Play For Today – current playlist


It’s been a while, so without further ado or elucidation, here’s some of what’s on the turntable (and equivalents) at present:


Kristin Hersh by Billy O’Connell

1. Kristin Hersh – Wyatt At The Coyote Palace (Omnibus Books, 2016)

2. Jingo de Lunch – Perpetuum Mobile (We Bite Records, 1987)

3. Rachel Mason – Das Ram (Cleopatra Records/Practical Records, 2016)

4. Naia Izumi – Natural Disaster EP (self-release, 2016)

5. Hobbs’ Angel of Death – Heaven Bled (Hell’s Headbangers/High Roller Records, 2016)

6. Suzanne Vega – Lover, Beloved; Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers (Amenuensis Productions, 2016)

suzanne-vega-billboard_6507. Bessie Smith – The Complete Recordings, Vol 1 (Columbia/Legacy)

8. Ghosts of Sailors At Sea – Red Sky Morning (Faded Maps, 2016

9. Dorje – Centred & One EP (Invisible Hands Music, 2016)

10.Drudkh/Grift – Betrayed By The Sun (Nordvis/Season of Mist, 2016)

11.The Mothers of Invention – Burnt Weenie Sandwich (Reprise Records, 1971)

12. Gentlemans Pistols – Hustler’s Row (Nuclear Blast, 2015)

13. Kaada/Patton – Bacteria Cult (Ipecac, 2016)

14. Maki Asakawa – Masi Asakawa (Honest Jon’s, 2016)

15. Nightsatan – Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom (Svart records, 2014)

16. Pilot – From the Album of the Same Name (EMI, 1974)

17. Haar/Ur Draugr – split (ATMF, 2016)

18. Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse Music, 2016)

19. Scott Walker – Scott 3 (Phillips, 1969)

20. The Stupid Daikini – Everything is Fine (self-release, 2015)



Ride On A Golden Wave: Uriah Heep’s …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble

Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble (Vertigo/Mercury, 1970; Bronze shortly thereafter)

This year (2016), BMG begins an extensive reissue campaign of releases by one of the original Spinal Tap-influencing ‘rock dinosaur’ bands, the mighty Uriah Heep. Along with an anthology, the first of these releases is, logically enough, the band’s 1970 debut – one of my favourite albums of all time – …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. This album is probably not cool. Judging by the mostly negative reviews it got in 1970 (‘If this group makes it I’ll commit suicide’ and ‘it’s too loud, too repetitive, too predictable’ are representative quotes) it never was cool, but 46 years later it can stand proudly alongside any of the hard rock, blues rock, progressive rock or rock-rock albums of its era.

And it was an era of rock; bear in mind that that particular year also spawned Deep Purple In Rock, Black Sabbath AND Paranoid, Led Zeppelin III and many more and, while the mighty Heep are perceived to be a relatively underground cousin of Deep Purple & co, they too ponced around the US in Lear jets and limos in a way that few new rock bands do nowadays. Judged on those 1970 albums alone, the band were clearly up there with the best. Slightly less heavy (but who wasn’t?) than Black Sabbath, more jazzy and poetic than Deep Purple, more riff-centric and bluesy than (1970-era) Led Zeppelin,  …Very ‘Eavy… is monolithic but nimble, straightforward but, except in its most bludgeoning moments, not at all simplistic.

Unlike most decades, the 60s is often felt, culturally, to have a clear and decisive ending; from the perspective of nowadays, the Stones at Altamont and the Manson Family in Death Valley ended the peace & love/flower power era that was already shaken by the revolutionary events and protests of 1968. But the pre-Uriah Heep story, that of a band called Spice, (essentially Heep sans organist Ken Hensley), talent-spotted while playing in ‘The Blues Loft’ in High Wycombe, could not be more redolent of the hippy era. To me, the best work of Uriah Heep always has a hazy aroma late 60s underground optimism and …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble is a kind of time capsule of a world almost as distant and quaint now as the Victorian Age. This was a time when – as the great Charles Shaar Murray wrote (in a Cream magazine T-Rex article in 1972, just as the world moved into another cultural phase) – “Any gentle freak who believed that Nostradamus and King Arthur were alive and well in a UFO hovering somewhere over Glastonbury Tor, or who read Tolkien and Moorcock over his brown rice and apple juice, just had to own the Tyrannosaurus Rex albums...” It was these kind of freaks, one assumes, who in their less gentle moments, wanted to rock out to Spice. In High Wycombe. Incidentally, it may be this very hippy-hangover aura that prevented Uriah Heep from being as influential on the metal scene as their contemporaries, Black Sabbath (whose musical background in blues rock was very similar). Indeed, I can personally testify that the whole flared-trousers-and-moustaches vibe of the Heep (as well as the slightly bland rock they were putting out at the time) was enough to prevent some 80s metal kids from checking out their older work.


