22 May 2019
A surreptitious offer or a nightmarish trip to a sold out Record Junkee in the spiritual home of middle age male stripping. Actually it’s the dispensing of the thoroughly unwholesome rock groove of Sweden’s finest that has got an overwrought Steve John into a bit of a lather.
Singer Sebastian Murphy makes it immediately clear that the action is going to centre around him. Most of the songs come from last year’s best in show Street Worms, but before we are half way through a pounding opener of the earlier Research Chemicals, the polo shirt and tracksuit top are off to reveal a sea of tattoos. The one near constant being the black shades and forehead inking of ‘Los’ being in your face from the off. Ignorance and the lumping together of disparate countries with one big Scandinavian brush leading me to think that means loose. Having got the art of injecting the sort of instinctive grunting and groaning into songs like a debauched Cleo Laine it would certainly suit him.
Second one in and they are playing my song. Slow Learner relying more on saxophone and guitar to compliment Murphy’s jaunty little strut. On slower songs like Just Like You he revels in more of a saucy swagger to suit the sounds the youngster it looks like they abducted from school, is producing on the electronics. The story of a pressure to embrace suburban conformity and then coming to terms with a rejection of its slow death and ‘fucked up society’ being beautifully realised.
It’s the space-age Stooges of Down In The Basement which produces the sort of proper crowd participation to prompt Murphy into a headlong meet and greet. With some bands getting in the crowd has started to feel like a contractual obligation. A career move rather than if I feel like it I will, if I don’t I won’t, but this had a feeling of something less scripted. Straight after making an effort is mocked with a version of Sports which proves a favourite with a group of people who look like they got picked last, putting more effort into this as they held a victorious Murphy aloft. Back on stage a repetitive shimmy provides the back drop to imaginary golf shots and beer bottle in mouth press ups on a stage which is already awash with fluids. The whole reprehensible mess weirdly reminiscent of an angry cruise ship entertainer in a different ocean of slime.
Helping to hold it together while Murphy does his thing is the excellently named from this infantile British perspective drummer Thor, who keeps it tight and mighty without the jazz flourishes he is capable of. Stage left is the imposing figure of bassist Henrik, leaning back to wrench a bass rumble worthy of prime time Stranglers. One in which JJ Burnel is standing on the throat of Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay when the two instruments lock together on bowel loosening instrumental Amphetanarchy. This particular portmanteau a drug induced stomp with a dance like drop that produces spectacular results.
Job done you might think but not before the unapologetic sleaze fest of I Don’t Remember That excuses us from our inebriated mistakes. Until the morning when the garbled voices thing the band do at the end is reminiscent of the inane chatter from the night before coming back to haunt your sweat stained head. Last and certainly not least with its end workout is a splendidly seedy Shrimp Shack. That ‘we rolled in the dirt . . . got dirty’ seems to be based on the adolescent boy’s favourite sex with your friend’s mother jibe, a suitable crescendo for the first band in a while to make you feel like scouring afterwards. In a somehow good, no paper let alone hand wash, in a broken down toilet kind of way.
If there needs to be a serious point the name and presentation obviously highlight how rubbish men are but contrive to make our failure grimly entertaining. Maybe we’ll learn some stuff. My speed reading interviews on the way revealed unsurprising evidence of some trad punk histories but the different tastes and ages of the band members has produced something pretty unique. Jittery in a strung out way with the sometimes discordant interludes that tighten the nerves before being released by a chorus that arrives just in time. One of Murphy’s myriad tattoos that I can definitely read is just beneath his throat and says ‘You need me’. It’s a fitting tribute to a band bringing back some adventure and irresponsibility to rock.
August 19 2018
Rock. Search Engine Optimisation is important. You must select a key word and use it a lot to try and get the the article near the top on Google. Sometimes it’s difficult and us writers feel we are compromising our art. Other times not so much. Like a rock version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining typing rock over and over again. Shelley Duvall discovering this and clobbering Johnny with a big rock because the baseball bat had been turned into paper to print the last ever copy of Classic Rock on.
All this and Massive Wagons still have enough pop in their stick of rock to potentially bother the charts. Opening up with the stomping pomp of Under No Illusion and front man Baz Mills bowler hat does well to stay in place as he bounces around like Tigger on early release. All in time to the valedictory “Play it your own way” that has led to an unlikely home with the respected Earache label and a mural of their slightly dubious Carry On Rock name all over The Pub in Lancaster where they learned to rock. Yes, it’s called The Pub.
Mills has got the exaggerated everyman charm that the best hard rock bands from down the ages have cornered the market in. Responding to a school masterly “Well done” from someone in the crowd with a smirk and a band decision to “must try harder”. Not that this is absent in general play, as high kicks and mike stand twirling that must contravene some health and safety legislation is topped off with a fog horn of a voice that stops the right side of metal screeching. On the lesser spotted Flying V Adam Thistlewaite compliments this with concise melodic solos rather than the windblown top of the Pennines variety.
Ironically or in an unlikely insidious manoeuvre they lured me in with the bubblegum punk of China Plates. Here the sound is given extra impact with its seriously funny, nail on the head put down of the social media generation. It’s pretty comprehensive but still leaves room to ponder how it become anything other than needy for grown men to invite you to wish them happy birthday on the twelve-inch remix. Still in my time machine all of this is allied to the sort of tune and delivery which defines the appeal of the single in a world where the format was given the kudos it deserves.
Insert your own band to bellow when drunk as the achingly wonderful tale of woe that is Ratio is a number crying out for a festival size crowd to sing its poignant refrain. We do our best as the promise of flying to cheap beer seems elusive in an album launch gig promoted by Crash Records shop in Leeds. Thankfully on the day their Full Nelson album is unleashed in the east we are around the back in the Headrow House venue. It finishes a bit early but if this is record shops diversifying to survive and I’m not expected to drink coffee and eat cake it’s a price worth paying. Talking of which when the entrance price is the cost of a CD I would have bought anyway it can’t really be sniffed at.
For the “maximum attack” of Rick Parfitt tribute Back to the Stack it’s full Wagons roll for this prime time Quo style number with Mills and guitarist Stevie Holl going for the heads down no nonsense boogie that christened many a youth club dance floor. Cue much spluttering amongst the chattering classes but to completely misquote Stewart Lee I believe it was Joe Elliott who said the mid 70’s relentlessness of Piledriver Quo was comparable to the Ramones and yet da brudders now get all the critical fawning. Now there are some holes in the denim of that argument but I could go with the general thrust of that tonight.
Bookending the set is Tokyo and the feeling of a business which does them few favours draws a passionate singalong response from the Massive massive. It’s no hard luck story as highlighting the bias with a “They won’t play us on the radio” chorus that the proverbial milk man could whistle is quite the sucker punch. Long term the silver lining is that having to survive by playing live means they can perform with the sort of energy that eludes many bands. Building a following which they seem to genuinely get on with before signing all the stuff that comes with the release of one of the best in any sort of genre albums of the year.
Don’t expect it on the Mercury Music Prize shortlist though. Musically it might get a bit too meat and potatoes for the non-converted but doesn’t everyone fancy a carvery now and again? Forty years on and the music press are getting their Y fronts in a twist about Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous. Heavy rock has had to develop its own ecosystem and not since the Darkness proved mildly diverting has Britain had a band that crossed over into any sort of mainstream appeal. About time the anthemic grit in your eye of Massive Wagons gave the lineage a renewed swagger then.
21 June 2018
The Portuguese leg of Primavera is held in the idyllic when its sunny setting of Porto’s Parque da Cidade near the sea. It’s a fashionable one which means tourists like me who think it is beyond belief that Mogwai is spelt wrongly on the posters are here but you are pretty sure know Noel Gallagher isn’t going to turn up.
Despite the drizzle on Sunset Strip things really kicked off with the Alice meets Quatro rock of Starcrawler. A start which saw the sort of plodding rock which blighted their debut album being soon enlivened by the in the flesh experience this stuff should always be. With the Carrie let loose in a dressing up box of vocalist Arrow De Wilde and the “built to destroy” of Love’s Gone Again seeing her clear the massed ranks of photographers by throwing a mike stand at them.
Following this with I Love LA and the stand out Ants showed how electrifying they could be. Here the ridiculously thin De Wilde and the rock star that guitarist Henri Cash is fast becoming contort themselves into some sort of weird geometry lesson. The miming of guns and hanging probably annoying somebody somewhere too. By the end it was a singalong “I do what I want” which was only really enlivened by a blood capsule drenched De Wilde exiting the stage after an up close therapy session with several audience members. If Starcrawler want they have enough time to get the songs and failing that could always employ a Chinn and Chapman to really agitate the indie intelligentsia.
No such concerns for Ezra Furman who is turning into quite the songwriter. Don’t get me wrong I love the likes of Tell Em All to Go to Hell and I Wanna Destroy Myself. Bellowing “I have fallen deep in love with nothing” from the latter was particularly satisfying but these New York tinged blasts of punk rock have slowly been replaced by something a little more widescreen. He stills paints a vivid picture but Driving Down to L.A. sounds like a rough arsed version of Mercury Rev.
And no it doesn’t matter that none of us have done all this. In fact it makes it better. Suck The Blood from My Wound’s refrain of “We’ll always be freaks” continuing to lay the gauntlet down to the fear of boredom he spoke of between songs. While seeming more comfortable with himself than the last time I saw him he retains the edge which flies in the face of simply wanting to have the freedom to replicate a straight marriage and kids lifestyle.
