Well, here we are again.
I'm not going to make any rash promises about hourly updates on the blog, suffice to say that entry by entry, I'm reinstating all the dead uploads, weeding out the spam and deleting the handful of posts that got me into trouble all those years ago. There won't be many "new" uploads from here on in, it'll be mainly writing on music and links to some of the stuff I've been writing for other blogs, but hopefully there'll be enough here to keep you amused.
Right...as they say in the wonderful world of musical theatre..."once more with feeling...."
June 1 2017
Monday, 18 December 2017
Rocker, PopMatters and GigSoup. That gave me a focus and a deadline, which for a slacker like me, are very important things.
So, courtesy of the lovely people at GigSoup, here's my top ten picks from 2017.
10 Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright
Forty years after their brilliant debut album, Cheap Trick have casually delivered yet another gem. “We’re All Alright” might veer a bit closer to hard rock territory than some of their Cuban heel sporting fans might like, but the tunes remain . Robin Zander still sings with the power and precision of his ’77 self and Rick Nielson still proves that you don’t have to have long curly hair and skin-tight leather pants to be a bona fide axe hero. “Hey kids! Come and look at dad! He’s rocking out and he’s totally badass!”
9 Slowdive – Slowdive
From out of some dimly lit student union bar, Slowdive re-emerge, blink in the harsh, unfriendly light of 2017, strap on their guitars and make one of the best albums of the year. When bands re-form, you have to brace yourself and prepare for the worst – all the youth, inspiration and hunger which drove the band in their early years can’t possibly still be there now, can it? Well in the case of “Slowdive” not only are they all still there, they’re as focussed as a laser beam. Put your prejudices aside and wallow in a steaming hot bath of sumptuous guitar noise.
8 Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
Who thought that a concept album about the decline of the Welsh mining industry would be a good idea? Public Service Broadcasting, that’s who. And they were right. “Every Valley “is a fascinating, uplifting and tragic trip through a piece of British history, using radio, TV and newsreel audio samples. It’s a Ken Loach film for the ears. Immaculately played and constructed, it seemed to mirror the soap opera chaos of 2017’s political situation without once referring directly to it.
7 Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
For “Mental Illness”, Aimee Mann stripped the production back to guitar, piano, strings and voice and just let the tunes speak for themselves. Fortunately, they do. Mann is a consistently great songwriter and the songs on this album are consistently great. There’s a mood of comfortable melancholy in this record which makes you feel sad and happy at the same time. Not every record would stand up to this minimal approach, with every instrument and lyric so open and exposed. That’s because, nor many records are as good as “Mental Illness”.
6 Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?
Age has not diminished the Dream Syndicate. For their first record since 1988, the band have channelled almost thirty years of angst into eight incendiary tracks. The guitars are loud and sound annoyed. It’s a glorious noise, combining abandon with control, with Steve Wynn’s enigmatic lyrics sitting nicely within the fuzztone. “Do not go gentle into that good night” said Dylan Thomas – the Dream Syndicate definitely agree.
5 Daisy House – Crossroads
That fact that folk-rock exists in 2017 is nothing short of a miracle and the fact that Daisy House have made such an incredible folk-rock record this year is doubly remarkable. For their fourth album, the father/daughter duo have excelled themselves with an album that takes all the good parts of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and early Fairport Convention’s back catalogues and made a record which sounds fresh and contemporary. Beautifully played and (especially) beautifully sung, “Crossroads” will hopefully inspire people to explore the dusty recesses of grandad’s record collection or maybe even pick up a twelve-string guitar.
4 Rips – Rips
The most assured and confident debut album I’ve heard in years. From NYC, the Rips channel Television, the Strokes and some of the more melodic aspects of Sonic Youth into a very tasty package. With critics and pundits desperate to find The Next Big Thing, the answer could be under their noses. “Rips” reminds us how great, two electric guitars can sound in the right hands.