Anyway; Spice became a pretty well known band on the progressive rock circuit in the dying years of the 60s. In fact, their music as preserved on the first few LPs is very much ‘progressive’ in the late 60s blues rock sense (in which sense Led Zeppelin were also progressive), but not in the sense that ‘prog’ came to mean as the 70s wore on. Mick Box, founder, guitarist and, to this day the real heart of Uriah Heep, began as a jazz player and it was perhaps this more than anything, that coloured the heavy blues rock that Spice played; parallel to the British Blues boom but not really part of it, the band used elements of the blues, but they were never constrained by its structures.

The Band

Mick Box: guitar


(highly underrated as player, composer & all-round riffmeister)






David Byron: vocals


(a versatile, very English-sounding rock voice, equally at home with swaggering, earthy blues-rock vocalising and delicate fantasy






Ken Hensley: organ, guitar, vocals etc.


(Without Hensley Uriah Heep would have been far more like a standard late 60s blues-rock band)






Paul Newton: bass, vocals


(in the classic 70s tradition the bass is loud, clear & occasionally funky on this album; co-wrote lots of the songs.)






Alex Napier – drums (on half of the album)


(great, agile and subtle drummer, not as thunderous as some contemporaries, but for my money up there with the best; retired after leaving the band I believe)






Nigel “Ollie” Olsson: also drums, plays on a few songs


(another great drummer; went on to play with Elton John after his stint in the Heep)







1. Gypsy (Mick Box/David Byron)
The perfect opening track; after the busy little intro the simple, bludgeoning guitar/organ riff provides an excellent backing for David Byron’s authoritative vocal, establishing the Heep as a band of (for the time extremely) heavy sound and somewhat whimsical, romantic preoccupations; hippies in fact. Excellent organ and guitar soloing and harmony backing vocals by pretty much everyone make this a superb manifesto for the band’s approach. 70s heavy rock par excellence

2. Walking In Your Shadow (Paul Newton/David Byron)

An excellent funky drum intro which should be (has been?) sampled leads into a dynamic blues-rock song with another perfect vocal by David Byron. The song is a relatively understated version of the kind of pleased-with-itself blues rock swagger that Whitesnake were to excel in later in the decade, and it has an excellent Mick Box solo too.

3. Come Away Melinda (Hellerman/Minkoff)

A delicate and drama-filled version of the much-covered melancholy anti-war folk/protest song. Byron’s clear enunciation and expressive voice make the most of the (possibly slightly twee and pretentious) post-apocalyptic lyrics. Lovely mellotron-flute intro and lovely acoustic guitar; the key word is ‘lovely’. The great vocal is made even better by imaginative use of stereo.

4. Lucy Blues (Mick Box/David Byron)

A somewhat quizzical and sad blues-rock song, Lucy Blues is, despite occasional claims at the time that they were Led Zep clones,  the closest Uriah Heep comes to Led Zeppelin on this album; not all that close. And with all respect to the iconic Robert Plant, David Byron managed the same kind of expressiveness without the melodramatic whimpering and screaming. As the original sleevenote remarks; ‘hardly unpredictable but rather pleasant’. Nice piano work adds to the barroom blues feel, far less epic than the usual Heep sound. Byron’s English accent gives the song a strange and unique flavour, as it tends to do on all of the more blues-based material – one of the features that makes early Uriah Heep so distinctive. Meanwhile, Ken Hensley proves himself master of the classic blues Hammond organ solo too.

5. Dreammare (Paul Newton)

Side two commences with one of the heavier songs on the album. Dreammare has an ominous organ intro, a strangely funky, reverby riff and a suitably feverish quality, enhanced by the speaker-to-speaker shimmer on the vocals. A nicely bad-tempered, squalling guitar solo too. This is perhaps the only song where the claims of sheer noisy unpleasantness could be deemed fair enough; for non-rock fans anyway.

