Friday, 24 February 2017

Smell of female

Imagine if we had the power of smell-o-vision on our blogs!  I'd use it right now, to help me with this post.  You'd get the scent of bergamot, lemon, amber, cedarwood, vanilla and more.  Sound nice?

The thing is, I was in my local pharmacy a few weeks ago, admiring the seemingly random displays of soft toys, sunglasses and birthday cards amid the cough sweets and corn plasters, when a well-dressed sales rep caught my eye and suggested I might like to "take a free sample!" as she thrust a little card into my hand.

A quick glance revealed a miniature grey tube of perfume attached to the card, so I dropped it into my handbag and was quite excited at the thought of trying it when I got home.

I don't wear perfume often - I'm sensitive to a lot because they make me sniffly.  But I like the thought of smelling of something exotic now and then, just enough to make me feel feminine and like I've made an effort - and this mini freebie was an unexpected treat.

Anyway it's rather alluring - quite spicy, a touch woody even, and it doesn't make me sniffle - all good.  So I've been wearing a little spray of it each time I've been out these last few weeks.  Down the pub with my friend the other night.  Down the Indian restaurant with our neighbours on Saturday. Actually just about every time I go out.  The sample tube is running out.

Today I decided to look it up for the first time, to see how much it costs - thinking maybe I should buy myself a bottle.  Turns out I've been wearing a rather expensive Eau de Toilette.  For men.

Still, why not?!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Walk with me (yet again)

It's been such a long a while since we walked together, so if you fancy coming out this afternoon, you'll be most welcome!

I'll take you to my usual haunts (you may have walked with me before).  Just lately I've been trying to get into the habit of doing a brisk three or four miles every other day, fitting it in around working and daylight (and rain).  Weirdly I keep bumping into the same people, no matter what time I set out;  perhaps they just walk around all day?  One thing I've noticed too, is that those lovely older ladies I often see, who manage to keep slender and bright-eyed even into their 70s and 80s,  always wear lipstick.  Somehow it gives them a look of youthful joie de vivre.  I rarely go out without mine either, so excuse me while I just apply it...

Anyway, we'll go up to the long familiar path lined with lime trees which I know is three quarters of a mile long so it's good way to measure distance - and if you've come here with me before, you'll know I love the trees with their weird angular shapes created by previous pollarding and huge spheres of mistletoe hanging from the branches like Christmas tree baubles.

We'll go and see the cattle.  They're English Longhorns, different from the Texas ones, with horns that curve round to sort of frame their gentle faces, and known for being a friendly breed.

The sky briefly turns a weird shade of yellow, with big grey galleon clouds, but I'm looking at the cow!

 One walks across the field barely able to lift its legs out of the heavy, cloying mud.  At least we can tentatively tread the grassy verges to avoid the worst of the puddles.

I want to show you the old wooden store (not exactly a shed, but more than just a crate - so I'm not sure what to call it) where they keep the incendiary devices.  It always makes me smile to see the hand-painted sign which reads 'DANGER! EXPLOSIVES!' on an innocuous looking route that meanders between wide, tranquil fields and copses - but it's here they keep stuff for popular 'Wartime Re-enactment' days.  At least that's what I've always thought.

I haven't been out to this bit since the Summer - but today it doesn't look the same, the words have worn off the sign, the structure is collapsing.  It could be a den.  Nice smell of woodsmoke too.

A bit too muddy to continue (I'm not wearing the right boots) so let's head back towards the road, but we'll take a back route, past the allotments.  Down past the free-range chickens in their huge pen, who all come running up to the fence with their stumpy wings flapping when I stop to say hello.

Some dead sunflower heads catch my eye - I just like the way they look.

Plus I want to show you the lovely old signage that's been left on one of the walls round this way.  Gorgeous lettering.

Funnily enough this is the first time I've noticed how well it has weathered compared with these adjacent, far more recent signs.

And one more sign (I couldn't help wondering if the home-owner was a Loudon Wainwright III fan!)

