tour to support the release of 'Out Of Time'. The shows they played were almost exclusively small, acoustic performances featuring Peter Holsapple of the dB's and a special guest or two. In March, they descended on London's tiny Borderline to play two nights to fans, friends and record company acquaintances. They have become the stuff of legend.

Bootlegs of the shows have been in wide circulation over the years, and a few songs were even officially issued as b-sides. I actually have two bootlegs - one on vinyl, the other on CD. The vinyl one came first and featured 21 tracks. I picked up the CD a couple years later. It contained more songs but with one or two tracks that were on the vinyl strangely missing. Even then, combined, they don't contain everything.

The sets contained most of the songs from Out Of Time, plus arrangements of fave songs from the back catalogue. But weaved in amongst them were cover versions, jams, lots of banter and general drunken silliness. Not only did the band play under the aforementioned moniker Bingohandjob, but each band member had an assumed name also; Stipe was 'Stinky', Mills was 'Ophelia', Buck was 'Raoul', Berry was 'The Doc' and Holsapple was 'Spanish Charlie'. They were joined by Billy Bragg ('Conrad') and Robyn Hitchcock ('Violet').

Both Bragg and Hitchcock played short solo sets during the show, but aside from a couple of songs where Stipe sang with Bragg, neither seem to have made it onto any of the boots. Also, the vinyl version contains a full band rendition of Hitchcock's song Listening To The Higsons, but this was omitted from the CD. Sadly, I don't have a copy of my vinyl ripped to be able to share that song, but I am going to post a few other gems from the show. Yes, you may already know them - you probably have a copy of the shows in some form or other - but no series covering R.E.M. bootlegs and rarities could ever be considered complete without including a Bingohandjob episode.

First up, another abandoned version of Jackson, but this time it leads into Stipe and Bragg duetting on Dallas with, erm, spontaneous lyrics... Later on, Michael entertains us with a little solo organ song introduced by his tale about his brilliant organ part in an upcoming song. That song is a cover of Bob Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, featuring the entire cast led by Robyn Hitchcock.

To round off, Stipe and Mills say goodnight with a spine-tingling acapella take on Moon River. The respect the audience gives the pair of them, listening in near silence, is something you simply don't get at gigs any more. You can just make out a voice at the very end of the recording saying "Perfect. Unbelievable." You can't help but agree.

And as a bonus, here's a song that never made it onto any of the bootlegs. Someone in the crowd appears to have filmed one of the shows and uploaded it years later onto YouTube. Not everything is there, but I was delighted to find this. It's just Stipe and Mills performing Syd Barrett's Dark Globe. Stipe is on top form, proving what a great frontman he was, particularly during this period.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Yet another legend this week. Little Roy first recorded in 1965 aged just 12 years old and had his first Jamaican number one aged 16 with what is believed to be the first song about the Rastafari movement. He was the first artist to record a song using the word 'reggae' and is considered one of roots reggae's founding fathers. Over the years he has worked with such luminaries as Prince Buster, Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Dennis Brown.

In 2011, he became what must be the first reggae artist to release an album of Nirvana cover versions. 'Battle For Seattle' was recorded with Prince Fatty and includes versions of songs that spanned Nirvana's short career. For the most part it holds together pretty well, although I could live without his take on Sliver.

The highlights for me are Dive, Polly and today's track Lithium, all of which sound like they could have been written as upbeat reggae numbers rather than angst-ridden grunge anthems. Stick this on your summer party mixtape and watch the place light up.

(There seem to be problems with Pixeldrain so today's link is with a different host. Let me now if you have any issues.)

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#24: Where The Wild Roses Grow

Nick's biggest UK hit came from an unlikely source - 1996's 'Murder Ballads' album, a record all about killing and death. As ever though, it was laced with trademark Cave humour and beauty. Probably the thing that sold this song to most is the presence of another famous Aussie, Kylie Minogue. The video is brilliant, some wonderful cinematography and it fits the song perfectly. And doesn't Kylie look absolutely delectable? Yep, MrsRobster's not going to be happy with me, but it really has to be said.