6. Real Turned On (Mick Box/David Byron/Paul Newton)

Proto-Whitesnake swagger again (but even more so), Real Turned On is a cocky mid-tempo blues-rock tune with an angular riff, several good solos, tons of slide guitar by Ken Hensley and a good naturedly sleazy David Byron trying to lure a young woman with wine and so forth. Unreconstructed 60s freewheeling sexual (and arguably, but arguably not, sexist) revolution rock, it ends, oddly, with screeds of apocalyptic feedback.

7. I’ll Keep On Trying (Mick Box/David Byron)

Archetypically 70s flared-jeans hard rock, with organs, screaming guitar and an impassioned David Byron vocal. The tune skips between sinister-toned, portentious organ and wailing vocals and nimble-fingered fiddlyness during which every band member gets to show off, before settling into a heavy blues riff. There are tranquil interludes and dramatic, siren-like guitar and even a Zappa-esque wah-wah solo. If you don’t like this, you probably don’t like Uriah Heep; fair enough.

8. Wake Up (Set Your Sights) (Mick Box/David Byron)

The final track on the album is also the most ‘progressive’, jazzy one, which manages to encapsulate all of the facets of early Heepdom in six minutes. The intro has David Byron intoning ‘aaahhh’s over a bass and organ scales before a dramatic, grandiose verse about justice prevailing, before the music becomes a kind of hoppity, percussive jazz with some excellent bass playing and very understated guitars. As the song builds (with some enjoyably silly vocalising; ‘justice, justice, just-iiiice‘ etc) it breaks not into rock but another jazzy verse/chorus and then a lovely soft pastoral interlude before fading out. Byron’s vocal is highly theatrical and generally one of the best he ever recorded and it’s just an excellent, dynamic end to a superb album that people don’t like as much as I do; their loss.

daheepAs if all this wasn’t enough, the album is housed in one of the great rock sleeves of the era: a fallen warrior (David Byron in fact) covered in cobwebs, the darkness surrounding him only broken by the (superbly-fonted) logo and title. The gatefold features a photo of the band onstage.


The album was released in the US in a different and slightly inferior form (missing Lucy Blues, and featuring instead the great Bird of Prey from the band’s second album, Salisbury). The US album is simply called Uriah Heep and its cover – a kind of dragon/wyrm thing – is not one of the great rock sleeves of the era.



Although …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble is one of those rare perfectly formed albums that can only be marred by adding bonus tracks to, it is also one of those albums I have to own on multiple formats, and the 1996 CD release adds bonus tracks, thus:

Gypsy (single edit)
What is says; a shorter version, omitting the organ intro & so forth. Pretty great, though unnecessary

Come Away Melinda
An early version recorded by Spice before they changed their name to Uriah Heep. Interesting, not hugely different from the album version really, but  Byron’s vocal has less feeling and it’s generally not quite as good.

Born in a Trunk
A rocking Spice tune, this features the kind of dynamics that early Heep excelled in, plus another strangely English David Byron vocal and some great funky drum breaks.

BMG’s latest version is in all regards superior to the 1996 version: wisely retaining the whole of the original album (but with beautifully remastered sound) as disc one of two, it adds an entire (and to be fair, slightly inferior) version of the album on disc two. These are unreleased (earlier or alternate takes) of most of the songs, plus the US mix of Bird of Prey and a nice Spice track called Magic Lantern.

Although the earlier versions are, naturally, mostly not quite as good as the finished ones, they are nearly there and, while Spice without Hensley can never equal Uriah Heep, that late 60s atmosphere, an indefinable (and you would think incompatible) mixture of unpretentious ‘let’s just get up and play’ attitude and love of airy, fantastical romance is present in its most concentrated form.

Play for Today: 9th January 2016


Today’s playlist is mainly stuff that has been playing since Christmastime, so it’s probably longer than it will usually be:

Brian Eno – Before and After Science (1977)


Eno’s last collection of somewhat alien-sounding ‘songs’, definitely good, but compared to his first few it’s a bit all over the place, tending to segue into the ambient stuff that was beginning to be his main focus. I do love his voice though.




Ihsahn – Arktis (2016)


Much as I wish I’d seen the Emperor reunion, I have to say that by now Ihsahn’s solo discography is if anything even better. Arktis isn’t as unclassifiably brilliant as Das Seelenbrechen was, but it’s more straightforward and accessible; arguably as good as anything he’s made.




