Friday, 31 December 2010
Like an old fashioned political rally in the upstairs of a backstreet pub, the atmosphere tonight is electric, tense... and very sweaty. The upstairs of The Hop, Wakefield is a nicely proportioned room for seeing small scale bands, but how about a character such as Marks? The anticipation (and perspiration) increases as more and more people are squashed into the room. I’d wondered beforehand if this would be a seated affair, the audience politely enjoying tales of drug smuggling / taking / history whilst chuckling and occasionally applauding. Nah. We were squashed in like cattle, awaiting the hero, the great leader, the saviour.
Which resulted in a lovely opening moment when Mr Howard Marks entered the room, not from the side of the stage, but through the same door we had all come through. Flanked by two bouncers he worked his way to the stage through the almost immovable object of the battery farm swamp of punters, some folk reaching out hoping to touch the great man. Admittedly, this whole spectacle was due to the architecture of The Hop rather than a pre-planned self aggrandising gesture, but it was pretty cool.
He settled in on stage, a couple of pints and a projector for company. The swarm of the audience added a real edge, the expectancy of what he would say, what he would do – an element of danger. Prior to his arrival, a video had run on the projector of an American news report from the 80’s of Marks’ arrest for drug smuggling, eliciting cheers and boos form the audience. It was slightly strange to now see that character before us, a gentle grey haired man, slightly startled under the spotlights.
So it was appropriate he began his talk with examining the bizarreness of how his career path led him to this point. Out of the Welsh homeland to Oxford University studying Natural Science and Physics to being the worlds biggest dope smuggler, then Ex-Con to best selling author. And finally, as he realised at his first book signing, effectively a stand up comedian.
He certainly has a way with words, a wonderful turn of phrase and a sly, knowing look that betrays the supremely intelligent man behind the bedraggled mop of grey hair and the slight stoned demeanour (actually, completely stoned “I’m so stoned I cant see” he proclaims – not his most enlightened remark!) And he is a great story teller too. The first part of his ‘lecture’ concerns his 7 year incarceration. He referred to it as being like a Sine Wave, with dips and crests. On the high points he imagined, on his release, organising the biggest shipment of the best weed Europe had ever seen. At low points he would consider going straight. But the low points didn’t last too long…
It was during these sections the audience hung on his every word, almost as if he’d JUST been released. This was the press conference where he returns to the outside world, unrepentant, with crowds of supporters cheering the fact he simply exists. Such is the warmth this man has that these feelings are still strong all these years later. I keep thinking ‘Hitler’ as I type – obviously the most inappropriate comparison - but there is something of the magnetism of the dictator about Howard Marks – the benevolent autocrat. I’m sure plenty here would vote for him (well, wave his placards, you don’t generally vote for a dictator, but they did for Hitler, so I’ll let it stand) In fact, with the Pope’s visit to England prevalent in the news, he was compared to that all powerful head of state – “You should be our pope” someone said. With only a half second of pause he replied “But the Pope’s the only one who doesn’t have to confess”. Brilliant.
Interestingly, he then moved the discussion onto the history of Tobacco. Utilising the projector he traced the story of the discovery of tobacco by the European nations. Basically, we got it wrong. There are two types of Tobacco; Nikotina Rustica and Nikotina Tobaco. The Shamens in South America got high off the Rustica. It helped improve their ‘powers’ and those guys never got cancer… or even coughed; Shamen’s that were so old ‘they don’t even know there age’ But we took the Nikotina, about 20 times less potent. And of course, nowadays the companies pump so much shit into cigarettes, it’s barely even the same substance. We got the addictive qualities without the ‘getting high’ part. Bugger!
For me, this diversion into history and politics says a lot about Marks. And it says a lot for his audience that many started talking between themselves during these sections. I think for many, the fact that Marks openly advocates smoking spliff defines him; the parts about him going to Oxford or writing a book are secondary. But for me, those are the things that elevate him above being ‘some guy that gets stoned on stage’. He’s a smart, clever, guy who, in an incredibly bizarre way, has done something with his life. Whilst by his own admission a lot of things have just fallen into his lap (“you get out of prison after 7 years with no money, nothing to your name. And some publisher offers you £50,000 to write a book… what else are you gonna do?”), it’s his attitude and intelligence that have made him who he is. I don’t see that in the people who spent most the night shouting out ‘Spliff!’ or ‘Where’s the weed?’ whilst he’s attempting to educate them with a bit of cultural history.
In fact it became a little oppressive in there. There was a large contingent of fat, angry, middle aged ‘rockers’, getting progressively agitated within the compactness of the venue. They should try being a 5ft 2 girl with a sweaty back in their face (that’s my girlfriend, not me). This strata of his followers really got to me over the course of the night. It reminded me of ‘The Holy Bible’ by the Manic Street Preachers. It’s one of my favourite ever albums and I feel I share some kind of insight with other fans of that record. But there are other certain types of people who ‘love’ that album who, in my opinion, completely miss the point – like Richey Edwards was some kind of Pete Doherty esqe fuck up who was a miserable anorexic alcoholic who happened to write lyrics in a band. No! He was a brilliant lyricist who pushed himself to the brink for his art. He didn’t sit around in a sulk and wait for something to happen. Yet the perception of the audience can actually affect how the work itself is perceived. Equally, Howard Marks wasn’t just some guy in Wales getting stoned. He achieved things. He dreamt. Drugs are a central theme in his life, tying everything together, but I don’t think that defines him. A proportion of the audience are only interested in him as some kind of counter culture figure, a voice for their anger at the governments smoking ban and Nanny state politics, just as the BNP may well be a voice for their anger at all these different coloured people walking round the streets. A ‘no one can tell us what to do, fuck everyone’ approach. The house of commons style jeering from the people around me really did resemble that kind of aggression and I found it pretty unsettling.
But as soon as he moved to more ‘right on’ topics, some of it incredibly ‘spliffy’ (like “it actually says in the Bible that God smokes a reefer” Really?) he had them back on side. It’s straw grabbing, but the audience lap it up. Preaching to the converted see. Which makes it all sound a little negative at the end, which it totally wasn’t. I tried desperately not to let the audience dictate the show for me, but since I was literally rubbing shoulders with some pretty unpleasant people, it was difficult. But Marks’ ability as a story teller is beyond doubt and in different circumstances would be a national treasure. But if that were the case would I be seeing him in such an… intimate venue?
Although I wasn’t swayed by all his arguments, I was very inspired by his passion and attitude and in different circumstances would have happily listened to him all night. The man is a legend, but I’m sure you already knew that.
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
IMP - Just Destroyer
There are a lot of bands in Wakefield. There are a lot of good bands in Wakefield. For some reason a good amount of these bands are on Philophobia; coincidence? I think not. IMP are one of those bands and they’ve gone and recorded a new EP with Rob Slater (Spills/Tiny Planets), and it’s not half good.
One of the first things to strike me about this EP is that there aren’t a lot of vocals. In this sense it could be compared to some of the more experimental type Sonic Youth songs, which is obviously a good thing. IMP create a totally captivating atmosphere, yet somewhere along the line they also manage to turn it into happy little indie pop songs. In all honesty that’s what I’d been expecting from this EP perfect , catchy indie pop songs, which IMP arguably make better than most, just listen to ‘Party’ or ‘Least favourite Brunette’. But somehow with this EP they’ve managed to combine that awesome pop song making ability with a new, more experimental approach, and it’s a welcomed progression.
