Sunday, 31 January 2010

The World Of Your Hundred Best Tunes

Here’s my homage to an often overlooked piece of vinyl history, let’s put a spotlight on a series of records that are a staple part of many a charity shop record pile. ‘The World of Your Hundred Best Tunes’ was a spin off from the long running BBC radio programme of the same name. . ‘Your Hundred Best Tunes’ was originally commissioned for a 13-week run with the intention of finding the "best 100 tunes in the world" and it ran for forty seven years, between 1959 and 2007. The show was devised and presented by Alan Keith and it (and he) became a great British institution. He went on to become the longest serving and oldest presenter on British radio. After Keith’s death in 2003, the responsibility of taking up the presenting helm fell to Richard Baker, however he couldn’t arrest the falling listening figures and eventually the programme was axed.

Alan Keith was the professional stage name of Alexander Kossoff. His brother was David Kossoff who as an actor and television presenter of some note, older readers may remember him as the hen-pecked husband Alf Larkins in the domestic sitcom The Larkins. He also appeared in numerous film roles, one of which A Kid For Two Farthings, directed by Carol Reed in 1955 is well worth tracking down. Kossoff plays an East End tailor called Kandinsky who is befriended by a boy called Joe, who has bought what he believes to be a unicorn, which he hopes will bring good luck to his friends in the austere rationed post war neighbourhood. It is actually a sickly little goat; with just one twisted horn in the middle of its forehead, but the community play along with this make believe. It’s a fascinating and unusual film, mixing magic realism with kitchen sink drama and highly recommended.

If that family name seems familiar it’s because David’s son was Paul Kossoff, lead guitarist of heavy blues rockers band Free. Sadly, he died at just 25 from a heart attack following years of drug addiction but during his time in Free he was responsible for some of the finest guitar solos of that period and made an immense contribution to classic tracks All Right Now, My Brother Jake and Wishing Well, all contenders in my list of hundred best tunes.

Volume 2

pressed in 1971, has Alan Keith gazing longingly at the cover of what I presume is a copy of Volume 1 “The Top Ten” featuring a semi comatose listener, zonked out in an armchair, with the radio set to Alan’s Sunday evening broadcast. It’s a lukewarm start to the series in terms of vinyl cover goodness.

Volume 3

is a particular favourite of mine, all the family are sitting around the monstrous fireplace with a proper fire roaring away, the radio on and there isn’t a television in sight. The daughter is dutifully spending time with the ‘olds’ and the family pooch completes the scene. I suspect though, that her minds on other things, perhaps how to get out of there and into her own groovy pad where she can hold swinging parties and is able to listen to some contemporary tunes instead of this fuddy duddy music.

Volume 4

Has a bit of a dull cover on it, truth be told. A boringly normal couple snuggle up on the sofa, next to the now ubiquitous radio, each with a glass of water perched on the rather tasteful coffee table! Only the oversized lamp hints of the interior design madness of the era. Surely, it’s a cover up! you can’t fool me, I’ve watched ‘Abigail’s Party’, we know what went on behind closed doors at these soirees: Demis Roussos on the 8track, papyrus grass knowingly grown outside on the front lawn, sets of keys in the ashtray, copious lines of Columbian Marching Powder glistening on the polished glass table. You can’t tell me that this cover actually shows how people really entertained themselves back in the early Seventies.

Volume 5

Goes all rustic and manages to come up with a classic cover. A young buck has taken his date for a punt down the river and has stopped by the riverside to listen to our favourite light entertainment show on his portable radio with the fragrant damsel in tow, she’s sporting a rather fetching gaudy floral dress and oversized floppy sun hat. Our suitor, posing in a classic catalogue man pose, begs many questions. Will he act like a gentleman? What are his real intentions? Will she put out? Why did he take her outside on such a cold and dank day? But most all we are asking... what the heck is the old nag doing in the photo? Hey Dobbin! You’re cramping his style, don’t you know, three’s a crowd!

Volume 6

Ssees us restored to the cosy warmth of residing beside the hearth, with a rather impressive inglenook on display and proper fire blazing away within it; this is a residence with a touch of quality. The owner of this nest is ‘dear ole grandma’ who’s got the radio on a bit too loudly because she’s a bit ‘mutt an jeff’ in her advanced years. I suspect the two young’ uns are her grandchildren, come to visit their Nana and build up some brownie points by humouring her for a few hours. After all, a bit of effort currying favour in this stage could lead to a big payoff down the line in her will. Let’s face it, she’s not long for this world and she’s sitting on a sizable asset, it’s got oak beams an all. The sense of competition between the two siblings is palatable as they play off versus each other. The floppy haired chap with the green suede jacket has always been the apple of Nana’s eye, even though his behaviour of late has been slightly concerning, dropping out of university and that unfortunate incident with the funny cigarette: Well, let’s best not go there. The granddaughter’s blossomed into a bonny lass and such a sensible head on her shoulders too, if only she would find a nice young man to settle down with a have some babies. All this talk of having a career though, tut! What’s the world coming to? The dogs not fooled though, he can sniff the fettered odour of ingratiation in the air as he makes his opinion known in the only way he can, with a long low threatening growl.

