Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


Excerpt from my Haiku Diary 13 Nov 2008

November 13 2008

I, leonard cohen,
a bunch of other people
and some good music


How Much Do I Hate Coldplay? #poetry

More than Katy Perry
But less than Les Dennis
Tim Vine and the tennis.
Less than the football
And The Phantom Menace,
A movie that sucked like a Dyson Elite.
More than Eastenders
But less than a tweet
about Bieber. He’s dreadful
and needs to be sent far away.
In space you can’t hear him.
I long for the day
We deal with the dross
of the Earth in this way.

How much do I hate them?
Far less than Kardashians,
Arse hang-out fashy-ans,
Heart FM, Gok;
He’s a pile of Wan sheet
With his smarmy, effete
And annoying demeanour.
I don’t want to look stupid
Just fitter and leaner.
How much? Less than arses;
Scary Spice, Katy Price
And the privileged classes

How much do I hate them?
This much (opens arms).
I’ll never succumb
To their dubious charms.

tom waits is missing (2011)

I was discussing Tom Waits earlier, having today listened to his ‘Real Gone’ album, an amazing bit of American Gothic Blues. I was thinking while listening to it that if David Lynch is stuck for someone to provide additional music for his new ‘Twin Peaks’ series (yes, it is coming back apparently) then Tom would be ideal. Indeed, Tom himself would make an ideal resident for this most surreal of American small towns.
Many years ago, I was having another discussion about music in general and was asked if I had any Tom Waits albums.
‘Yes,’ I replied, quite confidently. ‘I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a CD with a black and yellow cover.’
Later, the thought of the CD returned to me. After a fruitless search through the shelves, and through my memories to try and recall what tracks might have been on it, I came to the conclusion that I had never had the CD in the first place. Why I imagined I had was a bit of a mystery, but the mind is an odd thing and we can convince ourselves of all sorts of nonsense, particularly in regard to the past.
I started writing a poem about this incident which went through an amazing process of rewrites and revisions over a ridiculous number of years (during which I acquired a ridiculous number of Tom Waits albums and became a committed fan).
Serendipitously, the poem ended up as an extended metaphor for something else completely. It was published by London Grip in 2011.

tom waits is missing

we can’t recite our canon of cds
unless we have just three
or too much time on our hands.

but we know them when we see them
like the faces of celebrity saints
from the hello bible.

i believed
that tom waits was present,
safe as gospel
between the book of verve
and the books of whitesnake
but he’s not.

the title hovers at the edge of recall
like a maddening psalm. it tests my faith.
i pray for tracks
into empty silence, void.

then i reach that point of
shuddering revelation

the liberating moment when
i’m suddenly aware
of the loss of
something that was never there.

Albums To Hear Before You Die #014 – Queen – A Night At The Opera


Track Listing

1 – Death On Two Legs (Dedicated to….)
2 – Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
3 – I’m in Love with My Car
4 – You’re My Best Friend
5 – ’39
6 – Sweet Lady
7 – Seaside Rendezvous
8 – The Prophet’s Song
9 – Love of My Life
10 – Good Company
11 – Bohemian Rhapsody
12 – God Save the Queen

I listened to this for the first time in about twenty years the other week. The reason I abandoned it for so long is simply that in my youth I played it to death to the extent that I could replay virtually all the tracks in my head.
I had burnt my love of it out.
Listening to it again was, well, a bit of a revelation.
Many would argue that this is Queen’s best album and in many respects they would be right. This is an album made by a band at the height of their powers and creative energy. It is exquisitely structured, and the production is flawless. There is a striking diversity in the style and subject of the tracks but it somehow fits seamlessly together. It can also be seen as the first half of a double album since their next release ‘A Day at The Races’ was designed to complement the previous album in terms of cover art, and both titles are the names of Marx Brothers films.
All the band members contributed songs to the album, and it has to be said that two of the most original, ‘Good Company’ and ”39′ are from Brian May. The lyrics on ‘Good Company’ are especially fine. ’39’, as many may not realise, is a work of Science Fiction telling of how space explorers set out, looking for a new home. Because of the time dilation effect, they subjectively experience only a few years passing, but when they return, a hundred years have passed and all their friends and family are dead.
The rest of the songs cover extremes between the kitsch hutzpah of ‘Seaside Rendezvous’ and ‘Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon’ to the Grand spectacle of ‘The Prophet’s Song’ and their Magnum Opus, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
The album finishes – almost prophetically – with Brian May’s iconic rendering of ‘God save The Queen’. At the time, with the band name’s gay connotations and Mercury’s outrageous glam rock style, they were in a sense anti-establishment figures and this track seemed a humorous dig at the powers that be. The wind was later knocked very soundly out of that sail during the Queen’s Jubilee when May deigned to play it on the roof of Buckingham Palace in a shameless act of embarrassing sycophancy. No longer the rebel, now firmly part of the establishment.
I say ‘prophetically’ in relation to ‘God Save The Queen’ because this track was the finale not just to the album but to Queen’s greatest years. ‘A Day At The Races’, albeit an excellent album, did not reach the creative heights of ‘A Night of The Opera’ and, in my opinion, they were not to produce another truly great album until Freddie Mercury’s brilliant swansong, ‘Innuendo’.

