Christmas Posts 2018 #2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the imminent Christmas album from RM Hubbert and Aidan Moffat. The album Ghost Stories For Christmas comes out on December 7. In the meantime, they have released another track from the album entitled ‘A Ghost Story For Christmas.’ And it’s really rather lovely…Check out the lyric video below.

…as I said yesterday, it’s my plan to make sure I post some new Christmas tracks this year, as well as repeating some that have previously been on here.

As always, there is debate about what constitutes a Christmas song. Many years ago (alright, 2009, but it seems like another lifetime ago) I argued that ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell is a Christmas song. Some songs become Christmassy by affiliation, quite often because they first became hits at Christmastime (in the UK at least), a list which might include Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power Of Love,’ East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’ and of course ‘Only You.’ ‘Only You’ started life as a synth ballad by Yazoo  before being redone as an a capella version by Flying Pickets and becoming the Christmas no.1 in 1983. So, there’s something quite Christmassy by association – but maybe this lovely version by Aidan and Hubby will mean that it is seen as being a ‘Christmas song.’ Whatever, it’s lovely…



Album Review: Yazoo

Yazoo -‘In Your Room.’ (Mute)

1982, Britain. Bloody hell. Despite the fact that the country was politically in a horrendous place, going to war (in part of the world that Britain had forgotten about until it suited the ruling Conservative party to go to war over it and cover up just how despised leader Margaret Thatcher had been at that point), an opposition party that was shooting itself in the foot, the Cold War still stretching on, America no better either… at least Britain had something exciting going on musically. I was only five for much of it, so I cannot claim to have been doing much to help politically (It would all have been bloody different, I’m telling ya!) but I still feel, over quarter of a century later that I would have loved to have been involved in the music of the time.

Punk had long gone back underground, post-punk was starting to wither on the vine (but it had been a few glorious years), the Independent music scene was blossoming, and ‘pop’ music was actually seen as something to aspire to. People like the Associates, The Human League -and their offshoot, Heaven 17, Orange Juice, Scritti Politti were some of those who had come out of the post-punk scene, but were showing that ‘pop’ could be something intelligent and stylish. From Basildon in Essex, four boys in a band called Depeche Mode had been signed to Daniel Miller’s Mute label (one of the great independent labels, which would remain so, until this decade). One of them, a keyboardist called Vince Clarke, was mostly responsible for writing Mode’s debut LP Speak and Spell.

Within a very short space of time, Vince wasn’t happy in the Mode and went off on his own, slightly miffed that the rest of the band were not interested in a tune he’d written called ‘Only You.’ He teamed up with a girl he’d known for a long time in Basildon called Alison Moyet…and for fifteen months and two LPs, they were Yazoo. (Yaz in America).

The first of those two albums, Upstairs at Eric’s, is the first disc of this three CD and one DVD box set. It has dated amazingly well, and this is due, surely, not just to the fact that it has been remastered, but the fact that this was truly amazing and groundbreaking pop music. Also, to the fact that opposites attract. Alison Moyet had advertised for a blues band in Melody Maker, and ended up getting together in a duo with the boy she’d known from music school. vince was a boffin, who knew his keyboards, even if he couldn’t play piano. It didn’t matter, Alison could. The cover, with its’ mannequins looks stylish still, an aesthetic reminder that for a time being indie and pop was not oxymoronic.

Did I mention the songs? ‘Only You’ and ‘Don’t Go’ made both the Top Ten and John Peel’s Festive Fifty, securing them several appearances on Top Of The Pops. (All of the seven appearances they made on that legendary institution are included on the DVD). But there’s so much more than just the singles. Songs like ‘Winter Kills’ which like Japan’s ‘Ghosts’ is goth just before goth started to happen, and ‘Goodbye 70s’ which could have been a single. Then there’s the utter insaneness of ‘I before E Except After C’ which could give the Aphex Twin a few lessons in weird electronica and ‘In Your Room’ which still startles. The best way that music can keep changing is to get startling music into the mainstream. This was the year that Japan’s ‘Ghosts’ became their biggest hit. Is it just possible that the charts were more open to innovation back then?

