Word Gets Around/Performance & Cocktails
Ok, I know I’m cheating a bit but it’s my blog, my rules and I really couldn’t split these two. There might be a few other bands this happens to along the way.
Thinking back it would have been around mid 97 Stereophonics came into view with me. Singles, Local Boy in the Photograph and More Life in a Tramps Vest had worried the lower end of the charts. I’m sure it was 3rd single A Thousand Trees where I fully became aware of them. Kelly Jones gravelly voice and the fact they were a guitar band like Oasis immediately got my attention. When Word Gets Around came out in August 1997 it sucked me right in and for a few years I was a massive fan.
I first saw them at the Garage in January 98, then later in that year at Motherwell Concert Hall before they started to climb the ladder of success. Although it was clear they would end up playing the big arenas I felt they were always best in smaller venues and over the years I’ve caught them at the Barrowlands three times, the Usher Hall and the horrible Corn Exchange. I saw them 2 nights running at the SECC and also at Wembley Arena on the ‘You Gotta Go There to Come Back’ tour but I found the arena shows were all a bit dull and was probably the beginning of the end for me as an ongoing fan. The sacking of Stuart Cable as drummer in 2003 also took a lot of the fun out of the band although Cable probably deserved to be ousted as his rock n roll lifestyle and making some disparaging comments about the band didn’t really give them much choice. Sadly Cable died in 2010 after a night of binge drinking and choking on his own vomit.
We finally officially split after a solo show by Kelly Jones in 2007 in support of his solo album ‘Only the Names have Changed’. A sold out show at the Fruitmarket seemed like a good time to re-engage with Jones and hear some classic Stereophonics songs done in a slightly different way. It turned out to be one of the worst concerts I’ve ever been to and I still don’t know how the wife and I stuck it out to the end. The album was reportedly recorded in 36 hours and every track title was a girls name. I don’t think we’d had a chance to hear the album before going to the gig but the whole thing was terrible. He played every song from the album and I think we got Dakota as an encore. To be honest we’d lost the will to live by the end of the main set. I tried listening to the album again when writing this blog to see if it really was as bad as I remember and got as far as track 4. The contrast between that album and the two featured albums really was like night and day.
The Phonics were the first band signed to the newly created V2 label that had been founded by Richard Branson. Word Gets Around had three singles released prior to the albums release in August 1997 and one after the album release. One of the things the Phonics did that I always liked was the addition of unreleased songs and live tracks as ‘b-sides’ which is something Oasis did brilliantly with one of their best songs Acquiesce unbelievably a feckin b side. The art of the b-side is now sadly long gone. Stereophonics Acquiesce was Carrot Cake & Wine from the Thousand Trees single a brilliant song that started to appear in their live set such was its popularity with the fans.
Performance and Cocktails followed in March 1999 and produced five singles. It also gave them their first number 1 album. I’ve also got a special affection for Performance as it arrived at a time in my life where it was all a bit of a mess and it helped me get through a tough time along with another few albums. Never underestimate the power of music.
The feature of these first two albums was the social commentary of Jones lyrics who told the stories of the characters who lived in a small Welsh town, in this case Cwmamam, where the band all grew up. From Thousand Trees a story about a school teacher being caught with a pupil, to Local Boy in the Photograph about a boy killed by a train on the local railway track. Songs about suicide, drinking, fighting, divorce. It’s laugh a minute stuff. The stories although based on his town seemed to strike a chord with their audience and I guess similar types of stories were happening in everyone’s town and city. Jones had a unique way of telling a story and sometimes his song writing received criticism but I liked the way he told a sad story. This combined with some energetic rock guitar made them a potent force and they just seemed to arrive on the music scene at the perfect time. It wasn’t long before arenas were calling and for me that was what ruined the band like so many others. Success took away the very thing that made them interesting. They started writing about trips to San Francisco and lost the small town charm. Where they had been gritty and unpolished they were suddenly shiny and new and lost a lot of what I initially liked them for It’s understandable as success ruins a lot of bands in a musical sense. They’re removed form the environment they were writing about and led to their success to a much more sterile and cosseted one and that can change a lot of bands or blunt their edge.
Didn’t seem to stop their success though and they are still regulars on the arena circuit and festivals. I was almost tempted to go and see them at the Usher Hall last year but couldn’t quite bring myself to buy tickets. Checking the setlist they did 7 songs from these two albums. In 2010 they did a couple of shows in London where they played both these albums in full to promote the expanded releases and I do wish I could have afforded to go to those. Maybe they’ll do some 20th anniversary shows in 2017, at the Barrowlands preferably.
Reading back I’ve really come across as quite negative about the band but I think it’s more the frustration of a band being lost to the big time and all it brings and ruins. These two albums still get a regular outing and still sound as fresh as they day they were released.
Word Gets Around
Performance and Cocktails
See you on week 7.