Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Nostalgia for an age yet to numb

The September of My Years: A Weekend Trip Down Memory Lane at the Nostalgia Convention

"Come meet Hollywood celebrities & get their autograph!"

(September 17-19, 2015) - It was the best of times, it was the Fest of times. After a mentally grueling week at the social services factory (aka, The Public Library), I came home Friday night longing for escape from the harsh realities of the Here and Now. Maybe it was the words of one of my library regulars, a Beatles-obsessed middle-aged spinster, ringing in my ears. "I don't care much for the Modern World," she explained, when I asked her that day why she loved the Beatles so much. "Those were happier days back then [when the Beatles were together]." (Hmmm, maybe minus the Vietnam War, the Manson Family murders, and the MLK rioting. I'm just saying, everything's relative...) So it was that I similarly sought solace in a blast from the past, and what better way then to head out for a late-night run through the 10th annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention (MANC) being held at the Hunt Valley Wyndham, Thursday through Saturday.

Nostalgia Con merchadise: anything and everything from the past!

Amy and I made a preliminary "recon run" Friday night on the upstairs (free admission, free-range vendors) level of the Wyndham, where a similarly Beatles-obsessed Amy bought 31 (!) Fab Four buttons and guitar picks and a Yellow Submarine postcard from one elated nostalgia vendor. "I have to get Ringo buttons to wear when we go see his All-Star Band at the Lyric in October!," Amy rationalized. (Point taken!)

Fab fare at the Memory mart

Neither Amy nor I go to these conventions to get autographs or selfies with the celebrities in attendance. It's just not our thang. Plus, it's expensive. We leave that to friends like Dave Wright, who took advantage of this year's cinema and TV Land celebrity bounty - Lee Majors, Richard Anderson (89 years old!), and Lindsey Wagner (a youthful-looking 66!) of The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman series; Hammer-and-Bond Babes Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro, as well as Hammer Horror Honeys Veronica Carlson and Suzanna Leigh; and Barry and Stanley Livingston and Tina Cole of My Three Sons, among others (Angela Cartwright, Dean Stockwell, Tempest Storm, et. al) - by bringing his Hammer Glamour book to get signed by the well-preserved, still-sexy starlets.

Marcus Hearn's "Hammer Glamour" book

Of course, Dave couldn't resist the "hands-on" experience of also posing with his film femme favorites, as well (that Dave is such a poseur!):

Caroline Munro & Dave Wright

Martine Beswick & Dave Wright

Dave Wright & Suzanna Leigh

Likewise, fanboy Tim Finnerty (erstwhile drummer and current bassist of Middle River rockers The Krudz) and his fanboy-in-training son Patrick were also there, with Tim scoring a much-coveted selfie with Lee Majors and Richard Andersen. "I had to, because I always kick myself for missing these opportunities," Tim confessed, adding that he missed the chance to get "a Polaroid sitting in the Batmobile with Adam West for just $15!" a few years ago when he unwisely decided to catch an Ace Frehley concert instead. (He's never forgiven himself.)

Bionic fanboys Tim & Pat Finnerty with Six Million Dollar celeb Lee Majors

The Finnertys have Richard "Oscar" Andersen's back

89-year-old Richard Anderson  is still rocking the Celebrity Nostalgia Trail!

The Bionic Man and Woman were definite highlights of this year's MANC, with special edition program guides for sale and some fans ever donning costumes in homage to their idols.

Bionic fans do the Robot Dance

Dave Cawley & Gina Houten get ironic with the Bionics

Steve Austin edition guide

Jaime Sommers edition guide

No, Amy and I prefer posing (for free!) with our fellow nobodies, peeps like Dave Wright (for once not wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt)...

Dave Wright, Tom Warner & Amy Linthicum

...and  Big Dave Cawley, King of Memorabilia (who made sure that he stepped away from the table selling Jerry Lewis memorabilia so that he wouldn't be asked for autographs!)...

The Gruesome Twosome: "Men about town" Tom Warner & Dave Cawley

But Amy and I do love looking at all the toys, games, books, comics, magazines, records, DVDs, movie posters, and assorted memorabilia from our youth that are on sale. For instance, Amy spotted a Shari Lewis and Lambchop word descrambler toy she remembered playing with as a toddler. It was called the Shari Lewis' Magic Answer Cards, though Shari and Lambchop have nothing to do with it except appearing on the box cover.

Shari Lewis Magic Answer Cards

The game asked questions and if you couldn't guess the answer, you placed a cheap piece of plastic with holes in it over the Answer Board to reveal the answer, as shown below:

Automatic Answer Board

It's...it's magic! Oh, the games people play!

And speaking of magic, dinosaur-loving Dave Cawley was amused to see a vendor selling a vintage Strange Change Machine, the late '60s Mattel toy that heated up blobs of goop in a "Time Machine" and turned them into miniature dinosaurs. Or not. "My dinosaurs always came out as blobs!" Dave admitted.

Mattel's Strange Change Machine toy

The Strange Change "Time Machine" created these creatures

Of course, no one needs to create dinosaurs anymore. They're all over the place now - but today we call them "Republicans"!

Watch a 1968 Strange Change Machine commercial.

The same vendor also had a box of "Banned Dukes of Hazzard Confederate Flag Zippo Lighters." Since the Hazzard boys and their General Lee wheels are now politically incorrect, I didn't see any takers. (He'd probably fare much better at the  Dundalk Heritage Festival, where a vendor quickly sold out of Confederate flags this summer!)

Amy looks for good-value rock & roll items at these conventions, like the aforementioned Beatles merchandise, or anything to do with retro music formats, like the Vinyl Forever vendor who "repurposed" records as candy bowls and album covers as handbags.

Vinyl Forever!

I tend towards dumber fare like a bootleg of the 1975 Golden Harvest-Australian Film Development Corporation kung-fu co-production The Man from Hong Kong, starring Jimmy Wang Yu and one-time Bond George Lazenby (who also starred in Golden Harvest's 1974 martial arts movie, Stoner, opposite Angela Mao), and comic book collections like DC's Blackhawk - the latter an ill-advised purchase, as it was the later edition of the racially stereotyped flyboys battling Commies in the 1950s rather than Nazis in their '40s glory days).