Blind Lemon Jefferson – Texas Blues; The Complete… (1925-1935)


113 songs, most by Jefferson and a few by related artists; taken as a whole I like it less than the similar Charley Patton set, but although his work is less atmospheric, Blind Lemon is less repetitive and just as inventive as a guitar player.




Dorje – Catalyst EP (2015)


Talking of inventive guitar playing, Dorje’s 2015 EP packs as many seismic hard rock riffs and blistering solos as you could reasonably fit into a half hour(ish) running time. Every band member excels here, and more importantly, the songs are up to the standard of the playing.




The Ornette Coleman Trio – At The “Golden Circle”, Stockholm (1965)


The poet Philip Larkin once called Coleman’s music ‘a patternless reiterated jumble’ and that is sort of fair enough (there are no actual tunes to speak of), but doesn’t take into account the beauty of his playing or the telepathy between the three musicians; definitely love it or hate it kind of jazz.




Abbath – Abbath (2016)


Not quite out yet, Abbath’s debut is the perfect album for those missing Immortal. Like his I album Between Two Worlds (2006) it leans more towards traditional metal than black metal, but this time it feels more like a successor to Sons of Northern Darkness rather than a departure from it.




Kristin McClement – The Wild Grips (2015)


A beautifully delicate and haunting album  which I’ll have to listen to a bit more before writing anything hugely meaningful about it




Black Sugar – Black Sugar (1971)

black sugar

Mostly great Peruvian latin-funk-jazz LP, the sort of thing that would be extremely hard to hear without the internet




The Story of an Artist; Daniel Johnston covered


dannyDue to his highly idiosyncratic, sometimes unnerving style and often rough and sometimes non-existent production values, many people prefer to hear the songs of the great Daniel Johnston performed by others; they are wrong – but there are many great covers of his work. The following selection is not comprehensive but all of these are definitely worth hearing…

1. M Ward: To Go Home (from Post War, 2006)

Guitarist/Singer M. Ward (of She & Him, Monsters of Folk etc) recorded a superb version of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Story of An Artist‘ for The Late Great Daniel Johnston, but this is even better; one of the best songs from arguably Johnston’s best album, The What of Whom, this version rocks without losing any of the complicated but intense feeling of the original.



2. Beck: True Love Will Find You In The End (Discovered Covered – the Late Great Daniel Johnston)

Perhaps DJ’s most covered song, nobody quite captures the hopeful desolation of the original recording, but Beck’s version gives the song a mournful Neil Young-esque acoustic guitar & harmonica treatment (slightly reminiscent of the great ‘Out on the Weekend’) and makes up in authority what it lacks in fragility.




3. Camilo Kraxberger: I’m Gonna Buy Me A Car (Hola che, como andas- Homenaje Argentino a Daniel Jonhston)

The Argentinian (I presume) anthology Hola che, como andas- Homenaje Argentino a Daniel Jonhston contains many versions of songs that are even more ramshackle than the home-recorded originals, but there are some gems here too. Singer/songwriter Camilo Kraxberger sounds almost as fragile as Johnston himself on this great, non-amateurish recording. Less melancholy than the original, but much creepier and with excellent use of sampled car salesmen.



4. Lumberob – Honey I Sure Miss You (I Killed The Monster; 21 Artists Performing the Songs of Daniel Johnston)

This wonderful version seems to be exactly  Daniel Johnston was aiming for on his own extremely affecting but slightly scratchy and wobbly original recording. Sometimes a smooth professional approach tends to bland out some of the original feeling, but here it is sophisticated without being too mainstream and works perfectly.





5. Drowning Your Mother: Mask (listen here)

This slightly basic cover takes the obsessive, morbid aspect of the song and makes it the whole point: it’s droning, deeply unhappy and great.







6. BMX Bandits: Do You Really Love Me? (from Star Wars)

As a songwriter and performer Duglas Stewart has the same kind of vulnerability (if less desperate on the whole) as Daniel Johnston, and the BMX Bandits are the perfect band to cover this very Beatles-eque song, retaining the feeling completely while giving the sound of a real band (although in fact the version on DJ’s Artistic Vice (1990) is also pretty much professional and polished.


