Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Ten: Adam Walton's favourite musical things

Adam Walton would ideally need no introduction to anyone but shouldn't anyway to Welsh music fans, given he's been BBC Radio Wales' arbiter of new music since 1993, promoting a horde of talent along the way, currently on Saturday nights 10pm-1am. STN readers will know we've always have a particular yen for Welsh bands for whatever reason, and we've picked up on a few bands from him - plus he played tracks from our compilations on his show, so we couldn't not get him on here in some way eventually.

It's all the more relevant right now as he's just released On Making Music, a pay-what-you-like ebook that acts as a helpful guide, handy philosophy and general inspiration to people who want their music to be heard - how to write, perform, play, promote, release... the lot, taken from someone who's not only been there as a touring musician in his pre-radio career but has heard enough of it to know what stands out. As backup, a litany of quotes from interviews he's conducted in his career with the likes of David Gedge, Elliott Smith, Frank Black, Gruff Rhys, Huw Stephens, Ian Brown, Jarvis Cocker, Liam Gallagher, Martin Carr, Neil Innes, Ray Davies, Tom Robinson... and that's just the family favourites (I could continue, and will - Andrew Falkous, Colin Newman of Wire, svengali Kim Fowley, veteran producer Clive Langer, the Joy Formidable, Kristin Hersh, Mark Daman Thomas of Islet/Shape, Manda Rin of Bis, Paul Draper of Mansun, Stephen Bass from Moshi Moshi... you get the picture) It's a genuinely intelligent and fascinating read. So, here Walton is telling us his ten favourite things:

My Spanish guitar
I could pretend it was a Fender Jaguar, having fallen for You Made Me Realise when I was 16. But it wasn’t. Cool wasn’t something you worried about too much, growing up in a tiny Welsh village in the 70’s and 80’s.

I was weaned, musically, on my dad’s records, Terry Wogan and Top of the Pops. I taped the Top 40 every Sunday evening, adding Star Wars sound effects and idiot kid voiceovers via my dad’s Woolies mic. Yes, I’m still doing that now. I’ve evolved very little in the last 36 years.

There was a bugle in the front-room that belonged to my granddad Walton. He’d fanfared for the Raj in India prior to the Second World War. Then he’d come back to Chester and returned to being a lowly street sweeper. My dad must have heard something in that bugle because he learnt trumpet when he was a kid, but either got kicked out of trumpet school for trying to get the band to play jazz and early rock ’n’ roll instead of the martial music they were supposed to be making or because he swapped his trumpet for a motorbike. The details aren’t clear. There was definitely subversion in my genes, but mine manifested itself through a love of Classical Guitar. This was a subversive move in 1981, trust me.

A kid in my year, Graham Anthony Devine, was a musical prodigy. I heard him playing the guitar on a school break at a Welsh language training camp in Bala, and my whole world changed. I hadn’t connected the wonders of music to fingers and thumbs. I had fingers and thumbs! I badgered the heck out of my mum and dad until they bought me a guitar to put inside them.

Still playing now.

However shitly.

Other than my daughter, it’s the greatest gift I was ever given. And I don’t have to give it pocket money or pick it up from One Direction concerts.

My mum & dad’s records
There were hundreds of records in my mum and dad’s front-room. Sadly a high proportion of them were by Bob Dylan. Not only that, which was torture enough for my seven year old ears, but the ones I remember being on the stereo the most were all the ones usually regarded as being Bob’s weakest, Saved and Slow Train Coming. Whiny-voiced evangelism with my Sunday tea. Not great for the digestion. I like them now, of course. And I had free reign to listen to all the other records in the piles leaning against the wall: Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison.

I developed an unhealthy, and very unsexy, fascination for Dire Straits when I was 11 or 12. It coincided with me learning pentatonic blues scales on my guitar. I hate to think about the musical crimes I committed, soloing endlessly over Telegraph Road.

The motherlode, though, was my mum and dad’s carrier bag of 7” singles: Little Richard, The Marvelettes, The Animals, Ray Charles, Booker T & the MG’s, Lloyd Price... half the covers were missing, some looked like they’d been scratched by Velociraptors looking for a vinyl tree trunk to sharpen their claws on. They were buggered, basically, but they all played. These phenomenally exciting sounds would emerge from the hiss and crackle like commandments - these were commandments of sex and melody from an exciting world that was light years removed from the cows farting in the fields around our house.

Someone left that carrier bag of 7”s next to a radiator. They all warped and died. Otherwise they’d be my family’s greatest heirlooms, as far as I’m concerned.

In amongst the albums and the singles was, pretty much, a complete pre-1966 collection of recordings by a beat combo from Liverpool called...

The Beatles
I remember having Beatles face-offs in the primary school playground with Simon Penketh, seeing who could remember the most lyrics from the most obscure Beatles songs. We’d have been about seven then. The Blue Album was always in my dad’s car stereo. Long, mysterious, mizzly drives through Snowdonia soundtracked by I Am The Walrus and Fool On The Hill, or middle of the night hauls up to Scotland or down to Cornwall with Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane filling the sleepy void. It was a remarkable way to stoke a musical imagination.