Indeed he takes his coat off to reveal a quite discreet little number around the time of a cracking cover of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. Throughout the show the white suited band fill out the sound with a variety of stuff and sax player Tim Sandusky contributes with particular gusto. A wonderfully desperate version of Love You So Bad finishes us off and I realise they have made me forget about pissing myself. At a certain time of life praise doesn’t get much higher.
I am hardly a floating voter when it comes to Idles either but vocalist Joe Talbot’s “What the fuck is this?” before a note had been struck still did no harm. People like to have their views confirmed and my observation that U2 must be landing on the runway stage extension that had appeared since yesterday seemed sound. However I for one had not thought this through as the minute guitarist Mark Bowen started his camp cavorting on it the potential was evident. While Talbot may have introduced Bowen as “Keith Richards” he soon joined him on the catwalk before this splendid inappropriateness culminated in them crooning Xmas songs to each other from either end.
But enough of this fact fans you want to know about the songs. Most of the magnificence from debut album “Brutalism” but more importantly some new ones that showed the standard wasn’t slipping. First up a song introduced as being about “toxic masculinity” which will need narrowing down in a set which includes a few. This was a slow burner that exploded into a serious chorus before Talbot appropriated Katy Perry and “kissed a boy” whilst raising a middle finger in the general direction of the audience. With a tune that lodges straight in your head but has enough depth to work as a vehicle for the celebration of immigration and name checking Freddie Mercury there was a thrilling Danny Nedelko. Love Song featured mountains of skree while Rottweiler may have finished the set for months but stills shows you can just repeat the title if you know what you’re doing.
Overall then what was confirmed today at teatime is that Idles are by some distance the most vital zeitgeist capturing twenty first century punk experience around. In the midst of this front man Talbot is the sort of intriguing force that has not been seen in remotely popular guitar music for years. Some of the grimacing and foot stamping is theatre while much is righteous anger but occasionally he just seems genuinely fucking furious in general as the songs strive to be positive but I’m not sure he really believes we can change.
Following this was going to be a tall order and that Zeal & Ardor came anywhere near is testament to their fusion of black metal and spirituals. That’s right black metal and something that a lazy writer would compare to that album from Moby but the Swiss main man Manuel Gagneux and his band generate all on their own. Pre gig nerves meant I wondered whether the splicing of the genres would look a little like the experiment it is but any fears were soon dispensed with as the band took to the stage. Arriving hooded and surrounded by dry ice before going into In Ashes with its “Burn the young boy burn him good” incantation was fun but it was when the riffs collided with the blast beats that the conviction seemed evident.
Authenticity can be overrated anyway but the guitar section rocked without the awkwardness that would have killed them and two vocalists supplied the even more ominous counterpoint to Gagneux’s classic tones. Something so atmospheric was happening that before the title track to their new Stranger Fruit album he felt confident enough to break cover by admitting what a good time they were having. Lord knows what your serious church desecrator would make of this but the tee shirts down the front seemed to approve and just before it started to drag it was time for the clanking chains of early single Devil Is Fine.
In reality the chain gang element is more dominant than the metal and it can feel a bit one trick but what a trick. That they evoked enough of the sixteen-year-old spirit in me to think that anyone who didn’t think the same deserved their subscription to Smashed Avocado Weekly is a testament to something. At worst the spectacularly high body count means a career sound tracking HBO series is theirs for the taking.
Steve Albini matters to certain gentlemen and they are usually gentlemen of a certain age. There was certainly something in the air as I made sure I was on his side of the stage. I pontificated about guitar sounds and production techniques that I knew nothing about to someone that wasn’t interested. Not having seen him since the awesome Big Black and the ill-judged Rapeman listening to someone bang on about not having been to Primevera unless you had seen Shellac made me feel like calling it a day.
Thankfully I didn’t. The initial intensity of Squirrel Song and Copper suited the stripped down setting. Albini with guitar in his place and bassist Bob Weston in trademark loud trousers a real sight in full flow. Riding Bikes prompting an unlikely crowd singalong while that nagging voice was still perfectly suited to the delivery of lines like “Kill him” on a taut as hell Prayer to God. Steady as She Goes riding in on a riff which had considerably more oomph than on record. Here the impressively thin Todd Trainer looked like he was going to do a drum solo before Albini and Weston returned to the stage from opposite corners to unleash the guitar part that made for a tremendous feeling of release.
That is maybe the point as here they left it just the right amount of time whereas some others seemed more like exercises in musicianship. Precision or not it can all start to feel a bit learned. By the end of the set and during a plodding The End of Radio I was hoping they would play Ballroom Blitz rather that the turgid exercise they had inserted into it. As Weston held down the bass part they did the packing stuff straight away thing which made for an abrupt or drawn out exit depending on what way you look at it. Grown men repeatedly shouting “Steve” like they were in an Alan Partridge series.
Maybe it was the full length black sowester I had bought to try and keep dry but for me the last day was mostly about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. When the time came it was a stately beginning with Jesus Alone before From Her to Eternity featured some frenzied No Wave style skronking from Warren Ellis. Keeping up the attack was a wonderfully entertaining Red Right Hand with some updated lyrics about “little red phones” in what maybe was a mild rebuke to the sea of cameras facing him. They want to be thankful it wasn’t the Birthday Party.
Girl in Amber with its projection of Brighton’s broken pier felt like going from the ridiculous to the sublime after Fatboy Slim had opened the Festival in the Porto square I was staying in with some acid house images of the city. It was definitely a moment when they went into Tupelo’s story of Elvis’ birth in a storm lashed Mississippi and the weather took a further turn for the worse. The rain became torrential and give or take a few hundred umbrellas almost matched the images unfolding behind the band. I cannot remember another occasion when getting this soaked felt so perfect.
That the rendition of Jubilee Street came close was testament to an epic ending that Cave and the Bad Seeds threw everything at. While the biblical weather may have the devoted thinking twice after he could have claimed prophet status in the wake of Skeleton Tree it is onstage were this is useful. When required the darts around the stage and the flailing limbs where present but in general it is more a laying on of hands with tongue in cheek that makes for the spectacle.
All of which makes me conclude that no one has made the move from punk to stadium sized shows in such style. In what might be his usual creative trajectory or a feeling that those songs wouldn’t work in this environment tonight’s set list featured noticeably less from Skeleton Tree than his recent tour. As he knows himself Cave has plenty of “beautiful songs” to choose from and The Weeping Song delivers before the crowd join him onstage for a very moving ending of Push the Sky Away.
Now Mogwai fear Satan but not as much as I fear sixteen minute instrumentals. In an unfortunate bit of scheduling the Scottish post rockers follow Cave on a different stage and only a relatively few hardy souls brave it out. It’s a shame as I enjoy their more reflective moments but after the initial rush of the quiet loud thing rain stops my play as I head for the exit. On the bus back to the city there was plenty of time to stare through the odd bit of window that was not completely steamed up and reflect on a festival which mirrored the ups and downs blowing in from the Atlantic Coast. Sometimes there was more than a whiff of stuff that couldn’t hit a tunes arse with a banjo but when it was good it really was.
25 January 2018
To say that Starcrawler are a Los Angeles band would be something of an understatement and this is one thing they could not be accused of. Even at such a ridiculously young age they are so steeped in the city that never walks and where everyone is just one more plastic surgery procedure away from stardom that it hurts. In the flesh Starcrawler resemble a horror movie set in a whirlwind. The wide eyed singer attempts to wriggle free of a straightjacket while guitarist Henri Cash doesn’t need to dress like Angus Young as he gamely tries to claim some of the spotlight because he is still at school. Legend has it this is where she told him he looked “cool”. Multiply this a hundred times and add blood capsules for the live experience.
With a name like Arrow de Wilde and music business parents their vocalist was never going to work in Walmart. Now this could be as irritating as a Hollywood actors fall-back position band and seems to have got right up the nose of serious music commentators who were presumably born to match sellers in Fat White Family’s toilet. At best the sound has a surface level of disposability that is completely true to the most superficial place on earth and is yet more deeply affecting than any of the hair metal that the singer might be influenced by.
Nevertheless releasing an album without your standout song is either foolish or the arrogance of youth. Ants was a Cherry Bomb explosion of pent up energy which would have had Seymour Stein reaching for his cheque book back in the day when glam met punk but still sounded like one of the most exuberant debut singles this century. None of which is remotely original but invention is sometimes overrated and frequently unlistenable while this exhilarating blast of concentrated agitation seemed like a gleeful middle finger to the stultifying nature of modern life.
What might be a paean to having an insect infestation sounded like the start of a particular teenage obsession and may have been what attracted Rough Trade to a genre they would not normally countenance. Maybe this element of two worlds colliding helps explain the sleeve art and the sort of strum along balladeering in Tears I imagine they will find hard to place on the end of year compilation.
Unsurprisingly it is the shorter numbers which fare best. The opener Train rattles along at a pace without quite summoning the spirit of Crazy that the Ozzy one which so excites De Wilde managed while Cash delivers a suitably sleazy riff to accompany a song called Pussy Tower. Its equal opportunity celebration of oral sex is with shared vocals both commendable and supremely silly. Leonard Cohen in the Chelsea Hotel it isn’t. Better still is Love’s Gone Again and a boy who was “built to destroy” in a pop punkish laboratory before Full Of Pride goes the full Nirvana in the sort of satisfying way which could explain why Dave Grohl raves about them.