In 2013, while making the '20,000 Days on Earth' movie, Nick and the Bad Seeds played a stripped-down set at an intimate show in London. Since Kylie was in town, they asked her along to perform Where The Wild Roses Grow with them for the first time in 15 years...

Friday, 14 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #15

I've been holding this week's bootleg back for a little while. It was deliberate. I wanted to reward those of you who have endured this series up to this point. There has been some sludge, and while there have been some undoubtedly wonderful selections up to now, I think today's tracks really are the best so far.

Demos for debut album 'Murmur' took place in late 1982/early 1983 with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. Even early in the sessions it was clear that not only were most of the songs complete, but they were already sounding exquisite. Listening to some of those demos - which have never been officially released - you can't help but think Dixon and Easter must have been beaming from ear to ear throughout. These versions I'm posting today were not the final versions - far from it - but my god do they sound wonderful.

Well, OK, Romance never made the final album and it wasn't released in any form until some years later when a re-recorded version appeared on a movie soundtrack. But it had been a regular in the live set and no surprise it was trialled for the record. This version is not a million miles away from that much later version, but clearly isn't as polished. Even so, it's a delight to hear it.

Shaking Through was a highlight on 'Murmur'. This version sounds lovely and bright. Stipe's vocal was later redone but here it is pretty close to perfection. But the best has been saved 'til last. The version of Sitting Still on the album is very close in sound to the original that appeared on the debut single in 1981. But this demo version is... well, just listen to it. Those backing vocals - are they simply MAGNIFICENT or what? They were buried in the mix on the album cut, but here - oh how they sparkle. Sitting Still remains one of R.E.M.'s best early songs, but if this was the version on the album, it would be head and shoulders above everything else they put out. I beam like a loony every time I hear this track.

I'm not overdoing it, am I?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

The Wailing Souls formed in 1964 as The Renegades, changing their name a few years later. In their 50-plus years together, they have become one of reggae's best known and loved acts. Two of their founding members - Winston "Pipe" Matthews and Lloyd "Bread" McDonald - are still going strong, recording and performing. A new album is reportedly in the works with Sly & Robbie at the controls.

The early 70s saw the rise of a band known as The Wailers, led by some young upstart calling himself Bob Marley. You may have heard of them. Anyway, fearing confusion with this other lot, the Wailing Souls recorded under various different names for a while, including The Little Roys, Attamas and Pipe & The Pipers. A couple of singles were also released under the name of The Classics. One of these was Mr. Fire Coal Man.

The first time I heard this song was actually the cover released by Stiff Little Fingers as the b-side to Back To Front, but I've become more familiar with The Wailing Souls version in the intervening years. Well, I say version - the truth is they recorded the song several times and it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint the actual version you're listening to. The one I'm posting today is, I'm pretty certain, the version released under the Classics moniker. It came out in 1971 on the Banana label in the UK and Supreme Records in Jamaica. It's a great example of the new emerging reggae sound that still has something of a ska and rocksteady sound to it.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Weaver fever

Electronic music doesn't generally grab me like the sound of squalling guitars, but every now and then I get teased, tantalised and tempted by something synth-based. Jane Weaver's latest album 'Modern Kosmology' is a great example of such electronica making me all hot under the collar. In a largely unfulfilling year so far, this is one record that's been getting quite a bit of play time in TheRobster family car. I enjoyed her last album, but this one really is the ticket.

Slow Motion is one of my singles of the year; a pristine piece of psyche-pop.

Follow-up single Did You See Butterflies? is altogether more dreamy and spacey, but no less engaging.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #14

The Monster Tour was R.E.M.'s first tour in more than five years. It saw them playing enormous venues, moving on from the large arenas they played during the Green Tour to stadiums. MrsRobster and I hooked up during the UK leg when we saw them at Cardiff Arms Park. You can see why I have such fondness for this era...

Another concert movie was made to mark the significance of the Monster Tour. While Roadmovie may not have as high acclaim as Tourfilm did, it was still quite brilliant as far as concert movies go. In order to make more of a show within the vast spaces they were playing in, the band incorporated more of a visual aspect than they had before with large-scale projections used as backdrops. They also augmented their line-up with additional musicians (Scott McCaughey and Nathan December) something they had never done before in a concert setting.

