LUCKY 7 is the feature where we ask artists to name their 6 favourite songs by others, and a lucky 7th song of their own…today’s it’s the welcome return of a band held in much esteem and affection at Velvet Sheep – they may have been formed in the discontented winter of late 70s but they’re very much enjoying an Indian summer with six fantastic records since they reformed for an official third time.
Last time out we had bandleader Bid on here it was during the 2015 obtuse pop classic “Spaces Everywhere” (their first for Tapete). After “Cosmonaut” came the disconcerting dystopic vibes of last year’s modern Mono Set classic “Maisieworld” and now we hit fifteenth studio album “Fabula Mendax”, so it’s high time to get another set of song choices from the willfully contrarian, thrillingly erudite songwriting powerhouse: The Monochrome Set…
here’s a taster from the new one:
After the creepy AI futureworld angles of “Maisieworld” we know that The Monochrome Set won’t shy away from high concept, high brow, arch themes and dense literary or historical fodder for their chamber music meets art pop and “Fabula Mendax” is no exception.
It’s based on manuscripts written in the 15th Century by Armande de Pange, a companion of Jehanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc). “Armande flees her unhinged family, only to be caught up in the chaos of The Hundred Years’ War. She encounters and trails the enigmatic Joan, later becoming a part of her expanding group of followers. As they travel west into the war zone of Northern France, they meet a motley medley of scheming noblewomen, bellicose knights, nefarious bishops, and assorted rotters, rogues and renegades.”
It may be enjoyably arcane, but it sure ain’t fusty, and while the themes may sometimes be brutal they’re handled with beauteous subtlety. And like the fearsome Joan of Arc, TMS have surrounded themselves with a ragtag bunch of redoubtable rogues to assemble a bellicose and robust suite of tunes that are sometimes soaring and euphoric, other times haunting and demonic. And songs like “Eux Tous” are undeniably catchy pop nuggets that have a way of driving chariot like straight to your cerebral cortex.
This time around on VS, we’ve got TMS mainstay Andy Warren (ex Adam & The Ants and long time mucker of Bid) to choose the tunes…
Last time around on the Lucky 7 there was a bit of Jacques Brel, some surprising Shadows, a spot of Sandie and the undeniable Velvets, so who has Andy gone for?
This is what Andy said as a handy preface…
“It wasn’t easy choosing the songs, there was no space left for The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Nico, Noel Coward, Eartha Kitt, Flamin Groovies, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jonathan Richman, Chiffons, Ronettes, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Tokyo Chutei Iki etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
It was an interesting exercise it did make me think about how important music has been to me throughout my life and it was nice to remind myself of some songs that I particularly love.”
1. Ballade of Johnny-Jane (instrumental version) – From the 1976 film ‘Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus’ -Serge Gainsbourg
A wistful tune played on a honkytonk piano. One of the main themes from one of my favourite films. Joe D’Allesandro as a gay bin man, Jane Birkin, at her most appealing, as the androgynous looking young woman who falls in love with him.
With a cameo by Gerard Depardieu whose partner is a horse. Set in and around an isolated truck stop somewhere in France. This is the theme for the dustcart. I am considering requesting it as the music for my cremation to be played as I roll into the oven. I hope this isn’t the last music I hear, if it is it could mean that rumours of my death had been exaggerated.
2. Europe Endless – Kraftwerk
The opening track of the “Trans Europe Express” album. It was popular on the mix tapes played in the bus on the epic European tours we did in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It always reminds me of those times.
It fades in gradually, it’s a good idea to have an album fade in as hopefully it means it will get turned up.
The tours were epic because the travelling between shows took so long. There was no channel tunnel, we crossed the Channel by ferry and we had to take all our equipment with us. Before leaving London we had to get a ‘Carnet’, a Customs document listing all of the equipment we were taking with us. The document had to be submitted to and approved by the London Chamber of Commerce. They would issue us with a form for each border we were to cross. I think there was a white exit form for leaving a country, a blue transit entry form for entering a country we were just passing through, a blue transit exit form for leaving a country we had just passed through, a yellow entry form for entering a country we were going to play in, a white exit form for leaving the country we had just played in etc.. Every border in Europe was a hard border, there was no Schengen Zone, every country had its own currency.
The thing about the Carnet is that it had to be stamped by a Customs Officer each time we left a country and each time we entered a country and, if they chose to, they could insist on checking that the equipment we had with us matched the equipment listed on the Carnet. Before applying for our fist Carnet someone advised me to make sure we count our plectrums. It was good advice, but it could have been better. They should have said “make sure you count your plectra”. Plectrums or plectra? Take your pick.
We could be held up for hours waiting to get through Customs behind a queue of lorry drivers. Sometimes the Customs Post would be closed for lunch in which case we would have to spend an hour or two in a truckstop. There would be a pinball machine, table football and a bunch of young men in leather jackets. Somehow we didn’t look like we belonged there. It was like a scene from the film “Je T’aime, Moi Non Plus”. After asking us what we were doing there, the resident roughnecks would typically ask two further questions – “What kind of music do you play?” and “Why are you travelling without women?”.
In answer to the first question – we realised that had we tried to explain the nuances of post-punk, and expected them to understand, things could have taken a turn for the worse, so we would just say “we play Beat Music” and if we were lucky that would be met with some approval. In answer to the second question we would tell them that we had come to steal their women and hoped they would find this clearly ridiculous threat amusing.
