League Two Music #15 – Newport County

As we speak Gillingham are continuing their meteoric rise up League Two (one defeat in seven) towards safety.  There is an air of quietly confident optimism surrounding the team.  An air which before was tainted by hatred and bitterness from all sides.  One of the teams that have shimmered into sight as the Gills rise up the table is Newport County, a team who rose, then collapsed and then rose again and here to talk about them and Newport in general is exiled Devonian and honorary Welshman, The Robster.  This folks, is excellent and the music selection is second to none.   Thanks Rob.

Languishing in the bottom half of League Two is lowly Newport County. For some reason, The Exiles just cannot put a string of favourable results together this season and as a result, they’ve put themselves in danger of relegation, a situation they haven’t found themselves in for a few years.

It’s the latest chapter in the colourful history of Newport County, the second most popular sports team in the city (the first being the Gwent Dragons rugby team). Formed in 1912, the club started out in the old Southern League but became mainstays of the Football League Third Division South between 1920 and 1939 when they were finally promoted to the second tier. WWII interrupted their maiden Division 2 season, and on recommencing post-war, they were promptly relegated.

A further relegation followed in 1963 to Division Four where they remained until promotion in 1980. Their team that year included a young John Aldridge (who would later become a league title winner with Liverpool) and legendary lower-league striker Tommy Tynan (who later would become a legend at Plymouth Argyle – SWC). Both would be with the club during their most successful period. County won the Welsh Cup in 1981 which qualified them for the following season’s European Cup-Winners Cup. They made it to the quarter-finals where they met Carl Zeiss Jena F.C. of East Germany, drawing 2-2 in Jena before narrowly losing the home leg 1-0.

Sadly, it all came crashing down before the decade was over. County were relegated in 1986, and a second-successive relegation followed in 1987. They were now a non-league team and they never recovered. Financial mismanagement at the hands of their American owner Jerry Sherman led to the club being unable to fulfil their fixtures, being expelled from the Football Conference and ultimately folding in 1989.

From the ashes, a group of supporters reformed the club later that year. Being appointed to the Hellenic League, they were forced to play their home games in Gloucestershire over the border in England as Newport Council, who owned the team’s previous ground Somerton Park, refused to allow them back owing to the old club’s unpaid debts. Promotion to the Southern League followed, a return to their homeland at the newly built Newport Stadium in 1994, and a High Court ruling in their favour which prevented them from having to play in the newly reformed Welsh National League, meant Newport County were on their way back up. Their ascent was completed when they were promoted back to the Football League’s fourth tier in 2013.  Since then they forced an FA Cup replay against the mighty Tottenham in 2018, beat Leicester City in 2019, also in the FA Cup, and came close to promotion to League One (as well as also narrowly avoiding relegation again in 2017). Mike Flynn, manager and local hero, masterminded those giant-killing exploits, but lost his job at the helm after County’s dismal start to the 2022-23 season. Now managed by Graham Coughlin, they haven’t improved that much…

Newport’s music scene has also fluctuated, but it has its fair share of VIPs.  One of our best known sons is the legendary Jon Langford of Mekons and Three Johns fame. Now based in Chicago, his latest project has been an annual release of triple 7” singles with various collaborators.

Down from Dover – Jon Langford  (from ‘Songs of False Hopes & High Values’)

Benji Webbe is one of Newport’s biggest characters. My eldest daughter can testify to that as she got to know him through the gym she worked at. He is the frontman of globally-famous ragga-metal band Skindred, but SWC has specifically requested something by his former band Dub War, which to be fair, is a very good call.

Murder – Dub War (from ‘The Dub, The War & The Ugly’, 1993)

Some bands from the Newport area also became rather huge. The Darling Buds, from the neighbouring old Roman city of Caerleon, found themselves a part of the so-called ‘blonde scene’ alongside the Primitives and Transvision Vamp.

Burst – The Darling Buds (from ‘Pop Said…’, 1988)

While just up the valley, four make-up wearing upstarts crossed the Sex Pistols with Guns ‘n’ Roses and caused a storm. Well, several storms, actually.

Motorcycle Emptiness – Manic Street Preachers (from ‘Generation Terrorists’, 1992)

Of course, the 90s was a huge time for British music, Welsh music particularly, and even more so in Newport in which the Cool Cymru scene centred around the great TJs (now sadly no more). 60 Foot Dolls cut their teeth there.

