Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Seven Songs in Seven Days

My friend Steve Couch nominated me to have a go at the seven songs music challenge. The idea is to post about seven songs that mean something to me, one a day for seven days. So here we go:

Day 1

Nutbush City Limits - Ike and Tina Turner

In 1973 the current Mrs Tilley and I were in the early stages of lifelong commitment. We had a conversation in a pub - 'The Nelson' in central Birmingham, great toasties and not yet a gay bar - about how couples had an 'Our tune' based on an item on Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates' show. We then noticed that Ike and Tina Turner's 'Nutbush City Limits' was on the jukebox; not for the first time that lunchtime.

It transpired that over a day of radio listening, TV watching, pub-going and Aston University Student Union disco visiting, we heard that tune no less than seven times.

And so, in a way that demonstrates how we manage to continue to be together 42 years later, we both hate it and see it as our theme song, exchanging knowing glances whenever it comes on. I don't think we own a copy.

By the way I am not the sort of person who uses Facebook to nominate. Some of my friends may find this interesting so just pick up the baton.

Day 2

Arc of a Diver - Steve Winwood

I am old enough to remember when radio alarm clocks were a new thing. We bought one from a colleague at work who was selling a job lot. Nothing iffy. He was a bit of a spiv but not a crook.

It didn't have a seven day setting so we had to remember to turn if off for weekends. The first Saturday I was woken unexpectedly at 6.45 a.m was saved from being a disaster by Stevie Winwood's new single, the title track from his second solo album Arc of a Diver.

We left the clock on for the duration of the song.

I didn't know at the time that the synth sound was generated by a Roland SH101 - a simple monosynth for playing lead lines - two years later I owned one. So I knew what had gone wrong when Winwood put his mandolin down on it at a live gig and accidentally pressed the inappropriately positioned on/off switch. I shouted but he didn't hear me.

Day 3

Stay with Me - The Faces

In 1972 Rod Stewart and the Faces were at the height of their powers. Rod had already been around the block a bit but Maggie May had brought him to popular acclaim in the UK. I had never been a huge fan but was a sucker for a big guitar riff. Stay With Me had such riffage and was a pretty long intro to that great one night stand lyric:

In the morning
Don't say you love me
Cos I'll only kick you out of the door.

I spent my 17th birthday in 1972 at the Great Western Express Festival at Bardney, Lincs. The Faces were headlining the third night but I was exhausted and had gone to bed. Dropping off I was aware of the excitement building for the main act (there had been a long wait). Plugging in (you had to in those days) the great Ron Wood chopped the opening chords of an extended extended opening to Stay With Me. I changed my mind.

By the time I got out of bed Rod had reached the centre of the stage and I was dressed again and ready before he uttered the first line. Great gig.

Day 4

The World Has a Heart Too - Dan Reed Network

Not quite sure how the Dan Reed Network entered my life. They weren't there for long but, not long after arriving in Chester-le-Street in 1988, I was the owner of their first album. I am pretty sure I had bought it on a whim based on a review.

I love the moment you place the needle on a record you believe might be good. Will the first track on side 1 (remember those) deliver the promise of the sleeve (remember those?) and how soon will you know?

After a pumping electronica bass and a bit of spoken vocal (rather than rap) Dan Reed's first question, 'Do you wanna stay alive?' is over in 1 minute 17 seconds. Followed by:

Class, class
Can I have your attention please
Thank you

And we're off on track two with keys and singing.

I sang along to the album that followed all the time in the north-east that my car radio/cassette hadn't been stolen.

One hugely sweaty night at Newcastle Riverside in 1990 was the only time I saw this short-lived but incredibly tight band live.

I just burnt the toast listening to it again.

Day 5

Safe from Harm - Massive Attack

In the days before I knew what trip-hop was, and not long after a period in which there were only two types of music, rock and roll, I was listening to the radio in the kitchen. Chester-le-Street would have been our home still.

And I heard this tune, Safe from Harm. A growling bass line, an undercurrent of synthy strings, and a beautiful soul voice with a great melody.

This was my introduction to Massive Attack. I don't think there was the album Blue Lines yet. So I bought a seven inch vinyl single version which I played constantly. It's never quite been on my desert island discs list but it has bubbled under for the last 25 years or so. And it has been a go-to cheerer-upper ever since. It may even have been part of the package that convinced me Bristol was a place I would like to live and work one day.

And it heralded the beginning of the career of a game-changing band who were never quite boxable in terms of genre.

Day 6

Drummer Man - Tonight

Does anyone really have any idea why your favourite record of all-time becomes your favourite record of all time? Me neither.

This is my number one desert island disc. Part of this, for me, is that nobody else would take it. I like that this is my favourite. Mine and no-one else's. In passing I can tell you that my favourite album of all time is Sunshine by Sunshine from the early seventies and not a single track on it is in my top twenty favourite tracks. It is an album, and works as such.

So Drummer Man. Hmm. It is often noted that the punk revolution gave an opportunity for street music, kids who could shout and knew three guitar chords. But many of the people who embraced the genre turned out to be excellent musicians.

A side effect was that several years of over-produced pop were jolted back to a simplicity of song-writing; enter Tonight.

One hit wonders but a perfectly-crafted three minutes - chorus, verse, chorus, verse, instrumental break, verse, chorus, fade. It has chopped rock guitar chords, a cow bell and laughter off. Find it on YouTube with Peter Powell on Top of the Pops from 1978. Music by numbers is fine as long as you colour in the right bits.

Day 7

One of These Days - Ten Years After

I have realised that I could write a short piece a day for far more than seven records. This has led to a dilemma as to what to do seventh and finally.

There are a number of new tunes I would like to include but it feels that the ones that have lived with me half my life plus mean more than the recent ones. So, no appearances by Radiohead, The Shins, The Alabama 3 or Faithless to name but four I could write about.

So we go back to Autumn 1971. My first gig (apart from a few 'shows' which included groups in the sixties with my parents) was Ten Years After at Birmingham Town Hall. Support was an excellent singer/songwriter called Keith Christmas. Second support was a band called Supertramp (before their 'Crime of the Century' reinvention) touring their album Indelibly Stamped. It had a pair of tattood breasts on the cover. No idea why I recall that.

After the second break TYA lead singer and virtuoso guitarist Alvin Lee (RIP) walked to the centre of the stage and, without word of introduction, sang the first line, which was effectively a capella over a simple hi-hat beat:

One these days boy...

(The more he performed a number the more words Lee missed out. The encore 'I'm Going Home' consisted largely of monosyllabic grunts.)

Followed by a moment that established for ever for me the thrill of live rock and roll.


A single, fedback, reverbed guitar chord that made you wonder if the ornate plaster work at the Town Hall would survive. A music journalist later described such a sound as like scaffolding poles being dropped. True.

Gonna see my baby...


Gonna see my baby...


Come down road...

Ka-bow bow chaaaang!

Ever since then Ka-bow bow chaaaang! by countless others has kept me good company, in many forms and on many dark nights of the soul. I am grateful beyond measure.

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