"The Man from Hong Kong" was the first Australian-Hong Kong co-production

Blackhawk & Co. battled Commies and killer whales in the '50s

Did I mention that Blackhawk was somewhat racially insensitive? Early version of Blackhawk team member "Chop-Chop"

We spent quite a bit of time chatting with first-time vendor Jennifer Vanderslice of MoonGlow PR and Beatles Freak Reviews, who brought a half-dozen interesting Fab Four books to the convention. I ended up getting the latest book by "Beatles scholar" (doncha just love that term? Who knew in 1964 that one day scholarly tomes would be written about the lovable Liverpudlians?) Robert Rodriguez, Solo in the 70s: John, Paul, George, Ringo, 1970-1980.

Rodriguez's previous critically acclaimed books include Fab Four FAQ, Fab Four FAQ 2.0, and Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock 'n' Roll. (Like I need another Beatles book - I still haven't gotten through Mark Lewisohn's Tune In - The Beatles: All These Years! - but, hey, it's an easy and fun read!). Rodriguez's book picks up where FFF 2.0 left off, detailing John Lennon's fight to stay in America against the forces of the Nixon administration, the lawsuits against the Beatles' business associates and each other, unreleased recordings, the promo films, covers of Beatles songs by other artists, bootleg releases, and whatever else is left to say or ponder about the Fabs.

Jennifer Vanderslice with Scott "Son of Dennis" Wilson

Right next to the Beatles Freaks table was another first-time vendor. There, a friendly couple from South Jersey was manning a booth selling books about old-time radio and television stars. I wish I could remember the husband's name, because he was the author of several books about radio stars like Jack Benny, George Burns, and Bob & Ray. We talked about Jersey beaches, Jersey-style hoagies, and even my t-shirt depicting the Dundalk waste treatment facility known affectionately to locals as the "Golden Eggs." (They had never seen such a beautiful shit plant!).

The Golden Eggs

The wife commented that I looked like Matt Smith from Doctor Who.

"Spot on, mate!" Matt Smith approves of the Tom Warner comparison

"Really?" I exclaimed, not used to getting compared to anyone other than Martina Navratilova or Bill Maher. "I think I love you!" (I should have bought all their books just for that compliment alone!)

Jennifer Vanderslice recommended going downstairs into the big dealer's room to talk to Scott Wilson, son of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, who was there to promote his memoir, the quite sensibly named  Son of a Beach Boy: My Dad, Dennis Wilson. (See Jennifer's review at her blog Beatles-Freak's Reviews.)

The Legendary Chick Veditz

Also downstairs in the big dealer room was Harry "Chick's Legendary Records" Veditz. Chick was once again manning his massive sports and memorabilia trading cards table, ably assisted by his wife Arlene and their son John.

Chick's Legendary trading card table

The recently retired Chick is a true sweetheart. He gave us two "Buying Records Cheers Me Up" Peanuts t-shirts, as well as lady-sized tee for Amy commemorating Chick's Pre-Retirement Party at The Ottobar (see "Of Chick, Coddies & Camaraderie").

Adam Turkle-designed tee commemorating Chick's August 31, 2014 Ottobar Party

After spending way too much time looking over seemingly every item on offer in the dealer's room, we headed back upstairs to head out. But on my way to the exit, I overheard a familiar voice. I'm horrible when it comes to recollection, but something in the voice rekindled memories of my days as a tech writer in suburban Cubicle Land. Looking up I recognized a familiar-looking face.

"Are you Bill?" I asked. "Didn't I work with you at..."

"Tom Warner! How you doing man?" said the familiar face, now recognized as none other than Bill Horn, my old friend and co-worker from the mid-'80s when we worked  for Display Data and, later, Convergent Dealership Group, in Hunt Valley. This was back in the pre-Regal Cinemas, pre-Wegmans, pre-everything era of the Death Valley Mall, when the mall was as dead as vaudeville and you could almost imagine tumbleweeds blowing through its lonesome corridors. Back when Convergent had enough money to hire the Pointer Sisters to sing the "Convergent Theme Song": "We work for Convergent/And the times are urgent...and I think I like it, like it!" No, really. I was there.

Amy looked surprised and I blurted, "We used to work together at a computer company..."

"Display Data," Bill chirped. "Right across the parking lot here at Executive Plaza."

Display Data dudes Bill Horn & Tom Warner

Bill was an IT guy who has since gone on to get two graduate degrees in creative writing. He was helping a buddy out with his table on this fortuitous day. Long story short, we caught up best we could and made plans to get together for a Tech Throwback happy hour with former co-workers at Display Data/Convergent. I miss those days in Hunt Valley. I hadn't seen Bill since I left the company in 1992.

I remember Convergent had a newsletter and one issue had us both getting shout-outs in the "Dubious Achievement Awards of 1989." Bill's 1974 Dodge Challenger got him the nod for "Worst Wheels," while I snared "Too Cool for Words." No, really.

Like I said, it was a weekend of nostalgia for happy days past. Maybe not as far back as the Beatles spinster' lady's "happy days" but good enough for me. Thanks for the memories, Nostalgia Con!

My only regret is missing a special appearance by Jerry Beck, the celebrated Animation Historian and author of such critically acclaimed books as The 50 Greatest Cartoons (1994) and The Animated Movie Guide (2005). Beck presented a history of the Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons at the convention, a talk I'm sorry I missed!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Humans, All Too Humans

Humans (AMC)
Sundays at 9 p.m. EST

OK, I'm all in. Finally watched the first episode (on demand) of AMC's new sci-fi series Humans last night and I'm hooked.

I say new, but this Anglo-American co-production (that's AMC-Channel 4) is actually an English-language adaptation of yet another groundbreaking Nordic TV series, Sweden's Real Humans (Akta Manniskor, 2012-2014), which is as yet unavailable to see unless you have an all-region DVD player.

