Saturday, November 12, 2022

Pirate: Emerson, Lake & Palmer


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At the time (early 70s), ELP was big. Their 1977 US tour was notable for its size as they went on the road with an orchestra. Said Emerson, "what you hear on the record is what you expect to hear when you buy the ticket to the show." The size of Emerson's bank of keyboards was noted to "resemble a fortress".

I honestly do not recall the last time I listened to Emerson., Lake & Palmer - or even thought of them. But there was a time (way back when) that they were on my "play-list". That would have been mid 70s - their "heyday". with songs like Lucky Man. Since they tended (like Pirates) to lengthy songs not suitable to pop radio, their charting would have been limited. This one times in at around 12 minutes.

The song lyrics are a story in themselves. not short story or novella, but considerably longer than "normal" radio play accommodates.

How fortuitous in some way, that Seuras Ogg beat me to the modern day pirating issue. Back in the late 60s early 70s,  I, too, as an American living outside America looking to listen to the latest US songs, tuned in to Radio Caroline on short-wave frequencies .Not FM or AM. Short-wave, where the sound goes and comes, but the airwave connection did allow you get the gist of things. Equally fortuitous that Seuras also previously mentioned Papa John, who for some reason also conjured up images of pirates in my mind.

For anyone who has been online as long as I have (mid '90s) the concept of pirating music has greatly evolved. I am of the generation where we read horrifying stories about grandmothers who were subjected to court cases for "inadvertently sharing" music files: taken to court for violating "laws" and subjected to fines amounting to thousands of dollars. Grandma music pirates.

Navigating and explaining the changing legal positions as a teacher of Digital Citizenship during those years was a difficult ."What's legal and what isn't?". Students wanted to know if sharing a YouTube video was legal. If posting a cover of a song was legal. More often than not, the legalities of sharing were a bit hazy, and it changed over time as record companies figured out the market. Today, I can 'pirate' most any song I want via YouTube.

20 years ago, there was also the Pirate Bay file sharing site out of Sweden, which the web tells us "... still works in 2022.." I confess I made not infrequent piratical use of the rather complex, devious method to get access to music that is now "free" via Spotify, YouTube... Wasn't it Stevie Wonder who sang about the  power of music to find a way to get its message across?


 Is this purely a UK thing, I wonder, with pirate radio a real nostalgia trip for anyone of a specific vintage? (Yup, I do mean old. Boomer.) I remember pirate radio, even if I don’t clearly recall the stagnant status quo that begat it into being and necessity. As a child of the late 50’s, I had a elder sister, a deeply entrenched denizen of the swinging 60’s, a dolly bird with ironed hair, Mary Quant panda eyes and micro skirts. She made damn sure I was up to speed with the hit parade of the day, and it wasn’t courtesy Auntie Beeb. (In truth, looking back, I wonder just quite how much she was responsible for my enduring obsession with music, a blessing I have been cursed with as long as I recall.)

The British Broadcasting Corporation was a bit blindsided by pop music. With, in the 1960’s, two radio stations available, the Home Service and the Light Programme. The Home Service was all the serious stuff: news and current affairs, whereas the Light Programme catered for everything else, thus encompassing comedy, soaps, quiz shows and music, of any and every genre. Which, reluctantly and, whenever the schedule would allow it, pop music, surely a passing fad and one, if studiously ignored, might go away. It was to the huge swell of young people, a relatively new invention, that the pirate’s addressed themselves, as the mainstream certainly was in no hurry.

Radio Luxembourg was the one I was first most familiar with, which, in Luxembourg, was an entirely legit organisation. So what was it doing broadcasting English language programming, not an official language in the state? Answer: trying to get around the loopholes the UK put in place around broadcasting. And, whilst legal and with an official licence, their practice was deemed infra dig by the stiff upper lips of the establishment. We used to listen to Lux under the bedsheets at school, after “lights out”, but it was always a tad soul destroying, courtesy the dreadful signal and the (deliberate?) interference.

Far better was Radio Caroline, a fully illicit operation, broadcasting into the UK from outside maritime borders. From boats. OK, big boats, if not necessarily all that sea-worthy.This was wall to wall pop music, with trendy, hip DJs, who would eventually take on board the widening references of the then nascent music scene, embracing non chart music and the “album” market: underground music, it was called, perhaps equating to, or heralding, FM radio, and the birth of AOR- adult oriented rock, in the US. Caroline were huge and presented a huge threat to the constitution. In 1967 came an Act of Parliament  to constrain their activities. At much the same time, arguably not unrelatedly, the BBC rejigged their formula, with the initiation of Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4. The Home Service, broadly, became R4, although a lot of light entertainment  went there too, comedy, drama and the like. R3 became the domain of “proper” music, the classics, and R2 of inoffensive bland fare for the intellectually ininquisitive. R1 was the new station for young people, and quickly signed up the seasick jocks from Caroline and the other pirates.