The first song ‘O’ begins with atmospheric guitars and then tension, then about a minute in the tempo is lifted and you’ve got a beautiful sounding indie pop. ’16 years’ begins in popier manner, with the classic IMP keyboard sounds and then follow the distinct vocal qualities. ‘Don’t Go Wild’ sounds like Pavement to start with, that tempo that makes you want to kick back, and nod your head at the same time. With lyrics like ‘As soon as drugs went so did the romance’, the vast vocal qualities of this band are showcased, and they do that thing where instead of singing a line they speak it. For some reason this just adds a clarity to the song, and I like it.
‘Birdfeud’ again another top class indie pop song. This song begins with some ‘ohs’ and ‘la’s’ , kind of like The Cribs signature ‘woah’, and it’s little things like that which just add to the catchiness of a song. As if IMPs songs weren’t catchy enough, or The Crib’s for that matter. The last song ‘Into Japan’ is another atmospheric one, with chantings of ‘I saw your face walking down the street and I thought, what is going on.”
What a perfect EP, IMP seem to go from strength to strength, and ‘Just Destroyer’ is certain to give them the attention they deserve.
By By – By By
Poppier, but still beyond definition, this release may surprise those who have come across By By in its one man form; 'creator' Liam’s Frank Sidebottom-esqe performances have shocked and delighted in equal measures (for an idea of this see secret track ‘Chicken or Egg’). Here we have something closer to a full band sound - drums especially adding much needed energy and direction. The organ and guitar work walk the line between 'pop' and 'bonkers' in excellent fashion; whenever it feels it may be going a little to 'well' they always manage to find the mad note that brings it tumbling back down - and that is a good thing by the way. And the vocals too, opener 'Clutter' introducing the Timmy from South park meets a Pontefract Captain Beefheart groan which convey a certain madness in a great way. That is a good thing too.
In fact quite often listening to By By you can think, I like this, but is it good? Or, I don’t really like this, but is it good? By By does a strange thing by placing far more importance on the purpose and meaning and feeling than the medium itself, making rational comprehension difficult. These songs could be presented in many ways, and surely will be in many bizarre connotations in the future, yet they have a heart, albeit battered, bruised and blackened. But still beating. Its just pleasing that on this occasion they are presented in a friendly, engaged package that will appeal to fans of odd, impassioned Indie, as opposed to followers of utter mind fuck illness, as previously. This, needless to say, is also a good thing
Love Music Hate Racism – Compilation
Love Music Hate Racism and Repeat Records have teamed up bring out this ‘split single’, courtesy of ten bands from across the UK.
Most of the bands on the album could broadly be described as punk, but with so many bands on the record it can’t strictly be defined by genre. All the bands have contributed two songs each except for Norwich’s Fever Fever who only have one song on here. However ‘Who Asked You?’ is one of the standout tracks on the album with its scuzzy riffs and the repetitive but infectious vocal challenge of “Who asked you? Anyway…”
Ten City Nation have the opening and closing track on the album, but fail to produce much excitement in what turns out to be quite predictable garage rock. Although their second song ‘The Air Is On Fire’ would be a lot more enjoyable if it didn’t last for what seems like six minutes.
Both The Shills and Popular Workshop provide some catchy Indie, The Shills also offering a welcome change of pace with an acoustic version of ‘Inertia’. Popular Workshop’s ‘Her Birthday’ is the pick of their songs; with its shouty vocals and stuttering guitars they’ve produced a real gem.
Some lo-fi punk is brought to us from Kunk and Micropenis, who actually turn out to be quite good despite the name. Both of these bands bring plenty of enthusiasm and in ‘Attack! Attack!’ Kunk have produced a great sing along chorus.
Hyman Roth brings the heaviest edge to the record and has a similar feel to the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. In contrast to Hyman Roth, Greg McDonald’s tracks are the most radio friendly on the album and it is this that makes them sound slightly out of place on here. Although both of his songs are perfectly palatable they end up sounding far too pedestrian next to the rest of the album.
Glory Glory’s male/female vocals works well for them and also gives them a sound that could be accessible to the masses. Both of their songs are great, following the Los Campesinos sound that seems to be in at the moment, they are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the record. Finally Feedback, who are made up of fourteen year olds, provide some gleaming pop-punk also showing they have bags of potential.
Overall this is a great compilation and with so many different bands it would be difficult to not like something on here. And with particular highlights coming from Fever Fever and Glory Glory, in addition to being for a good cause I would recommend it to anyone.
People in Jars – For The Love Of Mia
People In Jars hopefully have better things to do with their time than watch Hollyoaks. I, on the other hand clearly do not, as I recently witnessed an episode where one-time Liverpudlian doom-merchants Anathema’s classic ‘Pressure’ sound-tracked boffin Elliot’s supposed descent into a dissertation induced mini-breakdown. I suspect that this was the first, and for many last, time viewers of Channel Four’s flagship soap (Certainly since Brookside’s demise) will hear said band, their loss.
People In Jars single, ‘For The Love Of Mia’, certainly bears similarities to ‘Pressure’. The latter induced a certain anxiety that to this day I still find strangely addictive. The sensation here is similar, but dulled slightly by the simple fact that I’ve not shared much of my life growing with this band, as a result of which I can’t say there is the same emotional attachment. But as this is only their debut there’s no doubt that such a bond could easily be formed between band and fans.
Further investigation into their MySpace (www.myspace.com/thepeopleinjars) led to ‘Time’, which draws heavily on Portishead’s ‘Roads’ and there are hints of that other notable British ‘head’, Radiohead, at work on early in ‘The Mover’. It’s certainly music for the head, with the majority of songs sailing past the five minute mark. Much like Anathema then, the band would be wasted as background fodder on Hollyoaks, this is music designed to engage the brain.
Soul Circus – Artists and Artisans
Of course it’s the kind of mistake you shouldn’t make. With a name like Soul Circus, you might expect something that directs your mind towards the era of ‘The Twisted Wheel’ and ‘Wigan Casino’. But then you see the cover of the CD. You are faced with the torso of a gentleman wearing a morning suit complete with waistcoat and cravat. And he is holding a monocle. But the dude has no head. This looks interesting. The music similarly keeps your attention. No, this is not sweet soul music. There are plenty of the crashing, jangly guitars that appeal to the palate of indie kids up and down the land. I’m picking up bits of The Wedding Present in there, particularly on the opening bars of ‘I Still Believe’, but I can’t quite pin it down. Which is no bad thing, I suppose.
There are five tracks on the CD. A most pleasant twenty minutes or so. Difficult to say which is the stand-out. There isn’t one, really. They all stand shoulder to shoulder with each other. ‘Artisans’ opens up at a high standard which the band maintains through to ‘Sarcastic Smile’. This is not music that will change the course of your life, and it won’t have you angrily marching down the high street, but it’s a good listen. The five of them have been keeping themselves busy through the year with gigs, gigs and more gigs. They are headlining at The Cockpit at the end of January. Could be worth a ride through, methinks. In the meantime, you might want to have a look at www.soulcircus.co.uk.
