Music Monday: Divine Madness

Welcome to the final Music Monday of the series and the third and final album of the three that utterly dominated my listening as a young teen: Divine Madness.

Madness are one of those acts that I was probably aware of a lot longer than I necessarily realise. Songs like Our House, Wings of a Dove, Driving in My Car and House of Fun were very much part of the general backdrop of life – I can’t say that I heard them play on the radio or anything specific like that and yet somehow I knew them word for word. So when Divine Madness fell into my lap, some of it wasn’t exactly new to me, but it focussed my attention…

…and took me into a genre of music that I’d otherwise not really come across before: ska.

I was far too young to have known the 2 Tone revival when it was happening, but Divine Madness gave me a glimpse into it and what I heard I definitely liked the sound of. Of course, I had the same problem here as I would do a few years later with trying to find more stuff like Robert Miles’ Children: with no Spotify, I was stuck with what the radio played, what MTV showed and any information I could dig up in the library about who’d actually been involved so it would be a while before I really got to listen to bands like The Selector and The Specials (and there’s something particularly poignant writing this Music Monday in the wake of Terry Hall’s passing).

At least I had Madness!

And there was (is!) much more to them than just the ska introduction. They were also the band that introduced me to well-observed lyrics and the concept of writing about something beyond the normal stuff you hear in the charts. They wrote songs about the sort of life that I was familiar with. School days (Baggy Trousers), family (Our House, Embarrassment), the working grind (Grey Day), relationships (My Girl). Uncle Sam is a three minute skewering of American imperialism (and if you didn’t get that from the track title and lyrics, the video makes it very clear!), while Michael Caine is a pretty dark take on paranoia that was semi-inspired by the Michael Caine film The Ipcress File (hence the title).

It’s not all serious, of course. Not even my imagination can turn Nightboat to Cairo into anything other than a 3 minute piece of fun and silliness – which is definitely not a criticism, because you need the fun stuff to balance out the more meaningful things (which is, for me, where some of Madness’ more recent stuff has gone wrong – though maybe I need to dip into that again). It’s also worth noting that, out of all the stuff I got to hear them play when I saw them in concert a couple of years after Divine Madness came out, Nightboat to Cairo and One Step Beyond are the songs that stick out because they’re tracks made for dancing, and boy did we dance!

Overall, then, this album was a great introduction (or reintroduction) to the group and I went on to get (and love) all their original albums. It also led me to much more of the 2 Tone/Ska Revival and to some of the original Ska acts, like Prince Buster (whose song Madness the band took their name from and who the band wrote their first single, The Prince, in tribute to).

And with that, this short series is now complete. Music Monday will now go on hiatus until March(ish) when the Ved’ma section of the Elsehere Soundtrack will start posting. (err, Ved’ma drafting willing, of course…)

Until then, happy listening and reading!

Friday Fiction: The Sugar Plum Fairy

Season’s greetings to you all! Whether you’re celebrating today or just having a regular Sunday, I hope your day is fabulous.

This, of course, is NOT a Friday; I’m a couple of days late on this due to a research trip and the back end of my traditional NaNo lurgy (which arrived a week late, for a change…) – hopefully January will be a little better in terms of timing and organisation!

This month’s story is a simple one, about hard work, dreams and a little moment of magic.

Read The Sugar Plum Fairy

Happy reading!

Music Monday: Stranger in this Town

Welcome to another Music Monday, and the second complete album of this series. This one is by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi’s former lead guitarist) and it’s probably one of the more obscure albums in my collection. It’s much easier to get these days (hello, Amazon!) but back when it was first released in 1991…

As the previous post mentioned, I got introduced to Bon Jovi in my early teens and, as is the way of teenage girls (sometimes, at least) I got a bit obsessed. I wanted to know more about them and Wikipedia was still a good seven or eight years away. So when MTV Europe dedicated an entire weekend to them…well! Thirty years on, I can honestly say I don’t remember much of what I saw that weekend, but one thing that made an utterly indelible mark was one particular three minute music video. It was mainly shot in black and white, it featured a guy and a guitar and I was blown away by the music. One of the most important things MTV did when they screened videos is they showed who the artist was, what the song was and what the album was (if there was one), so when that information came up I had something to go on.

Turned out the guy was the Bon Jovi lead guitarist, Richie Sambora, and the album was Stranger in this Town. Trouble was, no-one had heard of either him or the album, which had been released about eighteen months prior!

It took me six months of trawling through record shops before I finally tracked down a copy of the album…and even then, all I could find was the CD release and there was one, teeeeeeeeny issue with that: I didn’t have a CD player! It took another couple of months before I found someone who was willing to copy it to tape for me and another week or so before I had the tape copy in my hands, by which point I was almost scared to play it. What if I didn’t like it? What if, after all this, that song wasn’t as good second time through? What if, what if, what if.

I played the tape.

