“Beware the Ides of March…”

Although a small sachet of salt at least is useful when taking oracular counsel, Caesar paid no heed to the soothsayer (“Sooth, sooth, sooth – change the record mate”), and came a cropper on this date. Shakespeare wrote the line above, surprisingly not using the superb word haruspex instead of Soothsayer.

We’re slightly out of alignment with the full moon, and most of us are unlikely to be targeted by a conspiracy of knife-wielding senior political figures of ancient Rome, or indeed accosted by haruspices… but it’s a good point midmonth to check your progress and reconfigure where necessary. May your auguries be august.

Go-to reconfiguration music:

Iron Maiden – The Ides of March/Wrathchild

’25 albums that changed your life’, a list pastime that occurred on popular social networking site Facebook a few years ago when I was still on it. Self-explanatory, really. I thought it would be a good blog project (‘5×5’)to expand on them and add some personal, cultural context to each one on the list, rather than just throw out a sequence of signifiers.

“King Crimson, Kraftwerk and Kula Shaker?”

How thoroughly depressing. I never liked King Crimson. Here is the full sequence:

1. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Born in the USA
2. Status Quo – 12 Gold Bars (Vol 1)
3. Simon & Garfunkel – Greatest hits
4. Beastie Boys – Licensed to ill
5. Meatloaf – Bat out of hell

Yet having dashed off the first five – bosh, lunchy – I then became increasingly concerned to communicate something – oh puh-lease – about them, rather than what seemed to me mere impressionistic tossings. The next few – DKs excepted – are full double album sprawls of memory trawl.

6. Paul Simon – Graceland
7. Guns & Roses – Appetite for destruction
8. Iron Maiden – Powerslave
iron-maiden-powerarse (My most viewed post ever! The astonishing powers of inserting a humongous image.)
9. Jimi Hendrix Experience – Live at Winterland
10. Dead Kennedys – Fresh fruit for rotting vegetables

And, as for numbers 6 and 7, a panting cosmos awaits the remainder.
11. Nirvana – Nevermind
12. Shawn Colvin – Fat City
13. The Stone Roses
14. Jellyfish – Bellybutton
15. Neil Young – Decade
16. The Wedding Present – Watusi
17. Pixies – Surfer Rosa/come on pilgrim
18. Belle & Sebastian – Tigermilk
19. Upsetters – Eastwood rides again
20. The Who – The kids are alright
21. Guided by Voices – Alien Lanes
22. Bob Dylan – Bringing it all back home
23. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of silver
24. Count Basie Orchestra & Jimmy Rushing – Blues I love to sing
25. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

I think you’ll find there’re some solid gold easy action classics on that list… but that’s just my ears. You’d be better fixed just going and getting the albums, TBH. At some point, it might be construed as a threat to assure you, the full nonsensical joy of the ’25 Albums That Changed Your Life Deluxe Edition Box Set’ will be complete. Doubtless it will run to 37 albums, such is the wont of the continuing vogue for super-completism.

“C’mon, c’mon, space to fill, content to create. Pick that up off the floor and give it a wipe, stick it on the special edition. It’s WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE WANTED.’

Is it though, is it? Is it?

Anyway. More recently, I began another bloggy project – ‘got a tape…’, a dredge through a large box of cassettes, a paddle-with-net in the rockpool of nostalgia.

The first tape to hand was in fact number 8, Jimi Hendrix.

live-at-winterland-tape

Sort of synchronicitously, there was this documentary about him on BBC4 or something, Hear My Train A Comin’, which at time of writing has 17 days left on the iPlayer, and is well worth 90 minutes of your life. So in total, 180 minutes of my life was spent getting all Jimi’d up the other night. I had the tape playing through a little pair of Saisho speakers, for the optimal trebly hiss of youth ambience.

BUT! Lordy, how good this tape still sounds.

