Week 10: Radiohead

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The Bends

Probably the first album on my list that regularly features on all time best album lists, albums you should listen to before you die etc.  and just generally considered an all  time classic album.  To be fair it is a feckin great album or it wouldn’t be on my list.

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Although when I hear the name Radiohead my first thought is Father Ted.  The classic episode (I think all Father Ted episodes are considered classics at one time or another)  when Father Kevin who had been previously cured of his depression by listening to Isaac Hayes and the theme from Shaft but when returning home the bus driver puts on the radio and after a few mins of Radiohead’s Exit Music, from OK Computer, he’s back in his depression.   I’ve yet to get past that reference point.

I do still find it quite odd that Radiohead were regarded as a grunge band on their first album ‘Pablo Honey’ and were often described as Nirvana-lite.  I’ve listened to that album more than a few times and I really don’t see it.  The single Creep from that album was my introduction to the band.  I was a bit too long in the tooth to be impressed by the dropping of the F-bomb in a song but in the context of this particular song it worked perfectly and that little guitar buzz (sure there is a more technical name for it) just before the chorus just hooked me right in.  Pablo Honey is an ok debut but I rarely play it these days.

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The success of Creep allowed the band to tour the US but it had its down side as the band got bored playing the same songs every night and it almost pushed the band towards breaking point. It was the after effect of the success in an MTV led music world that helped spawn the much darker and reactionary album The Bends in 95.  It was preceded by The Iron Lung EP in 94 which contained 8 tracks a number of which were out takes from the Bends recording sessions.

The Bends album itself is a swirling cacophony of fuzz, feedback, over which the anguish of Thom Yorke’s mournful tortured voice provides the perfect accompaniment.  They just made a huge noise and it was just something totally different at a time when Britpop was catching most of the headlines.   Something I’ve noticed about a number of the albums I’ve been reviewing is the number of singles released.  The Bends is no different with 5 singles being released from it.  I doubt Radiohead will even bother releasing a single when their new album comes out.  Times have changed so much in what is a relatively short space of time.  Once upon a time it was a hit single which drove album sales which then got a band on tour to promote an album further.

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Now money is made by touring which has its advantages and disadvantages.  It means more bands are hitting the road more often and you get to see some acts that rarely if ever toured before or acts that have reformed to take advantage of the upturn in live music.  On the downside ticket prices are going through the roof and don’t get me started or I’ll start ranting about booking fees, secondary markets etc.

Just before I started to write this piece Radiohead announced a few dates at the Roundhouse in London which perfectly illustrates the problem with today’s ticket market.  Three dates sold out almost instantly and within seconds tickets appeared on the legalised touting sites like getmein, seatwave etc at vastly inflated prices.  These sites actively encourage people to buy tickets for gigs they have no intention of going to and real fans are either forced to pay way above face value or just miss out altogether.  There is something inherently wrong with this model.

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As for Radiohead after The Bends it was the more experimental OK Computer which in many people’s eyes is considered the best Radiohead album.  Not for me, although it had some great songs on it I felt it was the start of the descent into overly experimental stuff that alienated a lot of the fans who came on board with The Bends, me included.  Radiohead seemed to go out of their way to become difficult and hard to listen to which is their prerogative but it was a shame as The Bends had a really unique but accessible sound to it and it would have been interesting to see where they took that sound.  Thom Yorke in particular seemed incapable of coping with the new found star status and suffered a breakdown after OK Computer.  This might explain the route into the jazz, electronic style of follow on albums Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief.  An attempt to distance themselves from their most successful sound.  All it did for me was make them almost unlistenable.  I tried to ‘get it’ but gave up.  We’ll see what the new album brings.

Although I’ve never seen Radiohead live they are still one of the bands on my ever decreasing bucket list if they ever come near Glasgow.  I’ll put up with the jazz to hear a few classics from The Bends.

See you on week 11.

