Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

A Toast to the Roast: Tucking into Britain’s Traditional Sunday Feast

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Photo by Andrew Burbanks, taken at the Cowshed in Bristol, England

Waaaaay back in the hot ‘n’ hazy days of summer—you know, eight weeks ago—I boldly proclaimed central air conditioning to be mankind’s greatest invention. Well, I take it back. (I’m a fickle blogger, aye, so I am.) That was warm weather me talking, high on salty sea breezes and sunscreen fumes. Chilly weather me, wrapped in a comfy, musty cardigan, pumpkin spice latte foam sloshed across my upper lip, is more inclined to bestow superlatives on autumnal pleasures. Snuggling with the spouse, so uncomfortable during the summer heatwave, earns high marks, as does binge-watching darker fare on Netflix, like The Haunting of Hill House. But the single greatest rite of fall has got to be gorging oneself to the point of delirium on an excessive feast, something Americans raise to an art form on Thanksgiving, which as I post this is just a few days away. (Lucky Canadians already had their Thanksgiving in October.) As a Yank myself, I should be pining for this annual jubilee of gluttony right about now, but I’ve discovered a U.K. equivalent that totally satisfies my expat hunger pangs. Even better, I don’t have to wait for a holiday; I can belly up to this gut-buster on any given weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my definitive pick (at least until spring) for mankind’s greatest-ever invention: the British Sunday roast. Continue reading

That Time I Saw Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Perform in a Folk Bar and a Lady’s Hair Caught on Fire

frenzyDisclaimer: The brief recollection you’re about to read is an assortment of dusty memory shards pieced together in an old pickled noggin. Events described may skew toward the true-ish rather than the dead-on accurate.

I got turned on to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins via the 1983 Jim Jarmusch movie “Stranger Than Paradise,” which memorably featured his signature song, “I Put a Spell on You,” on its soundtrack. Smitten with Jay’s unhinged sound, I dutifully purchased his compilation CD “Frenzy” and fell in love with more demented ditties, including “Alligator Wine,” “Little Demon,” and the title track. A few years later, I was living in Boston and Jay came to the area to play a gig. I’d read that his live performances could be playfully macabre—he’d been known to pop out of a coffin at the start of some concerts. As an avowed fan of over-the-top rock theatrics, I knew I had to be there. Continue reading

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Days 13 and 14

A (Kinda) Kate Two-Fer!

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At the start of the new millennium, the brilliant but hiatus-prone Kate Bush was a little more than halfway through a 12-year intermission between albums. Die-hard fans of the beloved Brit had to content themselves with Maxwell’s lovely take on “This Woman’s Work,” a minor hit in 2001. Then, finally, in 2005, Bush broke her lengthy silence with the double-album “Aerial.” It was totally worth the wait. Definitely an album to be listened to in its entirety, but here’s a typically stunning excerpt.
Kate Bush – “How to Be Invisible.”

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Day 12

Pop-Rock Perfection

img_20160915_181128Joe Pernice is another one of those songwriters, like Josh Rouse, who has an uncanny knack for crafting three-minute pop-rock gems and can deliver again and again. He’s always good, but he really found a groove in the early Aughts with his band the Pernice Brothers, beginning with the wondrous 2001 album, “The World Won’t End.” Here’s a dazzling cut from the equally superb 2003 release, “Yours, Mine & Ours.” It doesn’t get much better than this.
The Pernice Brothers — “The Weakest Shade of Blue”

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Day 11

May Cause Cavities

img_20160914_185209We’ve had prettiest, saddest, and grooviest song selections on our journey from the ‘90s through the 2000s, but we haven’t had a cutest pick until now. Call and Response, an obscure West Coast fivesome—the group doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry—released its self-titled debut in 2001 and it’s so sugary sweet it should come with a dentist’s warning. A Pitchfork review at the time deemed the record “a brief flash of enjoyable fluff.” I like to think of it as Stereolab meets the Teletubbies. And “Rollerskate” may be the most syrupy song on it. Enjoy… in moderation.

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Day 10

Late Bloomer

The shining star of the soul-revivalist label Daptone Records, 60-year-old Sharon Jones endured some lean years early on before her career caught fire in the 2000s. Since then she’s battled recurring cancer but continues to record hot records, including a must-have holiday-themed album last year. She’s also the subject of a new, critically acclaimed documentary by Barbara Kopple. “100 Days, 100 Nights” is one of her best-known tracks and also one of my favourites.

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Day 7

Cover Lovers Edition

img_20160911_152054The other day I was rebuking myself—if you’ll pardon the expression—for not posting a song from Annie Lennox’s “Medusa” when I was doing my ‘90s list. But that self-scolding got me to thinking about cover songs, which led me to wonder, what if Ethel Merman had done an entire album of Devo covers? Then I realized I had gone a step too far. So, hopping back into reality, in 2006, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs released “Under the Covers, Vol. 1,” the first in a three-album series of songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, respectively. I think Vol. 1 is the best of the trio, and this track is tailor-made for Hoff’s vocals.
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs — “Different Drum”

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Day 6

Unsung Troubadour

img_20160910_155202Terry Callier is one of those artists who deserved massive success but never quite achieved it. Perhaps because his sound, which draws from rock, soul, folk and jazz, is hard to pigeonhole, he couldn’t parlay his cult status into mega-stardom and after releasing several brilliant, under-heard albums in the ‘70s, he quit the music business in the ‘80s to become a computer programmer. Callier experienced a mini-resurgence in the 2000s, becoming a go-to guest singer for such electronic acts as Massive Attack, Grand Tourism, and the Swedish duo Koop, who featured his sublime vocals on the 2001 album, “Waltz for Koop.” I was lucky enough to see Callier perform a few years before his death in 2012 and he was wonderful. Here he is on Koop’s “In a Heartbeat,” and check out some of his ‘70s solo stuff. You won’t be sorry!
Koop feat. Terry Callier — “In a Heartbeat”

Two weeks of songs from the 2000s: Day 5

Canada Representin’!

Nova Scotia songwriter Feist put out her brilliant breakthrough album “Let It Die” in 2004. I moved to Canada in 2004. Obviously, my proximity had a profound effect on her work. The album is too good to pick just one song, so here’s “Mushaboom” and her wonderful take on the Bee Gees’ “Inside and Out.”