After an inbetween albums single ‘The Other Side Of Love’ Vince and Alison set to work on their sophomore and final LP, You And Me Both. Separately. As they say in their interviews on the DVD, they weren’t communicating properly, and they’d parted company by the time the album was in the shops. The fighting dalmations shot on the front of the LP sums up the situation in the band at the time. A shame, because whilst it’s not quite as startling as …Eric’s, it’s still a sound reminder of how good the songs were, and what made the partnership special. The opening track ‘Nobody’s Diary’ was another huge hit, and tracks like ‘Anyone’ and ‘And On’ as heartrending a ballad as anything on the first album.

As well as the two remastered albums, the box set includes a third CD of remixes (twelve tracks, of which five are ‘Situation’ the b-side that became a club hit in America and a chart in hit the UK in 1990) and a DVD. The DVD features a documentary with contributions from both Vince and Alison, Andy Bell, Mute label boss Daniel Miller and (somewhat inevitably) Paul Morley. It’s illuminating, watchable and well put together. It also features all the videos they ever made, and all their BBC TV appearances. For a band who were only together for fifteen months, they appeared on Top Of the Pops seven times. No mean feat.

As to what happened afterwards, Alison took that voice and had a very successful solo career. Vince formed the Assembly, who had a one-off hit with the Feargal Sharkey-voiced ‘Never Never,’ before forming Erasure with Andy Bell. And people still kept comparing Andy Bell to Alison for many years after. Now Yazoo have reformed for live dates, but what’s impressive is that they are not on the chicken in a bsket circuit, but playing huge venues both in Europe and the US. They are recognised as pioneers, not as musicians desperate for a comeback at any price, and that’s exactly how it should be.

It’s worth bearing in mind also that Upstairs At Eric’s predates New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies and The Cure’s singles like ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ and ‘The Walk.’ And also that Goldfrapp are signed to Mute. And that you can hear so much of the sound that Yazoo pioneered in so many places in 2008, LCD Soundsystem, Hercules and Love Affair, MGMT…

I was genuinely excited when Mute sent me this box set to review. But on the quality of these discs, I would have happily bought it. If you love dance or electronic music, hear the roots of it here. On the evidence of this, Yazoo were amongst the people who blazed the trail for many who followed.


These remixes appear on Yazoo’s official page. You need to hear them.

Yazoo – ‘ I before E Except After C (2 3 remix by Subway Collective).’ mp3

Yazoo -‘Nobody’s Diary (Origin Of Essex remix).’ mp3

Yazoo -‘Ode To Boy (Ama das shadow remix).’ mp3

Yazoo -‘Winter Kills (Electronic Periodics dub mix).’ mp3

Yazoo’s official website (loads more music here)/Yazoo mySpace/more links here

Peel Slowly and see

Ah the legendary Mr. Peel. Famous quotes (many more of which can be found here
Peel’s compering debut on TOTP: “In case you’re wondering who this funny old bloke is, I’m the one who comes on Radio 1 late at night and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students in basements dying of TB.”

And of course, his comment about Aretha Franklin’s duet with George Michael ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’:”You know, Aretha Franklin can make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just has.”

First up, from one of the greatest travelling albums of all time, Big Science, Laurie Anderson’s deeply spooky ‘O superman’
Laurie Anderson -‘O Superman.’ mp3 (1981 Festive Fifty no.34)

The Wedding Present had 47 entries in the various Festive Fifties between 1986 and 2004, including two entries in the millennium Festive Fifty as well as doing nine sessions. David Gedge’s other band, Cinerama had 13 entries in the Festive Fifty, and did ten Peel sessions. (When I have more time on my hands I will work out who did best out of David Gedge, Morrissey and Mark E. Smith)

Cinerama -‘King’s Cross.’ mp3 (1999 Festive Fifty no.18)

Throughout 2004, it was clear that Bloc Party were very definitely gathering pace, and they had three entries in the final ever Festive Fifty, including this:

Bloc Party -‘Little Thoughts.’ mp3 (2004 Festive Fifty no.44)

The stranglers were accused of being bandwagon jumpers during punk, Johnny Rotten labelling them short-haired hippies, but they did have some fantastic songs. Best of all was this:
The Stranglers -No More Heroes (1978 Festive Fifty no.33, 1979 Festive Fifty no.45, 1980 Festive Fifty no.58)

My all-time favourite single by The Jam:

The Jam-‘Strange Town.’ mp3 (1979 Festive Fifty no.27)

And a handful you might be a little surprised to see made the Festive Fifty. After all, weren’t they a little, y’know, poppy? What the hell, I think they’re great tracks and so did many of his listeners, evidently:

It’s easy to heap scorn on Gary Numan/Tubeway army, due to his sheer …what?, but he is slowly becoming critically rehabilitated over the advancing years, and this is a stellar track.