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James in Glasgow

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James – HMV In Store & Quay Sessions, Glasgow March 23rd 2016

So 18 years after their last No 1 album James look like they are going to reach the top of the charts once again with their new album Girl at the End of the World (and from now on known as GATEOTW).  It’s a remarkable achievement in so many ways.  A band like James, although there aren’t any other bands quite like James but you know what I mean, just don’t normally compete with the likes of Adele, Coldplay and the franchise Now albums for the top spot and even if they don’t quite make it the fact it was even a possibility is astonishing.  The resurgence of James isn’t an overnight phenomenon they’ve been slowly building to this point since they reformed back in 2007 when they released the brilliant Hey Ma album.  It was a statement of intent and the four subsequent releases have reinforced that statement.  The loyal core fan base was always there but they now seem to have picked up a new generation of fans and some of the older generation lost after the first split have returned.

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The fact they returned, not as a nostalgia act but, as a band determined to make new and exciting music that could stand up with the best of their early material is for me at the root of their increasing popularity.  They could easily have come back and done the greatest hits set night after night tour after tour and I’m sure they would have made a comfortable living like so many bands do from that formula but James never like to take the easy route and are now reaping the rewards from sticking to creating and playing new material live and the fans just absolutely love it.  I’ve also watched with interest how they promoted last album La Petit Mort with the radio sessions, interviews and the general marketing of the album that had the fans desperate to hear the album on release.  For GATEOTW they seem to have perfected the art and took it to a new level.  The intimate shows in Manchester and London, getting on prime time TV, a plethora of radio sessions and interviews and the in store showcases and signing sessions.  It has all come together perfectly to push the band further into the mainstream and possibly to the top of the charts.

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And the great thing is, it has all been done on their terms.  No sell out, no easy option just hard graft and a love of making great music backed by a fan base that just ‘gets it’.

Since discovering James all those years ago they were always in my top 10 favourite band list but in recent years they have forced their way further up the list and although I tend not to say I have a favourite band as such they are definitely my favourite band of the moment.  There are few bands I’d travel from Glasgow to London to see perform the majority of their new album and be genuinely excited about the new songs but James just bring out that sense of anticipation that few bands can match these days.

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It was that sense of anticipation that I had when queuing for 2 hours outside HMV in Argyle St yesterday.  I knew I was only going to get 4 or 5 songs (turned out it was 3 but who’s counting) and I knew it was going to be a stripped down James with only 5 or 6 member playing (it was 6 including sometimes member and roadie, Ron).  No Andy Diagram or drummer David Baynton-Power but we got Tim, Saul, Mark, Jim with Adrian Oxaal still filling in for the absent Larry Gott.  I wonder if and when Larry returns there maybe a place in the band for Adrian.  He brings a different kind of sound and also a cello and mandolin which he put to good use here and later at the BBC Quay Sessions.  There was a pretty lengthy queue outside as we were eventually allowed into the store.  It was interesting watching folk coming up asking who we were queuing for and once told some of them showed a sign of recognition while other drew a complete blank.  It wasn’t long before the band took the stage after everyone had filtered in and in true James style Tim got the first song wrong.  A 3 song set and he couldn’t even remember which was the first song.  It’s another one of the reasons we love them.  He introduced the set as 3 miserable songs and the first song was Feet of Clay with Jim providing the insistent bass line, Adrian providing cello and Saul swapping between guitar and violin.

The violin became a topic of conversation at the end as Saul thought it wasn’t working and a few expletives were released and much good humour ensued.  They  might write some sad and despairing songs at times but they are funny guys. Some of their songs may be a little on the dark side but the band themselves seem to be in a very good place and the closeness and tightness of the band comes across in the relaxed performances they played both here and at the BBC.  Dear John was 2nd song and a backing tape provided the backbeat.  Mark was playing some kind of air keyboard and not the invisible kind like an air guitar but one he had to blow into.  No idea what it is called.  Then last track was the title track on the album and Tim’s introduction and explanation of the song about the last thing you remember before dying gave the song a great context and it was an absolutely brilliant version and real goose bumps and hair on back of neck moment.

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Then it was all over and a large queue snaked around the store to get various bits ‘n’ pieces signed. I was lucky enough to be fairly close to the front and got a quick chat with the band about the album and its definite overtones of krautrock.  There seems to be a few krautrock fans in the band by the looks of it.  It was then a quick dash to the BBC for the Quay Sessions later.