As previously mentioned, the live album is fierce in places, 90-miles-an-hour versions of hits bookending some spacey explorations and kit skills from the Experience. There are some choice bits of spoken Jimi too, and I’d forgotten the intro music was Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, which sets a late 1960s vibe shimmering nicely.

live-at-winterland-tape-tracks

Ah, Tippex. I forget also what terrible cheap vinyl knockoff the remaining tracks were sourced from, but I do love a 90-miles-an-hour drive through Johnny B. Goode. The version of Machine Gun is quite standout.

There we go then: ‘got a tape’ and ‘5×5’ projects continued, Dr Who anniversary extras cued up to watch, oven on. Bosh, lunchy.

Alt title: “…but we need the eggs.”

Thanks to the numbercrunchery provided by WordPress, I am able to get granular with my viewing stats. Nitty gritty, fine details about who’s turning up and looking at what when. By far the greatest number of views I get each day is an article what I wrote about Iron Maiden.

I quite like it… it’s one of my more sincere pieces, and they’re almost always the most effective. I’d like to think that my unique combination of wit and waffle has endeared this post and further writings to the clickers of the world… Seriously tho! I get Slovenians, Colombians, Russians, South Koreans, Americans, people from all over. One might consider the global reach of this technology and feel a small tear issue from the corner of one’s eye… something something that’ll be the granularity something see the world in a grain of sand, something.

However, I strongly suspect that the high number of clicks for that post in particular is actually due to me having used an absurdly large image of an Iron Maiden album cover in it.

You find me on the horns of a dilemma as to whether to get rid of the massive image of Derek Riggs’ lovely artwork and replace it with something smaller that may give a more reliable, but less satisfying, view/visitor ratio… or not. I mean, am I that shallow that I’m even thinking about this? Who gives a fuck, right? Well, why bother writing in a public forum then? It’s all about the clicks, innit? Not the false clicks! Hmmm, band name… This process of finger chewing of course triggers wider artistic and existential concerns, such as subjects, style, justification for turning your fingers to the keyboard, getting out of bed… and wasn’t there some shopping you were supposed to do? And hang on a minute, why are you referring to yourself in the third person? Rapidly whistling up to a boiled kettle shriek of WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

Et bleedin’ cetera. Indecisions, indecisions! Hypnotised by this rope trick plait entanglement of self-esteem and clickcount… I shall listen to this:

…and give the matter further consideration. While going to the shops for more loaf.

The BBC provides a comment piece, 2012’s pre-Pre-Budget Report report (“The Autumn Statement”).

In it, James Landale begins by wafting allusively at words by “Hilaire Belloc and the Mötley Crüe.” Belloc’s hapless Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion, represents Conservative/Lib Dem policies. Labour/Mötley Crüe suggest it is ‘time for change’. The James Landale asserts that:

“It is through this prism that the politics of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement should be viewed.”

Somewhat disappointingly, the prismatic humorous verse/hair metal analogy is not sustained beyond the opening paragraphs. Indeed, sadly, there is precious little humour or rockin’.

The article is perhaps an attempt at aping the Daily Mail school of ‘New Rihanna Bum Outrage’ hit maximisation through extensive and (mis)leading headlines, URLs and carefully captioned images. Such cheap ploys are surely the mark only of desperate attention hounds.

RiRi feels bum underwear stage etc etc etc

RiRi feels bum underwear stage etc etc etc

Whatever the point was, aside from that, the James Landale commits a schoolboy error in assigning Mötley Crüe an unnecessary definite article. AND their first single was ‘Stick To Your Guns’. If you’re going to draw on stuff outside the ‘proper’ frame of reference to make a point, at least develop it properly.

A shame, then, the James Landale. A missed opportunity. It would be great if ‘serious’ commentators went absurdly pop-lit for no good reason all the time. I would find this sort of approach to political discourse much more agreeable.

One might look forward to future op. eds. such as Nick Robinson’s “Trident II: Stanley Holloway or the Iron Maiden?”

iron-maiden-2-minutes-to-midnight-cover-riggs

What, waste all our lives raising children? To feed ruddy lions? Not me!

