Nestles’ animal bar

 

These friendly animals used to adorn the paper wrappings of Nestles’ Animal bars in the early 70s.  I have a feeling there was also a dog and a monkey maybe others.

I obviously liked them enough to cut out and keep.

The actual chocolate was fairly slender.

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Bee Gees – Horizontal

The declamatory opening bars of World hammer home the psychedelia of Horizontal but it’s less quirky than on Bee Gees 1st and decidedly heavier too.  The band stray into interesting new territories such as chanson, Really and Sincerely, and blues rock, The Change Is Made.

Some of 1st‘s wayward edges have been ironed out so that Horizontal has a more settled, consolidated feel.  The song-writing is solid, sometimes inspired, and they convince across the range.  Surprisingly, instead of expanding the soul repertoire of 1st it’s pretty much abandoned here.

The depressed album

Often labelled the Bee Gees’ depressed album, Horizontal has a remarkable coherency.  

I find the flow of Side 1 the most satisfying in their back catalogue; as one song fades you can’t wait for the next because you feel a growing confidence in their hands.  Really and Sincerely somehow manages to build upon the emotion of And the Sun Will Shine. Between those two highs Lemons Never Forget provides some necessary acidity and channels the Beatles less slavishly than In My Own Time whilst the wistful, subtly playful Birdie takes the emotional impact down a few notches just when needed.  Side 1’s spinoff, Barry‘s spotlight centre stage solo With the Sun in My Eyes, envelopes you in love’s warm glow.

Side 2 is the lesser, lumbered as it is with the resolutely mainstream Massachusetts but the final three tracks intrigue, hinting at an alternative more rock oriented Bee Gees, an option which the band would only occasionally take up.

As for the depression, it’s there but Horizontal is by no means a depressing listen.  Yes, there is bitterness – The Change Is Made – and queasy otherworldliness – Horizontal – but the eye opening World is breathtaking as well as post-traumatic and the painfully naked Really and Sincerely ultimately cathartic.

Truly lush

Crucially, they show their prettier side without just layering on the strings.  Birdie is truly lush thanks to Vince’s warm guitar licks and regret beautifully poised on Day Time Girl, the album’s dark horse and one of their finest ballads.  Both have terrific chord modulations and lovely melodies.

Bee Gees 1st is a fresher, more diverting album but Horizontal the more satisfying. 


Horizontal [1968]

Side 1
World
And the Sun Will Shine
Lemons Never Forget
Really and Sincerely
Birdie Told Me
With The Sun In My Eyes

Side 2
Massachusetts
Harry Braff
Day Time Girl
The Ernest Of Being George
The Change Is Made
Horizontal


Singles 1967/68 [related to Horizontal]

Massachusetts
Barker of the UFO

World
Sir Geoffrey Saved the World

Words*
Sinking Ships

* Words, a non-album track, was recorded the same day as World (3rd October 1967) and so in that sense can be said to be Horizontal-related 


Unreleased 1968

Out of Line*
Ring My Bell*
Mrs Gillespie’s Refridgerator*
Deeply, Deeply Me*
All My Christmases Came at Once*
Thank You for Christmas*
Medley: Silent Night/Hark the Herald Angels Sing*

* released on Horizontal Rhino reissue, 2006


-> Idea
<- Bee Gees 1st


Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Why I’ve a problem with “No problem!”

 

OK, here comes this year’s silly season, apropos nothing, totally off-the-wall post.

Fly in the soup

At a restaurant not long ago, my friend and I were served by a waitress who was both able and pleasant.  The only fly in the soup was that in response to everything – and I do mean everything – we said or even in response to nothing at all, she would say “No problem!”

“Do you have a table please?“ – “No problem!”
“That’s great, thanks” (upon being shown to our table) – “No problem!”
“Thank you” (for setting the table) – “No problem!”
“Ah, we haven’t quite decided yet…” – “No problem!”

And so it went on.  Each course arrived “No problem!” as did the wine and tap water and I think she might even have said “No problem!” as we exited through the doors.

Pat little phrase

Anything repeated ad nauseum becomes annoying but hearing this pat little phrase perhaps two dozen times (well it felt like it) over two hours brought home how it’s become the de rigeur, catch all response of our times.

Every era has one.  Which swinging 60s film has the young female lead repeating a bemused, bedazzled “Super!”?  Then there’s the hippy era’s “Groovy!” even if perhaps mostly in mythology.

Ours is not ‘Perfect!’ as proposed by a New Statesman columnist recently but this problematic little proposition.

Problem solving

So why do I have a problem with no problem?  Because why would there be a problem?  We were in a restaurant doing what people do, following the etiquette, enjoying our food, paying the bill, leaving a tip and the waitress was doing her job.  Why would we need multiple, ongoing confirmations that there isn’t a problem?

I suppose it’s trying to say “Nothing is too much trouble” except I don’t hear it like that.  “No problem!” is like the lesser relative of EastEnders’ bully boy Phil Mitchell’s “You got a problem?”  The phrase comes tainted with latent aggression.  It implies that the graciousness of declaring all is well is entirely the prerogative of the no-problemer.  It takes back power, is designed to induce unease.  It’s saying: I don’t have a problem with you right now, but If that changes you’ll soon know about it.