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It was my second visit to the Quay session with my previous visit being last year to see Public Service Broadcasting.  This was much busier and later found out over 4,000 applications were made for 200 tickets.  I had 8 applications in including various friends and none of them were successful but luckily a mate offered me his plus one.  The good karma ticket god working his wonders once again.

We did have to suffer Red Sky in July who were a pleasant enough Americana/country band who featured Ally Mcerlaine formerly of Texas playing guitar but it was a bit dreary and repetitive for me.

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Due to the number of attendees we were relegated to standing quite a fair way back with only a small viewing window on the stage James were due to play on but just before the band came on one of the BBC staff managed to get us into the standing area right in front of the band.  Absolutely perfect viewing point and eternal thanks to her for doing that.  Made the night.

A slightly more orthodox set up this time with a scaled down drum kit that roadie Ron was playing and Mark having full keyboard.  GATEOTW opened this time and it would have been hard to sustain the emotion of the version played but a few hours earlier.  From memory and maybe not in order they played Just Like Fred Astaire, a cover of Glasvegas’s Daddy’s Gone, Getting Away With It, Dear John, Feet of Clay, which they played twice as Tim thought he’d messed it up then they argued about which one was better.  Catapult, Say Something and Nothing but Love.  I don’t know if it’s the necessity of not having a full band but the new songs sound brilliant in stripped down mode even allowing for the odd breakout at the end of songs.

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The proceedings were halted for while for an interview with host Nicola Meighan and she also picked up on the krautrock influences on the new album.  Tim also explained the recording process they go through and how songs form out of studio jams and said they wanted to do an improvisational show in Glasgow, Manchester and London.  James just like to do things differently than other bands and it’s another thing we love them for.

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The band were so tight and together the whole night and they just seem in such a good place.  The creative juices are flowing, their fan base is increasing, they could be sitting on a number 1 album and if any band deserves their moment it’s James.  Through hard worked and sheer bloody mindedness they have achieved what very few bands of their age can claim.  They are still relevant, in an ever changing musical  landscape and they are now getting the success and recognition they deserve.

A fantastic day in the company of James and I’m already looking forward to the next album.

If you’re a James fan come and join like minded individuals on the James Fanzone facebook Page

Week 9: The Call

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Reconciled

While doing a bit of background research on this album I was surprised and amused to find that this album made number 24 on the ‘Greatest Christian albums of all time’ list.  I had no idea the band were regarded as a Christian act and it’s probably just as well as if someone had handed the album to me and said there’s a CD from a Christian band I’d have likely declined the offer.  Being an atheist I just tend to ignore anything remotely religious unless it is negatively impacting on my life, it just makes everything a lot easier.  So I guess the parable of this story is never judge a CD by its cover and I can now add Christian rock to my list of music genres.  To be fair the only other Christian rock band I could name would be Stryper and they were godawful.

There are definite religious references throughout the album but I regarded them in much the same way as artists like Mike Scott of the Waterboys and Tim Booth of James do where they are done in a more spiritual sense rather than in any annoying preachy way and I doubt James or the Waterboys would make many Christian rock band lists.  Just to add to the religious feel frontman Michael Been also played the apostle John in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ.