With her penchant for wearing hospital gowns and gangly frame I have heard De Wilde being spoken of as too thin. I don’t know whether this is promoting a new heroin chic or why it became rock n roll’s responsibility to provide role models but even if it is her fuck you style is a good one. She seems sane enough in interviews but if their songs are inspired by things that make them “mad” then the “I don’t wanna leave today” pay off after the title of I Love LA suggests yesterday didn’t go so well and tomorrow could be worse. It has a certain swagger and is an example of where sounding like Lana Del Ray’s kid sister on E numbers just about compensates for less of a tune.
Ryan Adams gives a sturdy enough sound to a production job which didn’t require bells and whistles but probably saw him with his nose pressed up against the console window wishing he could be in the band. Cash demonstrates enough on this album to show he could be a “shit hot” guitarist but cannot rescue a turgid Chicken Woman with an almost sixties sounding guitar line or enliven the closing What I Want. De Wilde deciding against the idea of being cool as “I don’t want to be anything but me, I will do what I want”. Now if you don’t contradict yourself then you’ve stopped thinking but I can’t help thinking she could do it to a better soundtrack.
If only Starcrawler could find a little T Rex style pop nous to add to the mix as everything else is in place and now is the time for a musical blood transfusion. Enough with yet another anniversary rerelease of an album with souvenir sleeve notes. Ultimately however Starcrawler are a band I desperately want to love but whose debut I can only recommend half-heartedly. Face to face with the most captivating new presence around it matters less but in the cold hard light of day some of the songs are attitude looking for a chorus. Here’s to them getting it spot on second time around before they emerge from therapy and wheel out an orchestra for the third.
25 September 2017
Cards on the table I like Nick Cave but am far from an obsessive. As a spotty teenager I remember seeing the Birthday Party on a late night music programme and while the air of menace was strangely compelling couldn’t make head nor tail of the music so gravitated towards the Anti- Nowhere League’s panto theatre of cruelty on the same show. The first solo album I bought around the time of its release was “The Good Son” and after getting the following three or four immediately have listened to most of the rest with a varying degree of enthusiasm. Often his almost unprecedented all-rounder talent has found me enjoying his literature and film output more.
My Nick Cave epiphany took place in the unpromising Prince of Darkness surrounds of an early afternoon Reading Festival slot in the late eighties. Initially I was jolted out of my hungover daze by a sea of medieval village folk trooping away as fast as people in a muddy field wearing clogs could to watch Neds Atomic Bin Men in a tent. By contrast the Bad Seeds were as sharp as hell and Cave was in jack-knife preacher overload. As well as highlighting all life’s unfairness it felt like me and Nick were having a moment as his spellbinding performance unfolded.
This seems a little unlikely up in the Gods of the cavernous Manchester Arena but given the venue’s recent history it would be beyond petty to do more than see its recent reopening as a refusal to give into religious extremism and hopefully the start of some sort of recovery process. That Cave cannot help but bring something of the events in his own recent life to the night is the sort of convergence that could overwhelm any sort of performance and something which was probably difficult to know how to address.
With this in mind that Cave started with three of the least accessible songs from “Skeleton Tree” is a type of risk which will probably focus on album opener “Jesus Alone”. Much of the work and the opening line of “You fell from the sky” were written before the event but still inevitably make one think of his son’s death from a fall as the music churns mechanically behind. Viewed in a certain light with over forty years with death as your stock in trade it is probably more difficult to find something without resonance. Add in a preoccupation with religion to tonight’s mix and it can all feel a bit uncanny but it’s more that these things never go out of fashion. It was when he stopped putting the art into the artifice of the Old Testament and went a bit too New Seekers that he started to lose me around the turn of the century.
A heckler who seemed fixated on the colour of Cave’s socks led to a bizarre exchange during “Higgs Boson Blues” before an introduction of “I want to tell you about a girl I know” led straight into the release of “From Her To Eternity”. Following this he was helped out by a boy from the audience in a Bad Seed tee shirt who knew the words to “Tupelo” better than me. This is a standard of lyric writing which should have walked away with short story prizes. The likes of “Jubilee Street” highlighting the humour in the imagery which is often overlooked: “These days I go downtown in my tie and tails, I got a foetus on a leash” getting me every time. In “The Mercy Seat” the music fuses perfectly with the evocative into an infernal stasis which makes the now as ever defiance of the “And I’m not afraid to die” cry sound like it is driven by the protagonist knowing it is the only way out.
The selection of a set which seemed split into the swaggering and meditative seemed perfectly paced and it was before “Into My Arms” that Cave acknowledged the significance of tonight by saying that Manchester “had no idea how privileged” they felt to be playing the venue. There was no grandstanding but the applause that followed this and his look of emotion after a song which means a lot to him spoke volumes.
With the sort of who’s who talent he has worked with over the years suggesting he looks for people to bring out the best in him Cave benefits from a prime time Blixa Bargeld type to bring a little discord to the Bad Seeds sound. Tonight it is the sound manipulations of an increasingly prominent Warren Ellis who throws the gauntlet down. With a tour group that now looks like Ned Kelly goes Reservoir Dogs on the best Saga holiday ever it is some fight. That the spectacle of a full Ellis violin frenzy is bookended by the even more imposing figure of percussionist Jim Sclavunos suggesting it is better to have two big blokes than one in these surroundings. A magnificently moody “Red Right Hand” even overcomes its ubiquitousness and draws a smile as it conjures up the wonderfully daft Peaky Blinders rather than its other hundred uses.
Of the songs from his most recent album Cave has saved the best until last. A version of “Distant Sky” with the most plaintive of violin from Ellis is spine chilling as the line “They told us our Gods would outlive us but they lied” seems to signal Cave’s final rejection of a higher power before an elegiac “Skeleton Tree” brings the set to a close. While I don’t think anyone not directly affected by tonight’s respective tragedies can really understand it would be a lie to say this didn’t feel too close for comfort and wasn’t affecting in a way which few moments are.
Come encore time Cave clambered up into the seats to orchestrate the clapping during “The Weeping Song” before returning to earth for a very well-mannered stage invasion. That this seemed to involve a lot of young members of the audience seemed apt and managed to avoid any over sentimentality by them spending the majority of their time on stage dancing to “Stagger Lee”. Last up was a majestic “Push The Sky Away” and Cave brought what could have been a difficult evening to a moving full circle. A chorus of Happy Birthday which he seemed to enjoy reminded us of the passage of time but the ability to fill a big space in a way which many artists struggle with and his refusal to rely on former glories remain constant. Still spellbinding after all these years.
Close up shot courtesy of Garry Robinson
2 June 2017
Let’s go to beautiful Brighton for the Great Escape Festival of new music I thought. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing much apart from some torrential rain and train loads of industry types wearing laminated delegate passes that they could have worn as sandwich boards if they were any bigger. Standing in separate lines for the fashionable bands as they file in past you was in danger of impacting on my judgement so I decided on a more interesting tour of the seaside.
First up in the Brighthelm Centre was Glasgow’s Emme Woods. It was always going to be hard to create the boozy atmosphere of her songs at dinnertime but Woods and her band gave it a go. Going straight into “I Don’t Drink To Forget” with its “The only thing left is bitterness and wine” feel was a good start before second single “I’ve Been Running” and its top trumpet parping was even better. As Woods did “Bottle of Gin” solo even the pet Chihuahua Bubbles that had accompanied them onto the stage kept a low profile. Coming across as at ease on stage meant Woods didn’t need to worry about the bad haircut she joked that Mum had given her as she had enough charm to compensate.
Only a certain type of band could get away with the name Starcrawler and they had to be from Los Angeles. Blasting onto the Haunt stage with the grin inducing debut track “Ants” they look like they have been kept in suspended animation at Rodney Bigenheimer’s English Disco since the 1970’s. An eponymous track seems to encapsulate the peculiar relationship people have with LA while the personification of this particular brand of madness is a singer called Arrow De Wilde who comes across as the unlikely child of Exene Cervenka and Ozzy Osbourne. She starts off in a strait jacket and works her way through blood capsules and all manner of contortions as the ridiculously young and non-too shabbily named guitarist Henri Cash duck walks through the gaps. They leave with the promise that “we will kill you” well and truly kept.
Over town there was a slightly less intense flavour of Los Angeles in the shape of husband and wife team Kolars. That singer Rob Kolar has to rely on an audience member to support his mike stand after some enthusiastic vocals and Lauren Brown spends her time on a bass drum which she literally taps out the songs rhythm on makes for a spectacle. Song wise whilst “One More Thrill” delivered on its promise some of them were a little too Billy Idol for me but they went down well with the crowd and the energy levels couldn’t be questioned.
This might have been helped by the absence of two deep hipster twitchers who seemed to dominate the gigs of the name bands with their ludicrously elaborate and obtrusive camera combinations. In some venues you couldn’t see the band and didn’t want to move in case you knocked the bassist out with a Paparazzi flash light.