Hello, if you’ve clicked here searching about Iron Maiden, even if you’ve just shown up to snaffle the Powerslave album cover image. I wrote this piece a while ago, but I started listening to Maiden even more of a while ago, so we are, of course, caught Somewhere in Time. This post shares some of the things that made me a teen Iron Maiden obsessive… more than 20 years ago… illustrating the enduring appeal, I hope, of the mighty Maiden! Enjoy…

It was written originally as part of ’25 albums that changed your life’, a thingmy some people were following on Facebook (about 10,500 years ago). A full explanation of why I thought this was a good idea is floating elsewhere in the Bath. If you hate all this Nick Hornby-esque list nonsense, please feel free to substitute ‘arse’ for a word of your choice in the album title.

I was thinking about my first gig this week, set off by my beloved getting her ears syringed. Consequently, she has reported being able to hear the footfall of a kitten three streets away (‘Oh darling, it’s dancing’). It made me covet cerumenolysis too: aural clarity, no fuzz… taking me back to a time before loud music first assaulted my shell-likes in a live setting. And what led me there… was Iron Maiden… (Vincent Price chuckle).

8. Iron Maiden – Powerslave

I was quite a large fan of Iron Maiden in my teens – by which I mean both dedicated and slightly overweight. Or Maiden, as they must be abbreviated, preferable perhaps to the thin-ice Cockney rhyming slang implications of ‘The Irons’: Maiden. Maiden were my first exciting early-mid teens music obsession, my first tribe, my first gig. The concert included a memorable £40 coach trip to the NEC in Birmingham for the back-to-basics ‘No Prayer on the Road’ tour in 1990. With inflation, that must be about £120,000 now. On the bus was a whole troop of my high school’s rock fraternity. Great! Iron Maiden were supported by Anthrax, so in fact Anthrax were the first band I saw live, which a) explains a lot about my unreliable hearing and b) looks pretty good now I come to write it.

It’s very difficult to name a specific Album that Changed My Life by Iron Maiden. They’re all different-yet-familiar, all with things to commend them, all with particular resonances and to be viewed as holistic life-changers, really.

On most days I would probably go for the template-setting and wonderful Iron Maiden, or Killers. There’s something about Paul Di’Anno’s voice and the urgent fluency of the music, the ‘come on, we’re not here to fuck about’ snark of punk, filtered through the prog twiddling ability of what Steve Harris (long-haired West Hammer Horror and Wishbone Ash fan) suggested were “people who could actually play” (citation needed, interview in Metal Hammer some long time hence).

‘Phantom of the Opera’ from Iron Maiden is still untouchable for the adrenalin/Lucozade jab of energy coming from the stop/start revs and acceleration to actual warp speed twiddling, the ecstatic ‘Woah, yeah!’… ah, Maiden. I think Harris actually said, in the same interview part-cited above, that Lucozade wanted the band in the ad, all sitting round looking knackered and then going daft onstage after a swig of the orange sugary stuff. I’m very glad they didn’t do it.

… So, yes, first two albums, yeah, but, there’s the advent of Bruce and The Number of the Beast, with Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills and Hallowed Be Thy Name… or Piece of Mind, with The Trooper and Revelations… the prog-ression through full-on synth twiddling epics Somewhere in Time… The Wasted Years/Reach Out single would definitely make it on to my fantasy juke box. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, then No Prayer for the Dying

Actually, as well as being the last Maiden album I really liked, and then only because it was, y’know, them (something Steve Harris once said about Golden Earring, citation blah bibble blooh) ‘No Prayer…’ was the last album for which Derek Riggs did the cover. Derek Riggs is the illustrator responsible for Iron Maiden’s best cover art, including the Powerslave image used above. His website used to have a series of embittered-sounding FAQs about what a soul-sapping time he had over the course of his time drawing for the band. These are now nowhere to be seen, although his page labels are nice little exercises in pithy invective.