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Anyway as we’re on a kind of religious tangent.  I have a confession to make.  In a past life I worked in the Daily Record newspaper.  It was my first ever ‘real job’ and as a young impressionable teenager it was a brilliant place to work.  So many characters and so many genuinely interesting people.  I look back now and wish I’d taken more of the opportunity to talk to the folk who made it such a great paper.  Sadly these days it has become a shadow of the paper it once was and I very rarely read it any more.  It was my dad, who was a news sub editor at the paper, who got me a job on the copy desk as a copy boy.  It was a fairly lowly position but an important one in the running of the newspaper and many of the journalists recognised your contribution to the success of getting a paper out every day.  A copy boy or girl’s job included many tasks.  Distributing news stories to appropriate desks, delivering stories to the case room, trips to the library or dark room, delivering mail, canteen runs, trips to the bookies, off sales, laundrette. Really just general dogsbody but life was never dull.  I once managed to lose Jonathan Watson of Only an Excuse fame after he got in a lift without me.  I met Frank Sidebottom complete with his paper mache head.  It was also the place where I learned how to drink.  All the fabled stories of journalists and alcohol were in fact true.  It was a bit of sink or swim regarding pub visits and I watched in amazement at the capacity of alcohol some folk could put away.  I managed to hold my own though with the resilience of youth on my side.  I also got to see the dark side of such a culture and it gave me a good understanding at an early age of what can happen if you go too far the other way.  It really was a total life experience and I loved the 8 years I worked there and I met some fantastic people who sadly I’ve lost touch with now and a few I know who are no longer with us.  I expect the newspaper industry is a completely different beast these days and it is certainly not better for it.

One of the people who I met while there and the reason for looking back to those days was Billy Sloan, the entertainment and music journalist for the paper.  When I started working at the paper I had really long hair and Billy christened me ‘Hippy’ and to this day he still calls me that when we bump into each other at gigs despite my flowing locks being but a distant memory.  Billy in his position of being the main man for music meant he got sent lots and lots of albums, singles and gig tickets.  Fortunately for me Billy and I didn’t share a lot of the same musical tastes so anything that was remotely heavy metal/rock got pushed in my direction and was gratefully received.  Some of it was complete and utter pants but the occasional gem that I may never have heard of shone through.  In fact the first time I heard of Guns n Roses was the It’s So Easy single long before they started to make such a name for themselves, I also got the album off Billy and it still has the ‘for promotional use only’ sticker on it.  Anyway one of the albums he passed on to me was The Call album Reconciled.

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What I tended to do with albums and singles I got from Billy was to listen to about 2 or 3 mins of the first few tracks and if I liked what I heard I’d give the whole album a spin.  If not it would go in a pile to pass onto someone else.  I let this album play all the way through, turned it over, played side 2, turned it over, played side 1 & 2 again.  I loved it from first listen.  I started to read the album sleeve and discovered Peter Gabriel and Jim Kerr from Simple Minds sang backing vocals on the first track ‘Everywhere I Go’.  Kerr also appeared on the track Sanctuary while Robbie Robertson of The Band turned up on ‘The Morning’ playing guitar.  This was 1986 and Simple Minds were probably at their most popular and Gabriel released So in the same year. They clearly had some friends in high places.

And that was about as much as I knew about the band.  No internet to google them as I can now.  They didn’t appear in any music papers that I read and didn’t tour in the UK at least not to my knowledge.  Over the years I have hoovered up their back catalogue, Reconciled was album number 4, but follow up to Reconciled, Let the Day Begin, was the only one that got anywhere close to this album.

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A few years ago I discovered the bassist, vocalist and frontman Michael Been was the father of Robert Levon Been the bassist from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Sadly Michael Been died of a heart attack in 2010 while on the road with his son and BRMC who helped as sound man and roadie.

Despite it religious leanings this is still a cracking album and well worth a listen.

And in case you were wondering, it was ‘Only Visiting this Planet’ by Larry Norman that was top in the all time 100 Christian albums.

 

 

See you on week 10.

Week 8: Pink Floyd

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The Final Cut (A Requiem for the Post War Dream)

I’d be surprised if this album found itself at the top of many Floyd fans favourites list but for me this was the album where I discovered Floyd or more accurately when I finally ‘got’ Floyd.  I remember my mate Craig turning up with the album one night and luckily I let him play it and something just clicked.  I’d dismissed all their previous albums but after hearing this I became a fully signed up member of the Floyd fan club. In my opinion The Final Cut is vastly under rated in the Floyd canon.  It’s understandable given it is up against the likes of Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall. All brilliant albums and they all get a regular airing. Unlike the cool kids I never could get into the Syd Barrett era of Floyd.  It was really the period from the brilliant and also under rated Obscured by Clouds in 72 up to The Final Cut in 83 that held the most interest for me.

