Nice Enough To Eat

This day being the first day of the rest of my life, I have launched a new blog, La Vie en Albums. Music has been and is still such an important element of my life on earth, so I have decided to take a key album each week and (re-)appraise it. May it generate some interesting musical discourse!

Fourteen shillings and sixpence (or something like that). Little price; big impact. The inexpensive sampler album that kept on giving – for a few years, anyway.

I bought it in 1970 at the age of 15: a crucial time of many people's musical development. At that time, I was still listening almost exclusively to the Rolling Stones and, in particular, their two greatest hits compilations, High Tide And Green Grass and Through The Past Darkly (with its exotic hexagonal sleeve and its deliberately unflattering portrait of the band on the cover). But I had heard a single or two by Traffic and liked what I heard.

Then came Nice Enough To Eat. And then, as Fluff would intone on his radio shows, the music changes... (cue orchestral chords). It introduced me to the multifarious delights of Chris Blackwell's Island label, about which I knew virtually nothing at that time. More importantly, it introduced me to the wonderful world of underground or progressive music. Ah, how fantastic to be considered progressive if you listened to music that not everybody else was listening to.

The album triggered a frantic campaign to catch up and be as progressive as I possibly could. Since I didn't get much pocket money, the sampler became the quickest and least expensive way to delve into the underground. There were the two big CBS samplers, Fill Your Head With Rock and The Rock Buster (if I remember the slightly disappointing follow-up correctly); there was the sister sampler from Island, You Can All Join In; and there was the Decca sampler with the embarrassing title, Wowie Zowie! The World Of Progressive Music. Surely some marketing man's idea of a sick joke.

There was also an Atlantic sampler, called I think What Is Soul? But that was more for girls and boys with dodgy sexual preferences. Girls always know more and always grow up faster. Soul music was waiting around the corner, but first I had to get progressive music out of my system.

Thanks to the joys of anal retention, I can tell you that there was 53 minutes of music on the album. I timed each track as it played on my first stereo (from Boots' audio department) and noted down the time in indelible ink on the cover, thus destroying any value that the album might have to vinyl collectors. Although to sell it would be like getting rid of a family heirloom.

Side One kicked off with 'Cajun Woman', a track from Fairport Convention's Unhalfbricking album (the one with a band member's slender parents on the cover, whom I mistook for infamous spies for some strange reason). It was followed by Mott the Hoople's Dylanesque version of Dough Sahm's 'At The Crossroads' from their eponymous first album with its reproduction of a mesmerising Escher print. I always considered Mott the Hoople to be one of the finest ever names for a band, right up there with Half Man Half Biscuit, and loved the fact that David Bowie gave them 'All The Young Dudes' when their career was in the doldrums. 'Meet At The Crossroads' took me eventually to Doug Sahm's glorious garage-rocking 'She's About A Mover'.

After Mott, there was Spooky Tooth's very heavy 'Better By You, Better Than Me'. Strange how life goes, but their heavy guitarist, Luther Grosvenor, would eventually turn up in Mott the Hoople as Ariel Bender. That name represents another marketing mistake, because why change your name if you were blessed at birth with a name like Luther Grosvenor? Doesn't make sense.

Then came a track by Jethro Tull from their Stand Up album, 'We Used To Know'. When 'Living In The Past' came out, I built up a small collection of Jethro Tull singles – until the terrible afternoon in the rugby changing room when my best friend and me were accused of being teeny boppers after our conversation about Jethro Tull was overheard by bigger boys. Man, you didn't buy 7" singles if you wanted to be considered progressive.