Stay – 60 Foot Dolls (from ‘The Big 3’, 1996)

The scene also thrust the likes of Feeder, Novocaine and Flyscreen in our general direction. In fact, it’s here we can link back to our football team:

Carl Zeiss Jena – Flyscreen (from the ‘Size Five Leather’ EP, 1996)

But it’s not all loud rock & roll. Rap music’s greatest pioneers also hail from Newport, and are still going strong and have a unique link to Newport County AFC themselves:

(This link will take you to a video of Goldie Lookin’ Chain and Newport County launching the team’s new third kit inspired by the GLC themselves)

Hurtling back to the present… Bug Club don’t hail from the city of Newport itself, but are from the wider Newport county region, or the town of Caldicot and the neighbouring village of Magor to be precise. Everyone I spoke to about bands to include in this piece mentioned Bug Club. You may well have encountered them if you’re a 6 Music listener – I know Marc Riley is a fan. If not, well think what might happen if the Velvet Underground held a party and invited the likes of Steven Malkmus, J Mascis and Kim Deal. A lot of fun would be had, nearly as much fun as listening to Bug Club’s debut album ‘Green Dream In F#’ which came out a few months ago. To my shame, I never latched on in time to include in my 22 In ’22 rundown. Had I been a bit more on the ball, ‘Green Dream In F#’ would definitely have been on that list. They’ve released a couple EPs and singles prior to the album, but here’s the brilliant opening track from the LP.

Only In Love – Bug Club (from ‘Green Dream In F#’, 2022)

It’s amazing really how many rock heroes have links with The’Port. Donna Matthews of Elastica is from Newport. The guy who plays keyboards live with Saint Etienne is from Newport. And a bloke who was once in Bush is from Newport. Impressive, eh? And let’s not forget the cover of the Stone Roses single Love Spreads depicts a cherub on Newport’s Town Bridge (true).

I also ought to mention a certain fella called Joe Strummer. Heard of him? Back in the early 70s, this unruly ragamuffin worked as a gravedigger at St Woolos. He formed a band here and played his first ever gig at a long-gone place on Stow Hill. Apparently he became quite famous when he moved back to London. One of his mates at the time went on to have a son who is not only called Joe but has a band of his own called Idles. You may have heard of them too…

As is customary in this series, we finish with a band you (probably) won’t have heard of before but might do soon. The Nightmares make what they term “noir pop” and sound like they are influenced by their parents’ collections of 80s records. They’ve so far released a 6-track EP and a couple of singles, but their debut album is due this year.

The Falling Dream – The Nightmares (single, 2020)

(This link takes you to a news story all about Joe Strummer and it’s a cracking read)

. https://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/joe-strummer-newport-clash-idles-24769677

Told you it was excellent – Next Week Tranmere Rovers

A Month all about Names – #11 – Elvis – or Why I agree with Chuck D

Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier – Manic Street Preachers (1996, Epic Records, Taken from ‘Everything Must Go’)

The second to last time I went to Margate would have been about 1989 when a class trip to the beach was organised, which was all good fun until one of the more erm, friendly girls in the class copped off with a local lad and things got a bit heated when her current boyfriend took exception to it and we had to leg it for the train as the local lads threatened to ‘stripe us’.  Apparently, this means cut us with knives, which I doubt they actually had, but I didn’t really want to wait and find out.

So when one summer during my University years, my old college mate, Dave phoned me and said he was driving down to Margate to catch up with another old college buddy named Dylan* and did I want to come along I was sceptical that it would be a good fun.  Saying that it was a Thursday in the Medway Towns and I had nothing better to do.

Margate is about an hour’s drive from my dads, in good traffic, you hit the M2 and then the Thanet Way and keep driving until you see the Scenic Railway of Dreamland shimmer into view.  Dreamland is basically what Margate is famous for (apart from Tracey Emin and her bed that is) a Victorian Amusement Park crammed full of rides, slides and arcade fun.  The rest of the place is pretty much what you expect from faded seaside towns.  It is full of rundown bedsits, closed up shops and greasy chippies.  Seedy looking blokes hang around on street corners, and heroin it appears is the biggest draw in town. 

Dave parks up his car in a car park and we wandered down the road to where Dylan lives.  I haven’t seen Dylan since I left college, some three years ago, it will be great to see him, I didn’t realise he’d moved to Margate.  Dave tells me that Dylan had met a girl and worked in a local pizza takeaway or least he was last summer when they last spoke.  Since then Dave had joined the army and this was literally his first week off since Christmas.