Glyn Bailey and The Many Splendid Things – The Disturbance
Introducing Glyn Bailey into your life is a strange experience. Hearing the opening few seconds of the first track on this album, ‘The Old Illawalla’ made me think I was in for the theme to “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. The rest of the CD takes you here, there and everywhere. And then it drops you off feeling rather puzzled. All the songs have a certain something - the frustration waiting to explode behind ‘Traffic Light Man’ and ‘Waiting Game’, or the plain oddity of ‘BBC Bunker’ and ‘The Bolan Tree’.
Glyn Bailey has experienced the rich tapestry of life, which comes across in the variety available here. It isn’t rock, it isn’t indie, country, folk. Whatever. Make your own mind up. But when the guy gets an endorsement from footballer Andy Ritchie then you know that you are dealing with serious business here. As for an overview of ‘The Disturbance’, I spent a lot of time scratching my head. I decided I couldn’t possibly put it better than this line, taken from the band’s website... “The ten songs narrate one strange tale after another, varying the viewpoint between protagonist, victim or observer, prying into life’s complexities and contradictions.” Yes, that just about sums it up.
The listener is invited to explore the various levels of depth in this album. Maybe if I had more time to listen to it over and over again then it might all become clear to me. I find it difficult to enthuse about ‘The Disturbance’. Not the greatest album I’ll ever hear, but nor is it the worst. Just somewhere in the middle. But I’m happy to say that the varied styles contained here help to provide an interesting listen. Strange. But interesting.
Ryder – Smokers Paradise EP
When you check up on a band and see that their influences includes AC/DC, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Who, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when they turn out to be such a noisy lot. They are, perhaps proudly, unsigned. No matter. That perhaps explains why they are straight up and in your face. Opening up with “Smokers Paradise” they start as they mean to go on. It does strike me as long-haired rock rather than short-haired punk. Maybe all bands from yesteryear blend into one with time, but I’m hearing Thin Lizzy on ‘Turn To Page Three’. ‘Union’ has me singing along, not a good thing for the neighbours to hear - “No, you were the one!” And the last of the five tracks is ‘Queen And Country’. Maybe this is where the Pistols’ influence shows through. This is real Up And At ‘Em stuff.
The Grand - The Grand EP
Louder Than Bombs Records
The Grand, featuring members of Shakeshudder, make their debut release on Louder Than Bombs Records. The Grand have produced a good record here which keeps the listener engaged throughout. There are similarities with British Sea Power, especially on the slower, more melodic songs. The Grand also serve up some more high-octane indie-pop on tracks such as ‘Flowers to the Cross’, which along with the more melancholic ‘Hometime’, is a particular highlight of the record. This EP is definitely for any indie fans and comes highly recommended.
Shrag - Life!Death!Prizes!
For many a Shrag fan across the land, this album has been long awaited. Shrag are one of those bands you hear once and then never forget. With a lot of bands it’s pretty easy to say “well they sound a bit like this, or like that”, that’s just impossible with Shrag; they’re a bit punky, a bit psychedelic, a bit experimental and best of all they’re totally addictive.
Life! Death! Prizes! begins with the trademark tumbling bassline, then an attack of upbeat punky sounds; another brilliant thing about Shrag is they can drag the instrumental parts out as long as they like, and it just doesn’t get boring. Just like the track ‘Intro’ off their last record, which I strongly advice to treat your ears to. The vocals come in; the distinctive sound of Helen King. Lyrically they’re honest, and the boy girl vocals are a perfect combination, chanting “I want the kiss, not the chase”. ‘Stubborn or Bust’ follows suit, with another impressive yet simple bass line to begin with, and another dose of sweet boy girl vocals.
‘Their stats’, though one of the slower tracks on the album, certainly stands out as one the best. The slower tempo and a blatant clarity in Helen kings voice create a menacingly beautiful song. ‘Tights in August’ is three and half minutes of perfection. It’s a love song, but from a slightly different perspective. Contrasting the lyrics “I wanna see the end with you, can’t you see my love is true, make me yours baby” and “I wanna get away from you .....I thought I just said maybe, not forever more”. Here Shrag proving they can master any type of song; angry punk songs, good, honest love songs, you name it.
And yet another stand out song (I think you’re catching on by now, it’s a stand up album) ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ - this is Shrag at their very, very best! It’s punky, it’s shouty and it’s got more than its fair share of Shrag brilliance. ‘Habbit Creep’ is a spoken word piece; it’s got a gloomy Joy Division feel about it, and Helens eloquent words give it an angry edge. They follow this up with another bunch of upbeat pop songs, oh and there catchy too. Shrag have a perfect way of creating a mystic atmosphere, adding catchy punky guitar riffs and awesome chant along lyrics. On ‘Faux-Coda’ we hear a bit more of Bob on the vocals, as if they needed another brilliantly unique sounding voice in there band, pretty greedy if you ask me. ‘More Than Mornings’ is probably the most punky song off the album, the initial riff sets up the awesome combination of flailing drums and sinister keyboards. This album is basically track after track of pure, honest pop songs.
With Life! Death! Prizes! it’s pretty unlikely that this band with maintain their ‘best kept secret’ status; I liked them first anyway...
Piskie Sits - The Way I’d Like To Go
“Sweet Little Weasel” was probably my song of the summer, after hearing it on the Philophobia compilation ‘Under The Bus Station Clock’, I found very little reason to listen to anything else.
Piskie Sits formed in 2004 at a time when the whole chart friendly ‘New-Yorkshire’ indie thing was going on, however not game to follow suit they created their unique alternative-American-rock sound, taking influence from likes of Pavement, The National and The Strokes. Though their pretty well known around Wakefield and West Yorkshire, I find it truly puzzling why they’re not as successful as they deserve to be. You only need to listen to this EP to understand that this band deserve to be massive.
Here we have four songs, lacking in nothing. Craig Hale is a massively talented lyricist, and his vocal capabilities are seriously out of this world. That’s probably what makes this band so distinctive, it just sounds effortless and natural and I haven’t heard anything like it. But it’s not just the voice, as spellbinding as it, it’s the way that each and every aspect of the bands comes together so naturally to make such a unique sound. Needless to say I’m a fan.
Cloud Nothings – Hey Cool Kids
The guitar sound is very nice on this single, it is clean and chiming, and the singer’s voice has a captivating, ethereal quality, like a young Mark Linkous. I dislike the sentiment of the lyrics though, the sneering ‘oh you’re such a cool kid’ sounds quite snobbish and condescending, and the three chord guitar tune becomes a bit repetitive after a while and fails to excite. The B side to this single however is an absolute joy. Ramshackle guitar riffs wrestle with each other before giving way to a pulsing chorus with a sugar coated vocal hook. It’s all very lo fi and sounds like Lemonheads with less weight on their shoulders, a glistening anthem recorded in a shoe box
Mi Mye – Senc To The Shaking
Mi Mye’s live shows have been famous in Wakefield and its vicinity for several years now. Watching this band of merry souls play together is truly magical. Complete with raucous violin and double bass spins, they quite literally bring the house down and everyone leaves with a smile on their face.