And it turned out that it was, indeed, worth the wait and the anticipation. From the slightly trippy opening track, Rest in Peace, to the philosophical closing track, The Answer, the whole album was a delight. There’s a couple of tracks that would have fitted in on New Jersey (Church of Desire and Rosie – which was actually written for New Jersey but cut at the demo stage), there’s the bluesy title track and Mr Bluesman, with a cameo from Eric Clapton. One Light Burning is a haunting bit of composition dominated by some gorgeous guitar work. Father Time is a fine bit of musical melodrama, while River of Love is what it is: not my favourite track, but enjoyable to dance to!

And the track that kicked this all off? That was Ballad of Youth and thirty years on it’s still one of my top five songs, ever. There isn’t any one thing about it that I could point to to say “That’s why I love it”, it’s everything about it. For me, it’s a nigh-on perfect combination of everything I love: it’s got some well-observed lyrics, it’s got layers, it’s got layers of guitar work, it’s a song I have listened to on repeat and still found new things to like. It is just THAT good to my ears!

It’s overall not as strong an album as New Jersey (I do skip a couple of tracks if I’m not in the right mood) but it’s probably the album that crystalised the sort of guitar sound and style that I love and that ultimately lead me towards David Gilmour (with and without Pink Floyd), also Marillion (with and without Fish) and Mark Knopfler (with and without Dire Straits) – though admittedly, Knopfler was already someone I knew quite well (musically speaking).

Next week, the final album of the trio.

Until then, happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: New Jersey

Welcome to another Music Monday post and a first for the series: I’m not just talking about one song (or two!), I’m talking 12 of them. An entire album’s worth of material. What’s more, this is the first of three such posts so, strap in…!

I said last week that my middle teens were dominated by listening to the same three albums (more or less) and this is the first of those. It’s by Bon Jovi and was originally released in 1988, though my introduction to it came a few years later. It wasn’t the first Bon Jovi album I knew, it certainly wasn’t the last, but it was the one that made me sit up and go “This is awesome!” It was the first album I’d ever listened to where there wasn’t one single track I wanted to skip (not that skipping tracks was a readily available option when listening on cassette!) and I just utterly fell in love.

Looking dispassionately, the music isn’t ground breaking – there were quite a few bands with a similar sort of sound (though Bon Jovi win the competition by the sheer virtue of still selling out stadia and selling albums thirty five years later!). The lyrics aren’t cutting edge or poetic – they’re about early adulthood and girls and partying and navigating relationships. There are no epic 10 minute tracks of sonic experimentation…and yet, to me, even now, it’s a perfect hour of listening because while it’s not complicated or ground breaking or any of that stuff, the songs are still really good and the whole thing is a really good way to spend that hour.

And while I say there is no poetry and nothing earth shattering, there are touches in there that kicked off my love of complexity and well-observed lyrics. There’s Living In Sin, a song that leans into the tension between modern (at the time) life and Catholic expectations. There’s Homebound Train, a treatise on the subject of perpetual touring (the irony here is the tour to promote this album pretty much broke the band for two years) and dear god I love the relentless nature of the music and, particularly, the harmonica/organ/guitar solo on this track. Blood on Blood is a great take on the all-in nature of some friendships. Born to be my Baby is a similarly great take on a more romantic relationship (it’s also the song that taught me how to really dig into music and hear the different parts – though that may just be me being weird…). Stick to Your Guns is not particularly subtle (!) but a song urging you to stand up for what you believe in is some surprisingly solid advice from a rock song and it features perhaps the one real bit of experimentation on the album as an intro: Ride Cowboy Ride was recorded in mono, which gives it a bit of an old-timy feel, and it’s just two guitars and two guys singing. Short and simple. I’ll Be There For You is a vast improvement on one of their earlier songs and if Lay Your Hands on Me, Bad Medicine, 99 In The Shade and Love for Sale aren’t particularly profound, they’re FUN.

Then there’s my favourite track: Wild is the Wind. This is the song that cemented this album as one I utterly and completely and unreservedly love and that’s for two things. The first of these is the use of non-rock instruments on a definite rock track. Something about using classical instruments on a rock track (or, for that matter, using rock instruments on a classical track) tickles me enormously, and this is the track, with its use of cellos, that set me off on that path. It’s subtle. I didn’t hear them at first (in fact, I only knew they were there because the liner notes said they were!), but then I did hear them and my rather rigid little thirteen year old mind was blown wide open. Surely you couldn’t use stringed instruments like cellos on rock music?!! Sure, I’d seen rock music performed by and with orchestras, but this was different. This wasn’t synths pretending to be violins, this was two folk with cellos, performing with a rock band.

It sounds stupid, I will admit, but up to that point, I’d assumed that there were RULES about that sort of thing. This was the album that showed me there were no such thing as rules, and it’s a very short hop from learning that to getting a taste for progressive rock and certain sorts of trance and dance music.