7. Eels: Living Life (Discovered Covered – the Late Great Daniel Johnston)

This quietly powerful version of a somewhat manic original is based to some degree on Kathy McCarty’s also-great version of the song. Mark E gives a suitably world-weary quality to the optimistically dissatisfied lyric and the whole thing is beautiful and over far too quickly.





8. Kathy McCarty – Like A Monkey in A Zoo (Dead Dog’s Eyeball)

There are lots of good covers of this (Teenage Fanclub & Jad Fair’s would be the best if Jad could sing in tune), probably one of Daniel Johnston’s most accomplished early songs as well as one of his saddest. Kathy McCarty gives it a seemingly inappropriate jauntiness but somehow it works.






9. Virginia Verstraeten – Lousy Weekend (Hola che, como andas- Homenaje Argentino a Daniel Johnston ) – also a nice video)

Another (again, I think) Argentinian singer and a lovely weary version of this satisfyingly bitter song.





10. Karen O & the Kids – Worried Shoes (Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack)


The delicate, mournful piano and xylophone(?) makes this one of the prettiest DJ covers. Karen O is always a great singer and she makes the most of one of Johnston’s saddest lyrics on this perfect version of an always-great song.






11. Guster : The Sun Shines Down On Me (Discovered Covered – the Late Great Daniel Johnston)

This song has one of DJ’s most Beatles-esque melodies and matter-of-fact but poetic lyrics and Boston band Guster do it justice with a great, wistful performance.





12. Eddie Vedder:  Walking The Cow (various live versions, here’s a nice one)

It would be nice if Eddie Vedder would record a studio version of this (he may have, I am pretty ignorant about Mr Vedder and his works). Whereas most covers of this classic song (Kathy McCarty’s is a very good example) more or less follow the tempo of the original (the same pounding rhythm as a lot of DJ’s chord organ-era songs), this version is slowed down without losing the atmosphere, fragility or meaning of the song. Plus he sings it very nicely.


13. The Pastels: Speeding Motorcycle (single, 1990)

Speeding Motorcycle is, though undoubtedly one of the great Daniel Johnston songs, a difficult one to cover; so much of its effect comes from the original, deeply unhappy performance. Somewhat oddly, The Pastels make it into a very 1990 dance-pop song. It works though, although Yo La Tengo’s version is kind of better on reflection.




14. AKA Lurholm: Fish (Apskaft tribute to Daniel Johnston, 2011)

One of my favourite DJ covers, AKA Lurholm unexpectedly turns DJ’s rueful, extremely self-aware semi-love song into a convincing up-tempo ska tune, adding a cheery quality while while not losing the feel or atmosphere of the original: who’d have thought?




15. Uni and her Ukelele – Silly Love (2010)

uni uke
This perfect, assured cover has all of the emotional power of Johnston’s various versions, but is a little less wobbly. As beautiful as Uni’s ukulele is pink.







16. Indigo Morgan – Like a Monkey in a Zoo (2010)

This is remarkable not just for being a superb version of this wonderful song, but also because Indigo Morgan manages to be kinds country without automatically being unbearable. Nice guitar playing too.






17. Thistle – Love Not Dead (from The Late Great Daniel Johnston – Discovered Covered)

Very similar to the original but with a girl singer: i.e. great.






18. Young Statues – Silly Love

Another very nice version of one of Daniel Johnston’s most affecting songs, this time by New Jersey-based indie band Young Statues. Although there are several great versions of this by Johnston himself (the Live at SXSW and Fun versions especially) I’m not sure that he has ever recorded the definitive one yet.




19. Aaron Robinson – Peek a Boo (2009)

One of the real hidden gems on this list. Peek a Boo is probably one of Daniel Johnston’s most accomplished early songs and Aaron Robinson gives it the kind of professional, but still emotional, recording that it deserves. It seems strange that a song so specific to one individual (“I painted a bar and I never got paid…”) could be so successfully covered by another singer, but that’s always been one of the great things about music, hasn’t it?




20. Joy Zipper – Held the Hand (I Killed The Monster; 21 Artists Performing the Songs of Daniel Johnston)

Baleful but calm and strangely ‘nice’ (but still very creepy) version of this supremely creepy song.





21. Pear Shape – Walking the Cow (2013)

Pear shape
Another nice version of the oft-covered classic, this time by Australian indie band Pear Shape, this one is wistfully happy and summery and has a nice, cheap video too.