So why am I in? Well, first off it's a British production filled with a mostly Brit cast (save for William Hurt). Then it's got two Doc Martin alumni in Katherine Parkinson (receptionist "Pauline Lamb," 2005-2009) and Tom Goodman-Hall (Portwenn bartender "Mark Ridge," 2011; Goodman-Hall also had a prominent role in last year's Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game), who play a middle-class professional couple, Joe and  Laura Hawkins, with three kids and a need for some help around the house - though Parkinson would prefer a less attractive housekeeper than "Anita." Anita, you see, is a "Synth," a flesh-and-bolts all-too-human-on-the-surface A.I. machine played by the sexy Gemma Chan (who I last saw as a touchy-feely archeology student in Shetland). As you can see in the pics below, she's quite an upgrade from the space-age Rosie the Robot model I grew up watching on The Jetsons.

Rosie the Robot from "The Jetsons"
Gemma Chan cleaning up as "Anita"

Gemma Chan is green with humanoid envy as "Anita"

Her counterpart in Real Humans, Lisette Pagler, is perhaps even sexier, albeit with brown eyes:

Real Humans' "Anita," Lisette Pagler

Synths can be distinguished from humans by their sparkling blueish-green eyes (whoever is providing the colored contact lenses for this series must be making a mint!) and, well, by their politeness (Abe Sherman and Donald Trump would not pass as Synths). But certain Synths are more similar to humans than meets their blue-green eyes; some can actually feel and dream. They are self-aware and start to think of themselves existentially (Cogita ergo sum, anyone?) - but as limited-time-only mortal coils. Yes, they are emo bots.

Seeing as Blade Runner is my all-time favorite movie, you can see where I'm going with this. Yes, these Synths are basically updates on Philip K. Dick's Androids-dreaming-of-electric-sheep, of Ridley Scott's memory-longing "Replicants" who want freedom from their artificial enslavement. They want "more life, fucker." You can make the argument that these robotic wage slaves are metaphors for today's exploited immigrant labor force that toils in sweatshops and farm fields. These are servants that get recharged instead of fed and paid.

In place of Harrison Ford's "Blade Runner" Rick Dekard, we have Hobb (played by Danny Webb, who you might remember as prisoner colony leader Morse in Aliens 3) out to involuntarily "retire" the renegade robots.

Naturally, men being men, when Daddy brings home a sexy skin-job (to use a Bladerunner vulgarism), it's just a matter of time before temptation rears its ugly head. I love the scene where Goodman-Hall looks over his operator's manual and spies an "Adult Options 18+," which he quickly and furtively slips into his back pocket so the family won't see it. Everything in this Brave New World is apparently On Demand. There's already a emo Synth, Niska, who is hiding out in a brothel and looks to be an update on Blade Runner's ass-kicking "pleasure unit" Pris (as portaryed by the athletic Darry Hannah).

William Hurt's character is an aging engineer who may at one time have worked on the technology that led to creating these Synths. He has become paternally-attached to a similarly aging, outmoded Synth, one who retains many of the memories Hurt's character, Dr. George Millican, is slowly starting to lose to dementia. He kind of reminds me of Blade Runner's Tyrell, the father figure inventor whose creations have run wild and out of control.

The show makes a statement about a future that's not all that far away. Don't we already have GPS, computers, and smart phones that talk to us? Robotic voice mail messengers? (You've come a long way, Speak and Spell!). Recent movies like Ex Machina and Her also have trod this familiar ground.

Maybe the novelty will pass. But so far, I am intrigued by the issues and the characters in Humans.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Trio Novo: Never Say Goodbye, Say Ciao!

The Last Trio Novo Show
July 14, 2015
@ Chateau Rieger, Towson, MD

Trio Novo's farewell gig at Chateau Rieger

Trio Novo is:
Paul Rieger: Rickenbacker bass guitar
Robert "Bob" Tiefenwerth: Yamaha keyboards
Tim Taormino: drums

Sunday, July 14th marked the last live performance of Trio Novo. The trio's swan song concert took place at Chateau Rieger in Towson, where friends and family gathered to say farewell to the genre-defying band that may have been Baltimore's Best Kept Musical Secret over the past decade. With keyboard whiz Robert Tiefenwerth and his wife relocating to Houston, Texas, two days later, Trio Novo is no more. To paraphrase Monty Python and a certain dead parrot, Trio Novo has ceased to exist, ceased to be, expired,  kicked the bucket, shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. This is an ex-Trio Novo.

Departing keyboardist Robert Tiefenwerth is already fading from view in this picture

But, hope springs eternal that the band will utilize the borderless Internet to collaborate on future projects virtually. So, as King of Bling Liberace once sang, "Never Say Goodbye, Say Ciao!"

Formed in 2006, Trio Novo - keyboardist Robert Tiefenwerth, bassist Paul Rieger, and ex-BLAMMO drummer Tim Tourmino - played a variety of what they called "classic jazz" and featured the music of such composers as bossa nova legend Antonio Jobim, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock, among others. But as the band progressed, their setlist reflected an even more eclectic repetoire, adding Martin Denny exotica ("Quiet Village"),  '60s psychedelia (after all, Tiefenwerth and Rieger were veterans of the '80s neo-psych band The United States of Existence), '70s Prog Rock (The Nice's still-epic "America"), secret agent TV theme songs (Edwin Astley's "High Wire," aka "The Danger Man Theme" - the UK series predecessor to Secret Agent Man), and straight up rock & roll (Small Faces, "Barefoot in Baltimore" by Strawberry Alarm Clock, et al).

Paul Rieger (far left) and Robert Tiefenwerth (far right) in U.S.E.