As the years have passed the boundaries and channels have blurred and expanded. I am now core R2 demographic, maybe not daytime, but enjoying their evening shows for lovers of specific sub- genres: blues, folk, all of that. Indeed, as clearly no longer a young person, R1 is far too strident and brash for my refined ears, however much I might baulk about being subsumed into the cloth eared original prime audience.

The pirates are still there, largely niche now, but there are the new opportunities opened by web radio, and there are many a tiny operation, blasting ultra specialist grooves out of tower blocks, UK wide. Occupying, perhaps, the role Radio Caroline had in the 60’s, for those with a yearning for the myriad emerging genres that have yet to become mainstream. Taking advantage of that, so too have many an opinionated mouthpiece taken it upon themselves to broadcast to audiences numbered in dozens. Given half the chance, know what I’m saying?

Final point might be to catch the Richard Curtis film, The Boat That Rocked, set on one such floating pirate radio station. Critics didn't think it his best. I loved it, especially the late night jock, with whom I could strongly identify. (And I am still open to offers!!)

Boat That Rocked, here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Pirate: National Talk Like A Pirate Day

Lambchop: National Talk Like A Pirate Day

I’ve probably mentioned here that since 2017, I’ve been the secretary for my college class. Typically, that job consisted of writing the Class Notes column in the alumni magazine, and communicating occasionally with classmates, as well as keeping minutes of class officers’ meetings. In this era of social media, however, the job—or at least my take on the job—expanded to include taking a lead role on our class social media, starting a monthly class bulletin, and coordinating a vibrant series of Zoom sessions for classmates (and others), that have continued even after the COVID lockdown that spawned the idea.

At some point, I started putting up holiday posts on the class Facebook page—mostly trying to find pictures featuring tigers or an orange/black color scheme that relate to the holiday. And over the years, I’ve expanded the list of holidays to include celebrations that aren’t Christian or Jewish holidays or obvious national observances. There are no rules about what I can or can’t post about, so I’ve occasionally included things like Holocaust Remembrance Day, or International Day of the Tiger, or Darwin Day. No one has ever complained either about the inclusion or exclusion of a day, and I’d have no problem if anyone else wanted to celebrate something on the page. OK, maybe not Confederate Memorial Day (celebrated on different dates in different racist states). But no one else has done so. 

So, at the end of each month, I schedule the holiday posts for the next month, and to do so, I usually go online and find a calendar of holidays and observations. And I’m always annoyed to have to wade through all of the ridiculous “Days” listed on them to get to the good stuff. Like Belly Laugh Day (January 24), National Tartan Day (April 6), or Rural Transit Day (July 16). 

And then, there’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated on September 19. It was not commemorated on the class Facebook page, but it has at times gotten traction elsewhere. “Founded” in 1995 by two friends in Oregon, one of whom said “Aarr” when he got hurt playing racquetball, their inside joke went viral when they wrote humor columnist Dave Barry, who promoted the idea. A video and a song followed, and in 2008, Facebook, which at that point was still mostly kids, and not mostly cranky adults and Russian bots like now, had a pirate translated version of the website on the day. And of course, there’s an official website

Lambchop is one of the many bands who I have heard a little bit of over the years, and have liked most of what I’ve heard, but never spent the time to really dig into their substantial body of work. An often shifting lineup of musicians based in Nashville led by Kurt Wagner, they’ve moved from a country-based sound in their early days in the mid-1980s through a number of genres. The stuff I like is probably best described as Americana. One of these songs is their “National Talk Like a Pirate Day,” presumably from before the celebration spread beyond our borders, like, you know, a pirate. From the band’s 2008 album OH(Ohio), it’s a rambling song that actually mentions the “Day,” although it isn’t about it. (By the way, it’s not even the best title on the album—that distinction goes to “Sharing a Gibson With Martin Luther King, Jr.”) 

The song’s genesis was described by Wagner in Rolling Stone

I'm writing a line about something else and my wife calls on the phone telling me it's National Talk Like A Pirate Day, I go, 'Oh, okay.' And suddenly that leads to me thinking about my wife. Then next thing I know I'm looking at a picture of her, and she's in her pajamas, she's got a record player. You know, there's a hockey game in the little picture and I start describing the picture. So the song started out as some sort of folk song, you know, and then next thing you know it becomes something else, but it was all because of what happened in the process of writing it: the phone rang. 

