Sunday 1 June 2025

Hello Stranger....

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. they say in the wonderful world of musical theatre..."once more with feeling...."


June 1 2017

Monday 11 June 2018

Bark Psychosis: Codename: DustSucker

Brace yourself, here comes the tiresome Velvet Underground analogy… Bark Psychosis were never blessed (or burdened, if you're that way inclined) with record sales. Their two albums and a handful of singles and EPs probably sold about as many copies as Ed Sheeran has sold of his latest offering while I've been typing this. Instead, they seem to have become the Grand Poohbahs of "post-rock", a slightly confusing term as doesn't "rock" have to stop before things can be "post" it? Somebody, get me the head of Semantics on the phone, right now! I digress. The point is, this most low key of bands (seriously, they make The Blue Nile seem like Kiss) are now the name to drop in certain circles. Fortunately, Bark Psychosis can back up their "seminal" status with genuinely excellent work.
Codename: Dustsucker, originally released in 2004, was the band's second album, coming hot on the heels – a mere ten years – after their debut. 2018 sees it reissued on this years cutting edge format – vinyl – as a lovely, gatefold sleeve clad, double disc set. When the album was first released, Bark Psychosis consisted of founder member Graham Sutton, a set of unspecified drum loops performed by a previous drummer and whoever else Sutton could find. Not a promising start. But guess what? Codename: Dustsucker absolutely delivers.

When one hears the term "post rock" used so vigorously about a band, one fears the worst. The best one can hope for is endless, aimless noodling with 24 bars of a tune followed by an unspecified, but probably never-ending squall of distortion and reverb devices, artlessly prodded at by pale, white boys. Bark Psychosis bring the noise, but at least they have the good manners to do something interesting with it. "From What is Said to When it's Read" is a case in point, opening with a strummed guitar and a simple bassline, it unfolds into something slow moving and lovely. In keeping with the conventions of the genre, the vocals are mixed so low that they're barely a texture. Subtle shifts and changes of emphasis keep this unassuming, mid-tempo piece moving forward and, more importantly, your attention doesn't flag for a second. Just when you think it needs a lift, along comes a blizzard of guitar noise. As opening tracks go, it's quite a statement. "The Black Meat" and "400 Winters" are almost conventional, there's the occasional shard of noise used as punctuation, but you can hear the words and whistle the tune. There's even a bit of Miles Davis trumpet action occurring. In fact, "The Black Meat" sounds like a slightly more aggressive Sade backing track, that is, until it all breaks down towards the end and then it sounds like the middle bit of "I'm Not in Love" played by people with the worst hangover they've ever had.

This is way more than background music for the "OK Computer" generation. "Miss Abuse" is genuinely unsettling with lots of ominous rumbling and an almost comical synth line combining to make something brooding and eerie, which I'm sure was exactly the point. "400 Winters" however is a soothing Slowdive-esque, languorous interlude with a gorgeous whispered vocal. It's nearly six minutes long, but it really should go on forever. Wisely, Sutton has condensed all the glitchy nonsense to one, easily skippable track. "Dr Innocuous-Ketamoid" is just over a minute of what sounds like Velcro fastenings being ripped open while someone pounds out a marching beat in the next room while holding down a key on a malfunctioning Moog synthesizer. The next track, "Burning the City" sounds a bit like Nick Drake. Go figure, as the young people say.

On Codename: Dustsucker, Bark Psychosis have got the balance exactly right. There's enough weirdness to capture and hold your attention and enough structure and melodicism to keep the tunes memorable. It's also beautifully produced – a good, old fashioned headphones album. You too can join the ranks of beard-stroking tastemakers everywhere by owning this album and talking about it loudly in public. The great thing about it is that it's also a genuinely fine piece of work.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Wreckless Eric: Construction Time and Demolition

I reviewed the rather lovely new Wreckless Eric album for an online music thing and it didn't get used. Shame, as it's a fine record and I thought it was a decent piece of writing, too. Hey ho."Construction Time and Demolition" is a great piece of work and caught me off guard - I really expected it to scratchy and lo-fi, but it's anything but. "Mind ...blown" as Owen Wilson might say. 