Roadmovie is a worthwhile document of a much feted tour. I love most of the songs on 'Monster' and they sound amazing live. I might have to post I Took Your Name from this in a future post because it just sounds incredible. But for now...

This tour resulted in R.E.M.'s next album. All the songs for 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi' were written during the Monster Tour, and most of them recorded live during shows and soundchecks. One of those new songs, Revolution, didn't make the subsequent record. By the time they came to compile it, the political references and themes in the lyrics had dated to the point where it was deemed out of step with the rest of the album. A studio version was recorded and given over to the Batman & Robin soundtrack, but the live version on Roadmovie is deemed to be far superior. I don't disagree.

Let Me In was Michael Stipe's tribute to his late friend Kurt Cobain. It is the outstanding highlight on 'Monster' and to this day remains one of my all-time top 5 R.E.M. tracks. Live, Mike Mills plays a guitar owned by Cobain, while Peter Buck plays keyboards. The flashing visuals flicker relentlessly as the sprawling guitar reverberates around the vast space, filling the air with the most unusual and unique sounds ever heard at an R.E.M. show. It is an intensely personal and emotional song for Stipe, and rather uncomfortable for the listener. Typically, this is probably why I adore it so much and always have. During the Cardiff date, I remember experiencing a real jawdropping 'wow' moment when they played Let Me In. Watching it in Roadmovie again takes me right back there.

I can't not post the clip now, can I...? Instructions: turn off the lights, close the curtains. Listen through a decent pair of headphones at high volume and watch full screen. Be blown away.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Bunny Wailer - roots reggae pioneer, original member of the Wailers, Bob Marley's stepbrother... yeah yeah yeah, we all know who he is and his standing in reggae circles. I'm not going to write any more about that. Instead, let's just have a tune.

Bunny's fourth solo album, 'In I Father's House', was a six-track effort released in 1980 in Jamaica only. A couple of years later it was given a worldwide release, though with a rearranged track order, two additional songs and a new title. Both versions of the record opened with the same track. On the original it was called Roots Raddics; on the reissue, it was dubbed Roots Radics Rockers Reggae and became the title track.

Bunny is still performing. Last year he toured performing his solo debut album 'Blackheart Man' to mark its 40th anniversary. He is one of only two surviving original Wailers. Anyone know who the other is?

Monday, 3 July 2017


Here's a tune for your summer playlists. The Tambo Rays are from Oakland, CA. They have been kicking around for a few years, releasing singles here and there and they're just about to release a new EP titled 'Recharge'. The lead single is called Yes And No and while it's poppier than the sort of thing I usually go for, it's undeniably catchy, unashamedly summery and unapologetically fun.

'Recharge' is released on 17th July on CD and cassette (yes, cassette!) as well as digitally from the band's Bandcamp site. Check out some of their other tunes there too.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #13

I know that R.E.M. had a torrid time making 'Fables Of The Reconstruction', and many fans rate it quite low among the band's IRS material, but I've always loved it. I'm particularly taken by Stipe's lyrics which take on a real southern storytelling theme. Some of the harmonies on the record rate among the finest they ever recorded too.

The band undertook a massive touring schedule broken down into four segments known as Preconstruction, Reconstruction I, Reconstruction II and Reconstruction III. The first of these included summer festivals in Europe, which were among the biggest they'd ever played. For instance, in June 1985, they were on the bill for The Longest Day, a one-day festival headlined by U2. Billy Bragg, Spear of Destiny and The Ramones were also present. Sadly, R.E.M. failed to get the crowd going. As Tony Fletcher wrote in Remarks - The Story of R.E.M.:  "The 50,000-strong crowd was in no mood for a band opening a set with as downbeat a song as Feeling Gravity's Pull, and the group spent the entire set dodging missiles, the most common of which were plastic bottles full of urine."

A couple of weeks later, however, they were at Belgium's famous Rock Werchter festival where they were much better received. Half of their 12-song set featured tracks from 'Fables...', including Can't Get There From Here. They also threw in a decent cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen The Rain? Some of the set was broadcast on Belgian radio and I believe this is the source of the recordings I have.