Riggs doesn’t have a lot of time for his Iron Maiden work, which is (absurdist comparison) a bit like Leonardo complaining that all people ever want to talk about is the Last Supper and Mona Lisa, not that little dining room frieze he bashed out for Matteo Bandello. Yet Riggs’ artwork was a major part of the appeal. In-jokes, self-referential and nicely-read allusions to other bands, ideas… and a tendency to have things like ‘this is a very boring painting’ running backwards as a banner in a shop window.

When he left the equation, I pretty much did too, coinkidinkally. It is entirely fair and accurate to note that Maiden effectively stopped trading at Fear of the Dark as far as I’m concerned. The Blaze Bayley years were deliberately shunned… more recent efforts are at least on the radar. The current three-guitar line-up looks exciting on the YouTubes, and the interesting Flight 666 (if you will) rockumentary illustrated that, pleasingly, little has changed in the world of Maiden from when I was really into them. My impression from the film, obviously to an extent confirmation bias, was of an occasionally lairy but soft-centred, Goon/Python-humoured football (“soccer”!) crowd… hard working British men and women… (FX: Nicko McBrain humming ‘Land of Hope & Glory’ then blowing a raspberry).

Anyway, yes, so, Powerslave it is. I got obsessed with Powerslave. I got it on CD for my birthday one year, along with a Number of the Beast t-shirt I still have, from the World’s Greatest Aunty. Before that, the tape of the album wore my tape player out. It was the first album I heard by them, at one point a copy off a mate. The cover alone was fascinating. I’ve always had a bit of a thing for (Ancient) Egyptian culture, so the artwork was an immediate draw. The title track considers pharaonic responsibilities, kingly mortality and tomb curses, sort of Bruce Dickinson sitting between two vast and trunkless legs of HP Lovecraft, chewing his pen and looking thoughtful.

The rest of the material on the album is preoccupied with familiar Maiden preoccupations – war, old TV or movies, twiddling guitars ratcheted up to 11, the whole sounding thoroughly electric, like lightning, I mean, I always thought. Back in the Village, what a riff. First and possibly favourite track is the awesome chocks-away single Aces High, which for full effect should be watched as performed on the Live After Death double album meisterwerk, complete with Winston Churchill’s ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech as an audio introduction, and the band leaping onstage and into action at Long Beach Arena (Southern California) as if they have short ropes of elastic attaching the monitors to their nipples.

The highlight of the album, though, has to be, is the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It is an epic 13-minute retelling of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lengthy meditation on man’s journey through life, a story for which the subtext may or may not be ‘what not to do if a bird shits on you.’ Being a bit of a bookworm as well as a guitar nut, this enormous tune had a possibly cataclysmic effect, leading me to an abiding affection for STC, and to know parts of the poem by heart, coming in useful for sounding more erudite than I am on occasion.

It also marked a (retrospectively) intriguing period of what might now be diagnosed as onset OCD, in that I would have to listen to the full 13 minute Rime experience uninterrupted all the way through… so I would whip out the tape and FFWD to get to the beginning if disturbed while listening for whatever reason. Hey, 1988. We had the technology. I particularly recall doing this on a family holiday, in the car in the Highlands of Scotland, where the misty mountains and interminable rains of the west coast in summer lent themselves rather appositely to a tale of a solitary loon trapped in a vessel in dismal meteorological conditions. The tinny rattle of guitar and drums, not to mention occasional exasperated opening and shutting of personal stereo, the whirr of the FFWD, the click and re-opening and shutting, must have been a bit of an annoyance for the family.

And in fact it is entirely likely that the family didn’t really care that I HAD to hear all 13 perfect minutes uninterrupted, and were in fact more concerned to engage me in conversation, or vainly protect my delicate adolescent lugholes. The trauma! Ah, youth. It’s funny because it’s ridiculous. And over much quicker than you appreciate at the time. Like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in many ways.

Concludals: Powerslave was a pivotal album, soundtracking a watershed in Iron Maiden’s career, and in my life, and – in the Cairngorms – an actual watershed. After Maiden, it was indie rock fandom, to which I’m coming back, I will return in other posts… then off into the wide musical yonder. Chocks away!