The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed

Not a review of the new X-Men movie, starring Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy as Professor X and Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender as Magneto; instead the 1967 concept album The Moody Blues did with the London Festival Orchestra.

See? Its not a superhero movie after all!
See? Its not a superhero movie after all!

My father had this album among others and I wish I’d grabbed the collection before they got rid of it when they moved to Sunny Queensland. (Interestingly I don’t remember similar albums though, Tommy or Sergeant Pepper?). I can remember hearing Days of Future Passed on our HMV record player back in England. It’s the album that gave the world “Nights in White Satin”.

Listening now, it’s a bit twee and flowery in sections, especially the opening “The Day Begins”. Albums like this have been mocked by all and sundry, including the obvious Spinal Tap and other comedy troupes. There’s a feeling of there being a missing animated movie peopled by stereotypical English characterisations somewhere in Youtube land.

But honestly, it’s one of these pieces of music which, like the lyrics say “time stands quite still”; a view into another age, flower power of the late 1960s. The Moody Blues were apparently one of the first to mix orchestral and rock music, which these days seems totally obvious. Back in the day though, the rock and roll music was frowned upon by the establishment.

So, if you want an aural view of the 1960s, you might choose to have a listen to Days of Future Passed.

Found: 22 July

Where: Lost & Found Market, 511 Lygon Street, Brunswick

Diamanda Galas: Double-Barrel Prayer

Diamanda Galas is many things: Tall, Dark, Greek, possessing an astonishing five and a half octave vocal range and pretty much someone you don’t want to mess with. With albums including Plague Mass (about the AIDS epidemic which claimed her brother), Defixiones Will and Testament (about the massacre of Armenian refugees during the first world war), and the much more accessible The Sporting Life, featuring one of my favourite songs “Do You Take This Man” she’s prolific and sometimes confronting as a musical artist. She also does artwork too, which you can find on her website.

Double-Barrel Prayer is an album I’ve owned a few years, one of the last from the original collection I dumped out the front of my house in Fitzroy North back when I didn’t listen to Vinyl anymore. Can’t remember why I kept this one to be honest, other than the fact it’s a rather fetching multicolour pressing. I had a green vinyl pressing of Silent Running though, and that was lost. Maybe I thought I was going to live with the cool kids and throw away childish things? What a dummy I was.

Multicoloured pressing from 1988
Multicoloured pressing from 1988

It’s a twelve inch single, with two tracks: the title, Double- Barrel Prayer and Malediction; both are taken “from the forthcoming album & compact disc You Must Be Certain of The Devil”. Back in 1988, album companies did things like this. These days, they concentrate on breaking CD formats with pointless DRM, because everyone’s a pirate. Not like the old days when we used to tape our records and share them amongst friends.

Right, onto the album.

Track one, Double-Barrel Prayer is simply something you don’t want to be listening to on your own in a dark house, unless, as a couple of friends have indeed stated, you’re female and very annoyed. They were female, and have been very annoyed as they are more than entitled to be.

Diamanda Galas does screaming very well, and you can definitely hear her coming; Indeed, I was at her last Melbourne concert about 5 years ago, and saw her Defixiones concert. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I saw some very perplexed people wondering what the hell had hit them. Her next concert was basically her more accessible material, and included the brilliant Baby’s Insane and See That My Grave is Kept Clean (which she’s done quite a few versions of, and is a cover of a very old blues song which is quite jaunty by comparison). But her voice is not her only talent; she’s a really good piano player, and thanks to Wikipedia, I know she plays other instruments too. Thanks Interwebz.

Track two (side two), Malediction, is more like a piano-accompanied rap song and listening to this track, I’ve forgotten how much I enjoy her music, albeit her more accessible stuff. While Defixiones is very heavy going (and rightly so! It’s about a bloody genocide!), there’s tracks like this, which includes lyrics like:

The arms that you cut off that Sunday night

are the arms that point me to the red eyes

of the pentecostal killers and the black eyes

of the roman catholic killers and the blue eyes

of the pinhead skinhead killers…

Seriously, she is singing from the depths of fury and injustice, putting it to a screaming piano and wrapping her arms around you before she bites you, hard.

(I had a shocking moment though when the needle seemed to hit a scratch. It turned out to be a cat hair. Goddamn it Pixel!)

I’m probably being extremely stereotypical; the tall dark powerful woman who is all violence and fury? Diamanda Galas is an outspoken artist and I’ve got nothing but praise for those who can express themselves so beautifully clearly.