3 Pugwash – Silverlake
Essentially “Silverlake” is the work of just two people – Pugwash mainstay Thomas Walsh and pop-rock poster boy, Jason Falkner. Both artists have digested the finer works of the Beatles, Beach Boys, XTC and a host of others and made an album that can sit alongside any of those band’s finest works. Why “The Perfect Summer” wasn’t a number one single is both baffling and infuriating. Eleven tracks of consistently great, unapologetic pop. The antidote to 2017.
2 Mark Mulcahy – Possum in the Driveway
Any album that goes from mariachi to college rock via rhythm and blues is always going to be a bit of an acquired taste, but if you’re familiar with Mulcahy’s back catalogue, you’ll be well prepared. Blessed with a unique voice, Mulcahy navigates all these disparate styles with ease and knits the album together beautifully. The opening track, “Stuck on Something Else” was the best song I heard this year and the rest of the record isn’t far behind. A remarkable record from a remarkable talent.
1 Captain Wilberforce – Black Sky Thinking
When I reviewed this album for GigSoup in May, I wasn’t sure that anything could top it. I was right. “Black Sky Thinking” is pop perfection. 12 tracks of beautifully written, immaculately played, memorable powerpop which goes far beyond that genre’s usual limitations. The songs twist and turn in unexpected places with lyrics that run from laugh out loud funny to dark and desperate. In the era of the playlist, we’re used to cherry-picking tracks from albums – with our attention span tragically truncated to approximately eight seconds, according to recent scientific research, we flit from song to song like listless bees, gathering pollen in a meadow. Not so “Black Sky Thinking”. No fast forward. No skipping tunes. Well, why would you want to? Pop-rock seldom, if ever, is better than this.
Thursday, 21 September 2017
(A little context - I wrote this for a magazine called "Music Geeks" which never actually got published - so here it is)
Festivals. They’re everywhere. Every village in the outskirts of nowhere, with a park slightly bigger than a tablecloth is bound to have a summer event. In amongst the “best dressed piglet” shows and the “guess the weight of the aubergine” stalls, you’ll occasionally find a rickety stage to which certain musicians are inexplicably drawn…
Ask a band to travel halfway across the country to play for no money and the answer will probably involve sex and travel. If however, you say it’s to appear at a festival, they’ll be scrabbling around in their attics for groundsheets faster than you can say “Altamont”. This is because “festival” to a musician means “Glastonbury” – even when the dismal little event is to be held in a pub car park in Stow-on-the-Wold. In my lengthy “career” as a jobbing bassist in a variety of beat combos, I’ve played loads of these things. To any musicians contemplating playing a festival this year, consider these factors -
Camping: Watching a musician trying to erect a one-man tent is like watching the first unsteady steps of a baby giraffe. After about 90 minutes, he’ll give up and sleep in the van on top of the bass combo. If it’s hot, he’ll attempt the job stripped to the waist, taking frequent slugs from lukewarm cans of no-brand lager. Of course, he’ll end up sleeping in the van and the “Eezee-Up Instant ErectoTent” will be set on fire in the middle of a field.
The equipment: “Backline provided” said the promoter. This means that someone was given £50 and told to buy a drumkit, two guitar amps and something that looks like a bass amp from a car boot sale. Still, it’s better than nothing isn’t it? No. It isn’t. The PA turns out to be the locals Pub’s Karaoke system. Halfway through the set, someone will stride up to the lead vocalist and demand that he hands over the mic as “the farmer needs it to announce the winner of the Cowpat of the Year competition”.
The other acts: Eclectic is not the word. You’ll be scheduled between the local school’s recorder ensemble and a thrash metal band from Luxembourg who should have been on three days ago, but they missed their ferry. Both acts will go down way better than you.
The catering. The thrash metal band from Luxembourg have stuffed it all in their van and driven off in the middle of the night. Avoid innocent looking cakes and brownies sold by nice old ladies, as they are invariably stuffed to bursting with narcotics. A band mate of mine accidentally ate two of these lethal sweet treats to stave off his hunger, just moments before our set. He’s still in that field to this day, playing a never-ending viola solo. Still, the noise keeps the crows off the rhubarb.