Volume 7

We go all stately and grandiose with a shot of a dapper young couple resting on the patio next to some serious pot plant ornament and statue action. The sun is out and our lass is looking very ‘Vogue 1973 cover star’ with the faux country servant girl chic apparel. However, something is wrong as the sexual chemistry between them is nowhere to be seen. The guy is grinning like a gormless loon, but isn’t sure what to say next, so he’s switched on the radio to fill the silence. The friend who set these two up, made a serious misjudgement, on this blind date. He thinks he’s lucked out and is on a roll thanks to his lucky checked shirt with the extra wide lapels, but she’s having none of it and is plotting how best to ditch the dopey lunk without causing too much of a scene. That guy who arrived earlier in the Triumph Stag has caught her eye and seemed to be available, even more importantly, he was free and easy with buying the G & T’s.

Volume 8

After the disaster of the previous volume Alan’s decided to come back, rest assured we’re in safe hands now, as the old pro shows us how to present a classic cover, a dignified stance in a gentlemen’s club style, loafing about in the armchair, more quality leather antique furniture dotted about the room, a modest fireplace, class never boasts you know and the wall to wall shelves are full of dusty old tomes in the background (risqué men’s periodicals nestled discreetly between the classic fiction and complete run of Shakespeare) A well hung painting one of the St Ives school, a pleasant harbour scene picked up for a song is worth a tidy sum now. The whole scene is set off with some strategically placed foliage, including a splendid spider plant. The horizontal stored pile of vinyl is the only small fly in this interior ointment, preventing this from being a perfectly executed music listening scene with just the right ambience.

Volume 9

The most striking cover of the series has to be this one featuring a lady sitting in the now ubiquitous armchair, (obviously, 100 Best Tunes was meant to be listened to at leisure with due consideration, rather than as background noise whilst ironing, cooking etc) next to her is a girl, who looks spellbound, it’s as if she’s completely been hypnotised by the wonderful music emanating from the nearby record player. Not only that! We have an appearance of a proper good old fashioned deck, there’s a good selection of platters scattered around the room, from the ‘Hundred Best Tunes’ series. Whether the lady is her mother is unclear, but she’s smiling benevolently at the girl. In fact, it’s more than a maternal gaze; there’s an ever so slightly sinister vibe in the woman’s body language, a controlling nuance with an undercurrent of a silent but implicit threat. This ‘Miss Havisham’ won’t countenance any new fangled Beatles type pop music being played under her roof from ‘Estella’ and woe betide the little madam if she’s tries to go against her express wishes. However, our supplicant is already an empty vessel, with the type of vacant stare, more often associated with newly indoctrinated religious cult members. Next stop for her retraining schedule, is the specially constructed ‘Hundred Best Tunes compound’ fully kitted out with ultra loud floral curtains and mock log fire electric heaters, cocooned from the pernicious influences of teenage rebellion, cut off from all this devil’s music and the immoral behaviour that it inspires.

Volume 10

The series culminates with an image to appeal to the youth market; a groovy couple chill out at home, accompanied by the now (over)familiar props: fake log fireplace, check! Grandpa’s favourite armchair check! Chunky oak effect radio check! Antique furniture check! Pot plants check! Garish curtains check! However, our hip cats are posing in a distinctly relaxed style, in fact, they look remarkably similar to Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith in the classic ITV Eighties sitcom ‘To The Manor Born’ The scene is completed with a cheeky glass of wine on the table! It might seem to be just one civilised glass of chardonnay for now, but mark my words it’ll lead to necking copious quantities of booze at home, slumped in front of the radio and inevitably leading to dereliction and degradation down the line. Passed out in the armchair on a Sunday night, a bottle of supermarket own brand vodka nestled in the lap, not even the white noise from the radio can wake them from their slumbers. Alan Keith’s soothing voice has long since departed from the airwaves on that evening’s edition of ‘Your Hundred Best Tunes’.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Imagined Village - 'Empire and Love'

It's not often that I champion a band on behalf of somebody else, but this one's being done for our resident folk expert Morris Chancer. He let it be known that when he saw The Imagined Village play at the Cambridge Folk Festival, he was moved to tears by their performance. Now, the only thing that usually moves me to tears at a festival is the stench emanating from the portaloos, but I shall concede to his love and knowledge of all musical things rustic and beardy. We will also cast aside any notions that his judgment might have been impaired by drinking too many flagons of happy worzel juice in the midday sun and trust in his opinion that this folk super group are indeed something special.

The project began in 2004 but was very publicly launched at the WOMAD world music festival in 2007 by Simon Emmerson of the
Afro Celt Sound System. The group, made up of notable luminaries of the British folk scene like Eliza Carthy (Fiddles, Viola, Voice) Martin Carthy (Guitar, Voice) and Billy Bragg, walked on stage having only met at rehearsals and gave a rough and ready performance which was deemed a resounding success. The concept of the project was to explore the roots of English roots music from a fresh multicultural perspective and involve artists not traditionally associated with this genre, like Paul Weller, Benjamin Zephaniah, Tuung and Transglobal Underground. A self titled album was released in 2007 followed by an E.P containing remixed versions of four songs from the earlier album.