Side One concluded with Free's bluesy 'Woman' and a long rambling track by Heavy Jelly, 'I Keep Singing That Same Old Song'. It and they remain a mystery to this day. Whatever happened to Heavy Jelly? I believe they had something to do with Jackie Lomax, whom The Beatles signed up – briefly – for their Apple venture.![](upload://9h7czr7WqGmsxiWXybdm7A0gy93.jpg)

If Side One was a bit of a curate's proverbial egg, Side Two was the promised land. It opened with a bang in the form of a smoking pig in shades and headphones: Blodwyn Pig's 'Sing Me A Song That I Know' from their Ahead Rings Out album. And then came two glorious ethereal tracks that remain as fresh as the day your dentist fitted them. I still listen, in another format, to Traffic's flute-acious 'Forty Thousand Headmen' and Nick Drake's 'Time Has Told Me'. Ah, poor tragic Nick Drake. It's typical that I considered it the weakest track on this side at the time. Now, of course, I believe it to be one of his masterpieces. If only I and a few thousand others had seen it at the time, we might have stopped him from topping himself.

And then came '21st Century Schizoid Man', with its distorted vocals and Robert Fripp's far-out fuzzed guitar. It blew my mind. I became for a few years a King Crimson maniac, even daring to buy their 7" single, 'Cat Food', because I was too impatient to wait for the album. Fortunately, I didn't write timings in biro on the 'iconic' gatefold album sleeve of the very pink, very anguished shrieking man. But I couldn't listen to it these days.

After which, there was 'Gungamai' by Quintessence, a slice of soft Indo-jazzy rock. And talking of gatefold sleeves, briefly I had an album of theirs whose front cover opened up to reveal some kind of Hindu shrine. Or that was the idea, anyway. I had to take it back, because there was a defect in the pressing that offended my sensitive ears. They didn't have a replacement and I couldn't be bothered to order another. Probably worth a packet these days, with a gimmicky cover like that.

Whereupon the album ended in a strangely strange but oddly normal way, courtesy of Dr. Strangely Strange. They came from Dublin and I saw them once as a boy in Belfast. The Strangelies played a twee kind of dippy-hippy folk music that sounded then every bit as good as Tyrannosaurus Rex. An obscure record company would release the album from which the final track on this life-enhancing sampler derived, Kip Of The Serenes. With bonus tracks, too. I shall not be seeking it out.

I shall, however, re-file this 'ossum' album with the other discs by Various Artists. It was 14/6 well spent. God knows when or even if I shall play it again. But at the time it was rarely off my first stereo record player, the one whose arm would raise at the end like a fascist salute.

I went to a Quo concert in Limoges three years back and I have to say I think they were better then than when I first saw them in '72 ! It was honest R & R from hnest musicians.

Just been listening to Live Dire Straits whilst driving home from Limoges. Top band for me who also left their little mark on the music business.

I hate that, Peter. It's cynical. Van Morrison is a pastmaster. And Nina Simone could be very hit and miss.

I missed your lengthy comment about grandiosity in music, Brian. Fascinating. I like the cast you assembled very much. Miles and Mingus (and Monk) are my favourite jazzateers, but I've never listened enough to Mel Tormé. I like the few tracks I have by him very much. Very pure voice; not unlike Mark Murphy and, these days, Kurt Elling. I've never been into operas or grand classical concertos, so I guess I must plump more for simplicity. Mind you, I love a roaring big band and the quasi-classical work of Gil Evans and George Russell. Ho hum! I could chat all day. Better go and get dinner on the go... Wish I could watch the Open, but the satellite's up the chute.

A friend went to a Dylan concert in France last week and he was very disappointed. Apparently the performance was shortened and quite mediocre. Just in it for the money maybe ? I'm very pleased in retrospect I couldn't afford the tickets as well as travelling & hotel fees etc......

Yes, I have quite a lot of experience of Blood On The Tracks, Peter, as a friend with whom I shared a house had it. Definitely one of Dylan's stronger albums. I agree that his contribution to music is inestimable, it's just that I find at times that he rambles too much and I can't be bothered. I thought his radio show was wonderful and he could easily have had a career as a DJ. So informative, so amusing. I will check out The Dead, I promise, it's just that I wonder sometimes at my certain age whether life's too short...