Tubeway Army – ‘Are Friends Electric?’ mp3 (1979 Festive Fifty no.39)

According to the website, Depeche Mode never did any sessions for Peel, nor had any entries in the Festive Fifty (nor did Erasure,, for that matter), but Vince Clark did score with two of his other, less-long lasting projects. The first ended up being a one-off, featuring none other than Fergal Sharkey on vocals (the Undertones had split up a few months previously)

Assembly -‘Never Never.’ mp3 (1983 Festive Fifty no.23)

…then the two albums only project that was Vince and none other than Alison Moyet.

Yazoo -‘Don’t Go.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.60)

Is this a guilty pleasure? Oh, whatever. I’m not the only one.

Blancmange -‘Living On The Ceiling.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.34)

This was the only entry Tears For Fears had, in those hallowed days of ‘new pop.’ It is a fantastic tune, and seems to have actually dated quite well, IMHO.

Tears For Fears -‘Mad World.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.5)

This is my 35th post this month, or something BTW. Hope you are enjoying them. Please leave feedback, I don’t bite!

Another Festive Fifty themed post

What can I say? It was just such fun (if bloody time consuming) doing yesterday’s Peel-related Post here that I thought I’d do something similar again…In the process, I have realised that a great number of these come from 1982, confirming my belief that 1977-1982 was the greatest era ever, for music. Followed by 2001-2008, obviously).

First up, Pete Wylie under various guises had several entries in the Festive Fifty, here are two of my favourites. It’s sometimes hard trying to work out what was Wah!, Mighty Wah! or Wah! Heat (or Shambeko Say Wah! for that matter, but I think these were both as the Mighty Wah! That is what the CDs say, anyway)

Mighty Wah! -‘Come Back.’ mp3

Mighty Wah! -‘The Story Of The Blues.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty, No.7)*

The song Shipbuilding was written by Elvis Costello in 1982, about the Falklands War and Robert Wyatt recorded it first, nearly topping the Festive Fifty in 1982. Elvis Costello recorded his own version for Punch The Clock in 1983. Both versions are fantastic, Wyatt’s version and piano are gorgeous, though Costello’s version is great too, and features Chet Baker on trumpet.

Robert Wyatt -‘Shipbuilding.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty, No.2)

Elvis Costello -‘Shipbuilding.’ mp3 (1983 Festive Fifty, No.48)

And in different guises, Coventry also had a fair amount to say about social issues of the time, both at home and abroad.

The Specials -‘Ghost Town.’ mp3 (1981 festive Fifty No.21)

The Special AKA -‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ mp3 (1984 Festive Fifty No.41

As ‘New pop’ replaced or post-punk evolved, depending on your point of view, there were certainly many bands who were commercially successful on in both the charts and the festive fifty (even Frankie Goes to Hollywood made the Festive Fifty in 1984, with their nine-weeks-at-the-top-of-the-proper-charts Two Tribes). Though Peel bemoaned on his 1994 Festive Fifty that some of the records had made the chart, and where had he gone wrong, it’s probably fair to assume he had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. These are both from 1982:

Yazoo – ‘Only You.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty No.12)

Associates -‘Party Fears Two.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty No.14)

Peel also played Hip-Hop when no-one else on Radio 1 was doing so (Peter Powell reportedly once told him that he shouldn’t on the grounds that Hip-Hop was the music of Black hooligans, allegedly).

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five -‘The Message.’ mp3 (1982 Festive Fifty no.3)

Erik B & Rakim -‘Paid In Full.’ mp3 (1987 Festive Fifty no.27)

* There are several different versions of this track in existence, including the Parts 1&2 version that Peel played on one of his last ever broadcasts in 2004. I have put the ‘Part 1’ version here.