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Initially this album was meant to be a companion album to The Wall and also intended to be the soundtrack of the film going by the title of Spare Bricks but the Falklands conflict changed all that.  Roger Waters had, by this point, completely taken over the musical and lyrical direction of Floyd and many regard this as his first solo album in all but name.  His relationship with Dave Gilmour completely broke down during the recording, even drummer Nick Mason was replaced on one song because he couldn’t cope with the complex time changes.  While long time keyboardist Richard Wright quit before the album was even recorded.   Given the fraught conditions and collapsing of long term relationships within the band it was remarkable that the album  was completed at all.

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It was the last Floyd album to feature Waters and in a June 1987 interview, Waters recalled the making of the album:

The Final Cut was absolutely misery to make, although I listened to it of late and I rather like a lot of it. But I don’t like my singing on it. You can hear the mad tension running through it all. If you’re trying to express something and being prevented from doing it because you’re so uptight … It was a horrible time. We were all fighting like cats and dogs. We were finally realising – or accepting, if you like – that there was no band. It was really being thrust upon us that we were not a band and had not been in accord for a long time. Not since 1975, when we made Wish You Were Here. Even then there were big disagreements about content and how to put the record together … But making The Final Cut was misery. We didn’t work together at all. I had to do it more or less single-handed, working with Michael Kamen, my co-producer. That’s one of the few things that the ‘boys’ and I agreed about. But no one else would do anything on it.

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The album is unashamedly anti-war and very political, one of the reasons for Waters and Gilmour disagreeing.  Waters grandfather was killed in the first world war and his father was killed in the second when Waters was only 5 months old.  The album is deicated to his father and one of the songs, The Fletcher Memorial Home, bears his name.  Waters felt Margaret Thatcher had been far too hasty and jingoistic in going to war with Argentina over the Falklands and it was a betrayal of those who had died for peace in the second world war.  Given my hatred of Thatcher and what she had done and was doing to the country I was with Roger every step of the way and the resonance of the subject matter of the album may be the reason it all finally clicked with me.  The album combines songs about both the second world war and the Falklands, a number of which were re-written from The Wall out-takes.  The lyrics are dark and harrowing dealing with alcoholism, suicide, terrorism along with soldiers dying for their countries because their leaders decision to go to war.

There are some great songs on this album and despite his failing relationship with Waters, Gilmour delivers some great solos and guitar work throughout.  One of my favourite Floyd songs is ‘When the Tigers Broke Free’ and is the story of how Waters father and his company were killed while trying to protect the bridge head at Anzio.  It was also the song that opened The Wall film and was supposed to be on the original Final Cut release but didn’t actually appear on it until the 2004 remaster.

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When the album was released it made it to the top of the UK charts, a feat which I discovered, to my surprise, that both The Wall and Dark Side failed to do.   There was also a 4 song video EP released in 83 and featured Alex McAvoy who played the teacher in The Wall film.

Although I never got to see Floyd I’ve been fortunate to see Waters twelve times and I was lucky enough to be there the night Gilmour appeared on top of the wall to play and sing Comfortably Numb during one of The Wall shows at the O2 in London.  It was also an emotional night at Live 8 in 2005 when Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright took to the stage together for the first and final time since 1981.  Despite hopes it may lead to a full blown reunion it never happened and with the death of Wright in 2008 the chance of any Floyd reunion sadly died with him.

Waters and Gilmour still have fairly successful solo careers.  Waters much the busier of the 2 on the tour front with Gilmour slightly better at getting new music out.   I very much doubt we’ll see any collaboration from them in the future but they appear to have made peace with each other and given the chasm that lay between them that in itself is a remarkable achievement.

Although the album is a concept piece and should really be listened as a complete piece of music a few of my favourite moments are below.

and the full album

See you on week 9.

Week 7: Manic Street Preachers

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Everything Must Go

Apologies for the delay in posting this one and the next.  Will try and catch up.