Ending the first day on Komedia’s main stage is Sydney’s Alex Cameron who since a film about South by Southwest Festival where he took his loser persona and pressed its nose up against the window has decided to up his game. Indeed having seemed to base his act on Dennis Hopper in “Blue Velvet” the only disappointment is that the band which fill out his previously sparse electronic driven songs look like the Eagles. Otherwise the slow deliberate dance moves which I subconsciously seemed to be mimicking prompted cheers every time he went for one and his rich voice delivered the tales of failure from his “Jumping the Shark” album magnificently. While the supremely catchy “Marlon Brando” seemed to test his poker face we were left with a chorus to carry off into the night.
The following day begun in the most far flung and still easily walkable venue Bleach. Now my understanding is that membership of the original Zipper Club is dependent on having had open heart surgery and ex Cerebral Ballzy guitarist Mason James seems to be mining an affection for 80’s style college radio tune writing. It is particularly successful on songs such as the single “Going The Distance” where the Matthew McConaughey lookalike and Lissy Trullie’s vocals combine to good effect. As for trying to get people to turn their phones off perhaps the thrashy blast from the past style ending to the set was the best response.
I had already warmed to Like A Motorcycle because with all these bands it would be helpful if they all sounded like their name. On taking the Green Door Store stage there was the all-out action release of a band who have already built a following in their native Canada with their “High Hopes” LP and have the confidence to call a song “Punk One”. With drummer Michelle Skelding on lead vocals this left the rest of the band to compete for best guitar pose while I was hoping the crowd for their set later on in the day had warmed up a bit as the “What are you here for?” words rang a bit too true.
It was debatably the Belgian two-piece LA Jungle who conjured up the biggest noise of the festival with a sound that went from Kraut rock to the most primeval rock and back to achieve an almost dance like sensation. I am not familiar enough with the Jungle’s oeuvre to know whether they played “Apeinapython” but it’s too good a title to waste and it sounded like they should be as guitarist Mat looked like he was attempting to wriggle free of his trousers while wrenching huge riffs from the likes of “Technically You Are Dead”. After this hypnotic battering the spell was only really broken when band and audience split at the end of their half hour to acknowledge each other.
Another early start on Saturday with the Kamikaze Girls who marry an indie jangle to an American punk sound most effectively on the likes of “Stitches”. This is a band who sound better the more agitated they get and after Lucinda Livingstone’s introduction about a hippie generation who have started blaming homelessness on people eating avocados “Deathcap” rocked with righteous indignation.
After aptly enough watching the Parrots in a garden type bit of the Wagner Hall I was relieved it wasn’t raining but had to suspend judgement of them as good or a children’s television Black Lips as they only did about four songs and one of them twice so it could be recorded again. Chaos did not ensue.
Thankfully the band who closed my Great Escape nearly went through the floor in a packed Prince Albert. HMLTD front man Henry Spychalski’s certain something didn’t seem bothered about ending up in the bar downstairs and the look of relief on Joe Public’s face as they let themselves go was an unexpected pleasure. With songs that seem to break up into segments so if you don’t like a bit another will be along in a minute “To The Door” had people savouring every gust of air from an open window and “The scum will rise to the top” took on a particular relevance.
So if you like your glam with added goth this could be the band for you. That Manics biographer Simon Price was spotted here and at the Starcrawler set could be telling. Lyrics like “I want to hang myself in the North Sea” from “Music” made me think of home but should attract the particular devotion of someone who spends a lot of time in their bedroom. Time to go.
27 October 2016
The Adelphi is a terraced house at number 89 De Grey Street in Hull which has played host to hundreds of great bands and the Stone Roses. It’s a pretty down at heel area and thanks to the Luftwaffe has a gap next to it where 83, 85 and 87 used to be. On a weekend in 2016 this has proved useful for the ex-Zodiac Mindwarp and KLF man Jimmy Cauty to park his shipping container.
Inside this 40-foot space is a “post-riot landscape in miniature” called The Aftermath Dislocation Principle which involves peering through a succession of small holes in the container to appreciate a number of JG Ballard like tableaus. For the younger viewer there is a handy foot stool to access scenes of police officers milling around Burger King or on the edge of an abruptly cut off flyover. The general population remains wholly absent. Are we an inconvenience driven from the picture and into the arms of a variety of institutions to be pacified?
Being supported by Arts Council money makes the enterprise debatably more subversive but the subject matter necessitates a degree of ambiguity. A fine line is walked to get the information out there but his track record and use of iconography makes it likely where Cauty’s sympathies lie. In praise of disorder is a hard sell for people brought up to see a grand purpose in life. I would be lying however if despite the best efforts of the mothers of Momentum to take charge I didn’t say I remember the excitement of the Poll Tax Riot with affection.
Hull earned its place on this 36 site tour of civil unrest as a result of the 1976 prison riot which saw inmates on its roof for three days and was considered the biggest disturbance in British penal history prior to Strangeways. At the time there were 314 men in the prison and there are now about a thousand. Ultimately people should take responsibility for themselves but it doesn’t sound like the system is helping.
Moving around the country to a variety of less traditional art destinations everyone is welcome to customise this ride. As with anything the contributions vary in quality and relevance but is certainly better than standing in a stuffy room with a guard looking at you looking at millionaire art. Like the moral panic caused by bad behaviour itself it seems to build its own momentum. I saw a message from Stoke to Hull and because City were playing Stoke in a couple of hours thought this referred to the football until I realised it was the containers previous location.
All of this somehow seems an appropriate backdrop to Detroit’s Protomarty rolling into town and finding they have nowhere to park. The decline and decay which saw the city's population halved seeming to permeate the band aesthetic. A poignancy reflected in the picture of the riot after the Detroit Tigers won the World Series which heads their social media page. Even here there is a symmetry but if Hull's megalomanical owners ever succeeded in changing the football teams name to Tigers it would be met with protests in the street.
Come show time and vocalist Joe Casey meandered onstage like a distressed office worker looking for the check out at Booze Busters. A demeanour which could be deceptive as I believe he removes his glasses shortly before going onstage as a way of minimising stage fright. I hope so because he seems to be holding my gaze for long periods and I console myself by thinking this would be me without contact lenses.
The set takes off with up tempo single “Blues Festival” and the soaring chorus of “Feral Cats” inspired by the animals which hang about under Casey’s house in one of Detroit’s many gone to seed neighbourhoods. Other songs with a more churning undertow can seem like lyrics in search of a tune but they really have a way with words. For instance splendidly conveying a sense of generalised ennui whilst almost offering an olive branch to existence with “And I’ll try to live defeated/Come and see the good in everything”. They are a bit like Joyce apparently but take me back to Ben Hamper’s hysterical howl of pain against the industrial servitude of Michigan in “Rivethead.”
I was especially looking forward to “Jumbo’s” celebration of the Detroit dive bar named after a proprietor with a big temper and a penchant for throwing drunks in a tin shack. Perhaps concerned that it might contribute to its disappearance in a river of coffee and antique bicycles it was absent tonight. As a result I was left to ruminate on the closing “Why Does It Shake?” and the pertinence of “False happiness is on the rise.”
It may be serendipity which brought these artists to a back street in Hull at the same time but the bigger picture is the role these places play. Celebrate them before they are closed or colonised by businesses which appropriate the signifiers of independence and yet have none of their attitude. Without official support or sanction they are the capitals of culture year in year out.
11 July 2016
Planning a trip to Spain why not factor in some sun baked “Top Gear” rock in the Basque country I thought. About an hour from Bilbao and Vitoria’s main square was already host to an event which locals of all ages were embracing the night before. Adjourning to an Alaves supporters bar for the Euros and some point and see what you get pintxo or Basque version of tapas and all is as well with the world as it gets.
The following day the reason for the luxuriant countryside and former European “Green Capital” status was revealed with the sort of torrential rain which forced the main square stage to be dismantled proving a bit of a downer. Less so the discovery that the festival site was like a concrete car park which a pre beard Manics may have played and had covered over like they threatened to do with Glastonbury.
Even so Lucinda Williams stepped on stage in the early evening of the first day to a crowd who were largely peering at her from between the guy ropes of assorted beer tents. That wonderfully lived in voice and “Drunken Angel” got the steaming masses swaying a little bit before “Honey Bee” prompted some tentative air guitar action. As the rain slowed more people ventured towards the stage for a rousing finale of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”.
For me a blast from the past was former Plasmatic Jean Beavoir. “Masterplan” from the aforementioned shock rockers could have been improved with a chainsaw but serviceable covers of Ramones songs he had worked on and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” which I don’t think he was claiming credit for proved entertaining enough. I think my fragile ego would struggle with the biggest applause being for other people’s songs but a surfeit of confidence didn’t strike me as an issue for Beavoir. More his own hair metal and the theme from Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra” which was as good as I imagined.
Whilst stood urinating against a fence some solid metal riffage entailed me trying the tricky middle age man manoeuvre of stopping mid flow and getting back onside for Danzig. Now I remember the Misfits as being ludicrous but not in a good way and didn’t have high hopes for this but with Prong guitarist Tommy Victor turned right up and a cover of Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” I was pleasantly surprised. If only the Danzig would sack the almost comically moody singer and his portentous Jim Morrison baritone I could see a future for this band.
What we need now is a silent film then. Oh yes we do when it’s “The Loudest Silent Movie On Earth”. Directed by Bjorn Tagemose “Gutterdammerung” is a Tarantinoesque battle between the majesty of loud music and the uptight repression of religion for custody of a hugely symbolic guitar. That the guitar was thrown down from heaven by a fallen angel Iggy to be fought over “West Side Story” style after a shout of “rock ‘n’ roll or death” was splendid. Sound tracking it all with D.O.A.’s “Fucked Up Ronnie’ the grin inducing tin hat.