Trio Novo's Dynamic Duo today: Bob Tiefenwerth and Paul Rieger

At Paul Rieger's stately West Towson manor, Chateau Rieger, the trio played all of the above and more to an appreciative crowd of family and music friend fans whose ranks included Dave Wilcox (Chelsea Graveyard), Mark O'Connor (Buck Subtle, OHO, Food For Worms, et al), and WCVT/WVUD DJ Rod Misey (incidentally, Misey's liner notes for The United States of Existence's 1994 CD The Collection provide the definitive history of that band and are worthy of publication in Ugly Things magazine).

A highlight of Trio Novo's farewell performance was their rendition of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," a snippet of which is shown below.

Watch Trio Novo play "Take Five."

Over the years, the trio had enjoyed supporting the local arts (Tiefenewerth is an accomplished artist, as well as musician, and even sold a greeting card on FineArtAmerica.com) and non-profit communities by providing music for events held at Center Stage, Gallery G, the Visionary Art Museum, and the HACbox. And they were supposed to play at the Hamilton Arts Collective this past May, but had to cancel due to the city curfew imposed following the death, in police custody, of Freddie Gray. (But a gig's a gig, and trouper Tiefenwerth posted on social media that he would be playing piano at home alone that night, just as the Baltimore Orioles would be playing the Chicago White Sox in an empty Camden Yards.)

"How's this thing work again?" Robert Tiefenwerth keys off with Trio Novo

Unfortunately, few Trio Novo performances have been captured on video. A Google search turns up only a September 2014 Trio Novo performance at the Hamilton Gallery (5502 Harford Rd, Baltimore, MD 21214) in Northeast Baltimore - that is, they provide the soundtrack to a clip showing highlights from that night's gallery show.

Trio Novo at Hamilton Gallery

And Paul Rieger, Esq., recorded their May 24, 2014 performance for Band Bash 2014: "You're With the Band!", (a private party for "friends, families and others who have suffered through the hardships of repetitive rehearsals, frightening feedback and decor-destroying equipment" over the years with the GOHOG-Toys bands) at Heritage Parkville Gardens Hall in the Parkville Shopping Center. So, there is archival footage of this great band out there (hint, hint, Paul!)

Paul Rieger paints a pretty picture on his Rickenbacker

There may not be a lot of video footage of Trio Novo, but they did record two CDs, one of which (Tribute) you can check out of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's "Local Music" collection (wonder how that happened?).

So while the Novo we all know is no more, the Trio's legacy lives on. Remember: Never Say Goodbye, Say Ciao!

Related Links:

See Robert Tiefenwerth's Art @ FineArtAmerica
Balto Band Bash 2014
United States of Existence @ Discogs.com
United States of Existence on YouTube
BLAMMO - "Sweet Home Balt-Amore"

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks

Celebrating the Later Years and Solo Songs

Buzzcocks: What goes around, comes around

Buzzcocks is my favorite punk band, and has been since I first heard them back in 1979 - back when I was blown away by the symphonic earwig that is Side 2 of A Different Kind of Tension, which remains my all-time favorite Buzzcocks LP to this day. (Reviewing ADKOT, Robert Christgau famously characterized the sound as being "as bright and abrasive as new steel wool," which I think perfectly describes the band's pop-punk aesthetic.) I share this musical adulation with my fiancee, Amy Linthicum, and good friend Dave Cawley, the only other people I would characterize as hardcore Buzzcocks fanatics. For we love Buzzcocks in all their manifestations - past, present, and future. In fact, our feelings for this band of brothers is summed up in the opening lyrics to founding 'cock Pete Shelley's song "Reconciliation":

Been contemplating lately what you mean to me
You are the one I care about, the only one I love
And though we remain separated by the sea
It's still you I'm dreaming of, you must believe me

Buzzcocks broke up in 1981, with founding guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle pursuing solo careers throughout the 1980s.  (Original vocalist Howard Devoto had already jumped ship in 1977 to form the art-rock band Magazine.) Shelley went on to record two great synth-pop records, Homosapien (1981) and XL1 (1983) before his electronic music career stalled, while Diggle spent the decade playing with Buzzcocks drummer John Maher and others under the aegis of Flag of Convenience. (Diggle would later release three impressive solo albums in the 2000s.)

And then in 1989, the original "Golden Era" lineup of Shelley, Diggle, bassist Steve Garvey, and drummer John Maher - the players that appear on the four Buzzcocks albums released between 1978 and 1979 (Music from Another Kitchen, Love Bites, A Different Kind of Tension, Singles Going Steady) - reunited for a world tour. But it was a short-lived reunion (with ex-Smiths drummer Mike Joyce eventually replacing Maher), and by 1992 Shelley and Diggle were backed by the new rhythm section of  bassist-producer Tony Barber and drummer Phil Barker. This was the dawn of the era of the "Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks" (aka "New Buzzcocks," "Post-Prime Buzzcocks" or "Buzzcocks 2.0"). The Shelley-Diggle-Barber-Barker lineup continued intact through 2006, touring extensively and recording five albums (Trade Test Transmissions, All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, and Flat-Pack Philosophy). Barker was replaced by Danny Farrant in 2006, and bassist Chris Remington joined the group in 2008. This Buzzcocks 3.0 line-up has been the face of the brand from April 2008 up until the present, recording two full-length albums, 2011's A Different Compilation (re-recordings of previously released Buzzcocks songs) and 2014's The Way.

It is a cruel irony that despite our boundless love for this band, none of us ever saw the original quartet in their late '70s prime; we've only seen the two post-breakup renditions led by Shelley and Diggle. Dave Cawley has seen them the most (I foolishly passed up Dave's impassioned entreaty to see their first visit to Baltimore's Ottobar back in July 2003 when Tony Barber and Phil Barker were in the band), but we all count ourselves lucky to have seen their subsequent transatlantic stops here and in D.C. in 2010, 2014, and 2015. Amy even got to see Pete Shelley at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., back in the day.