People rarely write about the atmosphere of the 1965-68 period Beatles recordings. Every other aspect of their music has been written about or analysed to the nth degree and, to a certain extent, had the magic and the wonder annotated and highlighted to the point of making them perfunctory. But the atmosphere remains elusive, sacrosanct, and difficult to capture in words. Thank God for that. Because it’s high magic and shouldn’t be fucked with.

John Lennon died when I was nine. They showed Help! on the telly and grainy pictures of thousands of people with candles and photographs in New York and Liverpool. I remember thinking Lennon looked a bit angry in those pictures, for a man who banged on a lot about peace and love. But that contradiction was what made him, especially, fascinating.

But it was (mostly) McCartney’s songs that I loved when I was a kid. Melodies like panchromatic mushroom clouds. In the initial flash of a hundred megaton McCartney melody blast, the tune would be seared irrevocably in your brain, with a half life of forever.

I get people who don’t like The Beatles. I love music that has managed to evolve without influence, or taint, from their dizzyingly fecund DNA. But I adore The Beatles. I want them playing on my deathbed, please. Or Disintegration by The Cure. Or Welcome To The Pleasuredome. Or Mwng. Or mclusky do dallas. Or any Stereolab... or... or...

Northern Soul
I don’t really know anything about Northern Soul (capital ’N’, capital ’S’). I’m the world’s worst dilettante when it comes to anything scene-y. I’ve never been to a Northern Soul night, for example. I went through Wigan once, after getting lost in St Helens, but I think I was looking for someone to repair my amp so that I could play Pixies riffs through it at a volume that would have emulsified Edwin Starr. I’ve never really been big on context or story, with regards music. It has always been about the song. I never pored over sleeve notes. I muddle names up in my head like a database on a US military LSD experiment. But I remember sounds. I know that when I hear the horns on Darrell Banks’ version of Angel Baby, I feel superhuman, like whatever trials life throws in my path, I can leap over them with joy writ large on my Weeble face, then fall back on my hands and flip myself back up in one motion, a spring-loaded, shaggy-haired gazelle of a man. The best music can fill us with such delusions. It’s amazing!

All of my favourite records, that happen to fall under the banner of Northern Soul, have this effect on me. Yvonne Baker’s You Didn’t Say A Word; N.F. Porter’s Keep On Keeping On; Don Gardner’s My Baby Likes To Boogaloo; The Elgin’s Heaven Must Have Sent You...

And Northern Soul is such a broad banner. It’s a genreless genre, in some respects. And it appeals to my collecting instincts… there’s a near infinite amount of remarkable 7” singles out there to burn my money on. It’s most gratifying and a joy on those rare occasions when I’m DJing and a some Northern Soul kids happen to be there, and dance in that liberated, joyful, unselfconscious way that is the most perfect synthesis of music and movement, as far as I’m concerned.

Makes up for Muse - and that’s saying something.

My best friend is an Apple unzealot. He’ll be bridling, should he read this. I understand that the notion of ‘free’ software on a (for many) prohibitively expensive platform is oxymoronic. GarageBand isn’t really free. I ditched my iPhone earlier this year because I was sick of the restrictions of the platform and I’m planning to migrate away from Apple the next time I upgrade my computer because the operating system has become progressively less intuitive over its last few iterations. I do a lot of searching on iTunes. Searching on iTunes has become a major, major ballache. It’s slow and awkward. I hate it and Apple’s aloof assumption that I want a £2000 computer that behaves exactly like a £500 smartphone.

So I’m not a fanboy. Not any more.

However GarageBand is genius and has enabled so many people to make and record their music more easily. It has been revolutionary. I know this as someone who listens to thousands of demos every year. I have also had an incredible amount of fun making and recording my own music using GarageBand. I hadn’t written a song for twenty years - that’s what I used to do for a living. It enabled me to rediscover my love of writing and making music and I am very very grateful.

You can be grateful too, because you’ll never have to hear it.

Telford’s Warehouse, Chester
When I was in a band from Mold, it felt like there was nowhere at all to play in north-east Wales and the borderlands. But there were places: Sureways in Mold (a gym with a bar); The Tivoli in Buckley (where I saw most of my formative gigs - particularly happy memories of The Darling Buds, The Real People, Cud and Oasis), The Bistro in Rhyl and Telford’s Warehouse in Chester.

Telford’s became our spiritual home. For a start, it was (and is) very nice. I’d already spent too much of my university life in filthy rat-traps in Liverpool, places like Planet X and Casablancas. Telfords felt like an airy, wooden-beamed paradise in comparison. There was exponentially less chance to catch hepatitis if you went for a piss. A major selling point.