In a role which can’t have been a stretch Henry Rollins was there in person to play a self-righteous priest. A silent film is the perfect vehicle for his sub Nietzschean ramblings about the likes of suicide and whilst a live band hammered out Metallica to the accompaniment of enough explosions to keep my fourteen year old self happy the thought of him running round in a cassock trying to avoid a version of Nirvana’s magnificent “Territorial Pissings” amused me as much.
It would be stupid to read too much into “Gutterdammerung” but on the walk back to the hotel at four in the morning that wasn’t going to stop me. Somebody somewhere probably had a problem with an organ being played over silent films but in the wake of the Paris shootings and music being described as “acts of the devil” by religious schools this is serious. Rollins acknowledged that Lemmy’s appearance got the biggest cheer of the night and as ever the final word for zealots of all persuasions is best left to the Tank General: “If you don’t like it fuck off.”
Suitably refreshed the second day didn’t see Australian proto punks Radio Birdman bring the Bondi Beach weather but prompted the first and only crowd surfing I witnessed in a set which warmed up splendidly. Beforehand keyboardist Pip Hoyle was taking photographs of the crowd but during the likes of “Aloha Steve & Danno” and “Man With Golden Helmet” rocked his dad slacks with aplomb. The seemingly obligatory covers were a surprising “Shot By Both Sides” from Magazine and given that their moniker came from mishearing a Stooges lyric a less unexpected “TV Eye”.
Next up on the Bill Haley Stage was Imelda May who was not so much knocking on Shakin Steven’s door as sat in the living room wearing his slippers. Realising my mistake I hot foot over to the Scientists whose “We Had Love” immediately contained more primal rock ‘n’ roll than May’s back catalogue. Having seen the Scientists many years ago and deciding to try someone different I can now only apologise to Kim Salmon and mates. Bet you did “Swampland” and I have only myself to blame.
Now The Who may have played Woodstock as the sun was coming up over the cheese cloth but time has moved on and the headline act aren’t hanging on all night. Any concerns about the commitment of Townsend and Daltrey is however dispelled during an opening of “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” that has as much windmill guitar and microphone lead lassoing as can reasonably be expected of men in their seventies. This odd couple remain more than bright enough to see the potential for ludicrousness and Daltrey’s exhortation to “Help The Aged” seems to celebrate it before “The Kids Are Alright” helps ease the way into a spirited “My Generation”.
Of course The Who are not as captivating as in their heyday but during the likes of “You Better You Bet” the video screen backdrop comes into its own. Here you’re reminded of how iconic the imagery associated with the band has become and that for better or worse the London Tourist Board owes them a fortune. Footage of their younger selves and departed members induces a certain wistfulness but the pop art graphics are true to the band and add a theatricality that I imagine Keith Moon would have enjoyed. Or blown up.
With even their weaker songs sounding like great Oasis ones we were soon on the home straight before a finale of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” threatened to shred Daltrey’s voice. If it came in the service of the “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” and scream it seems almost worth it for the hairs on back of neck moment for me. As true as the day it was written and seeming particularly pertinent to the slow motion car crash of Britain’s European Union vote at present.
It was disconcerting as I moved around Spain to discover the UK had been renamed “Xenophobia” and the face of the country was clown prince Johnson or propaganda minister Farage. If the current situation doesn’t highlight the folly of depending on politicians of any description nothing will so just be European or better still global. We have nothing to lose but our reputation.
The musical lesson is if you’re going to get on stage and rely on old stuff make sure you used to be the best band in the world. After a brisk walk to another stage Marky Ramone is already drawing on the songs of a band that were forty years ago but few people cared. I remember standing in a field when U2 fans caused Joey to sneer “plastic bottles, huh” as their bombardment seemed to cement the Ramones outsider status. Back in the time machine and the stand in Joey is running round like a headless chicken for no apparent reason as a crowd which dwarfed their prime time following welcomed drummer Marky and his Blitzkrieg with open arms. Everything you could hope and expect is played as numerous bite size encores cross everything off the list.
I can’t think of another band as neglected when they were around as the Ramones that could now fill stadiums and sell tee shirts so successfully. Maybe having a good time whilst giving the surviving members of such influential acts an overdue lap of honour is the best justification for some of these line ups. During the lean times bands have sustained a career on a world stage ready to do this but there is surely room for more decent young bands to stop the thing from ossifying? Meantime several drinks in on a cold night in northern Spain there is nowhere better to be bellowing “California Sun” into the sky.
Spain celebrates Brexit
2 June 2016
When Rolling Stone described the Downtown Boys as “America's most exciting punk band” it probably meant they weren't familiar with Pissed Jeans. That's not to say their hardcore X-Ray Spex isn't without considerable appeal. Having firebrand front woman Victoria Ruiz and the melodic counterpoint of sax blaring Adrienne Berry to fall back on can be a potent brew and opener “Wave Of History” was a rousing way to surf into action.
Following this “Break A Few Eggs” and a version of “Poder Elegir” by the Chilean band Los Prisioneros from the time of fascist dictator Pinochet were the highlights from their unfortunately titled “Full Communism” album. If the relatives of the millions of people who have died in the likes of China or North Korea were allowed to hear it they would be as likely to cheer as tonight's crowd would be allowed to meet in any of the hundred and one communist states that have resulted in censorship, detention camps and tyrannical sociopaths.
The best “protest” is embodied in the individual and whilst this can certainly be said for the Downtown Boys and I wouldn't disagree with the gist of their between song patter it did start to feel a little like you were being harangued by a particularly didactic social worker. Maybe this contributed to the atmosphere in a venue which was relaxed enough to see the band playing bar football before the gig but saw a crowd which seemed too worried to move in case they upset someone. Regardless the sooner the songs are left to do more of the heavy lifting the better.
Take a splendid rendition of “Work” from one of the band's earlier releases. Now my ignorance prevents me from understanding the finer points of it in Spanish but I am pretty sure it wasn't singing the praises of the drudgery. If you haven't already have a look at guitarist Joey De Francesco's triumphant quitting of his job on the internet and then help turn the viral into a boss virus.
The only one you need is Bruce and the Downtown Boys frantic cover of Springsteen’s “Dancing in The Dark” had an almost celebratory feel to it. With superficially little similarities putting his lyrics in this context illustrates how much he got punk and cements an almost subliminal affinity which goes back to having your band name in a Springsteen song without knowing it.
With this the Wharf Chambers warmed up and its resolutely independent spirit will hopefully go from strength to strength. With Shellac scheduled across town at the ever excellent Brudenell Social Club the venues seem in place to support a music scene in rude health.
3 May 2016
When John Cale a founder member of the Velvet Underground and the band who wrote the song you named your business after refuses to play your events because you “let us all down” it should really be the death knell for All Tomorrows Parties. As the festival company with no shame and as many lives as insolvency lawyers I won't be holding my breath just yet.
I begrudgingly smiled at a comment on a message board describing buying tickets for ATP as akin to working class Tory voters being surprised when they got “shafted”. So here I am the sucker who whilst aware of your dodgy reputation strapped his blinkers on and became the musical version of a Sun reader. The particular event in question the Drive Like Jehu ATP Festival due to take place at Pontins in Prestatyn at the end of April. Surely ATP couldn't mess up the best international line up ever painstakingly assembled?
Oh yes they could with the organisation that couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery not managing to book the brewery. This left people buying tickets and paying for transport to North Wales right up until ATP had to acknowledge that Pontins had been renting chalets to regular holiday makers. Discovering this by default as you lose contact details meant nobody was reassured by a move to “the perfect set up for this event” in Manchester or “compensation” for travel costs to a different country which entailed vouchers for gigs which might not happen.
This was all apparently a good thing as ATP went on to disparage the Pontins facilities for its lack of bedding and electricity in the chalets. Good enough for the people on the site for the grim as hell sounding Stewart Lee ATP experience the week before though.
Of course this is all depressingly familiar. In 2012 after putting ATP into liquidation owing £2.6 million Barry Hogan quickly set up another couple of companies and went onto cancel the likes of the Jabberwocky Festival in London's Docklands three days before it was due to start. This was moved from the Olympic Park after the Mayor of London's office said there had never been a booking. The pre complete cancellation silver lining? The Dockland's Excel Centre had Dyson airblades so none of that “broken hand-dryer nonsense.”
Consequently the cancellation of the Drive Like Jehu event with a whole four days notice wasn't a surprise and probably seen as a logistical triumph at ATP. Unfortunately a couple of days earlier I had endured a million to one chance phone call with a clueless drone who still had enough of the ATP DNA to reel off a list of hotels in Manchester that everyone was staying in. Not that my pain is comparable to someone who spent £800 in airfares to get to ATP from Toronto.
Nevertheless in the interests of balance it should be noted that Sleaford Mods spoke about how good you had been to them. Stretching the taking people as you find them thing to breaking point is one approach but these things cost valuable time off work for some. Remember shitty jobs? Similarly whilst I enjoy Stewart Lee's comedy skits as much as the next wet liberal a little bit of half arsed irony about something which isn't worth the benefit of the doubt anymore wasn't very impressive.