So, I guess the lesson is that inspiration can come from anywhere. Sadly, although I wanted to try to work a “buried treasure” reference into this post, but my inspiration never came.

Sunday, November 6, 2022


 Captain Hook aside, is there a greater pirate than Long John? I think not and am not even going to bothered if any dullard mentions Depp and company in those awful films. Jack Sparrow? Jack Shit, say I, even if Keef turned up for one of them. Any kudos he may have brought to the franchise was instantly lost by his stupid moustache.

But what does he have to do with anything musical? Long John, clearly, not Depp, who, as any fule knos, has none whatsoever. (Hollywood Vampires, my arse….) Well, given the, um, maturity of our readership, I am going out on one to suggest you are aware of an Airplane named Jefferson. Yay! Team!!! (No, not Starship; go to the foot of the class.)

I loved J.A. OK, I was a little young and the wrong side the world. So maybe I liked more the idea of the band, as reported, week by week, in the inky UK rock press. San Fran, hippies, anti-war, summer of love, all of that, and it all seemed so cool. I loved them before I ever heard them. I think Volunteers got brought into school, actually by one of the teachers. (With longish hair and a ‘tache, we imaginatively nicknamed him Zappa.) I liked, but, in truth, preferred the album Burgers, by the offshoot band Hot Tuna. Jack’n’Jorma became my heroes, as did the magisterial talent of Papa John Creach, who was just so damned cool. Impossibly old, if probably in his 40s, bald, black and stick-thin, with a fiddle sound to die for.

A later purchase of the double vinyl best of, Flight Log, or double album as we called LPs made of plastic back then, turned out to be all the Airplane I ever bought, even though I have a stash of Tuna’s output, plus Kaukonen solos and, even one of the good Mr Creach. So this theme was too good to waste on anything else, this near to crash landing of the band, and seemingly not with much love gifted its way. I have never heard it. Well, until typing this sentence.

The band were in a bit of a pickle in 1972, with solo and side projects having more allure for the bickering band members. Marty Balin had jumped ship and new drummer, Joey Covington appears  only for some of it, uncertain if he fell off board or was pushed. Which, as the astute will observe, adds extra allegiance to this weeks theme. (Gangplanks, boom tish!) Lester Bangs, the idiosyncratically acerbic no holds barred critic didn’t like it, in a review of such faint praise as to damn it to hell. 

Long John Silver

It opens with the rattle and rumble of the title track, a somewhat generic roustabout biggie, held primarily by the engine room, where Jack Casady’s bass is stoked to the fore. Grace Slick sounds, frankly, the “drunk as a fart” she later claimed to be, during the making of the album. It’s OK, needing Aerie (Gang of Eagles), a moody Slick piano ballad, to lift things. Maybe that should be slick and moody, but either way it works, and the feel is almost Sandy Denny-esque in construction, the minor key elevations reminiscent of that singer’s songs. Which is ironic, when you consider her band, Fairport Convention, cited Jefferson Airplane as such an inspirational influence. Twilight Double Leader is another shrill and somewhat derivative rocker, enlivened only by Creach's fiddle, which swoops and sires appealingly. 


Milk Train splutters and spurts, again made better by fiddle, but really has me wondering what I saw in Slick, her voice a raggedy hoot of shrillness so far, apart from Aerie. Kaukonen slots in some half way decent guitar as it meanders to a close. Most don't, but I quite liked Son of Jesus, but I don't pay as much attention to the supposedly risible lyrics as I ought. But, you know, even when I do, it neither offends nor makes me laugh. Typical J.A. fare, really. Good song. and Easter? is great, a steamy slow burner, impassioned vocals over a piano led progression. OK, it gets a bit bonkers, as Slick gets overheated, needing Kaukonen to sneak in with some guitar. (What's with all these religious allusions, though?)

Trial By Fire

Trial By Fire has the unmistakeable feel of a song that might have otherwise been on the next Tuna album, the bass and guitars all a'weave, the electric and acoustic jousting with each other. Alexander the Medium, great title, by the way, is a change in direction from anything else much here. I love it, the tune evocative in style of a Sally Army band. Creach has his fiddle on a slightly sharper setting and it works, and the instrumental breakdown at the end is the most successful on the album yet, which, as the longest track, was something maybe they knew. The final track is also a belter, Eat Starch Mum, if with nonsense lyrics, with a thrust not a million miles from Volunteers, the track.

Alexander the Medium

So there you get it. I done a review, albeit of an album that came out 50 years ago this year. It probably hasn't aged that well, particularly the vocal characteristics of their lead singer, or the then best appreciated and remembered of them. But it has a few moments. So, in the parlance of the character who inspired it, no black spot.

Buy it if you still want to.