On the new album 'Empire and Love' the old classics of 'Scarborough Fair' and 'Byker Hill' are covered, as well as less traditional songs, with Slade's 'Cum On Feel The Noize' standing out as a particularly novel track to include.
Artists appearing on the current album include Andy Gangadeen (Drums), Simon Emmerson (Cittern, Guitars), Simon Richmond (Keyboards, Electronica), Ali Friend (Bass), Sheema Mukherjee (Sitar, Voice), Chris Wood (Fiddles, Viola, Voice), Barney Morse Brown (Cello) & Johnny Kalsi (Percussion, Dhol, Tabla).

The Imagined Village release their second album 'Empire and Love' on Monday 11th January 2010, it has been a whistle stop six months in the making, compared to the five years for the debut album. Of this hectic schedule, Simon Emmerson recounted that "including starting the label, playing the summer festivals, doing the garage conversion and keeping the village pub in business. By the end of it we no longer felt like a band but a local parish council.” Read more about the Parish Council here

For those of you who like to pick up promotional merchandising trinkets that the music industry routinely like to knock out to help shift their products, ECC Records have used a bit more imagination than coming up with the usual poster or key ring by producing a limited edition bath bomb. As the company is run by Simon Emmerson (Afro Celt Sound System) and Mark Constantine of Lush the handmade cosmetics chain, they decided to make a product inspired by the lead track off the album Space Girl . It's shaped like Saturn and it's rings, or a spaceship, and it is purple, sparkly and has extra added Space Dust, how the punters are going to store it in the collection is another matter, but a cute idea never the less and anything to encourage the more soap dodging elements of the village fanbase into the bath has got to be a good thing.

The Imagined Village - Space Girl (original by Ewan McColl) taken from 'Empire and Love'
buy it here at
ECC Records or through Amazon via here.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Kill It Kid

Time to put the spotlight on a band that got my foot a tapping back in October 2009, which seems an awful long time ago now. Kill It Kid sauntered into town with a James Dean swagger, attired with a moniker from a Blind Willie McTell tune and a confidence that belied their youth. It was the night England were playing Belarus and mostly because it was a dead rubber of a game, it wasn't too difficult persuading Platterhorn to vacate his usual position, slobbed out in front of the T.V and catch this hotly tipped band instead of a watching a meaningless game of football.

It proved to be a wise choice as we got to hear some exhilarating songs played with gusto to the small but appreciative crowd. This young five piece from Bath have only been in existence since early 2008, yet they pack a punch with a sound that combines a traditional earthy bluesy rock with a twist of zingy indie folky lemony freshness. Kill It Kid have quickly established themselves as a dynamic live act and are being fast tracked up the greasy pole of music fervor (tipped via the likes of Q Magazine, Jonathan Ross and BBC 6 spotlights).

The real ace in the pack for KIK's delta blues stomp of a sound is the interplay of the singing between Chris Turpin's incredible lead vocals and Stephanie Ward's smoother vocals. The former's belting husky voice has often drawn comparisons with Antony (and the Johnsons) Hegarty, albeit with a rougher edge; imagine if he'd been up all night drinking Jack Daniels in a saloon bar. Steph's serene singing adds an extra dimension in that she is able to carry a tune flying solo or as a part of a duet. The rest of the band are Richard Jones on fiddle and backing vocals, Marc Jones on drums and percussion and Adam Timmins on bass and banjo/guitars make up a terrifically tight outfit.

Their progress was given an almighty leg up when they came to the attention of John Parish (sometime P J Harvey collaborator and Eels producer) who was asked to showcase some of his studio mixing abilities to some students at Bath Spa University. Kill It Kid were used as the band in residence and their obvious talents shone out during the hard graft of these sessions. Out of this experience came their debut E.P and less than a year later, the band were recording their first album for One Little Indian Records, in Seattle at the world famous Bear Creek Studio with Ryan Hadlock on producing duties (he has most notably worked with The Gossip, Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Regina Spektor)

The result of their hard endeavor was released in October 2009 as the debut album picked up warm reviews and I'm sure the plaudits will keep rolling in for the coming year as their star continues to rise. The highlights are the boisterous 'Burst Its Banks' which is a good time bluesy wailer of a tune with some fuzzed out slide guitar waltzing with a fearless fiddle and some harmonica tootling thrown in for good measure. It all comes together to create a dramatic hoedown of a track that kicks some serious posterior. The slower paced lament of 'Send Me An Angel Down' which has the guitar pickin' flavour of 'Wish You Were Here' era Pink Floyd underpinning the soaring vocals, shows the band functioning on a more low key level to equally dazzling effect. In fact, all the tunes hold their own and merit repeated listening and flow as a cohesive introduction to a group that have earned their spurs and are now ready to roll into the dusty saloon of our hearts.

Kill It Kid have shown exquisite taste by releasing a cover of the Low track 'Just Like Christmas' and have made the mp3 available here for free because you've all been so good this year, the generous scamps.

Kill It Kid
- Burst Its Banks - Taken from self titled album released on 5th October 2009 via One Little Indian Records buy it here