On record, though, what truly shines through for me is the honesty and pure emotion that ring through in the lyrics. Singer and main man Jamie pops the lid off his heart and bears his soul for all to see.
He sings lines such as ‘and I was always thinking about you in everybody that I meet and maybe that’s why I’m always unsuccessful’ (Your last love song). This leaves you with a solid lump in your throat and almost brings a tear to the eye. All of which is wrapped up in a beautifully weaved cloth of bitter sweet violin and understated rhythms.
Mi Mye constantly tread the line between melancholy and joy with great precision. For me this has always been the key to truly great music. ‘2 sunrises’, for example, is effortlessly uplifting, with a slice of sadness. ‘It where slevery’ is a poignant tale of unrequited love, that we can all relate to. Then songs like ‘In the morning’ and ‘Itchyear eachyear’ are good old knees ups.
At times we all feel sad, or a bit lonely and we all have that thought ‘is it only me that feels like that’. I think this is captured sublimely by Jamie in a way I have only seen equalled by comedian Daniel Kitson in recent years (check him out by the way if you get a chance).
I currently live on the other side of the world, miles away from Wakefield and home. Listening to ‘Senc to the shaking’ is like having a nice cup of tea in front of the fire while the smell of roast beef fills the house.
‘All we have are moments’, ‘relationships and friendships’ that’s all that really matters, right.
Napoleon IIIrd - Christiania
The album comes rattling to life with samba beats and throbbing noise, with the first song culminating with a proud, distorted riff that rolls along to a climax by intertwining with the samba rhythm (Unknown Unknown) and song two featuring a beat that increases in it’s ferociousness (Leaving Copenhagen). It is an exhilarating beginning that in turn gives way to spooky, swirling, high pitched keyboard repetition (The hardline Optimist). More of an elegiac fuzzy drone is present throughout the rest of the album, a drone that conveys at times melancholia and at times euphoria, and is punctuated by samba, blips and clicks. The album also flirts with the giddy thrill of Motown and early rock and roll, though in an utterly modern way (That Town).
This album puts Napoleon IIIrd on a par with bands like Animal Collective and Fuck Buttons in creating a sound that is epic whilst also sounding brashly immediate, rather than the more introspective feel that is commonly evoked by music of this kind.
What differentiates Napoleon IIIrd from these bands is the way in which he employs a wide variety of vocal styles. The vocals can growl and swoon with soul, or shimmer with fragility. The music is also interweaved with bird song and a variety of uh’s, oh’s and ah’s which reveal the pleasure that primitive sound can conjure. If not lyrically, then certainly with the range of emotions his voice conveys, Napoleon IIIrd is comparable to great British pop eccentrics such as David Byrne or David Bowie. In fact the plaintive nature of the lyrics adds to the overriding tension of the album, striving to create something transcendental, but ultimately realising the struggle and inevitable failure of this. The lyrics to stand out track ‘Rough Music’ encapsulate this sentiment when it is sung that ‘heaven is just for creeps and weirdo’s, find yourself a partner and settle down.’
It is a stunning album that reveals more hidden depths and pleasures with each listen, and elevates Napoleon IIIrd’s status as one of British pop’s most beguiling artists.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
In which the Bomb examines the work of someone who we believe embodies the Indie spirit; someone who inspires us to do what we do and is an example to all Indie lovers out there. Chances are they’ve stayed under the mainstream radar. Perhaps they’re a bit odd. Or too awkward. Or just not willing to play the game. But through their work they continue to set an example of what independently minded people can achieve. They’re Legends basically. If you’ve got someone you’d like to nominate or write about, please get in touch. This issue Dean Freeman looks at ARAB STRAP
Malcolm Middleton: ‘We left Go Beat! because we thought it would kill us, as a band. And unbelievably, Chemikal Underground said they wanted to do another album with us. Held out a lifeline, which was unexpected. So it just felt good. There wasn’t any pressure, just a keenness to do another Arab Strap record…‘
So begins the 2nd phase of Arab Strap as they return to Chemikal Underground where they would live out the rest of their career. The Red Thread (2001) also sees the beginning of much greater experimentation in styles. Whilst the production values are higher than their earlier work, there is perhaps a more complex and peculiar mood created, a sign of their growing musical skills. ‘It was recorded in winter time so… dark and gloomy and reverb-y. I think it’s our darkest album, not lyrically but definitely musically.' Certainly the echo chamber tense build of ‘The Long Sea’ owed something to former label mates Mogwai and the groaning organ of ‘Last Orders’ grinds away under Malcolm’s chiming reverb-heavy guitar to unsettling effect. But in the slightly cleaner beats of ‘Turbulence’ and the beautiful strings of ‘Haunt Me’ we can see a slightly more grown up and, possibly mature version of the band. Whereas once Aidan would dispose of former conquests with direct vitriol “The words that you used to think turned me on just made me laugh - "Do you want to suck my cunt?" in real life just sounds naff.”(Piglet, from Philophobia) Here we see a more sombre reflection, a more aged and disengaged look at failing relationships “It wasn't long ago, we went on guided tours / But I forgot what it meant, to pretend my hand is you” (Amor Veneris). And even the violence seems somehow more elegant in couplets like: “She hardly said a word again tonight, I threw a book and grabbed my keys. And on the way here I swore to myself, I'd fuck whoever I please.”(Scenery). In fact that song contains possibly the first bona fide chorus of their career thus far with the swooping harp and optimistic thrust of its refrain: “Everywhere I go, there's so much on show / Everyone is beautiful, and I stay dutiful.” The Strap of old are still clear throughout, thrillingly so on ‘The Love Detective’ as Aidan reverts to spoken word mode of old to describe snooping around whilst his girlfriend was at work and finding “some kind of sex diary”, all delivered over a bouncy new wave film noir soundtrack.
‘The Red Thread’ was, and still is, Arab Strap’s biggest selling album. It was generally well received in the press, but to some it was perceived as the ‘same old thing’, a criticism also fired at some of their Chemikal Underground peers around the same time. Which is odd, considering those albums - Mogwai – Rock Action (2001) BIS – Return to Central (2001) & The Delgados – Hate (2002) – were radical departures from their early work. Basically, the spotlight had moved and media darlings they no longer were.
Red Thread follow up ‘Monday at the Hug and Pint’ (2003) is an expansive album, opening with 3 utterly disparate tracks; ‘The Shy Retirer’ ‘one of the best things we ever did, it was like a continuation of ‘first big weekend’ with its pounding, excitable descriptions of a night on the town, or as Aiden spits, ‘The Cunted Circus’ (initially offered up as the album title, perhaps the only time Chemikal held them back…) which is followed by the delicate and aching ‘Meanwhile at the bar, a drunkard muses’, which may sound like a parody of a Arab Strap title, but once again, Aiden’s growing maturity wraps the event in the real wistful sadness found at the bar stool of many local pubs. The booming floor toms of ‘Fucking Little Bastards’ break the gentle spell launching into a progressive structure of angered noisy making, Malcolm really piling the noise on. He explains: ‘I think we were trying to be eclectic but every time we did it just sounded like Arab Strap again. If we tried to do a reggae album it’d still sound like Arab Strap. I think by that point we knew we couldn’t change anyone’s perceptions.’
