Jun 30, 2024

Jez-Clackers and Groovy Andy are unlikely farm friends

You know that Jeremy Clarkson guy? The punchy old car bore man? Apparently he's got a television show about being on a farm, which is called Clarkson's Farm because he's called Clarkson and he's got a farm.

I wouldn't normally post about Jeremy Clarkson's farm. I have a negative-level of interest in learning about that Top Gear twerp muck-spreading or cow-bothering or whatever it is people do on farms.

But on series three of the programme, I notice that Clarkson has got a new friend. He's called Andy Cato, and he's an expert in sustainable farming. Something to do with regenerative planting, biodiversity, carbon storage, elephant taming, and similar green goals. Wait. Not the elephant taming: ignore that.

Andy Cato is better known as a member of Groove Armada, the electronic dance popsters famous for hits like Superstylin' and I See You Baby, at least one of which is about unnatural movements of human bottoms. They were dubby and fun and not quite as good as Basement Jaxx but we liked them anyway.

This is, of course, really annoying. Because this gives Jeremy Clarkson credibility in the electronic music community. We must now take J-Clark seriously, as if he was the third member of Erasure or the fifth member of Kraftwerk or the 493rd Aphex Twin (he gets secretly replaced twice a month, ssshhh don't tell anyone).

When Johnny Rotten started advertising butter, some people scoffed, but I took it very seriously. I ate only Country Life for six months. I bathed in the stuff. It was endorsed by a music legend, so it must've been good for you.

I suppose I'd better get into farming. Adopt a sheep; move into a one-bedroom combine harvester; brandish pitchforks at passers-by. I don't want to do it, but I want to be friends with Jez-Clackers and Groovy Andy, as they will be known from now on.

Goodness knows what'll happen next. Boards Of Canada opening up a tea shop? Fila Brazillia flogging tractors? Mint Royale running a countryside B&B where the residents go mysteriously missing but no-one complains because he sells special "meat" out of the back door when the police aren't looking? Honestly, any of this could happen.

Now excuse me while I write 20,000 words on how Jeremy Clarkson is the next Delia Derbyshire. [jumps balls-first into a thresher]

Picture: Wildfarmed / BBC News

Further Fats: Meet the Yamaha GX-1, the tractor's natural nemesis (2019)

Further Fats: It's got a cow as a logo (2022)

Jun 25, 2024

Banjo beats 'n' techno treats: oh my goodness, it's The Grid

What's your favourite kind of grid. Electricity? Drainage? Ordnance Survey map reference? Cattle?

My favourite grid is the electronic music duo The Grid, comprising David Ball out of Soft Cell and all-round knob-twiddling genius Richard Norris. You might think that cattle grids might be better at keeping cows in the correct field, but I've heard rumours that Ball and Norris are excellent bovine wranglers.

The Grid first dropped into my life with A Beat Called Love in 1990. This was a slice of sunny electronic pop that sat neatly alongside equally cheery popsters The Beloved. Its parent album Electric Head came out six weeks before Big Life put out The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, so this was pioneering, like when Hannibal built Stonehenge out of elephants or something.

Their second album 456 had big-name guest spots, with featured acts including Robert Fripp, Zodiac Mindwarp and Yello's Dieter Meier. They even had Sun Ra talk about how he liked the sun for a track called Face The Sun. You can't get sunnier than that, unless US emo band Sunny Day Real Estate decide to drive a Nissan Sunny into the heart of the sun.

Their 1993 single Crystal Clear remains one of my bestest favourite choons. It's so trippy and glistening and dubby and whoooah, and I still play it about 900 times a day. Alex Gifford plays Hammond organ on the track. Alex went on to form the Propellerheads, who famously turned Shirley Bassey into a big beat star on History Repeating.

Most people will remember The Grid for Swamp Thing, a banjo-jangled novelty techno track that hit the top ten singles chart in 1994. It was denied further success because it had the misfortune to be releaed during the dark reign of terror that was the eternal chart-topping snoozeathon Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet.

The Grid appeared on Top Of The Pops something like eight times. Often dressed in white, often doing silly dances, and not taking anything too seriously at all. It's worth looking them up: 1994's Rollercoaster may only have slightly scraped the top 20, but the performance is brilliant fun.

Let's finish this with a recommendation. Richard Norris's book Strange Things Are Happening reveals all about his (mis)adventures in music, and outlines the extraordinary career of a guy who has dabbled with but stayed pleasingly beyond the boundary of the mainstream. If I'm feeling egotistical, this blog piece will be headed by a photo of me meeting Richard at the Manchester launch of his book.

Other Griddiness to get you giddy? Their 2018 album of Moog meanderings One Way Traffic. Their debut single Floatation, which you can read about in Electronic Sound^. Richard Norris's Music For Healing series^, alleviating anxieties month by month. Or just stare at a cattle grid for half an hour and wait for it to become a musical genius.