Apprehension about breaking the code of the indie magic circle seems to have made what's left of the music media reluctant to challenge you. Commenting on the dubious business practises of big business an easier target than looking in your own backyard as holding ATP to account seems to have been left to Radio 4 and “Private Eye”. The latter revealed that ATP use software from a company called Ticket Tailor with a no refund fee guarantee secreted deep in the small print. Now even though some people haven't got their money from Jabberwocky in 2014 you may come good and refund my costs but why include this clause at all?
The charitable interpretation of the ATP master plan is blind hope with the adage about the definition of madness being doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result coming to mind. Its nature means that dealing with the independent music scene can be an idiosyncratic experience but this and the enthusiasm needed to sustain its existence is part of the charm which seems wholly absent from an organisation which somehow manages to combine being very calculating with complete incompetence.
In an attempt to salvage something from the situation after “ATP ate our wallets” King Khan from Canada via Germany, Betunizer from Spain and The Ex from Holland played “pay what you can”gigs at venues in Leeds and Manchester. These celebrated the spirit of independence which ATP tries to trade off on but is a million miles away from the horror show you represent. Like a version of a band that keeps reforming it may have started with the best of intentions and done some good stuff in the distant past but you are really doing more harm than good now.
Ultimately however whilst it would be good if bands and the music journalists gave it some serious consideration before endorsing ATP its down to music fans to take responsibility and just say no. So if you try to woo me with your “Rebellion” for people who think they're clever shtick again I will put my hands over my eyes and whistle the entire works of Melt-Banana until the event is cancelled. Next time you want a band to play an album from start to finish Barry? Do us us all a favour and just put it on at home.
20 March 2016
As a teenager I was never sure why my local venue always told you where the bands due to play came from and then slowly realised how great music is always influenced by its environment. Consequently I agreed to make the trip to Immingham to meet the countries top rock 'n' roll band on their home turf. Prior to going the two most notable facts on a computer search seemed to be it's 6 miles from celluloid sensation Grimsby and the most well known inhabitant was Soham murderer Ian Huntley.
Clearly this isn't a Bowie in Berlin yearning for inspiration scenario for the Ming City Rockers as the only thing they got to choose was to include their home towns nickname in the band's moniker. In reality Immingham is probably little different from any number of towns in a system which increasingly prepares kids to fit their designated roles in life. In this case the local oil refinery or in Immingham's county of Lincolnshire being manipulated into anger at Eastern European migrants for denying you the chance to pack boxes in a retail chain warehouse.
Unlike some bands arguing for your opportunity to do the 9 to 5 while spending a life time avoiding it themselves the Mings don't want the right to work. Channelling their frustration resulted in a 2014 acclaimed debut album which married a Hives like sound to an early Manics without the Camus quotes feel. Whereas you can't swing a bootlace tie around Camden without hitting a band who think buying the right shoes makes you Johnny Thunders the Ming City Rockers flamboyance on a shoestring relied on school shirts and the ability to actually write some tunes.
You can also tell a lot by their choice of covers and a clattering version of Robert Johnson's “Crossroads” had conviction to spare with this gang of misfits sounding like they they had no choice but to be a band. The recent pointed take on “Death Trap” by Hawkwind further demonstrating a range of influence extending further than any narrow definition of punk and meaning they are much more so as a result.
So here I am sat rather aptly in a cafe with the affable pairing of Clancey Jones (vocals/rhythm guitar) and a hungover Morley Adams (lead guitar) ready to slice open their new album “Lemon” and squeeze it 'til the pips squeak. In an understated way however they describe themselves as “very pleased” with the results before Clancey speaks about achieving their aim of avoiding “the more you listen the more bored you get” syndrome by making the “dynamics heavier and softer.” Latching onto this I attempt to put two and two together and attribute this to Sabbath fan Morley but whatever she writes “ends up sounding kinda punk”. Going into fan boy mode I rave about the rousing pop of “All I Wanna Do Is Waste My time With You” and how the chorus stuck on first exposure. Its going to be the second single from the album and in my just alternate world would be number one for some considerable time. Clancey seemed as satisfied that I heard a P J Harvey element to album closer “Don't You Wanna Make My Heart Beat.”
Moving on with an effortless link to one time Harvey producer and man who worked on “Lemon” Steve Albini I wondered whether the Mings found his history daunting? Morley said she wanted to ask about Nirvana but decided not to as he was “so professional letting you choose everything and have your own opinion.” Having heard that he worked by asking the band to describe the sound they wanted in whatever way they chose Clancey opted for “The Stooges 'Raw Power.' Make the guitar solos sound like that and on 'I Don't Mind If You Don't Mind' the solo really does.”
Asking about a tour and being told their agent had “disappeared” left me waiting for the sound of duelling banjos to drown out the sound of crying babies in the cafe. Nevertheless things are well on there way and may include European dates where I am sure they would go down a storm so well worth checking out on the usual social media website stuff. A question about bands they rated brought a thumbs up for Californian skate punks Fidlar from Morley. Initially an incongruous choice until you consider their hedonism has a kind of desperation which resonates with the Mings.
Adopting a serious investigative journalist demeanour I felt obligated to ask what had happened to their original bassist Jakki. Appreciating that the wound might still be a bit raw their initial response of “depends who you ask” was appreciated but the eventual parting of the ways could be attributed to Jakki's struggle with touring. This is a shame as he not only brought a tremendous head of hair but an element of unpredictability which added some of the magnetism to their live shows. Understandably rather than go for an audience bothering, drink swigging doppelgänger they have opted for someone they already knew. As Morley put it “Ramona Rae knew all the songs when she turned up and looks decent but not like Jakk.”
After being asked if they consider themselves a “political” band Morley responded in the sense of “being poor and coming from a nowhere town.” Agreeing that it came from their existence rather than any explicit “Smash the Tories” message I attempted to draw parallels between them and the Sleaford Mods. This was based on geography and being the two live bands of last year to leave me with that take on the world feeling bands can generate.
The Mings kindly indulged me in this somewhat circuitous ramble and Clancey concurred with the observation that their boozing lyrics were less celebratory than about blotting things out: “Definitely. Good it comes across as it's pretty much what we are trying to do.”He was however less forthcoming about new single “Sell Me A Lemon” saying that people “get what they get from it as it's purposely ambiguous.” I therefore intend to indulge my right to get that the lemon in question is the lie of rewarding work and secure housing his generation have been flogged.
Deciding to continue with the big issues and wondering whether their cultivation of a little mystery extended to interviews it was time to challenge whether their landlord really was Scunthorpe's top Elvis impersonator? Thankfully I can report that it was batted straight back with an “actually true” and a “happy coincidence” when pushed to reveal if they had moved there for anecdote purposes.
Around mid afternoon the handful of cafe patrons had changed from mums and babies to elderly ladies drinking tea so after asking what it was about Immingham that had “shaped” them we seemed to agree on speaking in hushed tones and trying to accentuate the positive. In short having nothing else to do helped make them creative and in the absence of a “scene” cultivated an independent mindset. Something like in far flung areas of America where what's “cool” isn't as rigidly policed and the middle of nowhere lets bands develop their own identity?
Ultimately though it is “boring” so what if they lose their spark when the album goes platinum and they can afford to move? After consideration Morley mused that it “would be annoying” before Clancey decided the best plan “would be to drink all our money and move back.” As they strode off into the Immingham afternoon I watched them through the cafe window and hoped their escape plan worked without them getting too serious as the world of adult rock and the heritage punk set needs all the competition it can get. Now in the words of the song I wanna get out of here.
"Lemon" out March 25th on Mad Monkey
30 January 2016
Hearing the song “Sick On You” on a compilation I was struck by the snottiness of the lyrics but remember wondering that if the Hollywood Brats were Britain's answer to the New York Dolls then the question had got lost in translation. If however you need evidence that there is no correlation between the quality of music and books about it then the lead singer of the Brats Andrew Matheson's “Sick On You” magnificently silly memoir is all that's required.
Chronicling the Brats fall and keep on digging approach from 1971 to 75 “Sick On You” is the most entertaining music book in many a year. Originally they were called The Queen because of how good piano player Casino Steel thought it would look in headlines. After Matheson punched Freddie Mercury in a dispute over the name something like “The Queen punches Freddie Mercury” I imagine. If only anybody had been famous. In one of the many run from the locals chase scenes the reader has to consider the difficulty Matheson had in making his escape in a top hat and lime green clogs combo.
Even topping this in the ridiculous names and two worlds collide stakes is the Hollywood Brats meet Cliff Richard. After a film premiere one of their many 'managers' gets them invited to Matheson rechristens Sir Cliff “Bongo” after one of his early efforts. Whether this is to make him feel more at home in an anecdote which involves a Slats Silverstein, James Swackhammer and a cast of god botherers is unlikely.
Now while the last thing I suspect Matheson would want or deserve is an award for political correctness the sex in the book is less Motley Crue's “Dirt” than “Confessions Of a Pop Performer” period sauciness. The animal rights lobby may be less impressed with the hilarious case of starvation which led to the abduction of a box of eels or Matheson holding back the rats in the Brats squat by pouring scalding water down the chimney on them. It is indeed this commitment to the rock 'n' roll cause which I find most heart warming with large swathes of the book feeling like it should be accompanied by the music to “Rising Damp”.