Found: I think it was around 2008?

Where: eBay

Smiley’s People

I’ve been looking for this album for around 25 years, after first seeing it as a spotty 15 year old in the old ABC store on Burke Street in Melbourne.

Thats Alec Guinness on the cover playing spymaster George Smiley
Thats Alec Guinness on the cover playing spymaster George Smiley

Why in gods name, you might ask, would I want this?

I have diverse musical tastes. Not good enough? Well…

All right arguments aside, the 80’s weren’t a happy place for me, and I pointedly refused to be drawn into the pop music that my peers (that is, those who bullied me mercilessly) listened to.

This left me with soundtracks and the as-yet undiscovered alternative music.

It never ceased to amaze me that the point at which I left England with my family for fame and fortune in OZ, it was a time where Punk was halfway through, Pink Floyd The Wall had just come out and artists like Gary Numan and Siouxsie and The Banshees were very much in favour. I traded these for Cold Chisel, Men at Work and whiny arse wankers singing about how it wasn’t fair and he wanted his share.

No-one had even heard of the bands I liked (and being an alien to the shores of Australia, or in laymen’s terms, “a pommy bastard” my taste in music was roundly ridiculed), nor did I have the funds or the resources to find anything remotely decent. So I retreated and relied on orchestral scores available in Brashs records, and Mike Oldfield recordings to get me through. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. No, shut up! I was a weird kid, let’s leave it at that.

So, back to the record.

When I saw the TV series “Smiley’s People” on TV, the series based on the John Le Carré novel of the same name, I was struck by the sadness of the music. It was almost funereal in places, with occasional faster paced moments where the game, Watson, was on. Hearing the soundtrack now, I’m surprised at the number of tracks on the album. The original score was written by Patrick Gowers who, according to the copywriters who wrote the liner notes, also composed for “The Woman in White” and “Bread or Blood“, neither of which I’ve heard of. I am now aware that our Australian national broadcaster, unlike its British counterpart, has always had a fairly limited budget, so perhaps it couldn’t stretch to more than one decent BBC drama (though I do remember endless repeats of the last two series of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who, and the first two of Tom Baker‘s run)?

Soundtrack recordings are replete with repeated themes better known as a leitmotif. Thanks Internet for explaining what the hell that means. I’d heard the word in the lyrics of a Placebo song a few years ago and always wondered what it meant. This album is no different, and Smiley’s theme, the sad one I mentioned earlier, is the guiding light in amongst the dark goings on between The Circus, Le Carré’s MI6, and Moscow Centre, in reality The KGB.

Back to the liner notes, and a rather amusing statement:

Patrick Gower’s music for ‘Smiley’s People’ moves convincingly all the way from very refined Classical string writing to the wilder shores of heavy rock.

The allegedly heavy rock piece is track 10 and “Der Blaue Diamant”. Skinny Puppy this ain’t, and of course never could be. It’s a BBC recording, not some upstart independent label. In the series, the track was played in a Deutche strip club over the top of some semi-naked but still G-rated goings on. I can almost hear the heads of the BBC, sitting in their club with their cigars and Cognac saying “Steady on, old boy. That’s a bit continental!’ Then again, public servants and men’s clubs were always a potent mix of British stiff upper lip and repressed sexuality, what?!

There’s also a couple of light hearted German tracks on here, including the very 80s Frau Kretzschmar, which I don’t remember hearing when I last watched the series in 2013. According to the liner notes, the character was an Austrian Show Girl. You wouldn’t know it from actually watching the series; she was in her 70’s, gave up her child when she ran from the USSR, worked in a factory and got thrown into the path of a car by the Black Hat KGB bad guys. But who am I to judge?

Another pure gold example of 1980s copywriting is the liner notes for track 8, The Turkish Cafe:

A very long wait and two pieces in typical ethnic style…

I may have to investigate other soundtrack recordings to confirm whether this was the style of liner notes of the time? Perhaps it was just ones by the Beeb?

This recording is the original 1982 pressing, and seems in pretty good nick for an album that’s 32 years old. I don’t think it’s on CD, presumably with the very sound excuse that no-one was interested in the album at the time.

Other than me.

By the way, if you’re into old spy stories, do get a hold of Smiley’s People, but do watch the preceding BBC production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy beforehand. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother with the well acted, stylish though fundamentally dull remake.

Found: 27 June 2014

Where: Northside Records, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.