We’d have played there first in 1993 or ’94, hoiking our own particular brand of bombastic Britpop-ish to a surprisingly receptive audience. The problem was that Telford’s was so nice compared to every other venue in Christendom that we didn’t really want to play anywhere else. So we didn’t. And we withered on a Guinness-fuelled vine.

The highlights included Mansun inviting us to support them at the launch for Attack of the Grey Lantern on the Isle of Man. Apparently Paul used to come and watch us regularly. I wish I’d known that at the time. I was angry with the world for not liking us enough. That would have made a difference.

Another highlight was me telling some fat bloke in pyjamas that if he couldn’t keep up with us (he was trying to play along on guitar - I believe they call it ‘jamming’) he should just fuck off the stage... that was John Martyn, ladies and gentlemen - my proudest moment.

My band split up in 1996. In 1997 I badgered the owner into letting me book a band (Grand Drive). Then I badgered him to let me DJ on the night, and I’ve been DJing there ever since. Telfords is a strange place to DJ. You can’t get too up your own arse on a Friday night in Telfords. Go with the intention of treating the audience to your prized collection of incredibly rare Northern Soul singles, and your hubris will be pricked within moments by someone asking for The Killers, or One Direction, or calling you a “twat” for not having any Usher. It can be a bit of a tussle. But anywhere that gives you the freedom to play Wire, NWA, The Pooh Sticks, Joni Mitchell and The Sonics is amazing, right? I DJ there the second and fourth Friday of the month. Do come along! Just don’t ask for Usher.

We’ll save the me-putting-mclusky-on-to-an-audience-of-bankers story for another day. If you meet me, ask me. It’s a good story.

In more recent years, I’ve been promoting in Telfords under the guise of Crackling Vinyl. I’ve brought Cate Le Bon, Sweet Baboo, Katell Keineg, Euros Childs, Gulp and many others to the city for the first time, while my mates and I played ace records. I’m hoping to start those nights again in the Autumn. If you want to play, they’re great nights, give me a shout.

Rich Holland’s Compilation Tapes
Jesus. Look how much I’ve already written!

Rich Holland lived on Water Street in Mold. When we were music-making young adults, full of spunk, questionable sonics and ill-fated musical dreams, we’d tumble out of the pub on a Friday night, dodge running battles with the local yobs, and retire to Rich’s front-room for a few hours of psychedelic fun amongst his records. He had lots of records.

He made compilation tapes for us that were my main musical touch paper. Tapes with King Crimson, The Zombies, Lush, Julian Cope, XTC, Love, The Turtles, Jethro Tull, The Undertones, The Beach Boys, The Stranglers, Dave Brubeck, Fleetwood Mac and The Small Faces on. They were brilliant. Every radio show, every DJ set, I’ve ever done has been coloured by the adventure in those compilation tapes.

Welsh Music
My route into radio was pretty non-standard. Someone pointed a local radio personality out to me in our Mold drinking hole (Y Delyn) and I harangued him and his station for not supporting the local scene. A week later they called me and asked me to do a pilot for a radio show that would support the local scene. If only everything in my life had come so literally from me opening my fat gob.

I’ve never felt comfortable, in the twenty-plus years I’ve been making radio shows, with the notion of grouping music together and elevating it just because of where it came from. However, that’s my remit. What I’ve tried to do, and succeeded I think, is to only play things because they’re good and interesting, with their geographical location being very much a secondary concern.

I love what I do. I adore the vast majority of what I play.

I shan’t list names. Sometimes, when radio people talk about their shows, you’d think they were a combination of Magellan and Genghis Khan, “discovering” this and “exclusive-ing” that. As a breed, we can come across a bit like needy dogs with bladder infections and an insecurity complex about the size of the territory we feel we need to mark. Not interested in that. And that doesn’t do me any favours.

Future of the Left/mclusky
The fact that radio serves this most brilliant of bands so badly is a black mark on radio. It used to be that radio was sausage meat and you could at least identify the bits of gristle, mulched bone, trotter and occasional, sweetening herb. Nowadays it’s a smooth, smooth paste. God knows what’s in it: Simon Cowell’s entrepreneurial ego shat through a couple of dozen focus groups and panels counting YouTube views?

This lot make music that makes my brain beat faster and my heart hum.

The Joy Formidable
The fact that radio serves this most brilliant of bands so badly is a skidmark visible through its otherwise pristine white jeans. It used to be that radio was like Sesame Street - lots of colour and characters jostling next to each other, with good intentions at its heart. Some of the characters would drive you insensate with rage… The Count!! Too Many O’s there, mate! Some would fill you with joy: ah, Mr Snuffleupacus... or however you spell it.

Can’t have anyone turning off if they don’t like The Count, though. Or can’t get their head around Mr Snuffelupacous’ name… far too long, that name. Shouldn’t be any longer than three minutes, where’s the chorus? Has he been on reality TV? How many YouTube views does he have?

This lot make music that makes my heart beat faster and my brain hum.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Magnificent stuff! Very keen to hear that Mclusky story.