The artist formerly/sometimes known as Eric Goulden gets home from the pub and makes another record. It's album #7 under his nom de guerre of Wreckless Eric and casual observers may sneer that, in a recording career which started in 1978 with his eponymous debut album, he's hardly up there with Guided By Voices when it comes to cranking out the tunes. Dig a little deeper and you'll find more treasures - albums by The Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique, Amy Rigby and even one under his birth name of Eric Goulden fill out his catalogue in a very pleasing way. I guess it's only fitting that his latest album Construction Time and Demolition sees Eric looking back at a forty-year career which started off in the pub rock backwaters of old London town and sounds like the memoirs of the guy in the bar who's always there when you go in and still there when you leave.
At times Construction Time and Demolition sounds a bit like the soundtrack of the musical of the life of Wreckless Eric. Who would play the title role is a bit of a mystery – can Jack Black pull off nasal Estuary English? While you're pondering that, "Gateway to Europe" paints the backdrop to 1960's England and the details are beautiful: "A brother of a brother-in-law tore all the houses down", "We've got a gig tonight, we need someone with a car" and references to Woolworths "Top Twenty" guitars combine to create a really evocative depiction of Goulden's early steps onto the rock 'n' roll stage. It's "Saturday Gigs" rewritten by Ray Davies. That's a very good thing, by the way.

It's Goulden's lyrics which are the key to this record. Musically, it's strong, moving from the epic opening track through the atmospheric "The World Revolves Around Me" to the biting garage rock of "Wow and Flutter", but it's the words that lift all these tunes to another level. "All your records are shit, except for maybe one" goes the chorus of "Wow and Flutter". That's not the kind of line you'd find in the work of many songwriters, is it? Goulden has a knack of making mundane observations sound fascinating. When he sings "I just sold my bass guitar" in "Gateway to Europe", you fill in all the blanks yourself. And that's the mark of a great writer.

Most people associate Wreckless Eric with the lo-fi, two chord approach of "Whole Wide World". This album owes very little to that. Backing vocalists, multiple keyboards and horns fill out the space behind him as he unfolds his life story in a voice which has changed very little in forty years. It's a nicely timeless piece of work, owing almost nothing to 2018, or even 1978. Then again, back at the tail end of the seventies, when everyone was ripping holes in their Levi's and playing distorted barre chords on cheap guitars whilst spitting at each, Eric was pondering on the nature of love and loneliness. "Round records for square people" was one of the slogans of his old label, Stiff Records. It was true then. It's still true now.

Construction Time and Demolition is a great collection of songs. Mature, well produced and with just the right amount of world-weariness. You may only know him for that one song, but that is definitely not the whole story. Not at all. It's not all "lovable loser" stuff on a barely in tune guitar – this is a man's life in microcosm, lyrically simple and direct, but with enough musical detail and breadth of scope to keep even the most jaded consumer amused.

"Here comes the discourse, here comes the bit, that's gonna stop this from being a hit" he sings on "Wow and Flutter". It may not be a hit, but it's definitely a fine record.