The 'mot played'Dylan album chez moi is definitely Blood On TheTracks. A good all-round collection in humble opinion including the amazingly long inder Lily' Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts hich Dylan has only played live once...for obvious reasons...

I can love Dylan or detest him, sometimes on the same album ( a bit like Tom Waits) but his contribution o music is immeasurable.

The Dead are worth checking out Mark - a kind of psychodelia bluesey rock-type gig.

Complicated, innit? I would guess that Highway 61 Revisited is an album among the most listened to in this household, there is something about Ballad of a Thin Man. I have always found Dylan enigmatic, don't mind the fact that he can't sing really at all, perhaps I know something is happening here, but I don't know what it is?

One thing that attracts me in music is the grandiose I guess. The folk and blues me likes the simple and plain, but when I go for the music where I am not listening to words especially but take in the music, then the old soul tours with their fantastic orchestras, backing vocals and great performers really were as grandiose. I like grand opera, Wagner wins for me, so other music often needs to fill the entire world around me the same way. Even playing a solo Hendrix could do that, the likes of Beefheart and Zappa could too, KC and ELP did, Deep Purple especially, there are tracks like Willie the Pimp on Hot Rats or Child in Time on Deep Purple in Rock that are almost operatic.

The music itself without lyrics, thus not opera, well that is Mahler for me, forget Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and so on. They painted tonal pictures, Mahler wrote emotions. Black music is emotions, Miles Davis or Charlie Mingus is as valid as Elmore James, B. B. King, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye because each is saying 'something' in a different way, but behind them is emotion rather than a picture. There are songs from way back like Stormy Weather or Every Day I Have the Blues that are picked up by singers generation after generation and never lose the soul in them that absorb the people singing them into the text, sometimes I wonder why contemporary performers struggle looking for new lyrics when each time they do this kind of great standard they perform best of all. They make a solo into grandiose music too when they do that. Something that fills the aether and not just the room.

But that's me, I was a crap musician although I still regret selling my cello about 15 years ago. Tucked safely behind all other cellos in the school orchestra I could sit inside the music, awful as it probably was and transpose what I really liked into what I was supposedly part of. Big band blues and early soul music fitted really well. I guess when I was in Cambridge and heard the college chapel choirs (not just Kings despite their fame and world renown) thus took the courage to go to some gospel concerts, always remaining a secular listener, I think I was dying to hear it all thrown together, anyway got the hang of 'big music'.

So, a dream would have been a modern work written by perhaps Frank Zappa, with a blues guitarist like Buddy Guy preparing the ground for virtuosi like Hendrix to highlight their instrumentals, with powerful singers like Ella Fitzgerald vocally duelling with Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye street fighting Joe Williams and Mel Tormé and Wagnerian snobbery shown that what it is really is the impressive, magnificent exaggeration of the world that makes music grandiose, but also that any music can do it.

But that's just a dream... Perhaps KC and ELP (Emerson had the same effect on me, not that I liked the others much) scratched on that door. Certainly classical performances of Tommy and The Wall I have seen have affirmed the possibility exists beyond my imagination though lacking the gravitas of my dream line ups.

Thanks for your fascinating dialogue, Peter and Brian. It's time I explored the Dead. I kind of overlooked them at the time and never joined the extraordinarily long queues of Dead-heads at concerts. I'm sure they must have been great and it must have been irksome to lose 'Anthem Of The Sun', Brian (which is why I gave up lending albums). Like you, Brian, I have never been entirely convinced by Dylan. I have made compilations for our own entertainment in this household, with tracks selected from here, there and everywhere. Minor gems like 'Quin the Eskimo' and such like. 'All Along the Watchtower' is undisputably brilliant and Hendrix's version was stunning. I never really liked Dylan's singing voice and a lot of his songs seem to be very low on melody and high on rambling. However, I do think some of his lyrics are rather wonderful. And while I loved King Crimson, I could not abide Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Keith Emerson struck me as a royal prat. They seemed at the time to typify all that was excessive and inflated about prog-rock - which drove me to black music. But that's probably just me!