But perhaps accepting this actually allowed the band more freedom. ‘Hug & Pint’ is their most diverse album that builds on their previous work, displaying real flair and confidence. And for the first time, many tracks here sound like the work of a ‘full band’, the band augmented by Jenny Reeve and Allan Wylie on cello and violin, revealing a full, colourful sound of real depth. And warmth too, for this album sees the first appearance of what I like to call ‘Romantic Aiden’ – that is, songs celebrating love, albeit despite of the hurt and anguish it has caused. Though in his solo career this version of Aidan is now his default setting, at the time it was a significant departure. And rather than describe the minute details of his own incompetence, Aiden begins to dish out wisdom and advice: “sex without love, is a good ride worth trying. But love without sex, is second only to dying” - a certain sense of rising optimism where harsh putdowns and stinging, regret once lay. Most telling of all is the second to last track ‘The Week Never Starts Round Here’, during which Malcolm sings “Easy come, easy gone, kiss a girl then write a song / Enjoy it while you can, cause it wont last long / The week never starts round here, you raise your cider, I’ll raise my beer”. An ode to their younger days? Arab Strap were growing up, but growing stronger too, this being the work a million miles from the first album that song references’. But, unknown to their audience, this is perhaps where the rot set in. ‘I think that album was when we started to do more ‘song’ based songs, with a verse, chorus etc. Beginning of the end.’
The Last Romance (2006) was their last studio album
RB:Did you know it was your last when you started?
Malcolm: No, it’s called last romance because Aiden was basically saying to his new girlfriend this was the last time he was going to romance anyone coz he would be with her forever. The thing about it which I don’t like is that usually a lot of the stuff we made up in the studio, but for this we did demos for every song. It was the first time we’d done that. And so we went to the studio and basically just re-recorded, so there was no enjoyment whatsoever.
M:Yeah, and that was the first time we felt money restraints from Chemikal, so I didn’t enjoy it.
RB: It sounds like a full circle / back to drum, guitar basic, but actually it was the opposite end of the spectrum emotionally?
M: Yeah, I mean we didn’t know it was the end, I loved touring that record and playing the songs live, we got another guitar player in for the first time, and songs like, ‘if there’s no hope‘… ‘stink‘, I love that one, ‘dream sequence’ was the best song there for the sound of it, so I do like some individual songs but I just think as an album, I think it lost a lot of the things I thought were important to AS. The build up. the atmosphere, the mood.
Their last album was their shortest, their poppiest and their most accessible. In fact, a very strong argument could be made that the best way to approach Arab Strap would be to listen to their albums in reverse order. First single ‘Dream Sequence’ is one of their best; a simple, melodic and energetic bounce based around a classic piano riff with Aiden darkly musing “and when I wake up stiff, please just feel free to use me / then go to work and let me wonder, what it was that made you choose me”. Despite opening, as usual, with an affronting lyric (“burn these sheets that we just fucked in / my weekend beacon, I’ve been sucked in”) the album is genuinely uplifting and forward looking. Funny too.
But it was to be their swansong. The band split shortly afterwards, on apparently amicable terms. It’s just another thing I love and admire about them; it didn’t drag on to long and they quit whilst they were still ahead. Both have gone on to have wonderful solo careers – Malcolm perfecting his forever defeated, angered introspection into brilliant pop songs and Aidan experimenting with spoken word albums and Valentines day odes. My pick of the bunch is Malcolms ‘Into The Woods’ and Aidans ‘How To Get To Heaven From Scotland’.
Arab Strap are many things, and certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but they are certainly unique. At the time, when I first heard them, I was astounded and intrigued by the detail and despair of Aiden’s lyrics. At a time when I was growing out of traditional ‘rock’ and embracing new, more cerebral forms, the two most important bands were Mogwai, whose mostly instrumental music says, literally, nothing, whilst Arab Strap seemed to say everything. Jarvis Cocker has said that he was disillusioned in his youth to find out that ‘love’ bore no relation to what the people in the pop charts sung about, and instead tried to communicate something closer to the truth. Well, if that was truth, Aidens lyrics dealt with a hyper truth, a pure bare bones honesty that revelled in the darkest themes – not a poetic or a literary account, but in the language we use every day. That is such a difficult thing to achieve; to keep it interesting and engaging (especially over 6 albums) whilst also fitting it into the increasingly ‘pop’ structures the band came up with. For many, music is an escapism. For a listener to Arab Strap, it’s a journey into a world we can partly recognise, but, for the majority at least, choose to shy away from.
For the first timer, go see ‘The First Big Weekend’, their one and only ‘hit’, but a perfect example of where they are coming from. For an album, get ‘Philophobia’, but be prepared to put a bit of time in. Alternatively, get ’10 years of Tears’, their career retrospective. You could have all 6 studio albums, but you’ll still only own 3 of 21 the tracks on it; yet through its alternative versions, B-sides, Peel sessions, and non album singles, it tells the full story of their development, whilst highlighting a sense of fun that you may have otherwise not suspected.
Another reason Arab Strap were fantastic were that they catered to their fans. Unlike many of their mid 90’s peers, they did not embrace the new form of releasing 2 or 3 versions of the same single, encouraging hardcore fans to buy them all for the b-sides and often rubbish remixes to get it higher in the chart. In fact they very rarely released tracks from their albums, meaning that beyond the albums themselves are some absolute gems. ‘Cherubs’ EP is devastating and utterly beautiful, ‘The Shy Retirer EP’ contains some fantastic covers and a brilliant remix. ‘Here We Go’ single is worth it for it’s B-side alone - ‘Trippy’ - the bonkers 12 minute plus ‘missing chapter’ to ‘Trainspotting’. Whether people will bother to collect these records now, when so easily available on iTunes et al is debatable, but personally I will always treasure them, in their beautiful sleeves, so full of memories and feelings. I recommend you start your collection today
Monday, 13 December 2010
MARK LANEGAN – KINGDOMS OF RAIN
We start Side B as we ended Side A, with a cut from 1993’s “Whiskey For The Holy Ghost”, namely “Kingdoms Of Rain”. On the original Lanegan is backed on the chorus by the female vocals of Sloan Johnson. At this point in the article I’m sure many of you are thinking that Lanegan is a man with a woman in every port. So it may come as some surprise to hear the version of “Kingdoms Of Rain” that appears on Soul Savers 2007’s “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land”, where the backing vocals are male and the acoustic guitar parts are played on a piano. More on the Soul Savers later though, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
MARK LANEGAN – ONE WAY STREET
2001’s “Field Songs” opens with “One Way Street”, and as with many of Lanegan’s songs, the lyrics find him confessional mood as he sings “I drink so much sour whiskey I can hardly see.” Vocally there are once again nods to Chris Rea, as the bluesy qualities in Lanegan’s voice become more prevalent.
MARK LANEGAN - DON’T FORGET ME
I find that “Don’t Forget Me” is one of the few tracks on from Lanegan’s solo career that could easily have come from the Grunge-era which he is often associated with. Admittedly I’m thinking more of the Unplugged concerts of Alice In Chains or Nirvana, but the roots are definitely there for me
SOUL SAVERS – DEATH BELLS
Having tried to keep tabs on any releases bearing Lanegan’s name on the credits since “Ballad Of The Broken Seas” I snapped up Soul Savers third album, “Broken”, as soon as I practically could, following its release in 2009. With a list of guest vocalists including Mike Patton and Richard Hawley “Broken” could easily have found its way into my record collection sometime in the future had it not featured Lanegan. As it is he appears on ten of the album’s fourteen compositions, from which I have selected “Death Bells” and “Rolling Sky”.