Further Fats: Charts in crisis: here's why there are so few number one singles (2017)

Further Fats: A Full On Guide to Full On: Megatonk's Belgium and Frendzy's Can't Stop (these are real tracks, honest) (2020)

Jun 19, 2024

Just Stop Oil and The KLF: from protest paint to pyramid schemes

Just Stop Oil have thrown orange paint at Stonehenge, making the ancient stones looks slightly prettier than they were before. A BBC reporter said the paint attack left onlooking tourists "slightly bemused", which is how tourist look anyway, so I don't know how they spotted the difference.

The stunt was designed to highlight the UK's continuing reliance on fossil fuels. Personally I'd knock down Stonehenge and chisel the monuments into stone wheels so we can all drive around like Fred Flintstone.

A bit of colourful powder paint is not the greatest threat Stonehenge has faced. Let's not forget K2 Plant Hire, an organisation set up by art popsters The KLF for the specific purpose of demolishing the historic landmark. Yes. Demolishing it. With bulldozers and everything.

The band decided that their stone-crushing plan was unworkable. Something to do with the landmark being too close to military airspace so it would be too difficult to use helicopters to put Stonehenge back together again. You think I'm joking, but I'm not.

There is photographic evidence of the KLF up to no good at Stonehenge. Have a look at the 25th June 1988 edition of the NME. On the cover, you will see the KLF – known then as The Timelords – hanging out at the 'henge. In the foreground of the photo? Gary Glitter dressed as an evil magician. Yoinks! Lock up your grandmother and your children!

The demolition plan inspired a story Bill Drummond wrote for the 1998 short story collection Disco 2000. The story, called Let's Grind, or How K2 Plant Hire Ltd Went to Work, tells of an attempt to purchase the Rollright Stones, a less impressive structure somewhere north of Oxford. Tom Baker once shot a Doctor Who story there called The Stones of Blood, all about alien druids and stuff. 

Incidentally, as a protest against the costly and then-pointless Millennium Dome, K2 Plant Hire also promised to build a "People's Pyramid", which would be free to access and open to all kinds of abuse.

"Climb it, paint it, polish it, eat your sandwiches on it or chip it away. It will stand for as long there is any of it left," promised K2 in a statement on their website, while appealing to the public to donate bricks.

The KLF's arty agitations seem to chime with Just Stop Oil's various attempts at paint-throwing and supergluing and tomato soup tomfoolery. Remember the KLF's National Theatre paint daubing? Maybe the JSO gang need a hit single or two. Pop on some horns and prance around on Top Of The Pops. Hang out with Gary Gl-- actually, no, scrap that. Bad idea. BAD IDEA.

Further Fats: 

Jun 1, 2024

400 words about Global Communication's 1994 album 76:14

Global Communication's second album 76:14 turns 30 years old today, and here’s why we should be tying up the bunting in celebration of this ambient classic.

Actually, I don’t need to convince you how important 76:14 is. I’m telling you. You’re going to have to take this as fact. Open your gob and swallow my fist of truth.

Ambient music was cooking on gas by 1994. The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld had come out several years previously, and acts like Aphex Twin, The Future Sound of London and Scanner were flinging open all sorts of doors of perception in the wibbly house of ambient.

But Global Communication’s album, as mouthy Americans would say, “hit different”. The looping synthesis, the chattery vocal samples, the woozy pace. The whole thing was a digital fever dream – and it was as catchy as heck.

Its biggest moments? The tick-tocking grandfather clock adding weight to 14:31. The satisfying clunk-click of 9:25’s trip hop – incidentally, a track that was originally intended as a Sun Electric remix. The driving electro of Tangerine Dream homage 5:23, all powered by chords so soupy you could stand your bread soldiers in them. The grand finale 12:18 and its imaginary choristers.

The album feels like Detroit techno in slow motion, although its influences are broader than that. GC’s Tom Middleton had a classical music background and knew his way round a cello. While Mark Pritchard had twanged guitars and played drums in rock bands. The album arose from a Chapterhouse remix project, although the initial spark for their collaboration came after listening to Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ.

The best thing about 76:14, and why it needs to be ranked alongside Brian Eno, Steve Roach and Tangerine Dream, is that this is an ambient album that demands your attention. It’s not background music for ironing, washing up, grouting or whatever it is that you get up to on a Sunday afternoon. You sit and listen to this album. Listen, and listen some more. Distractions be gone.

I would encourage you to listen to the whole thing in honour of its 30th ambient-versary. 

We didn’t even get to talk about the timecode track titles. Hey everyone, the track titles are how long the tracks are. Clever, innit. Will that do?

I give this album 10:00 out of 10:00. Happy damn birthday, Global Communication’s 76:14.

Further Fats: Oh to be torn up by wolves and fed, bit by bit, through an old lawnmower (2008)

Further Fats: It is my duty to inform you of this Selected Ambient Works anagram (2019)