Festivals. Why do musicians play them? Mainly so they can tell people that they’ve played at a festival. At my age, it’s not good for me to spend a weekend lying in a sleeping bag in a field between a drummer making noises in his sleep that would terrify a Wookie and a guitarist playing endless variations on the “Sweet Child O’Mine” riff all night. Next summer, I’ll be in the Algarve. Anybody wanna buy some tentpegs?
Thursday, 27 July 2017
31st August 1994. I’d blagged some tickets to see a fairly new artist play at a little club in the centre of Birmingham. I seem to remember that I had a bit of difficulty getting rid of one of the freebies – no-one wanted to waste an evening watching some guy they’d never heard of. Anyways, it’s too hot to spend a summer evening in some smelly “rock club”, right?
It was a less than capacity audience that made it to Edwards No8 that night. It was hot, too. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, really – I spotted quite a few freeloaders from other record stores, a bunch of movers and shakers and some regular folks. A few older guys too – apparently this performer’s dad was big in the sixties. Big deal. We all settled in to check out the bands. First up were Faith Over Reason who were pretty groovy in an almost-but-not-quite shoegazey sort of way. They did a reasonable cover of Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” which I thought showed a lot of class. After 45 minutes they left the stage to a good reception and after the obligatory mic tweakage and linechecks, on sauntered The Main Act. The band looked tired. The bassist leant against his bass rig for the first number, his eyes heavy and his face downcast. This was beyond low-key. The singer, resplendent in army surplus trousers and a white vest picked, up his Telecaster and without any fanfare or even the most cursory of introductions, started to sing. And after about 90 minutes he stopped. I can’t adequately describe the gig, suffice to say that it might be the greatest live performance of anything by anybody that I will ever see.
Everyone shuffled out, looking shellshocked. The live performance area of the club was on the second floor and I had to clamber over a number of girls who were sitting on the stairs, sobbing, as if this was 1973 and they’d just seen Donny Osmond. They hadn’t seen Donny Osmond.
They’d seen Jeff Buckley.
That gig was one of the most powerful and intense experiences I’d ever had. The main set consisted of most of the just released “Grace” album – the encore was Big Star’s “Kanga Roo”. I seem to remember that song lasted about quarter of an hour: it just kept building and building and building. It probably didn’t last that long, but by then, I had scant concept of time. I’ve been to a lot of gigs since then, but nothing has had that effect on me.
I didn’t know what to expect on that night. I was lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of “Grace” on cassette, so I’d lived with the album for a while, but I had no clue as to what the live performance would be like. In 1994, there was no internet forum to consult to prepare me for my night out. I Don’t think the guys I went with had even heard any of Buckley’s music before that night. They took a risk and they shared this amazing experience.
Live bands are everywhere. At weekends, they’re in all the clubs and bars you go to, playing too loud for you to talk over and spreading speakers and wires all over the place. Annoying aren’t they? Jeff Buckley was one of those annoying weekend warriors once. He’d turn up to a club, put his amp on the spot where you’d normally sit with your friends, trail speaker leads on the floor for you to trip over and generally ruin your drinking time. Or, he might completely blow your mind and give you a story you’ll tell for the next twenty or thirty years – “Hey kids, did I ever tell ya ‘bout when I saw Jeff Buckley play in a club no bigger that this room…?”
Not every pub or club band will turn out to be Jeff Buckley, but loads of these bands on their first tentative steps to fame and fortune (or crash and burn) are worthy of your attention. They’re out there night after night, often playing in places that have no business having bands playing in them at all. They play, pack up and either crash on someone’s floor, sleep in the van or maybe head off to some nasty Bed and Breakfast where they all sneak into one room. They get up and do it again the next day. If they sell some T Shirts or CDs at a gig, then maybe they’ll get to eat lunch. No one gets rich on record sales anymore, so live performance is the main revenue strand for musicians today. Ever wonder why it costs a week’s wages to see a big band now? The production costs used to be subsidised by the increase in record sales generated by a tour. Those sales aren’t there anymore. If you’re in a band on a tiny label – or with a self-released album – it’s a major consideration to play a show outside of your local area. I wonder how many amazing bands we’ll never get to see because it’s just not commercially viable for them to travel to a gig?