“Death Bells” is an upbeat rocker, with an underbelly of electronica, despite its downbeat title. The menacing mimicry of Lanegan’s delivery of the chorus is provided by Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes, a man whose guest appearance on Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” is surely one of the highlights of 90’s rock nights.
SOUL SAVERS – ROLLING SKY
After that, a change of pace and a lengthy running time is what the doctor ordered. “Rolling Sky” is one of four tracks on the album to feature the sublime vocals of Rosa Agostino. Here she duets with Lanegan over layers of screaming, brass infused, jazz, which conjures up a nightmarish feeling of being trapped in a claustrophobic, smoky room. Or is that just me?
In August of 2009 I found myself once again watching Lanegan in Bramham Park on a Sunday night at Leeds Festival, where he took to the Festival Republic Stage (Essentially The Carling Stage rebadged) with Soul Savers. Sadly, despite Faith No More playing straight after them less than 100m away, Mike Patton didn’t take to the stage to recreate his vocals on “Unbalanced Pieces”. Nonetheless their set was one of my personal highlights of the festival.
MARK LANEGAN – I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU
At the same time as I purchased Broken I managed to get Lanegan’s 1999 covers album “I’ll Take Care Of You” for next to nothing from the now defunct Head. The title track and “Creeping Coastline Of Lights” both appear here. I like to think that Isobel Campbell heard said title track prior to deciding to collaborate with Lanegan, echoes of his version of Brook Benton’s song can certainly be heard in my earlier selection, “Come On Over Turn Me On”.
MARK LANEGAN – CREEPING COASTLINE OF LIGHTS
“Creeping Coastline Of Lights”, meanwhile, with its ‘vibes’ (I’m guessing that it’s a glockenspiel or xylophone) courtesy of former Screaming Tree Barrett Martin, harks back to a different age. The lyrics tell of ‘Leaving Hollywood, sunset to the sea, where the waves ride in horses’ and seem highly appropriate given Lanegan’s frequent references to the sea. As he sings the words ‘Creeping coastline of lights’, his voice transports you to such a place in a time of glamour, the 1950’s perhaps. But it’s glamour that he seeks solace from.
Many covers albums have the feel of being a mere punctuation in an artists career, “I’ll Take Care Of You”, for me, sees Lanegan performing at his peak and, as with much of his work, introduces you to new names and sounds. Would I have had the joy of discovering The Afghan Whigs if I had not first heard The Gutter Twins for example? The next album that would find its way into my collection featuring his vocals would see one of Lanegan’s own songs being covered.
SOUL SAVERS – REVIVAL
In a roundabout way my passion for cycling saw me making my first trip to Wakefield’s Drury Lane Library for several years. In there to borrow a book on bicycle maintenance I decided to browse the audio and visual section as well. It was all a long way from the last time I’d been in there, with the music section scaled down to make way for DVDs and PCs, but there were still some excellent albums to select from, Soul Savers 2007 release “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land” being one of them.
The album saw Lanegan collaborating with Soul Savers for the first time and included the version of “Kingdoms Of Rain” I mentioned earlier. However, as that song appears on the mix tape in its original format I don’t wish to take up space with two versions. Besides there are even greater pleasures to be found on this album.
“Revival” is a glorious piece, with Lanegan being joined by a gospel choir. Musically it never strays too far from its core, why would you though with something so effective?
SOUL SAVERS – SPIRITUAL
“Spiritual” also finds Soul Savers exploring religious territory. In sharp contrast to “Revival” this is a million miles away from the huge sounds of celebratory choirs. Instead Lanegan sings alone, appealing directly to Jesus when he expresses ‘I don’t wanna die alone’. It’s achingly beautiful, and despite me not being a religious man, I can’t fail to be moved by Josh Haden’s composition and Lanegan’s delivery.
ISOBEL CAMPBELL & MARK LANEGAN – TIME OF THE SEASON
My next choice is purely based upon the fact that it is a Christmas song, as I write the recent snowfall shows no sign of retreating, so there really is no better time to listen to “Time Of The Season”. Taken from this year’s “Hawk”, it sees Isobel Campbell and Lanegan renewing their vows as it were.
When I first started listening to Lanegan I never thought for one minute I’d be able to associate him with Boney M, but one listen to him and Campbell singing ‘That Christmas song by Boney M, The deejay at the local station played it’ plants a mental image that’s impossible to erase. It certainly raised a smile on my face.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – THIS LULLABY
So, the year is nearly over and so is this mix tape. As is so often the case with these exercises you try and plan your choices wisely, but there is almost inevitably an awkward gap at the end of the tape that usually requires an extremely short song or nothing at all. Well, here at the Bomb we aim to please. I wasn’t going to include a song by either Screaming Trees or Queens Of The Stone Age, simply because they are the bands that Lanegan is associated with that enjoy the highest profiles and this mix tape was designed to draw attention to his solo career and subsequent collaborations. Still, at one minute and twenty-three seconds “Lullaby”, the opening track from QOTSA’s “Lullabies To Paralyze”, was almost custom built for such a space. Besides, with only an acoustic guitar and some whispers from Josh Homme as backing, this is a track that frames Lanegan’s voice perfectly, enjoy.
My final selection also brings things full circle; it was through Queens Of The Stone Age that I discovered Mark Lanegan. However, my journey continues. I’m still to purchase “Scraps At Midnight” and to this day I kick myself for failing to get a ticket for his solo show at Brudenell Social Club this year (That’s what happens when you leave it to the week of the gig!). But the show was recorded and subsequently sold later on in the tour, if anybody reading this has a copy I’d love to hear it.
I sincerely hope this mix tape goes on a journey of its own; I’m simply going to pass it on to a friend and hope that they do the same. Who knows - it could find its way into your hands one day…
In the new Issue (1.4) we interviews Tim of St Gregory Orange and mentioned you could hear his exclusive live rendition of one of the new songs off the forthcoming album on our new podcast - a special where Tim and myself play our favourite B-Sides. Well, its coming along, but there has been a bit of a delay... massive technical problems. It will be along soon enough though, do not worry. We will announce it on here, and on the facebook too, so keep yr eyes peeled.
A boy waking up and getting ready for school, a man waking up at 6am thinking “Christ I could do with an extra couple of hours”. To me, these days are the ones that you don't remember, the ones that you're generally annoyed about. For the past week I haven't been able to concentrate on anything else other than what Constellations had in store for me.
I wake up, a grin sweeps over my face, I leap out of bed, shit, I'm having a 'fat day'. Where the hell are my clean clothes?! I knew I shouldn't have stayed up so late watching Sean Bean movies and eating dry sugar puffs. I'm on the bus, I sit next to a middle aged man who seems to have a vendetta against life. He squirms, my headphones blast out some Sky Larkin, Broken Social Scene and, for good measure, a bit of Biggie Smalls. Dear reader, you must know before reading the rest of this review that Broken Social Scene are my favourite band. I get off the bus and stroll towards a fellow constellationite's car.