Sunday 18 March 2018

I was a teenage Metalhead part 896; Anvil live Feb 20th 2018

The Rolling Stones had been together for 37 years in 1999. To celebrate, they undertook the “No Security” tour, playing over 40 shows in North America and Europe and grossing $88.5 million from over a million tickets sold.
In 2018, Anvil have been together for 37 years and they find themselves playing in Bilston, an industrial town, 18 miles from Birmingham UK, to 300 people. Which band do you think, had the most fun?
If you answered A. “The Rolling Stones”, please try again.
Anvil take the stage with absolutely no fanfare. No portentous opening music for these boys…they wander on, spend about two minutes fiddling with their amps and tuning up, before commencing the unrelenting blitzkrieg that lasts for the next 90 minutes. The first thing you notice is how well singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudrow is bearing up. I can’t imagine he leads a particularly macrobiotic lifestyle, but he seems in rude health, with just an enlarging bald spot hinting at his age. He’s a sprightly 62, by the way. I don’t know what your dad was doing when he was 62, but it probably wasn’t scuttling around a stage in a cut off T shirt, playing the pointiest Flying V guitar in the world. If he was, please send some photographs, c/o bigplansforeverybody
You don’t need a pretend, part time “music journalist” to tell you what they sounded like. Drummer Robb Reiner (no, not the “Spinal Tap” guy) plays every song like it’s the end of a song and the new boy, Chris Robertson on bass, looks like he’s just been let out of a secure facility for the day. He’s perfect for Anvil. They rip through their back catalogue and look like they’re having the time of their life – apart from Reiner whose expression resembles that of a father whose son has just come out as gay to him over dinner and is trying to process this information.
In spite of all the gurning, songs about pounding stuff and the occasional curse words, the thing that you notice about Lips is how nice he is. He seems genuinely grateful to the audience for coming to see the band and interacts with the crowd in a way that is sincere and never embarrassing. For a frontman in a metal band, this may be unique. He namechecks the Anvil movie, dedicates songs to Lemmy and their producer, the recently deceased Chris Tsangarides and the small but enthusiastic crowd lap it up. If he put a nice sweater on and sorted his hair out, your mother would love him.
There are a couple of songs which may cause the casual observer to raise an eyebrow. During “Mothra”, Lips pulls out a vibrator (yup…really) which he rubs on his guitar neck, while Robertson simulates the approach of a colossal sentient caterpillar by lurching around the stage. Both of these men can vote. The other “what the..?” moment occurs when Lips reveals that their next song, with the charmingly non-PC title “Bitch in a Box”, is actually about the trials and tribulations of using a GPS. Who knew? Just to ramp up the bizarreness, there are actual, bona fide harmonies on this tune, too.

Drum solo, you say? Sadly, yep. You can tell that Reiner is an outstanding drummer with almost superhuman stamina, just by listening to the songs. Why he (and every bloody hard rock drummer that ever lived…) feels the need to clatter about their instrument, unaccompanied, for five minutes, escapes me. There are times when Reiner’s flailing sounds like a badly loaded pickup truck full of scrap iron, driving at high speed over a never-ending cattle grid. Why, oh Lord, why? Unless it’s there to give Lips and Robertson the opportunity to rub on some embrocation.

Ninety minutes passes quickly. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this show half as much as I did. I didn’t run to the merch table and buy two of everything, but I left happy. it wasn’t all good news – aside from the aforementioned Dr*m S*l*, “This is Thirteen” was pretty turgid, but other than that, it was a good, solid metal show. And Lips sings in an adorable Canadian accent and who doesn’t love tha?
They finish with “Metal on Metal”. Of course. “Metal on Metal ‘til our dying day” go the lyrics. That’s about right. Would I see them again? Yeah. Would I prefer to see Anvil at a club or the Stones at some stadium? No contest – I’d take Anvil any day. And I wouldn’t have to pay seven dollars for a beer.

Monday 18 December 2017

Ten of the best from 2017

Well there goes 2017, nearly. Personally, I've had a great year of listening to new music after a few years of truding wearily through my back catalogue.   I made a conscious decision to listen to more, unfamiliar (well, unfamiliar to me at least) music, and I forced myself to do this by joining the staff of 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

"Not Quite Glastonbury, is it?” A beginner’s guide to playing a local music festival.

(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 audience: There is a certain type of person you only see at festivals. They’re dressed entirely in hand knitted, rainbow coloured garments and jester hats. They will be barefoot. They will dance to everything, including the humming of the tragically underpowered generator. I dread to think where they go in Winter…

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

Never heard of 'em - they any good?

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?