Now coming into view is one of our famed 'crinkle-crankle' walls on the left, designed to protect fruit trees growing in its sheltered curves.  It's struck me just now that this view has probably remained pretty much unchanged in the last few hundred years.

Okay, we can join up with the main street now and stop off at the Co-op, I need to buy a bag of birdfood and some mushrooms.

Then up the hill and back to home, just in time before the rain.

Friday, 3 February 2017

'A trip into the world of real psychedelia and more' ?! #1

A really nice and surprising thing happened to me the other day; I was idly Googling something about record shops which led me quite by chance to a music forum I’d never seen before.  On it was a post from someone last year mentioning “the girl” who worked in his local record shop in the 1980s who had once compiled him a tape of her favourite ‘60s psychedelic/freakbeat gems.  He’d even kept copies of a fanzine she used to put out in the shop back then, 30 years ago.  

Ohh!  The girl was me!

 I remembered him as one of our lovely regular customers and I remembered doing that tape.  I can’t remember, however, exactly which  tracks I’d put on it – but I could take a pretty good stab at what it might have included.  And so this lovely moment of serendipity got me thinking all about those obscure and incredible records that were given a whole new lease of life in the ‘80s when labels like Bam Caruso, Psycho, Big Beat and See For Miles mined the rich seam of 1960s psych and beat and presented them to new audiences like me.  We had never heard anything quite like it before.  For anyone who wasn’t into the mainstream chart music of the era, it felt quite magical.  A little later it was to play a part in cementing a long-lasting friendship too.

In the sweet way that things can sometimes coincide, in the last  week or so there have been some more unconnected references to what I might broadly term as ‘sixties underground and psychedelia’ here in this little corner of blogland.   Over at the wonderful  What’s It All About?Alfie, Alyson has recently posted Jefferson Airplane’s 'White Rabbit', complete with its trippy lyrics.  Swiss Adam at the eminent blog BaggingArea gave us a number from US garage punk group The Chocolate Watchband.  And across the pond, Brian from the excellent Linear Tracking Lives! shared an obscure cover version from the Driscolls of ‘Father’s Name Is Dad’ by late '60s band Fire.  Back here, Rol at the brilliant My Top Ten posted a number from Kenny Rogers & The First Edition and mentioned their track ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)'  which was another reminder of an unexpectedly psychy discovery from the past. All of those originals were songs I knew and loved from that period when my interest in psych and beat became something of an obsession.  

I was working in the best place for it too, being able to order the albums I wanted directly from the distributors (often without having heard a single track first!) and then buying them with a staff discount too.  It got to the point where I was bringing home two to three new album purchases just about each and every week.  These were a mixture of various artist compilations (like the Bam Caruso ‘Rubble’ and Psycho’s ‘Perfumed Garden’ series), US garage comps then getting fresh exposure (such as the wonderful ‘Pebbles’),  new  album issues (e.g.  The Creation’s ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’ put out by Edsel)  and reissues of other obscurities (like ‘ Waleeco’ by US band The Flat Earth Society).

Then there were the new groups making great music inspired by it –and so a whole wave of other artists helped to part me from my hard-earned cash:  The Fuzztones, The Lyres, The Nomads….   I started buying comps of Swedish bands, Dutch bands, Australian too….   and digging into the back catalogues of more popular groups I hadn’t really explored before such as the Kinks, Jefferson Airplane and The Easybeats …  Plus also taking side roads into the more Mod end of the spectrum with the Action and Small Faces…   Oh there was SO MUCH!  No wonder I was skint most of the time.

Anyway, not surprisingly, this week my thoughts have returned to those days and the musical discoveries that excited me so much in my twenties. So much so that I was inspired to make my own fanzine on the subject.  I used to sit at home and labour intensely over every page on my Thursdays off from the shop, all hand-written and hand-drawn, researched, laid-out and designed without technology.  It provided a platform for both a love of writing and drawing/design.  And a love of the music too, of course.  I managed six editions of this A4 zine, got them photocopied in small batches (mostly free of charge if a certain someone could get them done in his work time) and sold them for 30p at the shop.   I never even told anyone who bought them that they were my own creation, I was too embarrassed! 

some sample pages

Here I am 30 years later doing something similar in a way – using the platform of blogging for expression and, whilst Sun Dried Sparrows has never been confined to it, music still plays a fairly big part.  So, on revisiting some of the songs that inspired me to write and compile tapes in an age where the idea of everyone being connected via a computer was barely imaginable, I thought I could bring them together now for a new series.