By now your rooting for Matheson and the gang so our heroes finally getting their rewards by making an album for record label Worldwide Artists is more of a “Monty Python” moment. Except this is the Hollywood Brats so Worlwide Artists not only turns out to be a publishing company but is actually run from prison by the Krays. Unimpressed with their sound and unable to sell the tapes to an actual record label their henchmen then proceed to get nearly as unpleasant as you might imagine. Three years after arriving in London from Canada and contracting crabs after a T. Rex concert Matheson really was a dandy in the underworld now.
A round of drinks from "scruffy old chap" Francis Bacon
Eventually the album was released on Mercury in Norway and sold a grand total of 563 copies. Nevertheless in a way reminiscent of the the Velvet Underground many of the people who heard it went onto form bands. Cue walking through Soho with an awe struck Mick Jones and Tony James on the way to a meeting with Malcolm McLaren. In a building down Denmark Street now due to be demolished for the Crossrail 'outernet' shopping experience McLaren tried to convince Matheson and Steel that he could turn the Brats into the spearhead of a musical revolution. On their way down from his office they side stepped the rehearsing Sex Pistols. One more meeting with Vivienne Westwood drawing clothes on a pub table and Matheson committed career suicide but accumulated some more splendidly dismissive put downs for this book.
Indeed with his warnings about the perils of beards in music as pertinent as ever and ability to conjure up a particular time I would sentence this self styled gentleman to a place on the punk rock after dinner speaking circuit for all eternity. As the Hollywood Brats had so many bassists they decided it would be easier to name them all after Batman's mansion so for services to rock 'n' roll arise the Lord of Wayne Manor.
23 January 2016
In a venue where the band has to finish at twenty to ten and a can of lager costs £4.50 managing to “Ride The Wild Haze” was a tall order but Philadelphia's Beach Slang gave it a shot. In the shape of vocalist James Alex they not only have a backward Blur bassist without the cheese but someone whose belief in the power of music almost makes the Japandroids sound a little unsure of themselves.
It can sometimes seem like the lyrics have involved drawing the words “kid”, “loud” and “punk” randomly from a beanie hat but certain couplets really work. For the devoted “I hope when I die I feel this alive” seemed to really do the job and the sheer joy on Alex's face as he fell to the floor when it was bellowed at him was good to see.
The elephant on the stage is however the Replacements and when someone in said band tee shirt shouted “Can't Hardly Wait” I laughed nervously at someone articulating what I was thinking before they played that and “Bastards Of Young”. The latter saw a gent who looked like he might have done the same for Paul Westerberg getting on stage and taking over the vocals from a slightly apprehensive looking Alex.
Now in a catch 22 situation this was enjoyable but in their prime the Relacements did a range of shambolic but surprising covers rather than a Ramones medley. Sometimes you just wish bands would have the sense of iconoclasm which fuelled their inspirations but in “Too Late to Die Young” Beach Slang have a song Westerberg would be proud to have written.
Perhaps its me who takes music too seriously as Beach Slang demonstrated they can write songs and perform with enough conviction to get them through until a more distinct identity develops. Nevertheless it still seems better to see a good emerging band emulate a great one than watch the great one going through the motions way past their sell by date.
City Rats in Tel Aviv
27 September 2015
No one could question the member of numerous bands, proprietor of Sound Idea record store and eventually bootleg merchandiser Bob Suren's commitment to the DIY punk scene. One of his most endearing ideas the hosting of record meets to swap vinyl in a public park picnic pavilion in his adopted home town in Florida. As he would say to anyone who asked if it was worth coming to the next one : “You wont know if you don't go”. Great advice for life in general but discovering that one of the records you flogged for next to nothing to fund a rubbish night out was now worth $1000 might put a dampener on the day.
So why did I approach this chronicle of the hardcore punk scene with a little trepidation? Mostly because of the elitism and macho straight edge zealots which often attached themselves to American punk. They seemed more like the jocks who would have beaten up the genuinely weird kids at school.Bracing myself for tales of squat thrusts with some obscure Henry Rollins clone I was therefore relieved when some of the records that had been the soundtrack to pivotal moments in Suren's life came from big hitters like the Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and Ramones. During his recollection of the discovery of the Ramones the acknowledgement of listening to AC/DC and Black Sabbath at school certainly rung true for me. If a book is designed to make the reader consider their own experiences or more specifically in this case inspire you to dig out old vinyl this book certainly succeeds.
Written in short chapters with tight sentences which mirror the records, incidents in Suren's life which are tied to them highlight big issues without being didactic. Sections including his attempts to get into Peruvian hardcore and an at times hair raising trip to Lima highlight cultural differences but how ultimately common ground and the international nature of the punk scene brings people together. Describing MDC as a “brain bomb” with lines like “And there's no God in heaven, so get off your knees” as the first challenge to a Catholic upbringing and the opening to “Filler” by Minor Threat as his version of a religious experience is rousing but revealing in the light of what unfolds.
His immersion in punk even extending to forming a tribute band for Canadian punk veterans D.O.A. Suren resplendent in a blonde wig for the part of drummer Chuck Biscuits and Pete from the record store perfecting singer Joey Shithead's head wobble the work of true fan boys. With hindsight he would have made a good merchandising opportunity with one of those bobble head figurine things. Just like the one I have got of Joey Ramone in fact.
It's easy to laugh but I remember when D.O.A. played my home city and the band stayed at the barman's flat. His partner less than impressed to have to step over a load of stinking men when going to college with my partner. I on the other hand thinking that once I had got over making embarrassing hung over conversation in the morning it would have been good to say Shithead slept on your living room floor. Indeed one of the more implicit aspects of the book is whilst there are women present in the scene the real OCD sufferers seem to be male. Another particularly taciturn Sound Idea assistant turned up for work and said “Our dog died. Do you want this dog shampoo?” without making any reference to the deceased mutt again.
Using the vehicle of a Misfits album Suren introduces the reader to a prime mover in the south Florida scene called Dave Rat. Now it seems compulsory for every town's punk crowd to have a Rat but this one seemed particularly influential in introducing and welcoming Suren to the fold. He was later stabbed to death trying to do the right thing by breaking up a fight at a gig and Suren writes movingly about him.
He also highlights the generational nature of a movement which now has a history long enough for him to fulfill a similar role with people he describes in terms of being family. Ultimately however it is his immersion in this scene which leads to difficulties in his personal life. This doesn't descend into “High Fidelity” mawkishness but the end of the book makes uncomfortable reading as his need to distance himself from punk ironically seems reminiscent of documentaries where people have escaped or been rescued from religious cults.
It may seem counter intuitive to highlight this in a book about “punk records” but this is reflected in the contents where one of the only bands which wouldn't be immediately considered punk and is a hundred times more so than most is the Gun Club. Refreshingly Suren doesn't blame punk but his own obsession with it and in an interview about the book describes his experience as maybe feeling like the army. He now only listens to Miles Davis at home and it is maybe this need to impose “rules” on things which is part of the problem.
Punk is an attitude rather than a sound or a look and the possibility of its manifestation in any area of life let alone art is what ultimately stops it getting stale. I am sure it is this sort of meaning of punk debate which ultimately contributed to him seeking sanctuary in Costa Rica but while “Crate Digger” may work as some sort of journey of discovery for the uninitiated it is best as an entertaining yet cautionary note to us true believers who seek to place restrictions on this most liberating of ideas.
Johnny Ramones grave guarded by geese in LA
Back in the day
24 August 2015
If the lid hadn't been secured and the box lowered into the ground years ago then Edith Bowman's “Great British Music Festivals” (£16.99) would be the man in a twat hat and Kasabian tee shirt hammering the final nail into the coffin of the festival as any sort of alternative to day to day existence. From the the two day advertising opportunity that is V to the family fun day of Latitude it perfectly reflects the blandness of the modern festival. Looking like a tour programme with holiday snaps for the saturation television coverage of big corporate festivals it only succeeds in highlighting the incestuous nature of the media and bands that operate in this world. Edith seems to use it as a dating service and has gone from the bloke with a beard in Elbow to the one in the Editors who decided he didn't really want to be Ian Curtis after all.
With radio presenters who seem to make a virtue out of not being as cringe worthy as the Smashie and Nicey sex pests of the 1970's introducing a succession of revolving door indie bands this gentrification is nowhere more evident than Glastonbury. Perhaps because of its history of somewhere which operated outside of the mainstream and now using that history to trade off it's status as establishment institution is particularly emblematic. More inspiring bands may still perform on the fringes of the festival but the Great British viewer doesn't see this and and it becomes self fulfilling as the number of Kate Moss wannabees in designer wellies dancing to Bruce Forsyth increases.
A partial antidote may exist in the increasing popularity of inner city festivals such as Tramlines in Sheffield. In seven years it has grown to involve 70 venues of different sizes and character but which between them played host to over 150,000 people in three days. Unlike the more compact Live at Leeds its ramshackle nature was celebrated through gritted teeth when a taxi across town only resulted in the discovery that Ezra Furman had cancelled at the last minute. Standing outside the Leadmill to listen to punters unable to get in berate the door staff while Billy Bragg berated the Tories through an open door was however more entertaining than many of the production line experiences offered by big corporate festivals. I'm sure Strummer would have got us in through an open window before he decided the height of rebellion was sitting round a fire with Keith Allen at Glastonbury every year.