The street is not the nicest part of town, there is rubbish all over the pavement and at least two cars have their windows smashed.  Dave glances back up the road to the car park.  We open the gate leading to Dylan’s place.  He lives in flat 4, Dave says and rings the doorbell.  A voice crackles over the intercom. 

“Is Dylan there?”

“Who wants to know?” comes the reply. 

“Couple of old mates” says Dave.

“Wait there”.  We wait. About four minutes later the door opens and no word of a lie, Elvis Presley steps out of the house. Well, Elvis if he grew about a foot, lost a few pounds of fat, replaced them with muscle and started carrying a rather large bat that is.  Otherwise everything is the same, sideburns, white jump suit, gold chain…Elvis has left the building and he is pissed off.

“Shit” was I think the first word I uttered.

“You mates of Dylan’s?” Elvis says.  Oh yes, Elvis has an Estuary English accent, gone is his Yankee Doodle American drawl that he had.

“Well, not really…” I squeak – for some reason when I was younger when confronted by bat wielding Elvis Impersonators my voice tended to go a bit higher. “I’ve not seen him in three years” I offer in the hope that Elvis actually knows Dylan better than I do.

Dave has bulked up a bit since he joined the army and he seems utterly unfazed by this bat wielding Elvis in front of us.  Far less fazed than the Belle & Sebastian fan standing behind him anyway.

“Is he in?” Dave says. 

Elvis lowers the bat and walks up to Dave so that they are almost toe to toe, you can smell his cologne, which is lucky because his breath is terrible.

“He’s inside” he says.  “Doing ten for a robbery.  He owes me three months rent and three grand in cash, so any friends of his are not welcome, I thought you boys might have been sent round by some Scouse wankers that Dylan worked for, but…” and he looks directly at me here, with my long hair and my Sleeper Tshirt, “I’m thinking probably not…” and with that Elvis re enters the building and Dave and I leave.  About five minutes later, sat on the relative safety of the beach, we laugh, one of us very nervously.

There are three other Elvis tracks in the music library (plus two albums with ‘Elvis’ in the title), one of which I didn’t even know was there.

Elvis’ Flaming Star – Pond (2015, EMI Records, Taken from ‘Man It Feels Like Space’)

Elvis – Longpigs (1996, Island Records, Taken from ‘The Sun is Often Out’)

Morning Elvis – Florence & the Machine (2022, Polydor Records, Taken from ‘Dance Fever’)

* Dylan is not his real name.  Just in case Elvis is reading.

Tomorrow rather appropriately David/Dave/Davey who might be down the front with the coppers.

Retrospective Musical Naval Gazing – #6 (1996)

1996 was another great year for music.  It was the year where Britpop was still just about king but a whole host of new and exciting acts who prefers keyboards to guitars were having massive hits.  It was the year when even bands like Oasis invited acts like the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy to support them.  Events like Brighton’s much missed Essential Festival saw line ups deliberately designed to appeal to an increasingly less fussy crowd.  It was a summer where indie, dance, hip hop and on occasion rock all sat comfortably together and right then music was interesting, varied and regularly exciting.

Yet despite all that it was the return of a band who many people thought would simply fade away given that one of their members disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again.  However, this was the Manic Street Preachers and they, as usual, did things their way and when they returned, at what was absolutely the right time, clean shaven, reflective and with a songbook full of incredible songs it was like we had a new band to celebrate, which in some ways we did.  They rather predictably topped my end of year top ten with song about libraries giving us power.

A Design for Life – Manic Street Preachers (1996, Sony Records, Taken from ‘Everything Must Go’)

At number two in my Top Ten was a remix of a song about being an alcoholic that originally started life as a B-Side (to the original unremixed, instrumental version) and then had its chorus of “Lager, Lager, Lager” catapulted into everyday speech thanks to its appearance in ‘Trainspotting’.  A chorus apparently dreamed up by Karl Hyde when he got frustrated at continuously losing his place in the queue at a bar.

Born Slippy Nuxx – Underworld (1996, Junior Boys Own Records, Taken from ‘Trainspotting OST’)

And for once I think I got the top two spot on. 

It wasn’t all Britpop and amyl house round my way though.  I still loved a slacker anthem or two and one of my most listened to albums of 1996 was Beck’s supreme (and spoiler, coming to a Nearly Perfect Album Series near you pretty soon) ‘Odelay’.  Something that was recognised by the fact that ‘Where’s It At?’ placed at Number 3 in my Top Ten.