I’ve dug out my last few copies of the fanzine from storage in one of my old portfolios under the bed.    They look naive, over-effusive and a bit cringey to my eyes now, but I have to remember I was only in my early twenties, doing it solo and I just wanted to have a go.  So for this new series, erm, if I can manage to sustain it, I’m going to try and post some of the tracks I wrote about then, along with snippets of whatever it was I said.  As the strapline of my fanzine rather grandly announced, it's A trip into the world of real psychedelia and more’.  

Well, this has been a very long ramble by way of an introduction to a series (I promise to keep it shorter in future).  Let's get on with the music.  Just one track here today… The Open Mind with ‘Cast A Spell’.

Here’s what I was saying in 1986!

Transcript from above:
The Open Mind (ANTAR 2)

The Open Mind were a band from the late 60s, who have reached a legendary status amongst fans of psych and progressive music.  They made two singles, one was an excellent double-sider, 'Magic Potion' and 'Cast A Spell', both tracks of which can be found on the brilliant compilation, 'The Psychedelic Snarl' (Bam Caruso KIRI 024).  These are perhaps the two best Open Mind numbers, and are included on this re-issue of their only album, which has been re-packaged in a different sleeve and did not include that single originally.  The rest is good, progressive, mostly quite heavy stuff, though maybe the actual music has been over-rated - London collector's shops are paying over £50 for the original LP!  Anyway, it's a pretty tasty record - not exactly psychedelic but more progressive rock - and if you wanna save a lot of money but still hear the Open Mind, then this re-issue is for you.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017


I've got some time off at the moment while I wait for my next project to start, so another post already and some more art.   This time in the form of a lovely old original sheet music book from 1923 which I bought for just a few quid last week.  I only wanted it for the front cover as I love the typography and the very simple graphic image.  Also, there's something about it being nearly 100 years old.

Maybe you remember seeing clips of ancient Felix The Cat cartoons on The Old Grey Whistle Test?  My big sister used to watch it at its peak in the '70s, eager for appearances by Focus, Rory Gallagher and the like and, although I was too young to stay up with her, I'm sure there were times when I couldn't sleep and may have been allowed to watch a little too; my memories of it seem inextricably linked to that era.  But even in later versions of the programme I'm sure this was still a device they used.  I can’t specifically recall any of the songs they did it with, but there was always some element of them that worked with the animation, like Felix hammering a nail into a plank to the rhythms of Bob Marley & The Wailers or something.  Seem to remember they also used scenes from the 1902 film A Trip To The Moon / Le Voyage Dans Le Lune....

This is one of the Felix cartoons (but without the addition of OGWT's choice of music), only the first five minutes unfortunately, but it gives the idea as it’s chock full of great visual tricks and deceptive surrealism  –  so simple and so clever at the same time.   I love this kind of thing...  and again, the fact that it's nearly 100 years old.

Kind of appropriate for this cold weather too, barely a day has gone by lately when I'm not having to don my parka to go in the garden to break the ice on the birdbath.

The inside of the music booklet is very endearing visually too (if you skip past the overtly racist reference/word in one verse, I know it's just an unfortunate reflection of the attitudes of the time.  Although... well...what kind of horrendous prejudiced times are we living in now?)

One other thing caught my eye - an ad in the back for another title, which is apparently:

  “a lesson in song.  The truest story ever told.  An appealing musical sermon that has won the commendation of press and pulpit throughout the nation…”   

You just don't see straplines like that for Little Mix, do you?

