Genesis - And Then There Were Three
My brother Leslie tragically died in a motorcycle accident in July 1978 when he was only 20 years old. Every time I tiptoed past his room that summer two great records blared out from his darkened room, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the recently released And Then There Were Three by Genesis, its playing usually accompanied by my one-legged, WW2 veteran father bellowing “turn that bloody racket down!”. (He was more of a Frank Sinatra man). I was 13 going on 14 with only a cursory awareness of music yet now suddenly found myself in possession of, amongst other things, my brother’s room, his denim jacket, his posh watch (a 21st birthday present) and his eclectic record collection. Now, 13 going on 14 is that funny age. Hormones suddenly appear, feelings are peculiar, reactions are intense. Interests become obsessions and music suddenly became deeply, desperately important to me. And in the 1970’s, the kind of music you liked actually defined the kind of cool kid you were. Only Genesis weren’t very cool. Luckily, neither was I. Your first record, like your first love, is something very special. I have a deep emotional connection to And Then There Were Three. It’s the first album that I really, really got into, my first record from the first band that I obsessively collected. I know every word, every nuance, every majestic vibe of this wonderfully wintery, night timey album with its wistful blend of power and melody. It genuinely never sounds dated to me, but it is a deeply moving time machine which transports me effortlessly to 1978 and to the memory of my big brother.
10,000 Maniacs - In My Tribe
There are, apparently, 42 individual muscles in the human face. It’s amazing what can be conveyed by even the merest twitch. My wife and I were in Dublin for a weekend treat, staying at a cool city centre hotel. So, it turned out, was the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, she of the truly mellifluous voice, Natalie Merchant. I know this because of the breakfast buffet. Our eyes met briefly across the sausages. Our faces twitched imperceptibly. My eyes twitched even more. They said “Hello! Can I come and chat?” Hers replied, quite firmly, “stay away from me you weirdo”. Still, I love Natalie. I love her voice and I love this band. Our Time in Eden is very good. So is Blind Man’s Zoo but In My Tribe, from 1987 is, by a whisker, their best. It is a brilliant, atmospheric, insanely melodic record stuffed full of perceptive lyrical references and wonderfully diverse music, all packaged within an arty, enigmatic cover. On the face of it I would have to concede that the subject matter is not perhaps entirely ideal for a great album. What’s the Matter Here? tackles the thorny issue of child abuse, Cherry Tree is a lovely little ditty about dyslexia, and Don’t Talk tackles alcoholism but within a slowly building, driving energy eventually released by a stunning guitar outro. Michael Stipe makes a wee guest appearance, and everything is evocatively concluded by the hauntingly beautiful lilt of Verdi Cries, a little mini masterpiece in its own right. To be purchased immediately.
The Delgados - The Great Eastern
Sometimes magic emerges from somewhere wholly unexpected. In this case, Motherwell, home of the magnificent Delgados. With this, their third album, the magic begins with another enigmatic cover, a kind of weird, slightly spooky image of a wee moth/fairy person, oddly evocative of the music lurking within. The Great Eastern, a Mercury prize nominee from the year 2000, is an artful, intelligent record from an Indie band that should justifiably have been one of the very biggest on the planet. A random record shop discovery, this is an album that grabs you from the very first play. Its highly eclectic blend of songs shouldn’t really work, but it certainly does, and then some. The tracks possess a kind of coherent diversity, a random precision punctuated by the twin voices of Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward which all add up to an enthralling, captivating whole. The sheer variety of this album’s magical music is lovely. And the equal presence of both male and female voices works really well delivering direct, powerful pieces like Accused of Stealing as well as multi-layered symphonic treats like Aye Today, a belter of a tune that builds up, layer by gorgeous layer, to a truly blissful sonic climax. What a memorable collection of 10 great songs. I bet the cool kids listened to this.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers – By the Way
Overall, I don’t really like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I mean, I’ve tried. Everyone seems to rave about Californication, and, well, it is pretty good. Stadium Arcadium maybe not so much; it’s a bit overblown, and their earlier stuff is a bit too funky for me. But, their 8th album, By the Way is just, well, amazing. Magnificent. Marvellous. And if Clint put his 44 Magnum to my head, I may even have to concede that this is (possibly) my all-time favourite album. U2 may have a superior overall catalogue with at least two, possibly three masterpieces, but they’ve never pulled off a masterpiece as good as this one. By The Way stands out from the wider Chilli Pepper’s catalogue because it wholeheartedly embraces that elusive thing that most great songs, and most great records almost universally contain – melody. Tunes. Earworms. And they’re here in joyful abundance. John Frusciante’s riffs and harmonising vocals here bring enormous subtlety and depth to Anthony Kiedis’s alliterative lyrics and to the band’s enormously rich overall sound. Its 16 tracks add up to over 68 minutes and contain not one ounce of fluffy filler. There are so many good songs. Universally Speaking, Can’t Stop, Tear and the truly magnificent closer, Venice Queen, to name but four. A record to be equally enjoyed in the car, or in a darkened room, with or without your top on.
3hattrio - Lord of the Desert
Our wee village in Ayrshire has a wee village hall. Like many other villages, before the pandemic, bands used to come to play in our town, and some of this grass roots music, played by unknown, occasionally international bands, was often surprisingly terrific. So it was with 3hattrio, three cool dudes all the way from Zion Canyon in Utah playing what they christened American desert music. Or, to put it another way, expansive, cinematic, widescreen joy, with a dash of gravelly Johnny Cash; it’s wonderful stuff. The band is composed of two older guys called Hal and Greg, and one younger guy called Eli. They have beards, two of them. They wear hats, three of them, and very artfully too. After the gig, the band stayed with us and our neighbours for one night only and were lovely, interesting people to chat to. It transpired that they had missed out on the chance of performing in the desert with Sting, all to tour small venues in Scotland. Oops. If that bothered them, they certainly didn’t show it, and Sting’s loss was very much our gain. It also turned out that Hal is a direct descendant of the strikingly hirsute Brigham Young, one of the founding fathers of the Mormons. This was oddly impressive until I later discovered that the bold Brigham had had at least 55 wives and 56 children; clearly a busy chap. The creative music of his great grandson and his two pals is very special, and it really is genuinely bewildering how these three guys produce music of such beguiling grandeur from so few instruments. Lord of the Desert is a brilliant example of their craft. Seek it out, you’ll love it.
Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain
There have been so many great Scottish bands, haven’t there? The sublime melancholic beauty of the Blue Nile, the great vibe of Deacon Blue. And what about The Big Dish? Or Del Amitri? I don’t think Justin Currie has ever written a bad song. And when at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s, I modelled my look, such as it was, on that adopted Scot, Lloyd Cole, with his fabulous floppy quiff, albeit his slightly fatter, slightly less good-looking wee brother. Rattlesnakes remains a firm favourite to this day. But High Land, Hard Rain is the one for me, a deeply satisfying album of self-evident joy, a work of undisputed brilliance from a young band fronted by a ridiculously talented 18-year-old kid. Roddy Frame is a virtuoso guitarist and a properly gifted songwriter, and some of these works of art were composed when he was only 15 years old. Roddy must surely have been the coolest kid in school (probably not a Genesis fan). Many years later, with the Art School firmly in the rear-view mirror, I attended a Roddy Frame performance in Glasgow where he celebrated the 30th anniversary of this, his debut album. I can honestly say I have never been to a gig where the artist was so clearly enjoying himself whilst also simultaneously creating so much joy for others, smiling away like King Kenny scoring one of his great goals. The connection with his audience was beautiful as he effortlessly played his way through such timeless classics as Oblivious, We Could Send Letters, Pillar to Post and Release. This record is a delight, from start to finish.
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
From one musical genius to another. Wasn’t David Bowie just amazing? What a brilliant, clever person. And what a brilliant 1970’s. Hunky Dory in 1971 to Scary Monsters in 1980 is, for the most part, a run of fabulously good records. The impossibly cool clothes and haircuts weren’t at all bad either. David’s barnet on this album was the long, blond ethereal version, the one before the disconcertingly cool red mullet of Ziggy Stardust. It’s maybe not one of his edgier quiffs (not quite Mr Cole) but the music within is undeniably wonderful, arguably the best of a remarkable body of deeply creative and original work positively littered with great songs. Ultimately, what Bowie album you like just depends on your mood, but the beautifully eclectic Hunky Dory is the one that does it for me. With cherries on top. It has a bit of everything. The poetic power of Life on Mars, the singalong sweetness of Kooks, the rather naughty stomp of the delightful Queen Bitch and the enigmatic, otherworldly brilliance of The Bewley Brothers, a serious contender for Mr Bowie’s greatest ever song.
Genesis - Seconds Out
Oh no! More prog? Yes, I’m afraid so. And another Genesis one to boot. Bowie may have had a great 1970’s run but, believe it or not, so did Genesis. 1971’s Nursery Cryme to 1980’s Duke is a sequence of eight studio albums and two live albums which is, quite frankly, without equal in the rock genre. The sheer diversity of these albums is truly remarkable, the band taking just under five years to travel from the 23-minute pinnacle of prog, Supper’s Ready, to the perfect pop of the four-minute Follow You Follow Me. Like Bowie, they weren't afraid of changing, of trying new things, of progressing, even if that didn’t always work out. Consequently, their output after 1980 does get undeniably patchy (although, ironically, more commercially successful) but, then again, so did Bowie’s. Nobody’s perfect. So, if following an unexpected bang to the head, you suddenly find yourself inexplicably keen to hear some great Genesis stuff well this is a wonderful place to start. Seconds Out captures the band at the peak of their jaw-dropping powers in 1977, just around the time they were supposed to have been swept away by the punk revolution. Trouble is, I’m not sure they even noticed. They just kept touring the world to increasingly larger crowds. This is a peerless live album played by a group of 27-year-old master musicians whose sublime facility with their own individual instruments never once gets in the way of servicing the glorious music they are collectively performing. The drumming is, in particular, quite astonishing. No wonder Taylor Hawkins considered this record to be his “drum bible”. Highlights include Firth of Fifth with the soaring grandeur of its graceful guitar solo, the hard rock of the Musical Box’s closing section and the definitive rendition of the epic Supper’s Ready with its elegiac, majestic finale. The Cinema Show features a blow-your-trousers off four-minute keyboard solo backed by a pulsating, driving rhythm and everything is rounded off splendidly by the utterly magnificent jazz fusion instrumental Los Endos. I really can’t think of a single punk record that matches the raw, visceral power of this great track; its climax is, my dahlings, as close to a musical orgasm that you will find. Judging by their ecstatic reaction, it sounds like the bonkers Parisian crowd agreed. To be played at maximum volume.
As a wee coda to this, I first saw Genesis live at Wembley Arena in 1981. If you don't count Sidney Devine (to whom I was taken under duress) then that was my first proper concert. I thought the gig was so spectacularly good I was almost in tears. My big sister (attending under duress) thought they were terrible, but there you go, that's the thing about music, isn't it? We're all different. There's something for everyone, so much out there for us all to enjoy. And that, after all, is why we love it.
Kevin Cooper is an award-winning architect based in Glasgow. At 56, he is getting on a bit now. His grown-up children have flown the nest but thankfully his wife Cathy still lives with him, and a large grey cat. He quite likes golf, but don’t let that put you off; he loves reading, drawing and music too.
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