I had Dylan's John Wesley Harding on earlier today. That lead me to shoving in Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, for an obvious reason: All Along the Watchtower. I have spent years not really knowing what Dylan's point was, given his lyrics are cribbed from the Book of Isaiah and all that. Grateful Dead, used to perform it and umpteen other people used it at times which is what made me listen to Dylan today, Young, Ferry, Clapton and Morrison in the crowd. I have often heard all about the recording and rerecording, mixing, dubbing and that a great deal of it was far more Brian Jones than Hendrix, blah, blah, blah... However, the song comes out as pure genius as an apocalyptic text that is perhaps gobbledegook but certainly speaks loud for the late 60s in its bizarre fashion with guitar playing to dream of.

It is one piece of Hendrix that sometimes makes it hard to conceive that had he lived and had he collaborated with the best lyricists he would have been the benchmark of rock music rather than the people whose creativity seemed to decline with 1970 but we still have with us, all (and often questionably) classed as geniuses. I am not stuck in a 1960s time warp, there has been a lot of good music since, albeit ELP's use of Mussorgsky for Pictures was brilliant in the 70s and is also a failed benchmark. It always surprises me that there we had the best of the best in rock music taking in classical, being influenced by people like John Cage, with virtuosi like Hendrix and lyricists like Dylan, although they are two of a much bigger number of course, then in two decades it all filtered into the likes of Oasis and Blur. I have Definitely Maybe and Leisure respectively, both presents not purchases, but listening to them cannot actually understand that 20 years on what everybody was shouting about was not actually that special but listening to it now it makes things I used to try to ignore like the Small Faces' Itchycoo Park seem like genius.

I am not a great believer in golden ages really, but yes there is something lost in the music world that listening to Hendrix doing Watchtower would suggest may have opened the door to rather than just the chink we saw.

Grateful Dead! Ah!! Aha, I wonder if the bloke who has had my Anthem of the Sun since at least '72 is still with us?

Indeed. Apparently the earliest prog KC stuff was inspired by Bartok ! By coincidence I just picked up an LP of 'Pictures' by ELP with ex KC frontman Greg Lake doing his best to keep up with Emerson. Agree that KC today is more 'difficult' to listen to.

Whilst browsing in a Cambridge music shop yesterday the shop owner played a vintage Grateful Dead album and I have to say I forgot just how good they were.

They were indeed, Peter. That said, though, I find it hard to listen to them these days. But I still have a lot of time for Robert Fripp, particularly when seen in his domestic context with West Country burr and married to Toyah Wilcox. A charmingly improbable couple!

Difficult to believe '21st Century Schizoid Man' came out of the '60s ! Fripp & co were years ahead of their time.

Not I, Roger. However, I did read Sting's autobiography (whose title I forget) and I found it very nicely written and fascinating. The early days in the Newcastle area were really well drawn. I hope you enjoy the concert (if you're going).

Sting is on in Nimes on Monday. I first saw him when he was 17 playing in the Newcastle Big Band, then he had a small jazzy group called Last Exit. Anybody in Newcastle in that era?

Thanks, Bruce! Gosh, some sociable cove has gone to the trouble of compiling a Nice Enough playlist on You Tube. How lovely it was to hear 'At The Crossroads' in digital format. I still love my records, but I do appreciate the clarity that you get with digitalised music. I haven't got a £10k hi-fi set-up to get the most out of analogue, so I don't necessarily subscribe to the argument.

Ask again in another place and I shall tell a true tale that could not be simpler. Make friends and you shall see.

Derry & Toms! There's a blast from the past. Like Bourne & Hollingworth. Great comedy acts both. Brian, I don't know the Cat & Sandy link. Do please enlighten me!

Biba. My sister was the shoe section as head of sales in Church Street then the ex-Derry and Toms at the time of the suede boots at the end of the 60s into the 70s, she was well in with Barbara and Fitz. Guess how she dressed... mostly free. Then she got married and quit, oh well.