And while there's no point trying to measure the "new Buzzcocks" tunes recorded in the Nineties and Naughties to "Golden Era" Buzzcocks songs from the late Seventies (which remain Shelley and Diggle's essential Holy Scriptures), taken on their own merits, there are a number of gems to be heard from The Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks Era, which now spans six studio albums (Trade Test Transmissions, All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, A Different Compilation, The Way) over the last 22 years. Everyone has their own personal favorite album from this period:

  • Dave Cawley insists that the first release from the reformed Buzzcocks, 1993's Trade Test Transmissions, is their finest hour (and it's hard to argue with songs like "Do It," "Isolation," "When Love Turns Around," "369," "Alive Tonight," and "Unthinkable"); 

  • Amy prefers 2003's self-titled Buzzcocks (impressively produced by Tony Barber and featuring two songs written by Spiral Scratch-era 'cocks Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley - "Stars" and the Lester Bangs riposte "Lester Sands" - not to mention her faves "Jerk," "Sick City Sometimes," "Friends," "Driving You Insane," and "Wake Up Call"); 

  • I find myself preferring 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy (also produced by Tony Barber), which may be far from perfect but boasts at least six good tunes ("Reconciliation," "I Don't Exist," "Wish I Never Loved You," "Sell You Everything," "Credit," "Big Brother Wheels") out of 14 tracks. (I find it amusing that some naff on Amazon criticized the album thusly: "Steve Shelley's infamous high-pitched vocals sound more like a strange old geezer than a hyperactive kid, but that should not come as much of a surprise." WTF???) It's also the mostly attractively packaged Buzzcocks album in ages, with Paul Terrence Madden's design aesthetic recalling the glory days of those gorgeous Malcolm Garnett and Linder Sterling album and 45 record sleeves (especially true of the CD Singles that accompanied FPP's release).

FPP narrowly edges out 1999's Modern, a much under-appreciated album which, true to its title, attempts to merge the Buzzcocks formula of buzzsaw guitars-with-clever lyrics with more "modern" contemporary rock trends such as hip-hop (Diggle's regrettable "Doesn't Mean Anything"), electronica (synths pepper the mix all over the place), and even (unfortunately) drum machines. Still, at least half the songs on Modern are worth a listen, with Shelley's "Rendevous" and "Thunder of Hearts" and Diggle's "Speed of Life" standouts; "Soul of a Rock," "Sneaky," and "Choices" have good bits but the sum of the parts fall somewhat short of the mark, while Diggle's "Turn of the Screw" continues to be included in Buzzcocks live shows.

Note: Speaking of which, to hear what the Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks sound like live, I recommend listening to 1995's French and Encore Du Pain (same '95 Paris concert featuring Shelley & Diggle backed by Tony Barber & Phil Barker) and 2007's 30 (London Forum show featuring Shelley & Diggle backed by Tony Barber & Danny Farrant). Both live albums are heavy on the back catalog, but mix in songs from the post-prime albums ("Isolation," "Reconciliation," "Unthinkable," "Innocent," "Speed of Life") that hold up surprisingly well standing alongside the greatest hits.

That said, I think we all can agree on the tunes that make up my fantasy listening guide to the best of the Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks, including many tracks from those Pete Shelley solo LPs (for Diggle's solo output, see my extensive - exhaustive? - blog posting, "Digging Da Diggle").  This list started out as a mix CD I burned, but I ran out of space after 74 minutes; thanks to the unlimited space of the Internet, I can now expand it to include even more bonus tracks! As far as the quality of this list, well, as Mr. Shelley sings in "Friends,"

It's a mixed up world
These are mixed up times
And the recipe of life is mixed up too
But if it's the quality of ingredients that matter
I would award myself a cordon bleu

The Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks Listening Guide: An Operator's Manual

1.  "Here Come the Nice" (Marriott/Lane) - from Long Agos and World's Apart: A Tribute to the Small Faces (1996).

Long Agos and Worlds Apart: A Tribute to the Small Faces (1996)

Steve Diggle is perfectly suited to handle Steve Marriott's howling vocals that praise the drug-peddling Dr. Feelgood, while Pete Shelley (he of those "high-pitched/strange old geezer" vocals, as one clueless detractor described Shelley's delightful upper registers) takes over on the alternate verses to great effect. As the song says, "You don't need money to be wise," and this is a very wise inclusion on this tribute to the Mod's Mod Group, perfectly essayed by Great Modfather Diggle, he of the ever-present polka-dot shirt and white jeans wardrobe.

Listen to Buzzcocks play "Here Comes the Nice":

Watch Steve Diggle play "Here Comes the Nice" at the Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert (Royal Albert Hall, London, April 8, 2004):

2.  "Jerk" (Shelley) - from Buzzcocks (2003).

It was my fault, you're not to blame, it's me who is in the wrong
That's why I wrote this song just to explain

Amy's favorite song from her favorite later-years Buzzcocks album. Along with Flat-Pack Philosophy's "Reconciliation," it's one of the great pleas for romantic forgiveness:

I'm a jerk, you're right to tell me so
Forgive me - I beg you
You know I only love you
Wish I hadn't told you where to go

Having passed up the chance to see Buzzcocks play Baltimore in 2003, I totally relate to a song called "Jerk." Perhaps this song also inspired Dave Cawley's own tail-between-legs plea for atonement, "Forgive Me," with his band Garage Sale?)

3.  "Sick City Sometimes" (Diggle) - from Buzzcocks (2003)

I only recently learned that this was a song about 9/11. At least, that's how Steve Diggle introduced it when Buzzcocks played The Black Cat in Washington, D.C. in April of 2014. Now it all starts to make sense:

Now the buildings take a fall/And it tries to kill us all
In the name of something zero in your mind
Prior to that, I just assumed it was a great rocker with a hooky chorus about urban decay ("...the paper and the trash, all the needles and the cash"). An energetic tune that continues to be a staple of Buzzcocks live shows.

4.  "When Love Turns Around" (Diggle) - from Trade Test Transmissions (1993)

Listen to Buzzcocks play "When Love Turns Around."