So please may we dispense with this robotic, passively aggressive patois?

How about adopting the charming and embracing “Prego!” (“You’re welcome!”) of Italian restaurants?  I’d have no problem with that.

The Songs of Scott Walker review

 

The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70), [Prom 15, Royal Albert Hall London, Tuesday 25th July 10.15pm, tx. Friday 28th July, 10.00-11.25pm, BBC Four] celebrated Scott Walker’s four plus one solo albums from the late 60s through interpretations by Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Richard Hawley and Susanne Sundfør.  This review is of Friday night’s broadcast.

In an interview shortly before the concert, Walker urged the performers to ‘make it as new as you can’.  In the event, a largely respectful tone was taken.  Perhaps the clue was in the so called Heritage Orchestra.

Not quite copyists

A copyist approach could be justified as it allowed us to hear for the first time live, material which had hitherto been restricted to vinyl as Scott never promoted Scott 1-4 through concerts and tours in the late 60s.

Karaoke was avoided by allowing the individual tones and textures of the artists to inform and occasionally uplift the songs.  So we had Jarvis Cocker’s husky hesitancy, Richard Hawley’s benevolent burr, John Grant’s faultless efficiency and something altogether idiosyncratic and more interesting from Susanne Sundfør.  On The Amorous Humphrey Plugg, she led the orchestra on the evening’s best performance, stronger than her stripped down On Your Own Again which got all the attention.

Unassailable beauty

Scott 1-4 is virtually unassailable in its beauty which presents a problem for any artist attempting a cover.  How can you better Scott’s Boy Child or It’s Raining Today?  You can’t, but you can show the depths of your appreciation by paying tribute.  I didn’t hear anything on Friday night to challenge the supremacy of the originals.  The interpretations tended towards friendly fare or hushed after-dinner devotions (this was a late night prom).

Nobody could doubt Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley’s sincerity but Scott’s classical precision and nuanced delivery were missing – and missed.  It’s these formal qualities of economy and attention to every detail along with the scrupulous thoughtfulness of the orchestration which, on vinyl, lifts already extraordinary material to the greatest heights.

Subtle discipline

When you mention Scott 1-4, everyone gushes about lush romanticism but isn’t it the discipline and subtlety of the albums which marks them out?  I’d like to hear a Scott 1-4 selection performed by top, contemporary, classically trained vocalists perhaps accompanied by a chamber ensemble.

This is an approach which might have worked – actively acknowledging the classicism of the source material, its erudition, its refinement.

Compromised poise

On occasions, the Heritage Orchestra under Jules Buckley compromised poise, as if wanting to rush through the songs, not quite allowing them room to fully breathe.  Subtle phrasing, pregnant pauses, an almost imperceptible ebb and flow were flattened slightly.

These interpretations sailed too close to the originals and thereby highlighted their own shortcomings.  ‘Make it as new as you can’ might have meant the cracking whips and pounding meat of Scott’s later works like The Drift and Bish Bosch an approach which, although harder on the ears, would have obliterated comparisons.


The covers:
Jarvis Cocker: Boy Child, Plastic Palace People, The War is Over (Sleepers), Little Things (That Keep Us Together).

Susanne Sundfor: On Your Own Again, Angels of Ashes, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg, Hero of the War.

John Grant: Rosemary, The World’s Strongest Man, Copenhagen, The Seventh Seal.

Richard Hawley: It’s Raining Today, Two Ragged Soldiers, Montague Terrace (in Blue), The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinest Regime).

Bee Gees 1st

The brothers were lucky when they came to England from Australia in early 1967.  Not only was London in full swing but pop was taking on a range of new and exotic influences from medieval minstrelsy to mellotrons, ragas to Victoriana.

Much of this found its way into the Bee Gees’ music.  That was nothing unusual, it was what a lot of bands were doing at the time – absorbing, adapting and adapting again.  But when these influences combined with the brothers’ distinctive harmonising talents – honed over a decade of performing live – and their solidly melodic songwriting, the results were amongst the most solid yet engaging of the psychedelic pop genre.

Bee Gees 1st marked the beginning of a sustained campaign which kept the brothers’ Gibb in the charts throughout the remainder of the 60s, consistently balancing discipline with flair, accessibility with a desire to grow and change.

Ear to the zeitgeist

Some would say 1st is the Bee Gees’ strongest album and it’s not hard to hear why.  Their ear-to-the-zeitgeist is evident everywhere: the Edwardian toytown pop of Turn of the Century, the fairytale swirl of Red Chair, Fade Away and the bendy monastic weirdness of Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You.  As the 60s progress, the psychedelic trimmings gradually fall by the wayside but here they’re in full flight and put across with a confidence and, as always, terrific melodic ease.

They play with structure too, not just for the sake of it, but in a way which shows genuine musical understanding: listen to Robin’s sudden operatic digression taking Close Another Door to a whole other level and psychedelia triumphing over pop to bring an inventive fade to I Close My Eyes.