Where’s It At? – Beck (1996, Geffen Records, Taken from ‘Odelay’)

The rest of the Top Ten would make a decent hour of music if you played them back to back, the Prodigy sat at four with ‘Firestarter’, the Super Furry Animals completed the Top Five with their brilliant swearing anthem ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’.   Number six was ‘Trash’ by the newly exciting and pumped up Suede, and at seven was this splendid hip hop blunt from the Fugees who by the end of the year would be one of the biggest acts on the planet.

Ready Or Not – Fugees (1996, Sony Records, Taken from ‘The Score’)

At number eight were a band who should have been the biggest band on the planet by the end of 1996 but weren’t.  A band whose unique selling points were that they had two keyboardists, really bad haircuts and liked wearing jumpers that had been made by their nans.  Sadly the indie record buying public disagreed with the critics and instead of filling their collections with excellent songs about puppets, roses and hiding in woods, they all went and bought some guff by The Lemonheads and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals instead of the tremendous ‘Race’ by Tiger.

Race – Tiger (1996, Island Records, Taken from ‘We Are Puppets’)

100 Songs with One Word Titles (100 – 96)

I was going to count these down individually but when I broke this news to one member of the musical jury the other day, he told me to ‘not milk it’.  So in order to avoid over filling this particular musical bucket with cow juice, I will reveal five songs a day until I get to number 50 and then the bucket will overfloweth.  It also means that this series should be done and dusted before the start of September (hopefully).

It seems fitting and probably justified to start by planting a knee firmly in the balls of the establishment. 

100. Repeat – Manic Street Preachers (1991, Columbia Records, Taken from ‘Generation Terrorists’)

The Manics just about scraped into the Top 100, needing a last day shove in the back from the final jury member whose votes came in some 20 minutes before the deadline door slammed firmly shut.  ‘Repeat’ is classic Manics and they are at their most provocative as they yelp rudely about what they want the “Queen and Country” to do, as an electroclash backdrop bounces around your speakers.  It should have done better folks, maybe I chose the wrong song?

99. England – The National (2010, 4AD Records, Taken from ‘High Violet’)

The National started well but rather like Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympics, they rather limped over the line, whilst sobbing into the arms of their loved ones. Although that maybe more to do with the fact that have rapidly turned into America’s version of Elbow.  Saying that ‘England’ is a marvellous track, easily a highlight of ‘High Violet’ especially the piano bit.

98. Stay – Shakespear’s Sister (1992, London Records Taken from ‘Hormonally Yours’)

I’d forgotten just how successful ‘Stay’ was.  In the UK it topped the charts for eight weeks.  Eight Weeks.  I would imagine that Ms’s Fahey and Detroit would gladly swap that for a slightly higher place in this rundown, but there you go. ‘Stay’ is extraordinarily good. A tale of two worlds, one all spooky and claustrophobic and full of danger, the other seemingly safe and full of flowers.  Also, Siobhan Fahey’s throaty growl as the chorus kicks in remains one of the finest moments in pop music.

97. Hoppipolla – Sigur Ros (2005, EMI Records, Taken from ‘Takk’)

‘Hoppipolla’ is a beautiful track, an ode to mucking around and “Hopping in Puddles”.  It was and remains Sigur Ros’ most identifiable song, largely because the BBC have had it written into its Charter that any programme that features ice, cold climates and anything resembling a tundra must be soundtracked by ‘Hoppipolla’.  Something that as it happens I would gladly pay an extra £2 a year on the licence fee to hear.

96. Deceptacon (DFA Mix) – Le Tigre (1999, Mr Lady Records, Taken from ‘Le Tigre’)

Or you can just have the normal version if you like.  Personally I much prefer the remix because it hits like a bomb and takes that line ripped from a novelty song and twists it inside out adds, a load of bleeps and yelps and squeaks and just drips adrenaline.  It’s also the best song in the world named after a bad robot from Transformers.  Until Jason Pierce writes a song called ‘Optimus Prime (in my heart)’ that is.