What do you do when love turns around you, when hate is just a state in your mind? So asks Steve Diggle on this highlight track, arguably the best song on TTT. The answer, unlike love, is not so hard to find: you press play and put this tune on infinite repeat! Amy likes the coda, "And you and you and you - and you and you!," which is always a high point in concert when Diggle plays to the crowd.

Yield when love turns around you

Another version, featuring drummer Danny Farrant and bassist Chris Remington, appears on A Different Compilation.

5.  "Wallpaper World" (Diggle) - from Steve Diggle's Serious Contender (2005)

The best song from Diggle's debut solo effort, an album that also boasts the cracking good "Starbucks Around the World," "See Through You" (later recorded by Buzzcocks with a different arrangement), and "Terminal."

Steve Diggle, "Serious Contender" (EMI Europe Generic, 2005)

People can say anything to you
What in the world would it take to wake up you?
Can you see me, can you hear me?
Can you see me, in this Wallpaper World?

This is perhaps Diggle's best-ever song, a beautiful mixture of acoustic and electric guitars, great chorus, and lovely guitar solo. And Professor Diggle of the Ministry of Truth once again drops a literary reference, this time to the Everyman protagonist of George Orwell's dystopian future classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. "They got a bucket of paste to put on your face/And disappear behind a wall/And if my name wasn't Winston Smith, I could laugh about it all."

Who's laughing now?

6.  "Reconciliation" (Shelley) - from the Flat-Pack Philosophy "Reconcilation" CD Single (2006)

"Reconciliation" CD Single (2006)

What I want is reconciliation
This separation's more than I can bear
Don't wanna be alone, my love is guaranteed
I want to know that you still care

"Renconcilition" is a great word and a great song, and boasts more clever wordplay by pop-polyglot Pete (author of such "Parlez Vous Francais" songs as "Raison d'etre" and "Qu'est-ce Que C'est Que Ça"), this time dropping some Espanol into the mix:

And so I'll tell you something you already know
Para siempre means forever
And I intend to keep that promise, you know

7.  "Wish I Never Loved You" - from the Flat-Pack Philosophy "Wish I Never Loved You" CD Single (2006)

"Wish I Never Loved You" CD Single (2006)

Now I know how it feels to have loved and lost because of pride
To be deserted so that hurt is all that's left inside
I'm ashamed, I've been blamed so much I wanted to die
Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why, tell me why
Wish I never loved you but I just can't let go

Watch the official (incredibly low-res) music video for "Wish I Never Loved You."

8.  "369" (Shelley) - from Trade Test Transmissions (1993)

Neither Amy nor I understand what the heck "369" means ("1-2-3" cubed?), but it's a great rocker with killer hooks, and that's why it's on this list!

369 all the time/What's the meaning in the number
Somebody tell me
369 through my mind/All I'm getting is a number
Somebody help me please

Listen to Buzzcocks play "369."

9.  "Rendezvous" (Shelley) - from Modern (1999)

"Modern" (1999)

Modern was the first Buzzcocks album produced exclusively by bassist Tony Barber. Amy thinks it's critically under-appreciated, and I concur. It's certainly got an eye-catching pop-art cover.

Listen to Buzzcocks play "Rendezous."


Though Dave Cawley considers Modern a mostly an ill-advised and forgettable foray into electronica (Pitchfork agreed, calling it "a weak attempt by a once-great band to simply sound 'current,' whatever that means"), Shelley's song about a memorable bus trip remains one of its shining moments, if only for its unusual vocal approach. Amy likes the love-on-a-double-decker-bus imagery: "I'd overslept so I caught the bus; it's the only thing I could do/I went upstairs, took a vacant seat, and found I'd sat next to you."

And then comes the memorable singalong chorus:

I'm on a cloud I must be in a dream
This can't be real this can't be happening
What are the odds against this rendezvous?
It's worth the gamble when the prize is you

And, as an added riposte to Mr. Cawley, I must note that Modern is the only Buzzcocks album released on Go-Kart Records - the same label as Cawley's pop-punk band of the early '90s, Berserk. Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls, DC!

10. "Thunder of Hearts" (Shelley) - from Modern (1999)

You live what you learn
I'll beg, steal and borrow
The thunder of hearts
Will echo tomorrow

This was the official single for Modern. Amy thinks "Rendezvous" should should have been the single, but this straightforward pop-by-the-numbers tune is very radio friendly, though the lame video recalls the worst of those MTV "story" videos...and is perhaps a little over-produced.

Watch Buzzcocks music video for "Thunder of Hearts."

Pete Shelley remarked that the line "sometimes even monkeys fall from trees" was inspired by Japanese culture. "I buy a lots of Japanese books," he told Earcandy magazine in a1999 interview. "There was one that was Japanese proverbs. And that was actually the title of the book, Even Monkeys Fall from Trees. It means even the most skillful people can make mistakes."

Japanese Proverbs: More fun than a barrel of monkeys

Pete must have been reading a lot of Japanese books during the recording of Modern, for he name-checks Nippon again on the randy album track "Why Compromise": "I've been a bad boy, so do what you please/Talking of pleasure, speak in Japanese." (Turning Japanese? I really think so!)

11. ""Isolation" (Diggle) - from Trade Test Transmissions (1993)

A definite highlight of TTT with that trademark Buzzcock lead guitar sound. Wonder what Diggs means by "living under two nations," though? Is this a UK reference, like being Scots or Welsh and part of the United Kingdom? This from the guy who once flew the Flag of Convenience.

Living my life in a separate way
Living on my own from day to day
I'm living in a world of isolation

Oh yeah, living under two nations

Listen to Buzzcocks play "Isolation."

12. "Speed of Life" (Diggle) - from Modern (1999)

"You're living at the Speed of Life/On the edge of a razor knife"

As usual, nothing too deep lyrically from Diggle, who cuts straight to the chase with this hook-happy rocker, that sounds like glossy AM pop straight out of the '80s, especially the guitar solo. And that's not a bad thing - not at all.

Listen to Buzzcocks play "Speed of Life."