Albums To Hear Before You Die #013 – Boardwalk Empire Vol 1 (2011)


It’s not often I would recommend soundtrack albums but this has to be singled out as something very special. The original TV series is a very special beast in its own right, being an epic tale of the gangsters of the US during the Prohibition era. The pilot was directed by Martin Scorsese, and the series had garnered acclaim, awards and devoted fans. One of the most consummately crafted elements of this production though, is the soundtrack, jazz (in the main) of the period, meticulously researched and recreated by Vince Giordano.
I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this album, on which every track is a finely honed gem. The female singers, in particular, deserve special praise. Regina Spektor’s ‘My Man’ is a masterpiece of vampish decadence, while Kathy Brier’s ‘Some of These Days’ sends a shiver up the spine.
There is also a dark aspect to some of these songs which gives a bleak view of the sexist attitudes of the day. ‘The Dumber They Come, The Better I Like Them’ is a comic cabaret number, extolling the virtues of dumb girls, because they ‘know how to make love.’
The women themselves sing some of these songs such as ‘My Man’ and ‘Don’t Put a Tax on The Beautiful Girls’ which, combined with exquisite vocal delivery, gives an ambivalent and dangerous edge to such numbers.
The instrumental numbers are faultless, full of energy and a sense of spontaneity.
‘Carrickfergus’ however – on its own a brilliant and heart-wrenching Irish folk song – seems out of place here. I can’t find it in my heart to be churlish about this, though. It’s a minor niggle, and possibly the only fault I can find on this amazing piece of work.
I can’t wait for Vol II

Track Listing

1.”Livery Stable Blues”, performed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
2.”The Dumber They Come the Better I Like Them”, performed by Stephen DeRosa
3.”My Man”, performed by Regina Spektor
4.”Dark Town Strutters Ball”, performed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
5.”Crazy Blues”, performed by Catherine Russell
6.”Mournin’ Blues”, performed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
7.”Some of These Days”, performed by Kathy Brier
8.”Margie”, performed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
9.”Carrickfergus”, performed by Loudon Wainwright III
10.”Wild Romantic Blues”, performed by Nellie McKay
11.”After You Get What You Want (You Don’t Want It)”, performed by Kathy Brier
12.”Sheik of Araby”, performed by Leon Redbone
13.”Japanese Sandman”, performed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks
14.”Don’t Put a Tax On the Beautiful Girls”, performed by Kathy Brier
15.”All By Myself”, performed by Martha Wainwright
16.”Life Is a Funny Proposition”, performed by Stephen DeRosa

Albums To Hear Before You Die #012 – Ithyphallic – Nile (2007)


This, the fifth album by South Carolina Death Metal band, Nile, combines standard Death Metal, Ancient Egyptian mysticism, elements of HP Lovecraft, deep demonic vocals and occasional sweeping Wagnerian orchestration in an album which is surprisingly likeable and compelling.
One would have thought that such fantastic subject matter and orchestration would have been long left behind in the Prog Rock of the 1970s, but it seems to have transplanted remarkably successfully to Death Metal (or Technical Death Metal, whatever that may be) of the 21st Century. One could almost imagine Rick Wakeman sitting at the back of the band on a cathedral organ swaying his golden locks during some sections. I don’t there is actually a cathedral organ, but it wouldn’t be out of place, and Rick would be the perfect person to play along.
Apart from the Prog-esque first and last tracks which have a combined length of eighteen minutes the rest of the tracks are quite short, but still exhibit a variety which one doesn’t often see in the Metal genre on the whole.
I accept that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea or indeed hieroglyphed beaker of tana-leaf juice, but I recommend that you try it out at least once.
You never know what you might like until you try it.