I arrive - I'm so early, I must fill my gutty wuts with chips, chicken and garlic mayo; today is going to be long. Where else can you drink lager comfortably before 1pm other than a festival? Now you must know, given it is a festival review, there are bands I can and cannot see. This is my Constellations festival.
Firstly, 'Runaround Kids' who are getting a lot of positive feedback, hit the stage with lead singer George suffering from an “intensely warm fever”; nevertheless the performance was as consistent as when they wooed over Leeds/Reading festival goers early this year. It was lovely and shambolic, grungy and a perfect way to start my day. Next 'Dog is Dead' who seem to have brought another 50 people to the room; they rock out some sweet harmonies, horns and the like. A really enjoyable listen. Next are 'Superhumanoids' which was literally like walking into a party at it's peak. I really like this band, they are electronic, fuzzy, harmonic and give you the chance to close your eyes and imagine you're somewhere else. Next on the list is lager, cigarette, quick toilet break, and the inevitable question, what shall I have to eat at lunch time, “ohh look its buy one get one free on fish and chips” done.
Next band, 'Sky Larkin' who have been busy busy busy this year bringing out their new album 'Kaleide'. They have just finished their UK tour and have announced a North American tour with 'Blood Red Shoes' and not to mention before the end of this year they will be releasing a new E.P and touring with 'Les Savy Fav' and 'Frightenned Rabbit'. This is the point of the festival where you realise the bigger bands are coming. Now I'm always one for small bands, I thrive off searching for the new 'thing' but you honestly can't beat a bigger band at a small festival especially as captivating as Sky Larkin. 'Local Natives' burst out onto the stage, I'd previously listened to them and was very excited to see them live. They didn't disappoint. Thudding drums, harmonies, poppy, folky and brilliant. At this point of the night, everyone is racking their brains thinking “what on earth, shall I see to cap off my day”. I opted for the nostalgic 'Los Campesinos' who reminded me that my musical taste has overlooked them and outgrown my younger self. They were good, don't get me wrong but they are becoming so pretentious it's cringe worthy. They have a longer set which dreads me to think it has cut short Broken.
I think this calls for a new paragraph, I run for a cigarette, I enter and receive lots of free beer as a band didn't drink their rider, I'm on a balcony for heavens sake and about to watch my favourite band 'Broken Social Scene', things couldn't get any better. I'm like that school kid that everybody hated, that one who brought mini jaffa cakes and jam sandwiches and monster munch for his lunch, with a capri sun and some cola. Some kids have it lucky and this was my 'being a twat but loving it' moment. I think when they hit the stage it was like a blur. Their new album 'Forgiveness Rock Record' has been stuck in my mind for a good while. Their previous albums have shaped their sound and structure of song writing. You will never see something more enjoyable live. Fact. They are tight, memorising, enticing, wonderfully brilliant, not to mention a guest performance from Jonny Marr which leaves everyone thinking “what the fuck just happened”. They top off my month let alone my day. It's winding down and now all that there is left to do is find your chosen drinking spot and talk about the days events. All in all a very enjoyable festival. I’m off next year.
Issue 1.4 of Rhubarb Bomb has now arrived. First up, i want to reiterate what i say in the editorial; it's been a great year for us, we feel we've really taken the Bomb somehwere different and interesting, and will continue to do so in the new year. So thank you to you all for your continuing support.
In this issue we have features / articles / interviews with the usual mis match of interesting characters including Pulled Apart By Horses, Allo Darlin' at their last gig of the year, Mark Lanegan, Wakefield Legends Pylon, Being 747, St Gregoryt Orange, Arab Strap & Malcolm Middleton alongside the usual bits and pieces.
As of tonight it will be available in WAKEFIELD: The Hop, Henry Boons, Inns of Court, Trad Music, The Art House, Balne Lane Library LEEDS: Jumbo Records, Crash Records, Nation of Shopkeepers, Adelphi, Carpe Diem, Brudenell Social Club, The Hop, The Packhorse, Dry Dock, Paper Scissor Stone, North Bar, Birds Yard HUDDERSFIELD: Wall of Sound GLASGOW: Avalanche Records LONDON: The Windmill (Brixton). More will follow in due course!
Hope you enjoy the issue
Dean Freeman x
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Which is a silly way of saying: here is our first Video Review of a recent gig at The Hop, in Wakefield of a brilliant gig featuring Allo Darlin, The Protectors, Standard Fare & The Spills. We hope you like it. If you do, we'll do some more. Its not meant to be serious, kinda quick and fun. Enjoy!
I first decided to listen to Low when I saw a link to them on Mogwai’s website. The detail was annotated with the comment ‘in a perfect world, they would be everybody’s favourite band’. How could I resist?
Now, many years later I’m a dedicated fan, and occasionally those words come back to me, as they did was I watched them recently at Brudenell. There is something quite perfect about the band and the music they make; understated, simple and achingly beautiful. They appeal to both the heart AND the head, which is rare too, and it’s dark and quiet and slow, but they have a sense of humour to match the tender heartbreak.
For those unaware of them up until this point, they immerged in the 90’s and came to represent the genre of ‘Slowcore’, a term they, naturally, hated. Amongst the dirgy, noisy grunge bands they purposefully played incredibly quiet, slow and ponderous music, to piss people off more than anything. At early gigs played in raucous redneck bars, when struggling to be heard over the jukeboxes, pinball machines and rambunctious audience, they would actually turn DOWN. But the joke kinda worked, and the wonderful music they created was extremely minimalist, but with a unique ear for melody, the focus of which was the beautiful harmonies between Guitarist / Singer Alan Sparhawk and Drummer / Singer Mimi Parker.
Having taken that idea as far as they felt they could over increasingly brilliant albums, they have, over the last 4 or 5 years, very successfully reinvented their sound with drum machines, organs, and, god forbid, distortion. But shows, such as this one always feature the bare bones of the band and as such it’s fantastic to hear some of the newer songs as they were probably written. Tonight Low are not promoting anything in particular but are apparently gearing up for a new record (Wikipedia has them down for an album in 2011 called ‘C’mon’ but I cant find anything else about it, bar a small announcement on their own site). So we get some songs that are either incredibly old or brand new – I’m not entirely sure. They treat us to a 12 minute run through of ‘Lullaby’ from their debut album, a perfect example of their early sound and approach. It was brilliant to see the usually bouncing Brudenell entranced in near silence – wonderful. See the video below, and you’ll see you could’ve heard the proverbial pin drop (though in this case its ‘glass smash’.)
Elsewhere we were treated to astounding run through of more recent material, ‘Monkey’ being the most special, as well gentle renditions of tracks from their last album ‘Drums & Guns’ (see 'Violent Past'). That genuinely unique atmosphere Low create was in full flow tonight, and they seemed in good spirits too.
