Marc Riley lets us take a look through his record collection

A portrait of Marc Riley
(Image credit: Paul Husband)

At 13, I was mad on Bowie and Lou Reed. Then I watched the famous footage of Genesis doing I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) on The Old Grey Whistle Test one night, probably in 1974. I didn’t know anything about them but it was quite theatrical, like Bowie, and that’s what drew me in. I went out and bought Selling England By The Pound and that led me to Foxtrot, which had the 23-minute Supper’s Ready, and I ended up knowing every single note and lyric. And then, of course, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, which was edgier and punkier than the previous Genesis stuff.

I saw them do the album twice, when they played two nights at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, with Peter Gabriel dressed as Slipperman. It really was everything I’d hoped it would be. The second night, I was right in the front row of the balcony and somebody threw some toilet roll at Gabriel. He threw it back and it landed on this gantry just below me. So I leaned over and picked it up. I had this bog roll on my windowsill for years and years.

Captain Beefheart was one of many artists I have to thank Mark E Smith for. My relationship with Mark is well documented and when I got kicked out of The Fall [in 1983], it was a really unhealthy one, but I did learn an awful lot from him. We’d go round to his flat and listen to various bands in the early days. He used to play Beefheart all the time. I fell in love with Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), then discovered Clear Spot, Safe As Milk and Trout Mask Replica, which is the record all the purists really go for. I saw Beefheart at the Manchester Apollo on the very last tour he did, in 1980, and just felt so privileged to have seen him. I remember him finishing with Kandy Korn, which was mind-blowing.

Mark used to play We’re Only In It For The Money a lot too. Like Beefheart, Frank Zappa was another pretty disagreeable fella, from what I can tell, but madly adventurous. We’re Only In It For The Money is really mischievous as well, fuelled by Sgt Pepper, with stuff like What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?, Let’s Make The Water Turn Black and The Idiot Bastard Son. I still play the album a lot to this day.

Then came Can’s Monster Movie. Every now and again on my 6 Music programme, I’ll play Yoo Doo Right, which is 20 minutes long. It’s one of the greatest records ever made. When I bought The Lost Tapes a few years ago, it made me laugh out loud, because it’s such a great collection of songs that they just found lying around in the cupboard. Any band in the world would absolutely kill for a song like Deadly Doris.

It might’ve been through [ex-Fall bassist] Steve Hanley’s brother, Harry, that I got to hear Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon. Then I bought Wish You Were Here. They’re two different beasts completely, but Wish You Were Here is one of those records I absolutely got lost in, particularly Shine On You Crazy Diamond. You can sense the cynicism in the album, with Roger Waters sounding jaded by the music industry.

Cardiacs started in 1977, amid punk, but they’re indefinable, really. And there can’t be any doubt that Tim Smith is a genius. We had Cardiacs in session a few times on the programme and Tim was always so intense and committed. He was a perfectionist. The very last session they did for us was on June 23, 2008. Tragically, it transpires that’s probably the last time Cardiacs will ever perform. To think they played in a room to an audience of one, which was me, is even more heartbreaking.

My Bloody Valentine were playing at the Roundhouse the following night and Tim went along. I don’t know if it was anything to do with the volume or substances – I’ve heard all manner of things – but he had a cardiac arrest, which is one of the greatest ironies ever, and a stroke. It would be so great to see Tim up and running again at some point. It would make my year.

The first time I heard the Butthole Surfers was on John Peel’s programme. It was a case of, ‘What the hell is this? This is just mental!’ I ended up getting the first four albums and then went to see them at Leeds University, around 1985 or ’86. They had Teresa [Nervosa], their naked dancer, with a shaven head, doing all these kicks. They sounded like Hawkwind – it was coming from the same kind of scenario.

I saw them again, maybe three years later, at the Mean Fiddler in London. Gibby Haynes came on with his hands on fire, slapped a cymbal with petrol on it, which also set alight, and outside there were police with dogs, holding back loads of people who couldn’t get in. So there was fire inside and riots outside.

Prog is no longer a four-letter word. One of my favourite bands of the moment is Thee Oh Sees, whose leader, John Dwyer, has a really broad palette. I speak to him about music quite regularly. There’s psych and garage going on with Thee Oh Sees, but every now and then he veers very closely to prog rock. A song like The Axis, from A Weird Exits, is so Floyd-y and floaty. It’s a really beautiful piece. You can see there’s loads going on in his mind; he’s not at all blinkered.

These New Puritans are named after New Puritan, a Fall song [co-written by Riley]. The main genius within the band is Jack Barnett and I really fell for their first album, Beat Pyramid, in 2008. I saw them soon after at the Night & Day Café in Manchester and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to my life. Jack used to wear this top that was almost like metal feathers. Hidden came out two years later and is an absolute masterpiece. It’s inspired by Benjamin Britten, with all these six-foot Japanese drums and a kids’ choir.

Three years ago, Stephen Bass from Moshi Moshi sent me a link to the video for The Vile Stuff, from Richard Dawson’s Nothing Important, and I was just gobsmacked. I’d never heard anything like it, really. It was steeped in traditional folk, but sounded like an alien had landed and made a record. His guitar playing is so unique and his sense of humour is second to none.

His new one, Peasant, is set in the time when the Romans left the north-east of England and everyone was wondering what to do next. So you have Weaver, which goes into the technical side of dyeing clothes, then Soldier, Prostitute and Ogre, where he builds a whole picture of this community. I think he’s going to inspire a lot of other people to make music. Doing what I do for a living exposes me to all these incredible people.”

You can follow Marc on Twitter: @marcrileydj and @BBCMarcRiley, and listen to his show on BBC 6 Music at 7pm, Monday to Thursday.

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Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.