1. “What Can Be Safely Written” 8:15
2. “As He Creates So He Destroys” 4:36
3. “Ithyphallic” 4:40
4. “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks from He Who Is in the Water” 2:56
5. “Eat of the Dead” 6:29
6. “Laying Fire Upon Apep” 3:25
7. “The Essential Salts” 3:51
8. “The Infinity of Stone” 2:04
9. “The Language of the Shadows” 3:30
10. “Even the Gods Must Die” 10:01

Albums To Hear Before You Die #011 – Talking Heads 77 – Talking Heads (1977)


As years go by the majority of the music that was the soundtrack of one’s past begins to date. It’s a sad fact, but a very large percentage of the sounds all of us enjoyed when we were teenagers was, well, just bad. Admitting that fact is tough. Many refuse to do so and will remain in denial until they are buried with their Osmonds albums clutched in their cold dead hands.
The bad music, it sinks into obscurity, but the good stuff, it gets replayed, talked about, rediscovered by later generations, and it usually still sounds fresh.
This is particularly true of what is arguably Talking Heads’ finest album, ‘Talking Heads ’77’
Although ostensibly riding in on the crest of the punk movement, Talking Heads were in stealth mode. Invoking the tropes of punk with their stripped back instrumentation and Byrne’s atonal vocals they transcended the movement and will always be something separate and somewhat unclassifiable.
The first track ‘Uh-Oh’ is deceptively poppy. Without Byrne’s voice and lyrics it would have been another lost pop anthem of the 70s.
Things get more serious after this however. ‘New Feeling’ is the track that sets the mood, with astringent guitar riffs backing the half spoken half howled pre-Morrisey angst.
‘Tentative Decisions’ again features a catchy riff which segues into an anthem of gender differences.
‘Happy Day’ begins deceptively with a soft keyboard intro but soon changes pace. The title is at odds with Byrne’s melancholy high notes and indeed the happy day is more of a wish than an expectation.
‘Who is it?’ is an unconventional and stripped back love song
My favourite track is ‘Don’t You Worry About The Government.’ It’s a complex piece with ambiguous lyrics. The refrain repeats the phrase ‘Don’t you worry about me’ which tends to suggest that this is the voice of the US government, singing cynically to its citizens as ‘friends’ and ‘loved ones’.
There are echoes of Byrne’s future development in the direction of Latino rhythms here and there – they creep into “First Week/Last Week…Carefree”, another track that seems to work on two different levels of tempo and melody – but somehow the album holds together stylistically.
The most famous track of course is ‘Psycho Killer’, Byrne’s ‘Mona Lisa’ in that the track has become so iconic and well-known that it’s difficult to look at objectively. It’s a tense, sparse and spikey number, full of angst and paranoia, but just so damned catchy. In a juxtaposition of tone, this leads into ‘Pulled Up’, the final track and like the first, an upbeat poppy number albeit woven around a narrative of emotional rescue.
It’s not just a wonderful album musically, it’s an intelligent album, wonderful lyrically, and years ahead of its time in many ways. Even now, I keep finding new facets to it and have to wonder will there ever come a time when they are exhausted.

Track listing

1. “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town” 2:48
2. “New Feeling” 3:09
3. “Tentative Decisions” 3:04
4. “Happy Day” 3:55
5. “Who Is It?” 1:41
6. “No Compassion” 4:47
7. “The Book I Read” 4:06
8. “Don’t Worry About the Government” 3:00
9. “First Week/Last Week…Carefree” 3:19
10. “Psycho Killer” 4:19
11. “Pulled Up”

Albums To Hear Before You Die #010 – Gorilla – The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (1967)


‘Dedicated to Kong, who must have been a great bloke’

Combining Surrealism, Dadaism and comedy, the Bonzos launched themselves onto the music scene in 1967 with their seminal debut album, ‘Gorilla’. Admittedly, some of it (in particular ‘Cool Britannia’ and ‘Look Out There’s a Monster Coming’) has dated somewhat but the remainder of this most ridiculous of albums still sparkles like a new pin.
I have always credited The Bonzos with the rare accolade of having recorded music which was funny, despite it being purely instrumental, and this is demonstrated perfectly by one of my all time favourite tracks ‘Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold)’ – a rollicking rollercoaster parody of Trad Jazz.
Elsewhere, there are Vivian Stanshall’s inventive Dadaist recreations of songs he ‘found’ on second hand seventy-eight records (‘Jollity Farm’ and ‘Mickey’s Son and Daughter’), odd bits of surrealist humour (‘The Intro and the Outro’, ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘I left My Heart in San Francisco’) and nuggets of pure wonderfulness in ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ and ‘Big Shot’.
The Bonzos appeared at an odd point of synchronicity which seemed to bring together the Bonzos, the members of The Monty Python team and other people who were to have a significant effect on the comedy landscape, such as Marty Feldman and Denise Coffey.
At the time of release, this album was strange, innovative and quite unlike anything anyone else was doing. How could it not become cult listening?