The second thing that cemented this song’s place in my heart is the introduction. It starts quietly. Just a single guitar playing a flamenco-style piece that then leads in bass, those cellos I mentioned and drums. Each note is crisp and clear and echoes in a way that always makes me think of a lonely, open space at dusk and it leads into a song whose lyrical imagry supports that idea. It’s incredibly simple and it gives me a tiny bit of a chill every time I hear it.

It also added another guitarist to my list of “I could listen to these guys play the equivalent of reading the phone book”…

…but more on THAT, next week!

Overall, it’s an album that’s aged gracefully. Sure, some of the demos and outtakes haven’t (dear god have they not *shudder*), but the album as released in 1988 is still as good a listen now as it was thirty five years ago and if I don’t listen to it QUITE as often now as I did as a teen, well that’s just because this album (though I didn’t know it back then) was the start of my tastes broadening out.

That’s all for now.

Happy reading and listening!

Snow Is Falling…

I’m cuddling a wheatbag, snuggled under a chunky blanket and sipping hot black currant. It is COLD! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the cold, but in years gone by we’d work down to -2 (current temp). This year? We only had our first frost this week! All in all, a bit of a shock to the system but I have my blanket and my hot black currant and my wheatbag so as long as I don’t have to actually go out, I’m all set!

NaNo is now over and it was definitely not one of my more productive ones. I topped out at around 15k on Hassatar, which is disappointing, but, as I also realised I have some massive pacing and timeline issues, I’m not utterly downcast about it. The big issue is that I have action taking place at the same time in five or six different timezones and two of those timezones have more than one location, so while I know WHAT is happening, I need to work out the when so that things make sense. There’s also a lot of research involved, which largely got put on hold during November and which I now need to go back and do. All in all, it’s a big lot of work (and that’s before you add in the actual writing part!), so I will be taking a day over the holiday season to get it sorted out. Not necessarily getting all the research done, but at least getting the timeline sorted, with notes about just what does need to be researched.

So, if that’s Hassatar, what of Ved’ma? It was mostly on hiatus last month so I’m now starting to pick it up again and trying to work out what needs to be done. As mentioned back in November, the last third needs an overhaul, which I’ve started. Unfortunately, it’s led to the realisation that the middle third also needs a bit of restructuring, so the answer to what needs to be done is: a lot. Fortunately, I have some time over the holidays where I can give it my full attention (rather than doing a bit here and a bit there), which should allow me to finally nail the structure down and might even allow for me to finish the draft.

In rather more positive news, however, Ved’ma now has cover art. As ever, done by the fabulous Enchanted Ink, I think it might be my favourite cover so far (and I’ve absolutely loved all of them!) and I can’t wait to see it in print…

…so I really do need to get the book finished!

On the Sage front, nothing much has changed there. I’m not planning on spending much time on it over the course of this month, although I will take some time over the holidays to do some planning so that when Ved’ma is finished drafting I can just step straight into Sage.

Finally, on the Elsehere front, I am hoping to get a couple of tie-in short stories written over the holiday period for use as Friday Fiction pieces in the new year. These will be stories that don’t, directly, relate to the books but will flesh out some of the other characters. More on those, when they’re ready!

On the Friday Fiction front, this month’s story will be going up on the 23rd and is tentatively titled “Always The Understudy, Never The Lead”.

Finally, the Music Monday series started on Monday. I haven’t (yet) set up the playlist on Spotify, but I will get that sorted out before Monday’s post goes up. (The end of November proved to be a bit more hairy than I was anticipating – normally, I get this sort of thing done well in advance, but this time I’m playing catch up!)

And, I think, that’s it.

Happy reading 🙂

Music Monday: Children

Welcome to this short series of Music Monday posts. Through the next five weeks I’m going to be talking about pieces of music that shaped my tastes and steared me one way or another, and the first of these is Robert Miles’ 1995 hit, Children.

I’d always held fairly ecclectic musical tastes as a child, but by my middle teens my tastes were narrowing. I disliked a lot of what was in the charts with varying degrees of either apathy or outright hatred, depending on what it was, MTV Europe (with its occasionally off-the-wall European pop) had been replaced with MTV UK (which was just the same as what I heard on radio) and I was more or less listening to the same three albums over and over.

Then this little piano-based trance piece came out.

It was so simple and utterly delightful and it made music interesting again to me. A large part of what I loved was the way the vaious elements of the melody were layered up – it starts with piano, then there’s guitar added, then the drum track and effects. Strings are used to support the melody . And it builds, from nothing, to a grand finale in a style that’s similar to a more classical composition. All in all, it very quickly became one of my favourite pieces of music from the 90s…

…and I wanted more like it!

Of course, in 1995, apps like Spotify were yet to exist, so it was a bit harder to branch out from one song to find similar things, but I bought the subsequent album (Dreamland) and over the next year or so (partly as a result of the success of Children), other trance and dance music hit the charts and then Enigma released Beyond the Invisible and from there it was a short hop to early Within Temptation, Delerium, Avicci and all sorts beyond.

And those three albums I mentioned? More on them, next week!

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!