Startling soulfulness

And then there’s their soulfulness.  It’s startling just how fully formed were the brothers’ soul credentials even at this early stage and indeed soul forms the often underappreciated alternative arm of Bee Gees 1st.  There is incredible emotion in Robin’s vocals for I Can’t See Nobody – and that’s before you even get to Nina Simone’s cover.  And how To Love Somebody was so undervalued at the time is a mystery: what an utterly consummate pop ballad.

Interestingly, the album’s programming accentuates the psychedelia/ soul division with all the baroque pop/psychedelic tracks (bar Cucumber Castle) placed on side one and side two showing a definite leaning towards soul as well as a greater group feel.

Folk, Beatlesque pop art, cute whimsy, medieval psychedelic drones, soul ballads – beneath the genre hopping and sometime Craise Finton cheekiness these brothers simply write great pop music.

Bee Gees 1st sets out their stall and proves that they are songwriters to watch and be reckoned with.


Bee Gees 1st [1967]

Side 1
Turn of the Century 
Holiday
Red Chair, Fade Away
One Minute Woman
In My Own Time
Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You
Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts

Side 2
New York Mining Disaster 1941

Cucumber Castle
To Love Somebody
I Close My Eyes
I Can’t See Nobody
Please Read Me
Close Another Door


Singles 1967 [related to Bee Gees 1st]

New York Mining Disaster 1941
I Can’t See Nobody

To Love Somebody
Close Another Door

Holiday
Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You


Unreleased 1967 

Gilbert Green*
House of Lords* 
I’ve Got to Learn*
All Around My Clock*
Mr Waller’s Wailing Wall*

* released on Bee Gees 1st  Rhino reissue, 2006


Other artists 1967 

Adam Faith – Cowman Milk Your Cow


-> Horizontal


Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Bee Gees: final Words

After more than three years, seventy plus posts and a countdown of my fifty favourite tracks, I feel I’ve said most, but not quite all, of what I want to say on the Bee Gees.

I may post some stats on which albums fare best in the Top 50 but before reaching that possible pinnacle of geekiness there remain album overviews.

So we begin next Friday with Bee Gees 1st

Cuisenaire rods

I vividly remember these ‘mathematics learning aids for students’ at primary school.  This would have been at the very start of the 70s when Cuisenaire rods were at the height of their popularity.

Until quite recently I’d assumed they were called ‘quizinaire’ having never seen the word written down and only rarely spoken.  They were always simply ‘the coloured rods’ which lived in the bright red plastic drawers at the front of the classroom.

The ten rods measured 1cm to 10cm with each increment represented by a different colour:

White 1cm
Red 2 cm
Light green 3cm
Pink 4cm
Yellow 5cm
Dark green 6cm
Black 7cm
Brown 8cm
Blue 9cm
Orange 10cm

The rods were the invention of Belgian primary school teacher Georges Cuisenaire in the early 50s.  Cuisenaire found that pupils who had difficulty with maths taught by traditional methods learned quickly when they manipulated the rods.  Child centred learning emphasised learning by play and Cuisenaire rods were a central part of the new ethos.

Magpie maths

In truth, my magpie instinct was more drawn to the colour element than the gradations in size.  I linked each numerical height with its colour so strongly that yellow was 5 and orange was 10.  The conflation held its own secret fascination.

I deduced that what the shorter rods lacked in height they made up for in brightness of hue as if each rod were granted an equality in power, balancing height with intensity of colour.  But why was red two and pink four and not the other way round?  Could there be a hidden significance to the order?

I might like to think all of this was some kind of synaesthesia but it was more likely an early manifestation of OCD or an autistic tendency.  Colours and car registration letters, numbers on front doors, the colours of clothes worn by particular people on particular days of the week quickly followed.

Unfortunately my appreciation of the rods failed to translate into lasting mathematical ability.  I obtained an ‘unclassified’ in my O level, the lowest possible grade (not proud of it in a “I’m hopeless at maths!” kind of way, just saying).

Tables or rods?

Child centred learning was central at my primary school.
Certainly in our earlier years, the emphasis was more on discovery not instruction, peer group learning rather than whole class teaching.

I even remember one teacher, straight out of training college, asking her class – did we want to do sums or painting?  Painting always won out so maths was neglected until at the age of ten I had a crash course in learning my times tables.  The class chanted them and my mother made me say them out loud or would suddenly demand over morning’s Golden Nuggets “What are twelve fours?”

But perhaps it was too little too late.

Seeing and doing

Still available but far less popular today, Cuisenaire rods now come in plastic which seems unimaginable as the woody feel and smell of them was very much a part of their appeal.  Rod No 4, the pink one, is now, for some reason, purple.

The most enjoyable thing to do with the set was – and still is – to build a pyramid.

Starting with the orange 10s, use four rods of each colour to form an overlapping square, working your way up through the blues, browns and blacks until you end up with a tight square of four white 1s on top.

Like this:

Cuisenaire company


PlayPlax
Growing up with Lego
Moving house