Like all Kraftwerk songs, “Europe Endless” is musically and lyrically very concise, there is nothing that isn’t essential, just the right amount of melody just the necessary amount of words.
I think everyone liked “Europe Endless”, but the choice of music in the bus could be a cause of great friction. I wonder how many groups have split up over disagreements about what should be played. Are you reading this Mike Urban?
3. Give Him A Great Big Kiss – The Shangri La’s
Red Bird Records were purveyors or some of the greatest pop music of all time. I could have chosen six of their songs for this list, but if I’m only going to have one it’ll be this one.
“What colour are his eyes?”
“I don’t know, he’s always wearing shades.”
Do I need to say any more? Did I mention the stiletto foot stomping chorus? If listening to this song doesn’t make you smile you are using far too much Botox.
What would I have given to be that boy? What a role model. But I’m sure it would have ended badly – “Leader Of The Pack” was another selection that frequently cropped up on the tour bus playlist…
Thank you Shadow Morton, thank you The Shangri La’s.
4. Walk On The Wild Side – Lou Reed
For me, there are some songs that make time stand still. “Walk On The Wild Side” is one of them. From the first note of Herbie Flowers’ majestic bass line to the last note of the sax solo on the fadeout I don’t want to do anything but listen. Lou Reed delivers it as if he telling a children’s story. He draws you in so well you have to listen to every word. And what a story it is. How did it get past the censors? How did it get played on breakfast time radio shows on the BBC? Do you really want to hear about that sort of thing while you are eating your cornflakes? It is such a marvellous creation.
It did wonders for Holly Woodlawn’s career. In the late 70’s I had the pleasure of seeing her one woman show at Country Cousin, a supper club in Chelsea.
5. Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
This is another time stopping song for me. Kinks songs will always remind me of growing up in London in the 60’s and 70’s. I’ve spent so many memorable afternoons and evening at the Southbank Centre in Waterloo and walking by the river there. This song brings them back. The view from Waterloo Bridge is maybe the best view of our city, especially if you’re on the top deck of a bus.
Who were the loving, swinging sixties couple who met in Waterloo every Friday night? Terence Stamp and Julie Christie? Terry Scott and Julie Goodyear? Terry Riley and Julie Driscoll?
6. Paris 1919 – John Cale
John Cale is a great musical hero of mine. He has been a major contributor to so many incredible recordings that mean a lot to me – the first two Velvet Underground albums, The Stooges first album, The Modern Lovers, “Horses”… His solo work is very different from all of the above and “Paris 1919” is maybe my favourite album. This song, the title track, has the added bonus that you can sing “Cheese On Toast” in the chorus. The big problem is that it is almost impossible not to sing it.
In 2011 we were lucky enough to be invited to play at the wonderful Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. We played on the Friday. Early on Saturday morning I went back to the site and was able to see John Cale soundchecking for a performance of the Paris 1919 album with orchestra. I became the total fan and felt highly privileged to have the opportunity to watch this usually private event. At the end of the soundcheck, John Cale said to the leader of the orchestra in his deep, Welsh accented voice: “That was a good soundcheck, but you know what they say – good soundcheck, bad show.”
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to see the show, we had to move on, but I’m sure it went well. The year before I had seen him perform the same album with orchestra in London at the Festival Hall, Waterloo, it was stunning.
The Lucky 7th: Milk And Honey – The Monochrome Set
This track is on “Misère”, our album from 1994 but it was written long before then. I remember working on the song in the mid 1980’s but somehow it didn’t get recorded at that time. We took a break in 1985 and got back together in 1990. I suggested that we record it for “Dante’s Casino”, our 1990 album but Bid didn’t want to, I suggested we do it for each of the next two albums but my suggestion was rejected each time. Eventually I got my way in 1994 and I think it turned out rather well. I hope you like it.
THANKS SO MUCH TO ANDY WARREN AND TO SEAN NEWSHAM AT MUTANTE.
“Fabula Mendax” is out 27th September on Tapete Records
More about how and where to get it and to see them live check out The Monochrome Set site
Here are the dates for a quick glance though:
21/09/2019 – AN Club, Athens, Greece
28/09/2019 – The Lexington, London, UK
01/10/19 – Kantine, Nuremberg, Germany
02/10/19 – KOHI-Kulturraum, Karlsruhe, Germany
03/10/19 – The Cave, Frankfurt, Germany
04/10/19 – franz.K, Reutlingen, Germany
05/10/19 – Yoko, Hamburg, Germany
12/10/2019 – The Crofters Rights, Bristol, UK
5/10/19 – Paard, The Hague, Netherlands
26/10/19 – Petit Bain, Paris, France
02/11-2019 – The Printworks, Hasting, UK
08/11-2019 – Shinjuku Marz, Tokyo, Japan
09/11-2019 – Koenji High, Tokyo, Japan
23/11-2019 – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford, UK
14/12/2019 – TAGV, Coimbra, Portugal
01/02/2020 – Jimmy’s, Liverpool, UK
08/02/2020 – Waterfront Studio, Norwich, UK
28/02/2020 – Mono, Glasgow, UK
29/02/2020 – Beat Generator, Dundee, UK
07/03/2020 – The Cluny, Newcastle, UK
11/04/2020 – The Deaf Institute, Manchester, UK
25/04/2020 – Greystones, Sheffield, UK