Lyrics reproduced here:

Just A Girl That Men Forget
Dear little girl, they call you a flirt,
A flapper with up-to-date ways,
You may shine brightly, but just like a lamp,
You’ll burn out one of these days.
The your old-fashioned sister will come into view,
With a husband and kiddies, but what about you?

Wallflower girl, now dry all those tears,
For you won’t be left all alone.
Some day you’ll find yourself up on a throne
Queen of a sweet little home,
And you, gay little flapper, you’ll live and you’ll learn
When you’ve gone down the pathway that has no return.

A flapper with up-to-date ways.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Artist

He reminded me of someone from a different era – like that early ‘70s art scene that permeated my childhood, the one with bearded men and batik throws.   It was as if he had been plucked from that setting and that time and placed in the present without having traversed the interim years.   Wild black hair, second-hand velvet jacket, the huge rubber plant in the flat, chipped stoneware bowls, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa on C90s.  Thirty years' worth or more of magazines, mostly already cut-up ready for use, on every available surface. The smell of paint mingling with the smell of mildew and recently baked herring.  And his art everywhere, on every wall and piled up on the floor: works in progress, finished pieces, huge canvasses, boxed constructions from reclaimed household objects, book-like collaged miniatures, pertinent words scrawled in inky black spidery script.  He taught me about the artists he loved and who inspired him - Kurt Schwitters and Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Duchamp – well, so much Art.  He always spelled Art with a capital A.  He said it with one too.  I'll be honest - he frustrated me at times, his life was messy, his choices often unwise, but friendship endured.

Well, it would have been his 58th birthday today.  Sadly he was the second of two of my friends who died last year, and his death was most unexpected, so it still feels a little unreal.

But I don’t want this to be a sad post, there is enough misery in the world and I need to keep myself upbeat. 

Instead I’ll celebrate his birthday by sharing some of his work, now hanging on new walls in different homes.  Isn't this the lovely thing about Art? -  it lives on.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Reading matter

Books and toilets.  Do they go together?

I’m kind of thinking they do, judging by the amount of books I get to half-read while other parts of my body do different things.  If it’s not too much information, it’s through having a healthy digestive system that lately I’ve managed to cover whole chunks of the Morrissey Autobiography,  Bill Bryson’s ‘Little Dribbling’ and ‘Going To Sea In A Sieve’ by Danny Baker.  All out of sequence, though – ends before beginnings, forewords halfway through and simultaneous middle chapters – I’ll never be able to enter Mastermind with any of the above as a chosen specialist subject because I’d get all muddled up.  Fortunately Mastermind isn’t on my bucket list but I still fantasise about specialist subjects – don’t we all?  Anyway, like a disjointed dream, somewhere in the back of my mind Bill Bryson and Morrissey have morphed into one and are travelling around Britain writing a fanzine.  

Our books tend to migrate to the bathroom (where our only toilet is) in almost ghostly ways. I’m not sure quite how they end up there, on the windowsill, on the little wobbly stool or tucked in among the towels – some books that I hardly remember even owning in the first place.  I thought we’d got rid of the Doctor Who hardback ages ago; I’d forgotten all about Kraals and Mechonoids - now I’m up to speed.   

So visiting our loo is like visiting a library with random shuffle.  One week The Doctor, next week The Haynes Manual for the Fender Stratocaster.  That one didn’t hold my interest so much but for a while Mr SDS could regularly leave the smallest room with some new nugget of info about the floating tremolo or whatever.   I’m afraid I could only give a Gallic shrug in response, still, at least he was happy.

Anyway, I wonder how widespread the books and toilet combo is.  I grew up in a house full of books, although they weren’t upstairs in the bathroom where the pink suite was grounded by deep purple carpet tiles - deep purple! carpet tiles! - and we had goldfish to entertain us instead.   (The goldfish must’ve found us entertaining too - what a view they had from their thigh-level tank at the end of the bath.)  However, the downstairs loo (or 'cloakroom' as it was politely called)  - little more than a cupboard really - provided plenty of light reading including this:

and this:

and sometimes my Mum's John Noble mail order catalogue.  