This week another Welsh band, formed in Blackwood, less than  15 miles from where the Stereophonics came together. I’d imagine the Manics were a big influence on the Phonics and how their career developed.  Couldn’t be much different in outlook though. Manics were part of the rock intelligentsia quoting poets, visionary writers and writing songs about global capitalism, consumerism, prostitution, the holocaust, the death penalty and suicide.  They must have been the life and soul of the party down the pub on a Friday night.

My first memory of them was their first performance on Top of The Pops with the name of the song they were playing, ‘You Love Us’, scrawled across James Dean Bradfield’s bare torso. Worth checking you tube for the clip.  Towering over him was bassist Nicky Wire resplendent in feather boa and make up, on Bradfield’s other side was the ill fated Richey Edwards and on a rather high drum riser was drummer Sean Moore. They absolutely tore the TOTP studio up. Although I loved the song and later single Motorcycle Emptiness, in total there were six singles from Terrorists,  I paid them no more than a passing interest. Thinking back I can’t quite put my finger on why they didn’t have a more significant place on my music listening playlist. For instance La Tristesse Durera from Gold Against the Soul is one of my favourite Manics songs. I guess I’m a fan of their more commercial mainstream side as unlike most Manics fans I know I wasn’t a huge fan of the dark and disturbing Holy Bible. Some great songs but I don’t hold it in the esteem that many do. As it was our relationship didn’t really get serious until the release of Everything Must Go.

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It was in the aftermath of Holy Bible guitarist Edwards ‘disappeared ‘. Always a complex and deeply flawed character who once carved the phrase ‘4 real’ into his forearm with a piece of glass when being interviewed by Steve Lamaq after Lamaq had questioned the bands authenticity. A wound that required nineteen stitches. Not the actions of a well balanced individual.

With the disappearance of Edwards most would have expected that would be the end of the band as Edwards and Wire were responsible for the majority of the band’s lyrics but after much soul searching and with the blessing of the Edwards family the band decided to continue as a 3 piece and under the circumstances it was quite an achievement that they produced such a successful and brilliant album. It was helped on its way by the single Design for Life that reached number 2 in the charts when such a feat was quite hard to achieve. It’s a bit of a cliche but Everything Must Go does indeed have the sound of a band being reborn. If you played the album side by side with The Holy Bible you wouldn’t think it was the same band. It has the sound of a band being unshackled and just going for it and just see what happens. The dark and disturbing lyrics are still there but the music is bright, clean and surprisingly uplifting given the subject matter. It’s an album that really makes me smile and want to jump about particularly on Australia and No Surface All Feeling. There isn’t a bad song on this album and a total of five singles were released as the Manics became an arena sized band almost overnight.

The album deals with such diverse subject as the tragic life of the photographer Kevin Carter who was a prize winning photographer who committed suicide.  Carter had taken the stark and disturbing image of a starving child in the Sudan on her road to a feeding centre and behind her a vulture settled to wait on her fate.  The photograph was seen around the world and Carter was told not to help the child as she may be carrying disease.  He did however chase off the vulture.  The fate of the child was unknown.  Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky dealt with the mistreatment of animals in captivity. Interiors about a painter who suffered from Alzheimers and couldn’t remember what he had painted.  Edwards influence on the band was still visible as five of the songs contained his lyrics and he also contributes guitar to No Surface All Feeling which is only his 2nd appearance on a Manics album as Bradfield took on the guitar parts in the recording studio.  To this day even though Edwards was announced officially presumed dead in 2008 they still have a royalties account set aside for him.

The album was released in May 1996 and my first live Manics experience followed in October at the now long gone Livingston Forum where the majority of the album got an airing.  Since then I’ve seen them live another eleven times and they are an excellent live band.

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After playing The Holy Bible in full last year Everything Must Go gets the full album treatment this year and it will be a much anticipated trip to the Hydro in May. Although wish it had been the Barras like they did for Bible but I guess that is a reflection of the commercial success of the relevant albums. I personally thought the big arena days were behind the Manics although their last couple of releases have been a long awaited return to form after a decade or so of mostly mediocre albums containing the occasional great song.  Although follow up to Everything Must Go, This is My Truth Tell Me Yours was another excellent album.

See you on soon on week week 8.