Throughout the locals seemed to have embraced the occasion and were fulsome in their directions to pubs in other parts of town where the festivities were continuing. Here the feeling of proper town centre night out and people intent on having a good time gave proceedings an energy missing from a field in rural England. Sheffield isn't a city of two hundred thousand people 5 days a year but over twice that all year round and and the sense of pride and belonging this engenders cannot be artificially replicated.
A Ming and a mannequin
The conservative nature of the traditional festival crowd is personified by the lather trad dad in chief Noel Gallagher gets in and the irate petitions which greet every rap or metal act which appears anywhere up the bill at Glastonbury. In an urban environment this doesn't register with the predictable withdrawal of the Wu Tang Clan at Sheffield seeing their replacement by De La Soul. At this year's Glastonbury Motorhead were deemed a bit incongruous despite the role Lemmy's former band Hawkwind played in genuinely counter culture free festivals and their survival when they couldn't have been less fashionable.
One obvious plus to the city festival is being able to get food and drink from places other than the ridiculously over priced stuff the captive audience is subjected to. Similarly if there's a lull in proceedings explore the city and support the local economy by going to the likes of Record Collector in Sheffield. Opened in 1978 and if a local band released a self financed single selling it without any profit there will be nobody of note to play any festivals if this spirit ever dies.
In Hull the Humber Street Sesh featured about 180 local acts playing to over thirty thousand people in an area of the city currently free from big business saturation let alone the mass marketing campaigns that modern corporate festivals represent. The escapism at this “festival for the people by the people” more evident than at any event the likes of Branson's Health Service swallowing Virgin are not shy of enveloping with their logo. Hopefully they don't fall prey to a bigger is better mentality and or get hijacked by quangos and businessmen in the run up to Hull's City of Culture year in 2017 as this is one to be treasured.
If sponsorship is required use a social enterprise which channels profits back to local charities like the fire service one which supported the stage the wonderful Ming City Rockers headlined. Rather than watching Michael Eavis nod his head to a heritage rock turn half heartedly trundling through their back catalogue enjoy being forced down the front by a director of said enterprise as their fireman stage prop goes crowd surfing with the band. I can only pray this entailed the comprehensive risk assessment metal armageddon Download would applaud as it now asks bands to sign contracts which prohibit them encouraging circle pits.
Far too late for any of this at Field Day. Now Bowman uses this as an example of a city festival which as she helpfully points out is in London and therefore convenient for Londoners. It was also home to some half decent bands but a crowd which sounded like Henley Regatta on one to many craft beers and just because you can see “Tower Hamlet high- rises” from your gated community doesn't make it inclusive. The “enthusiasm” of braying buffoons with more beards than faces to put them on as they walked to and from the tube escaped me completely as I considered a police presence which lined the route like Millwall had crossed the river. Still preferable to being stuck next to the spawn of Bowman in a yurt banging on about Babylon. Evenin' all.
Patti Smith urges Field Day to rattle their jewellery
29 June 2015
The singer was swinging from the lighting rig in Melbourne's Tote Hotel while the guitarist held together songs such as 'Baby's Gonna Get Deported' with a mischievous glee. Tugging at his elasticated leopard skin trousers to expose his bony backside the Israeli front man only returned to terra firma in order to plant a celebratory kiss on his Lebanese band mate. Rumour has it the aroma of Middle Eastern cooking brought The Shabbab together but the result would enrage fundamentalists of all persuasions whilst encapsulating the independent minded nature of Victoria's state capital.
Contrary to a national anthem that speaks of 'with courage let us all combine' one of the recurring experiences of my visit to Australia was switching on the news to be confronted with a succession of red faced belligerent men competing to sound the most intransigent on immigration. Leaving Britain not long after the election and in my early morning slumber it felt like waking up in a parallel universe where Farage had won.
Exactly what parts the commodity traders threat to the establishment would be best served by this 'Australian System' would be interesting to know. Confining asylum seekers on Manus Island and subjecting them to conditions the UN has described as 'tantamount to torture' or paying people smugglers to turn boats back?
This seemed to reach its nadir when the plight of thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees marooned at sea for weeks after persecution in the predominantly Buddhist Burma was used to try and bolster Prime Minister Tony Abbott's hard man credentials. With Australia's South East Asian neighbours asking for assistance he deemed an appropriate response to be: 'Nope, nope nope'. Unfortunately this inability to join the the geopolitical dots has given the likes of ISIS another excuse to call for Jihad in an impoverished part of the world.
Peter Drews 'Real Australians Say Welcome' posters are designed to challenge this ignorance. Found throughout Australia he is used to having problems with councils but was contacted by the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong asking where they were so cleaning crews would leave them up. Down central Melbourne's street art canvas Hosier Lane they jostle for space with murals wishing Lemmy all the best. My apartment for this long weekend had views of the lanes and décor from when Lemmy was in Hawkwind.
Destinations around the world claim to be the best for live music. New York and London with their pivotal roles in the development of much modern music spring to mind but with the closure of iconic venues such as CBGBs and the Twelve Bar Club there is a danger that this becomes history. Step forward Melbourne with a grass roots music scene which has more venues per capita than Austin the self proclaimed capital of live music.
Playing a formative role for the likes of AC/DC and Nick Cave means Melbourne has the history but it was the communities reaction to the closure of the Tote Hotel in the inner city suburb of Collingwood which showed their commitment to the future. Featuring in Frank Hardy's 1951 'Power Without Glory' fictionalised account of Labor Party fixer John West the Tote had already played its part in an earlier struggle. Heavily involved in crime West took the self published book to court for libel but in failing to win the case only raised the profile of the novel further. Such shadowy activities no doubt contribute to the rumour that cellars run from the Tote to the premises opposite for bookies who worked from the pub to make their escape.
Opening as a venue in the early 1980's it was colonised by the punk scene and helped to survive the 90s by a crowd which drank more than their fashionable dance scene counterparts but was forced to close by changes to the liquor-laws in 2010. Despite no history of trouble being deemed 'high risk' as it stayed open to 3 am saw it being categorised with inner city night clubs and being expected to employ security staff it couldn't afford. For a country which seems intent on putting heritage plaques on all manner of things forcing the Tote to close seemed particularly ironic.
As told in the excellent 'Persecution Blues The Battle For The Tote' documentary this galvanised 20,000 people to march to the Parliament of Victoria and via the 'Don't Kill Live Music' website highlight the stupidity of a law which also threatened the livelihood of the likes of Greek restaurants. Faced with such opposition the Government had a review of the laws and the Tote reopened after being permitted to decide for itself how much security is necessary.
Inside the bar chronicles the story of Australian rock music with poster art as relevant as exhibits in a nearby hipster gallery. Operating at the polar opposite to the karaoke machines auditioning on Saturday night television, bands with little expectation or even wish for mainstream success play their own songs with the freedom needed to keep music alive. Bands such as Melbourne based the Drones have gone on to achieve a type of popularity evidenced by a gig in the sterile atmosphere of the Sydney Opera House. Sat in my seat I couldn't help but concur with the frustrated punter who bemoaned the loss of Tote equivalent the Annandale Hotel.
The feeling of a shared experience seems to have mobilised the resistance to the closure of the Tote. Its very existence challenging the way politicians structure society to control peoples behaviour and aspirations with their example of self regulation. Acting as an autonomous space promotes a feeling which led its patrons to say it 'belongs to the scum bags'. Just don't expect the cigarette machine to necessarily work or return your money if it doesn't.
Nursing a hangover the following morning there was time to broaden the Melbourne experience whilst exploring the origins of the areas outlaw mentality. From the morning papers there was an interview with godfather of subversion Barry Humphreys extolling the seedy history of the Brighton like Melbourne suburb St Kilda. Across the road from the apartment the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and a helpful librarian looking lady putting me straight on the best Mad Max movie.
Perhaps most trenchant was a visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol and the scene of Ned Kellys execution in 1880. For the sake of the legend lets hope he really did say 'Such is life' before facing the gallows. What is clear is that the burning of peoples mortgage papers when robbing banks should have plenty of contemporary relevance. With Tony Richardson's casting of pasty-faced Pom Mick Jagger as the eponymous hero in the 1970 film causing consternation he said his anti establishment allure most closely represented that of Kelly's. Laughable now but I am sure it made sense at the time.
On Sunday it was over to Richmond and the Corner Hotel for American hardcore in the shape of Defeater. More earnest than the offerings at the Tote the opening chords heralded the traditional anti clockwise circle pit which took shape like a tantrum at a small boys birthday party. Plenty of energy but with a crowd member dressed like a track cyclist and doing warm up exercises before entering the melee not really for me.Having said that the punk scene should be a broad church and some of the people there were probably well equipped to resist members of the far-right United Patriots Front who had tried to storm Richmond Town Hall earlier in the day. Chosen as a symbolic target a group carrying Australian flags and wearing Nazi emblems harassed locals before being halted by a counter demonstration with a huge 'you'll always lose in Melbourne' banner.
The following morning I was reminded that this was winter in Australia but my mood rose considerably when I finally located the former Tote band in residence Bits Of Shit album in the record shop of independent label Poison City. Surrounded by new releases and wall art paying tribute to greats like Husker Du and Leatherface I was reminded of their MC5 style call to arms : 'Are you going to be an arse licker or an arse kicker ? That is the question.' In my experience Melbourne has already decided it's answer.
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