That was a little too heavy and floppy to handle easily, especially when otherwise occupied, but my Mum’s logic could be questionable at the best of times.  (She once cast a replica of my Dad’s head in bronze,  actual size and complete with his short-lived beard, and displayed it on the sideboard.  All I can say is thank god it wasn't in the loo).

Not my Dad's head

When clearing out my Aunt and Uncle’s house last year I was happy just to browse the spines of the old paperbacks on their own designated shelf in the loo – poetry books, classics, Penguins – the tiny room had become a place of learning and escape, a tranquil retreat, even if the seating choice was limited. It was nice to think of them being avid loo-readers, and she a retired GP too.  Which leads me to wondering if there is ever a question of hygiene?  According to the Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, there is what you might call a ‘theoretical’  risk but it’s not very big -  just don’t forget to wash your hands.  And so I've concluded: yes, it’s okay to read books in the loo. 

 But probably not okay to take a dump in the library.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Andy, Madge and Sonic Youth too

I try to cover some diverse topics on here where I can: art, music, creepy crawly creatures, toffee apples, etc.  But I don't think I've ever written about Andy Warhol

nor Madonna

nor Sonic Youth

So I set myself a challenge.

When I think of Andy Warhol – and I suppose it’s inevitable – but one of the first things I think of is a big yellow banana.

And there is even a picture out there of Madonna with a big yellow banana so that’s two out of the above three in one go.

(While I’m on the subject of Andy Warhol I'd just like to use this opportunity to show a couple of lesser known album covers of his in which I find his pen and ink illustrations really fresh and charming.  Being early pieces from 1958 these are quite different to the boldly coloured screen print imagery perhaps most associated with him now.

Lovely, aren't they?  But I digress...)

Now, Sonic Youth..... When I think of Sonic Youth I think of New York.

There is even a French album called '(Les Inrockuptibles prĂ©sentent) Le New York d'Andy Warhol' (if you say it out loud, it sounds great!) and Sonic Youth feature on it, so that’s also two out of the above three in one go.

Great cover pic too  (love Edie Sedgwick).

Madonna....?   When I think of Madonna, I think not only of pointy bras but also of  Into The Groove, which was a big hit in 1985, right in the middle of my stint working in a record shop, and I’m sure many dozens of copies must have passed through my hands in exchange for half a crown (or whatever it was they cost in those days, I honestly can't remember - I'd take a stab at about £1.20 but could be completely out...?)

There is even a cover version of Into The Groove, by a Sonic Youth side project, with Andy Warhol art on the sleeve.


Three out of three!
In 1986, Sonic Youth borrowed  Madonna’s surname to form Ciccone Youth with Mike Watt of the Minutemen/fIREHOSE, and they released one single and one album.  I think they had a bit of an obsession going on with Madonna and the letter y because they featured the former on the cover of their album (an enlarged, tone-reduced Xerox of her face which apparently she was fine about), and then titled it The Whitey Album, whilst their version of Into the Groove became Into The Groovey.

Ciccone Youth: The Whitey Album sleeve. 

The 12” single artwork, which I’m not sure was officially sanctioned by Andy Warhol, nevertheless used the same imagery/headline from a New York Post front page which he’d worked on as a graffitied screenprint in collaboration with fellow artist Keith Haring.  And so it seems to be pretty much credited to him.

Ciccone Youth: 12" single cover

The original newspaper page

Andy and Keith with screenprints

The 12” includes two other tracks, Tuff Titty Rap and their take on another Madonna song, ‘Burnin’ Up’.  But Into The Groovey is the one that does it for me – fast-moving and quite stripped-back with its electronic rhythm and treated vocals, still recognisable but at the same time completely, utterly different.  I like that about a cover version – when you know the song, and you know it really well, but it’s moved so far away from the original that there’s only the merest familiarity.

So here it is….  

Ciccone Youth:  Into The Groovey

I got there in the end.

The Ciccone Youth sleeve gets photobombed

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