Music Found in Charity Shops – #8

Lipstick Traces – Manic Street Preachers (2003, Sony Records)

Bought Oxfam, Exeter for £2.49

Spectators of Suicide – Manic Street Preachers (2003, Sony Records)

There is only thing worse than the stench of a major label flogging a Greatest Hits Package to diehard fans of a particular band.  That is the stench of a major label flogging a B Sides and Rarities Package to diehard fans of a particular band.  There are very few compilation albums of this type that appear to be worth getting.  This one is no different.  Sort of. To misquote some pundit somewhere, its an album of two halves.  The first CD is excellent, the second is not.

The first CD of this album contains 20 songs that saw a release as a B Side to one of the singles that the Manic Street Preachers released from their first six albums.  Not taking away anything that the band have released since their sixth album, but that was pretty much the bands golden period, for the first four at least, the Manics mattered and I for one would have travelled a great distance to see them play.  Hell I would have stood outside with an ear trumpet if it mattered.  Like all great bands, Manics B-Sides were at times as good as the A -Sides and this collection of songs are just that.

For starters, the opening track ‘Prologue to History’ is superb, a smashing slice of piano led punk pop.  The piano intro sounding uncannily like the opening to ‘Wrote for Luck’ but it hinted very early of what might be to come.

Prologue to History – Manic Street Preachers (2003, Sony Records)

There are other highlights too, ‘Dead Trees and Traffic Islands’ for one, which I think was the B Side on one of the ‘Design for Life’ singles, sounds like a track that should have perhaps made it on to an album because its great.

Dead Trees and Traffic Islands – Manic Street Preachers (2003, Sony Records)

Its when you get to the cover version CD that things go downhill very quickly.  Sure there is a rather lovely version of ‘Bright Eyes’ and the bands version of ‘Wrote For Luck’ is superb but the rest are either live versions that sound like they were recorded from the car park or just not very good. The version of Nirvana’s ‘Been A Son’ sounds flat and I rather wish that they hadn’t bothered.

Been A Son – Manic Street Preachers (2003, Sony Records)

Bright Eyes (Live) – Manic Street Preachers (2003, Sony Records)

If you see this in a charity, keep the first disc, ditch the second.

Nearly Perfect Albums – #21

The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers

For a band that once stated that they wanted to become the Welsh Guns ‘N’ Roses, ‘The Holy Bible’ is a world away from that.  In fact its two worlds away.  Its an album that is absolutely shaking with fury and rage at just about everything.  It’s also a record that the band could only make once, and in fact very little that the band recorded after this went anywhere close to it, both musically and lyrically.   It is a work of genius, albeit, a bleak and claustrophobic work of genius. 

Musically, ‘The Holy Bible’ is an incredible listen, it took the stadium dynamics of ‘Gold Against The Soul’ and hissy fit mock punk histrionics of ‘Generation Terrorists’ and ceremoniously chucked them in the nearest dustbin.   After doing that the band embraced, new wave, avantgarde art rock, industrial soundscapes, and most surprisingly, goth.  What they created bristled with energy, anger, and ferocity.

Faster – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Yes – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Of course, the dark heart that runs through this record is that of Richey Edwards.  Edwards was at the time, alongside Kurt Cobain, probably the most brilliant lyricist of his generation.  In 1994, whilst this record was being written and recorded Edwards was ravaged by depression, alcoholism, anorexia and self harm and ‘The Holy Bible’ is in some way his method of documenting his final breakdown. 

A key example of this is ‘Archives of Pain’, a song that is intended as a tribute to the victims of murder, which appears to request the return of the death penalty, lyrics are choked out about “redemption” and “regret”.  Elsewhere in the aforementioned ‘Faster’ James Dean Bradfield venomously spits out “I am an architect; they call me a butcher” as self harm is tackled amazingly.

Archives of Pain – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Knowing what happened after this record was released, it seems almost ghoulish to revel in its brilliance, effectively we are applauding the misery of a breakdown.  It also feels weird to heap praise on a record that seems so intent to wallow it such bleakness, but its impossible to not do so. 

I sometimes find it difficult to talk about something that comes from genuine anguish, its easier, perhaps, to just leave it.  But, on occasion that anguish is so vividly described that portraying it as anything other than beautiful feels just wrong, but conversely saying its beautiful also feels wrong.  ‘4st 7lbs’, Richey Edwards’ own personal struggle with anorexic is exactly this. A song that is so harrowing and complex that it almost feels superior in its stark beauty, particularly when James Dean Bradfield sings “I want to walk in the snow and leave no footprint”.  I mean its such a beautiful line, but just so tragically sad at the time.

4st 7lbs – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)