Archive | September, 2017

Sparks – Nottingham Rock City (September 23, 2017)

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Sparks – Nottingham Rock City (September 23, 2017)

Posted on 26 September 2017 by Joe

Good heavens! It says on Wiki that an early version of Sparks existed in 1968 under the name Halfnelson (mind you it also says Donald Trump is human, so I’m taking this with a pinch of salt).

After a quick name change to Sparks their 1972 breakthrough single, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, exploded on the scene.

It fitted seamlessly with the ongoing glam rock movement of Marc Bolan in feather boa and half a ton of face glitter, an emaciated Bowie in his ambi-sexual Ziggy persona and reformed bovver boys Slade trampling all before them in a tide of bad spelling and big choruses.

sparks cropped

Among them were Sparks, wonderful Sparks, with an Adolf Hitler lookalike on piano and a singer who sounded like a strangled cat. Ron and Russell had arrived.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us was so left of centre it caught everybody off guard. That means our dynamic duo have been rocking ironically in a semi-operatic style for nearly fifty years. That is surely an excellent definition of longevity!

It is a wonder of the age that these two guys still remain relevant at the transient coalface of fickle rock n roll. Their new album Hippopotamus is as good as anything they’ve ever created: funny, catchy and just jolly good fun.

The band, all five of them come on dressed in white shirts with horizontal black stripes. Ron and Russ then enter stage right to tumultuous cheers. They look like confused convicts, Russ might be wearing a shiny black syrup of fig, it’s hard to tell but what other frontman do you know who skips when singing? A marvelous sight indeed.

Then there’s Ron who sits almost motionless at his keyboard looking like a not very scary replicant from the new Bladerunner film, and trying not to grin.

Tonight they gave us a set comprising nineteen songs – a good humoured, sentimental knees up for the art rock crowd then progressed apace.

Kicking off with the grin inducing hugely fantastic What the Hell Is It This Time? from the new album and finishing with another 1972 hit Amateur Hour ninety minutes later.

Sandwiched in between were killer recreations of the buoyant and irresistible Good Morning, Scandinavian Design, the lyrically genius I Wish You Were Fun, a blinding Missionary Position and especially Edith Piaf Said It Better, which was phenomenal.

Oldies included, When Do I Get to Sing My Way and 1974’s Propaganda. They even dropped in Johnny Delusional, from their successful 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand – FFS. But it was This Town and 1979’s Number One Song In Heaven that blew the roof off.

The stoney faced Ron’s live party trick – to leave the piano half way through the set, come centre stage, take his tie off, loosen his jacket and do a groovy dance  – was priceless. He even smiled!

An emotional farewell and speeches from both of them followed. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Brothers in arms.

Beautiful.

Words by John Haylock, picture by Rod Dykeman

For more information about Sparks, visit their website here.

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Grant Hart – Top 10

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Grant Hart – Top 10

Posted on 17 September 2017 by Dorian

I’m not a huge fan of eulogising the dead, I think that praise and recognition is something that is much more powerful when someone is still alive. However, I do understand the sadness, and need for catharsis, that people feel when someone important to them passes away. In the case of someone like David Bowie it is in part due to the huge impact their music has had over the decades. In the case of someone like Grant Hart, who died of cancer aged only 56 this week, it is in part due to the lack of perceived impact they had on the musical landscape.

Grant Hart has never been afforded the same level of respect as his Hüsker Du band mate Bob Mould. He didn’t write and sing quite as many songs with that band as Mould did, but many of his contributions stand amongst the bands best. His solo work gets far less attention and even though he formed a new band (Nova Mob) some three years before Mould formed Sugar you won’t see anniversary editions of either of their albums in your record shop.

Here is a selection of ten of my favourite tracks from across his career, a hard job to whittle down to such a short list. I’ve split the songs (presented in chronological order) 50/50 between Hüsker Du and solo work. I urge you to seek out the albums that these songs are taken from. The non-Hüsker Du work is well represented on Spotify although harder to buy in physical form.

Diane

This song, from Metal Circus, is about a real life murder and is perhaps better known as a single that the band Therapy? released 15 years later.

Pink Turns To Blue

Zen Arcade is my favourite album by the band, and an extremely influential record demonstrating much more scope and invention than a hardcore punk band was supposed to display. I’ve decided to only pick one song from any album for this list and it was tough to exclude ‘Never Talking To You Again’, but this is possibly my favourite from the album. Also one of the few songs where I could find really good quality live footage.

Terms Of Psychic Warfare

New Day Rising was always going to suffer following Zen Arcade but it is still a great album. This excellent footage gives you two bonus tracks; ‘Powerline’ and ‘Books About UFOs’.

Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely

It says something about Hart’s growing stature in the band that both singles taken from their first major label release, Candy Apple Gray, are his compositions. This is one of them.

Back From Somewhere

Bob Mould famously told Grant Hart that he would never have as many songs on a Hüsker Du album as him. On their final release, Warehouse Songs And Stories, Hart had nine of the twenty tracks.

The Main

Intolerance is a really fascinating album, with Hart handling all musical and production duties on the record. ‘2541’ almost made this list, but this piano driven song about drug addiction is one of his most powerful recordings.

Admiral Of The Sea

I picked up the 12″ single of this track shortly after it was released. I remember spinning it over and over when I got home.

You Don’t Have To Tell Me Now

This song, from Good News For Modern Man, is another example of hart’s gift for introspective love songs. This version is a live audio recording from what may have been his last live tour.

You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water

In which Grant Hart goes all ‘White Light/White Heat’ for his 2009 album Hot Wax.

For Those Too High Aspiring

His final release, 2013’s The Argument, isn’t the easiest of listens. It is a sprawling concept album based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost and needs a few listens to get into. It is worth the effort though, like Zen Arcade it proves that the best work is ambitious and cerebral and takes a bit of effort to understand. This is the last song from his final album, and seems an appropriate way to end this list.

By Dorian Rogers

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