13. "Credit" (Shelley) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)

My favorite song from FPP is an anti-debt manifesto (and as one who has only recently gotten out of debt, I totally relate to its theme!): "Credit, in love with the never never/Wish I could get something I really need."

In fact, the very title of the album Flat-Pack Philosophy refers to Pete and Steve's anti-consumerist world view, a world in which even love "is a cashed-in check," as Pete sang in the early Buzzcocks B-side "Whatever Happened To?" That song, written by Shelley and Alan Dial, also contained the bon mots: "Your pasteurized life so fit for consumption/Ooh those undressing eyes so strictly commercial."

Assembly Required: That's Flat-Pack Philosophy!

OK, while the album's title song takes on deeper existential issues - Why am I here? What are we living for?/All of my hopes, dreams and desires: Assembly required/That's flat-pack philosophy -  I think FPP is really all about how one buys and sells those "hopes dreams, and desires." Like an earlier Buzzcocks CD box set's title, it's all about Product. For in the UK, "Flat-pack" refers to a piece of furniture that sold in parts, which consumers must then fit together and reassemble. In other words, it's the IKEA-ification of Britain by cheap, affordable goods, (under)class warfare fought against the economy by armchair generals and sofa warriors. It's cheap goods on offer for purchase with cheap plastic credit. When the first IKEA opened in London in 2005, greed-frenzied shoppers stampeded for bargains, with 20 customers rushed to hospital in its aftermath. (Stateside, we call this phenomena "Black Friday.")

Paradise is a platinum card
Behind the wheel of your car, with your new pair of trainers
Designer clothes: Go on, I'll have seven of those
And go to ski where it snows/Its bounty sustains us

Videophones, with all the latest ringtones
You buy-to-let your new home
Don't care what you're spending
Then just like that, reminders under the mat
Of your flat full of tat
The pile of debts never ending

Diggle also addresses crass commercialism and the global homogenization of culture in his song "Starbucks Around the World" from 2005's Serious Contender, as well as in "Sell You Everything" from 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy.

14. "Big Brother Wheels" (Diggle) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)

Big Brother is watching YOU!

A tune about 1984 hitting a tad later than expected. Yes, Big Brother is watching and his jack-booted "line of blue" will make "you believe what you receive". Shouts from the crowd? Not allowed. "And if you walk into walls, you'll get a kick in the balls and see how the mighty fall," Diggle warns. If his name wasn't Winston Smith, he could laugh about it all. Instead, he offsets the dire straits with this finger-snapping pop melody that at least one reviewer compared to the late '70s sound of The Motors. Buzzcocks made a music video for the song, but the record company passed on releasing it as a single, much to Diggle's disappointment.

Watch Buzzcocks play "Big Brother Wheels."

Big Brother Wheels gonna stamp it out of you in time
Big Brother Wheels gonna make you jump and walk the line...

Jackboot stamp all over your face
Jackboot stamp all over the place

15. "See Through You" (Diggle) - from the Flat-Pack Philosophy "Reconcilation" CD Single (2006)

If I could see through you/Through what you want to do/But you ain't got a clue
If I could find a way just to make you say/But you don't play that way...
Look into your life like a mirror/Backs against the wall - it's a never-ending story

Diggle originally recorded this on his 2005 solo album Serious Contender, but this slower Buzzcocks version is more stop-start/herky-jerky, its thick-and-chunky layered guitars and backing vocals creating a '70s powerpop vibe not unlike a Badfinger song - specifically "No Matter What."

I especially love the hand-claps that are added on (a Tony Barber suggestion? A shout-out to Badfinger's "No Matter What"?).

16. "Keep On Believing" (Shelley) - from The Way (2014)

"The Way" (2014)

Let’s give it up for rock and roll
If you feel it in your heart and soul
Then you’re in control
Keep on believing...
What’s the use complaining that it’s forever raining
After all, that’s what they make umbrellas for

The obvious single, and opening track, from 2014's The Way. Nothing spectacular, just a solid pop song and concert pleaser.

Watch Buzzcocks play "Keep On Believing" on Late Night with Seth Meyer.

17. "Sell You Everything" (Diggle) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy CD Single (2006)

"Sell You Everything" CD Single (2006)

An album track that also was released as a CD single, "Sell You Everything" is either about consumerism or prostitution (take your pick!).

"All the things you wanted, set within your sight"

Either way, it's a Diggle ditty, which means that what it lacks in profundity it more than makes up for in solid riffing. Nice Steve solo, to boot.

The lights are so bright/all the things you wanted
Set within your sights/you sell your soul tonight

Sell you everything, sell me everything

Watch Buzzcocks play "Sell You Everything."

18. "People Are Strange Machines" (Diggle) - from  The Way (2014)

Steve's best song from the latest album, and one of the best in his 'cocks catalog. No idea what it's about (as usual), but another strong melody makes this one a keeper.

When you're stuck in a room with a mouthful of headspace
A mechanical zoom and a smile wide across your face...

Looking for life, counting the cost
Nothing's been gained and nothing's lost
People are strange machines

Watch Buzzcocks play "People Are Strange Machines" (live).

19. "Totally from the Heart" (Shelley) - from All Set (1996)

"All Set" (1996)

I'm to you like the mountain to Mohammed
But these roles could be juxtaposed, it's up to you now
Made it plain from the start
Totally from the heart

Amy and I rarely ever listen to All Set, despite it being a pretty solid rock album that would appeal to fans of Green Day's sound. No surprise there, the record was produced by Dookie engineer Neill King and recorded in Green Day's hometown of Berkeley, CA. "Totally from the Heart" opens the album and sands of one of Shelley's best driving pop songs: crisp and soaring guitars, an infectious chorus, and a typically compact arrangement. That's our Pete!

Listen to Buzzcocks play "Totally From the Heart."

20. "Telephone Operator" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's XL1 (1983)

Pete Shelley, "XL1" (Island Records, 1983)

Pete's irresistable single release from his second solo album is pure '80s electronic dance-club joy, married as always to his clever wordplay. Once again produced by Martin Rushent, the album itself was notable for including a computer program for the ZX Spectrum which displayed lyrics and graphics synced in time to the music - a precursor to the visuals of today's media players.