Side one
1. “Cool Britannia” – 1:00
2. “The Equestrian Statue” – 2:49
3. “Jollity Farm” – 2:29
4. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” – 1:04
5. “Look Out There’s a Monster Coming” – 2:55
6. “Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold)” – 3:11
7. “Death Cab for Cutie” – 2:56
8. “Narcissus” – 0:27

Side two
1. “The Intro and the Outro” – 3:04
2. “Mickey’s Son and Daughter” – 2:43
3. “Big Shot” – 3:31
4. “Music for the Head Ballet” – 1:45
5. “Piggy Bank Love” – 3:04
6. “I’m Bored” – 3:06
7. “The Sound of Music” – 1:21

Albums To Hear Before You Die – #009 – Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid (2008)


About as near to a perfect album as you are likely to find, Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ is a faultless succession of wonderful songs, lyrically brilliant and sung in Guy Garvey’s trademark Neo-Peter-Skellern styley.
Arrangements and instrumentation are amazing – especially so on my favourite track ‘Audience With The Pope’, one of modern music’s most engaging and witty pieces ever. (Not many songs feature the Pope. There’s a recent Tim Minchin one, Tom Lehrer’s ‘The Vatican Rag’ and Fascinating Aida’s ‘I Fancy The Pope’ but generally really good songs with ‘The Pope’ in the title are very few and far between.)
‘Audience With The Pope’ is a semi-Latino sardonic love-song whose chorus states:-

‘I’ve got an audience with The Pope
And I’m saving the world at eight,
But if she says she needs me, if she says she needs me,
Everybody’s going to have to wait…’


A deserving winner of The Mercury Prize, this is not just a celebration of Northern Laddishness. There is laddishness evident, but it’s intelligently wielded. ‘Starling’ and ‘Mirrorball’ jerk at the heartstrings somewhat while others, such as ‘The Fix’ – a burst of waltzy cleverness about fixing horse races – smacks of a Cole Porter who grew up in Burnley and kept ferrets.

‘Too many times we’ve been postally pipped
We’ve loaded the saddles, the mickeys are slipped
We’re swapping the turf for the sand and the surf and the sin

Cause the fix, the fix is in.’

If you don’t own a copy of this album, you should. I love it more every time I hear it, and I’m still finding things in it that move me in several emotional directions. It’s not often that an album can make me laugh and shed a tear within the space of five minutes.

Well done, Mr Garvey. Job’s a good ‘un!

Track Listing

1. “Starlings” 5:05
2. “The Bones of You” 4:49
3. “Mirrorball” 5:50
4. “Grounds for Divorce” 3:39
5. “An Audience with the Pope” 4:27
6. “Weather to Fly” 4:29
7. “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” 5:14
8. “The Fix” (Elbow, Richard Hawley) 4:27
9. “Some Riot” 5:23
10. “One Day Like This” 6:34
11. “Friend of Ours” 4:38
12. “We’re Away” (UK bonus track) 1:59

Albums To Hear Before You Die #008 – The Residents – Duck Stab! (1978)


I was introduced to this extraordinary album in the late Nineteen Seventies, an experience which led to a lifelong love affair with this most individual of bands.
The full title of the original album was ‘Duck Stab!/Buster and Glen’, the original Duck Stab having been a seven track EP, and Buster and Glen a postulated follow up. The band remixed these tracks, added Buster and Glen and released the vinyl album with the EP contents on each side.
Although they tend to get lumped in with the punk and new wave movements of the Seventies and Early Eighties The Residents are a unique beast. If anything their work is more related to the Surrealist/Dadaist principles of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, particularly in their reinterpretations of other artists’ work.
In terms of that aspect of their career in 1984 they embarked on a proposed project to celebrate US composers comparing and contrasting two composers on each album. Only two of these were completed, the best of which is probably ‘Stars and Hank Forever’ which features the work of Hank Williams and a medley of Souza marches.
Duckstab, although it features no covers, set their style though.
Redolent of late Tom Waits, the music is a chaotic mix of distorted vocals, guitars and percussion, and surreal and sometimes dark and disturbing lyrics with accents of bleak humour.
They are undoubtedly one of the most innovative and original bands in US history, redefining even during the punk age what music is, and what music can do.
Here is where to start

Track Listing

1. “Constantinople” – 2:23
2. “Sinister Exaggerator” – 3:28
3. “The Booker Tease” – 1:04
4. “Blue Rosebuds” – 3:08
5. “Laughing Song” – 2:12
6. “Bach Is Dead” – 1:12
7. “Elvis and His Boss” – 2:29
8. “Lizard Lady” – 1:54
9. “Semolina” – 2:48
10. “Birthday Boy” – 2:41
11. “Weight-Lifting Lulu” – 3:11
12. “Krafty Cheese” – 1:59
13. “Hello Skinny” – 2:41
14. “The Electrocutioner” – 3:20