Stacks of cassette-boxes like mini musical blocks of flats and behind them CD's on shelves in terraced rows, from Captain Beefheart to Robert Wyatt.

   Tapes for Marx's sake, in this age of the i-pod and i-phone! But these are all gifts from Ace Tapeman Andrew Bartz, friend and comrade ; the most avid and erudite music fan I know. For many years now, he has been giving me these compilations or taped CD's, sometimes taking their proper names, but mostly inventing ones such as 'The Frenetic Features' or 'But Stop Before The End'. Stereophonics should've employed him as their official album-namer, then they might've avoided the likes of 'Keep Calm and Carry On' (their latest).

   I have to thank Andrew for my love of so many varied artists I find it hard to list them. To mention but a few whose CD's I have since sought whenever and wherever : Tom Russell, Sufjan Stevens and, of course, that great Welsh musical maestro with numerous diverse albums through the years, John Cale. And there are many bands I'd never have picked up on; notable among them being two from the 1980's, when so much of the mainstream was insipid : Carter USM and Fatima Mansions.

   Only occasionally has he failed to convert and convince me. This is especially true of Welsh rockers Man, who he has followed since the 70's .
I actually preferred Deke Leonard's solo work to most of the group's output ( too many wayward guitar solos).

   His tapes have taken me through many journeys ( often to Aberystwyth and back). On a long return flight from Japan I got very peculiar looks when fiddling with my Sony Walkman ; as if I'd stolen it from some Gadget Museum! On this flight, my brother asked me - 'How many times have you listened to that tape?' convinced I only possessed the one.

   During all that time I can't recall being bowled over by a female singer-songwriter apart from Buffy St. Marie, who I'd liked in the past anyway. So it was strange and refreshing to listen on tape to Thea Gilmore's CD 'Songs from the gutter'.

   I'd heard her before. I'd bought 'Avalanche' and 'Liejacker' and quite liked the former but was disappointed with the latter. But this album , from 2004-05 and apparently recorded very quickly, had a profound effect. The sheer range of musical styles is breathtaking yet not forced and while the influences of Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and Neil Young are apparent, they are never overpowering.

   Above all, Gilmore's voice is emotional without any of the annoying vocal tics of so many others breaking on the scene and her lyrics are thoughtful and imaginative. She even does a Tom Russell ( see 'Van Ronk' from his 'Hotwalker' album) and recites her poem 'Don't set foot over the railway tracks' to atmospheric musical backing.

   In a world of X Factor karoake blandness and manufactured pop, I hope that Billy Bragg's right when he says - ' I think the X Factor might be good for alternative music, giving kids something to push against.' Certainly, Thea Gilmore has been pushing for too long and deserves to be embraced (on the evidence of 'Songs from the gutter') as one of the best singer-songwriters around.

   This is a fairly old one, but apt. A thanks to Andrew Bartz, heckler, doodler, artist and wizard of the cassette -

                                           SONGS IN MY HEAD

There are no better tickets
than these gifts you give,
these rattling boxes
passed like illicit substances
at our occasional booze-ups.

I want to praise you
long before any elegy,
your studiously penned
funny and angry titles:
and the NOT WHAT IT READS  one:
you should've had a band
just for the covers alone.

Journeys unwind: the brown path,
the shining rails, the thin
road leading away
to Africa or Ireland,
obscure names like places
only you discover,
Marxman, Best Shot, Tarika:
villages into towns into countries.

The music of your recordings,
the passports never stamped,
the borders always open:
songs in my head flying.


11/19/2009 05:57

I love that Billy Bragg quote however with Jedword becoming a new buzzword I am sorry to say that it does not look like this is the case


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