Telephone operator/You're my aural stimulator
Telephone operator/Ne c'est pas la raison d'etre

21. "Yesterday's Not Here" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's Homosapien (1981)

Pete Shelley, "Homosapien" (Island Records, 1981)

Several of the songs on Homosapien started out as tracks intended for the abortive fourth Buzzcocks album. But after the group convened at Manchester Pluto Studios in early 1981 and troubles continued, Shelley and producer Martin Rushent decided they loved the synth-and-drum machine experiments enough to jump ship on Buzzcocks and launch Pete's solo electronics career. Listening to "Yesterday's Not Here," I can easily imagine it as a guitar-driven Buzzcocks tune.

22. "I Don't Know What It Is" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's Homosapien (1981)

The second single from Homosapien is another tune I can see working as a Buzzcocks song from that post-1980 period when Pete was coming up with such Martin Rushent sound experiments as "Strange Thing," "Are Everything," and "What Do You Know?" (from the Parts 1, 2, and 3 final Buzzcocks singles releases).

23. "Homosapien" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's Homosapien (1981)

Pete Shelley, "Homosapien" (Island, 1981)

Shamefully banned by the "Homo Superior"-with-heads-up-their-posterior BBC, the title track to Pete's solo "coming out" career is unashamedly infectious, working as a fun sing-along pop song as well as a (not-so-thinly-veiled) gay rights manifesto. And yes, it's the most Buzzcocks readymade of the songs here, with still a lot of guitar (acoustic and electric) between the synth-pop production by Martin Rushent.

The Post-Buzzcocks Buzzcocks even performed "Homosapien" at the 2012 Coachella music festival, as shown below:

Watch Pete & Buzzcocks perform "Homosapien" at Coachella 2012.

And here's the as-it-sounded-then original from 1981's music video:

The next two songs are from a limited edition maxi-single and represent more guitar-based music that could easily have ended up on that abortive final Buzzcocks album.

24. "In Love with Somebody Else" (Shelley) - bonus single from Pete Shelley's I Don't Know What It Is Limited Edition 2x7" Single (1981)

I Don't Know What It Is EP (Genetic/Island Records, 1981)

Another in the line of great Shelley songs with "love" in the title, a list whose ranks also included "Ever Fallen in Love" (Etc.), "Love You More," and "You Say You Don't Love Me." And, lyrically, Pete could be talking about his "all booked up" post-Buzzcocks career at the time ("Homosapien" rose as high as number 14 on the Club Play Singles chart, and hit number 6 in Canada).

Everyone's coming to me
For some love, oh yeah
I'm popular since you left me, you see
All booked up, oh yeah
But half of what I want I don't need
Cos you see
I'm in love with somebody else
With a dream whose passion is a dare
And I'm always so unaware

Listen to Pete play "In Love With Somebody Else."

25. "Maxine" (Shelley) - bonus single from Pete Shelley's I Don't Know What It Is Limited Edition 2x7" Single (1981)

Listen to Pete Shelly play "Maxine."

Move over, "Mad Mad Judy," there's another gal name-checked in Buzzcocks discography. The acoustic guitar, subject matter, and arrangement lend the tune an early Beatles vibe (think McCartney's "Michelle"), while the drum machine and production keep it modernized enough to include with Pete's Homosapien CD reissue.

This song actually dates back to the late '70s, with Pete previously demoing it on Picadelly Radio in February 1979, as shown below.

Listen to "Maxine" acoustic radio session.

26. "Every Day and Every Night" (Diggle) - from Flat-Pack Philosophy "Sell You Everything" CD Single (2006)

Cross the bridge and you will find/That it's only in your mind
Steve Diggle stays calm and carries on, in this pretty acoustic number found only on this FPP CD single.
This 1996 demo recording was originally intended for the Modern album. And, yes, multi-talented bassist-producer Tony Barber plays synth on it. Starts off real Windham Hilly with acoustic guitar strumming complementing Barber's airy synth line, but then really kicks in with a hooky bridge as Diggle sings, "Across your mind you find that time is only time and time again" and adds a restrained, economical electric guitar solo.

Listen to Buzzcocks play "Every Day and Every Night."

27. "Twilight" (Shelley) - from Pete Shelley's XL1 (1983)

Amy and Dave Cawley consider this to be the prettiest song Pete Shelley ever wrote, which makes it the perfect cool-down coda to this fantasy mix tape. Plus you get the sound of birdies merrily chirping away.

Watching the twilight, I saw it flicker
Feel that I might as well give up and go
On the horizon, are distant reminders
Twilight is the only love I know

Listen to Pete Shelley play "Twilight."

Bonus Track:

28. "Alive Tonight" (Diggle)  - from various recordings.

"Alice Tonight" EP (1991)

The earliest version was recorded during the 1991 demo sessions for what became the Trade Test Transmissions album and featured 3/4 of the original Buzzcocks (Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, and Steve Garvey) with Mike Joyce of the The Smiths sitting in on drums. It was released as the title track of the 1991 Alice Tonight EP. A great, rare music video of this lineup performing the song in Beatlesque matching suits appears below (Amy adds, "Steve appears to be making McCartney faces at times!"):

Watch 1991 Buzzcocks play "Alive Tonight."

Seems the video was shown on a television program called Videowave, excerpted from an awkward-looking interview in which the female interviewer straddled Diggle's lap (not that the shag-loving author of "You Know You Can't Help It" was complaining!).

Watch way-awkward Buzzcocks Interview for "Alive Tonight."

Then there is the version appearing on 1993's TTT album with Tony Barber and Phil Barker on bass and drums, respectively.

"Alive Tonight" is still alive on A Different Compilation (2011)

Finally, "Alive Tonight" turns up on 2011's A Different Compilation album, this time featuring the current Buzzcocks rhythm section of Danny Farrant-Chris Remington giving the song a go.