Try and see a new band when you can. Most clubs sell beer, so if the band isn’t to your liking, have a few pints and I guarantee they’ll sound better. Well, that’s what I say to people who I’m trying to convince to see my band. But the main reason you should see new bands is simply this: bragging rights. My older brother delights in telling me that he saw The Kinks at a club in Wolverhampton. A friend of mine saw The Sex Pistols in a local bar that held about 100 people. I saw Jeff Buckley on a Wednesday night In Birmingham.
What’s your story?
Sunday, 9 July 2017
What goes around comes around. No matter how unpalatable a trend may be, stick around and it’ll rear its ugly/beautiful head sooner or later. Everyone breathed a sigh at the end of the eighties muttering “thank God that’s behind us”, but guess what? Now it’s the golden age of Art and Culture, depending on whose blog posts you read. I have a storage unit full of pet rocks – in about three years, I’m going to be a very rich man. Maybe
Some of us are waiting patiently for one particular genre to roll back around – a good one this time. Who remembers folk-rock? Great songs, well played with gorgeous harmonies and articulate guitar lines. I’ll tell you remembers folk-rock: Daisy House, that’s who.
It’s album number four for the Southern Californian father/daughter duo. Tatiana Hammond sings and Doug Hammond does everything else. Annoyingly for us mere mortal, he does everything else incredibly well, from searing lead guitar lines to delicate piano parts. Goddamn over-achievers… They’ve taken all the great bits from a long neglected genre, given it a 2017 spit shine and the result is “Crossroads”.
Often when musicians take inspiration from a particular era, the results can verge on pastiche. With “Crossroads”, Daisy House have struck a fine balance – in terms of subject matter, general sensibilities and sonic palette, they’re happy to live between 1966-1972. Wisely, they’ve opted for contemporary production values which adds a sparkle and clarity to the material. Is that a drum machine I hear…?
If you have “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” and “What We Did On Our Holidays” on heavy rotation on your listening platform of choice, then Daisy House are your new favourite band. If you ever wondered what Fairport Convention would have sounded like if Ian Matthews had stuck around and they’d gone a bit easier on the “trad-arr” material, then wonder no more. From the strident opener “Languages” to the plaintive closer “My Death Is Coming For Me”, “Crossroads” is loaded with fantastic songwriting and musicianship. Both Hammonds possess expressive voices with echoes of Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell and even Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles. It would be trite to compare them to the Mamas and the Papas… but sometimes they sound like the Mamas and the Papas.
Daisy House have impeccable taste – we get Byrdsy jangle with “The Girl Who Holds My Hand”, Sheryl Crow style pop-rock-folk with “Night of the Hunter” and two songs – “Pristy Lee” and “Albion” which could have been written 200 years ago, or yesterday. And don’t forget, this lush panorama is constructed by two people. Just two people. Caveats are few – “Nocturne” seems strangely out of place – a piece of cod-opera, almost apologetically placed towards the end of the album. It’s beautifully played, but it’s kind of baffling. Maybe that’ll turn out to be my favourite track on the album in a years time. “Grand Canyon” might buckle a little under its own weight, but that’s about it.
It’s an incredibly earnest album. Heartfelt and passionate. There’s not much levity on the record, but that’s OK – Radiohead seem to be making a decent living from this Pop Music lark and they’re not noted for their vast repertoire of “knock-knock” jokes. Maybe if they had a full band, the results would be a little looser and lighter. They seem to be doing pretty well at the moment though…
“Crossroads” is so delightfully removed from 2017, it’s practically cutting edge. Its nostalgic without living exclusively in “the good old days”. An eye on the past and one on the future. Remember folk-rock? Daisy House do. And they’ve made it irresistible.
Click HERE to listen to "Crossroads" on Bandcamp