It’s a hard gig to review really, coz basically they play slow and beautiful music and create a wonderful, warm feeling in the room. I had a fantastic night, despite been heavily jetlagged. Perhaps it was that state of tired confusion that led me back to the original Mogwai quote. Low are really not most people’s cup of tea I would say. They are the ultimate slow burners. And at the core of everything they do, I can’t help but find some kind of perfection. What a wonderful world it would be if they WERE everyone’s favourite band…
We Are Scientists are one of the few American bands that have found far more success in Europe than they have in their own country. The band have a geeky charm without trying to be too cool which makes them appeal to the British crowd, and in Keith Murray they have a frontman who has made a seamless transition from behind the drum kit.
Kicking off with a blistering version of Nice Guys from their latest album Barbara, Murray and Chris Cairn immediately took hold of the vociferous Leeds crowd. Unfortunately drummer Andy Burrows was not there, having been replaced by Danny Allen for the tour due to commitments with I Am Arrows.
They set the tone for the night when they play a track from their other two major albums-Brain, Thrust, Mastery and With Love and Squalor-within the first three songs of the night. The first half of the set continued with a couple of tracks from Barbara, which they followed up with crowd favourite, The Scene Is Dead their own swipe at hipster culture in their home city of New York.
Murray was then replaced on guitar by the guitarist from support band Rewards as he serenaded the audience during the brilliant Textbook. With Murray back on guitar We Are Scientists hammered out a punked up version of their ode to drinking, Jack and Ginger, which sounded amazing.
The band finished their regular set with After Hours and The Great Escape which drew great receptions from the crowd as they are two of their biggest hits to date. We Are Scientists then came out for an encore, firstly playing Dinosaurs, then ending the night with fan favourite and highlight of the evening, the sublime Cash Cow.
We Are Scientists may well be a band of geeks but they put on an excellent show and you’re guaranteed a good night if you see them, it is also this unashamed lack of ‘cool’ that makes them so great.
Photos by Danny Payne
Thursday, 25 November 2010
In celebration of the new, and final 2010 issue of Rhubarb Bomb, we are opening the doors to Cafe Rhubarb for the first time. Cafe Rhubarb is a small gaelic cafe where all kinds of creative and interesting people can come to meet friends, discuss the latest music, drink fine wine or just simply find a quiet corner and read the latest issue in peace. Often gigs can be loud and sweaty, and you dont get chance to just HANGOUT. Cafe... Rhubarb is a more laidback affair. Gentle music in the background. Candles in wine bottles on tables. Friendly waiters to show you to your table. Its at the end of an exciting weekend of gigs...so why not come down and let us know what you've been up to?
In honour of this more relaxed, social vibe, we have lined up 4 rather special acts, all of whom will be performing unplugged. There's no stage / audience divide at Cafe Rhubarb, they just find a spot in the Cafe and sing their songs. We're proud to present:
Your attentive and hard working waiting staff take time out from their busy duties to entertain you with the traditional music of their youth.
TIM METCALFE (ST GREGORY ORANGE)
Tim takes time out from the recording of the new St Gregory Orange album to give us a sneak preview of some of those tracks, as well as others from his plethora of side projects and pseudonyms. A very rare acoustic only gig from the Ex-Lapel.
RAN TAN WALTZ
The Ran Tan boys punk spirited classic noise making will be presented in a totally new light tonight, playing some tracks from their upcoming split EP on Philophbia music.
JAMIE LOCKHART (MI MYE)
The loveliest man we know will perform tracks from his recently released, and fantastic, album 'Senc to the Shaking', as well as some much newer stuff. We've had a sneaky peak of said new tracks, and the stripped down, fiddle and vocal approach is totally amazing.
THIS EVENT IS A CELEBRATION OF RHUBARB BOMB ISSUE 1.4. IT'S BEEN A REALLY COOL YEAR FOR US. WE WANT PEOPLE TO COME DOWN, TALK GOOD MUSIC AND LOOK FORWARD TO ALL THE EXCITING THINGS NEXT YEAR WILL BRING. THIS EVENT IS FREE ENTRY, COZ WE WANT YOU TO BE THERE x
Thursday, 14 October 2010
If you’re unfamiliar with Mi Mye then I’ll inform you that they consist of Wakefield musical journeyman Jamie Lockhart and his ever-changing collection of talented musicians creating the type of music that would’ve persuaded Adolf Hitler to forget about invading countries, put down his copy of Mein Kampf and instead rush to the nearest charity shop and buy some extra woolly jumpers so that he could be cosy for the coming winter months. Yes, they are that infective.
Tonight is their album launch. Their album, incidentally, is wonderful and upon entrance we are very generously given a small piece of card with URL address scribbled on it so that we can download it for free when we get home.
As it is Mi Mye’s launch night it is they who have picked the supports, the first of which being Tiny Planets. Tiny Planets used to exude an aural/aesthetic oxymoron reflective of their name, in that they sounded like a juggernaut and looked like fairly pleasant indie boys. They still have a big sound, but they sound happier. The only time I had previously seen Tiny Planets I noted how grungy they were, where as now their influences seem to come more locally. A more anthemic Orange Juice perhaps. Definitely not a bad thing.
The second support comes from London where Adam Killip of The Tailors has kindly ventured north to play an acoustic gig. A friend of Mi Mye, and indeed most of the attendees, Killip draws a dedicated, polite and attentive audience to the front of the room and (a little pet-hate of mine) a less attentive bunch that loiter at the back and decide to talk throughout the performance. Note to gig-goers – if you want to talk during an acoustic concert then please fuck off outside. The words being sung on stage are usually more relevant than the vacuous chitter-chatter about whatever pointless bollocks you have indulged in during the previous wearisome week.
Milk White Teeth are one of those bands that don’t lend themselves to venues like the Hop. Not from a musical standpoint, but rather because there are shit loads of them and the stage at The Hop is quite small. Also, because there are shit loads of them with numerous instruments, they are potentially open to Arcade Fire comparisons, which aren’t a bad thing for most people, but are to me. Milk White White Teeth had much more of a groove though, which in my humble opinion gives them the edge. High praise indeed, for most people.
Next up are Fonda 500. Its many years since I last saw this band and I’d forgotten how mesmerisingly brilliant they are. I don’t usually make outrageous statements and I have never once indulged in hyperbole, but I’m now going to make two proclamations of unquestionable accuracy.
1) Fonda 500 feature the best ever sitting-down frontman. He can sing, which helps, but he also has unique charisma. Singer Simon Stone wears Mickey Mouse ears, acts like the gig is a tiresome business meeting and treats us to dour deadpan jokes such as his opening gambit to this Wakefield audience (“Give me a W; Give me an A; Give me a N; Give me a K..”).
2) Fonda 500 are the best ever band from Hull. Perhaps I’m wrong about that as I haven’t heard every single band to come from Hull, but I doubt that very much.
When Mi Mye finally return to the stage, as the smaller hours approach, it becomes apparent that the band have somewhat returned to their former guise. With musicians spilling off the stage it was a wonder no-one lost a tooth due to a swinging guitar or violin bow.
The last time I saw Mi Mye it was mostly just Jamie and Rob Slater from The Spills – an almost punked version of the usual celtic/country sound. This time around a lot of the old faces have returned. It’s a tribute to Jamie that he can still drag musicians from literally all over the country, many of them busy in other successful bands. As ever the songs seem very personal to Jamie, but it seems the audience hold them dear also. Maybe if they pick up a guitar a fiddle they could join Mr Lockhart on stage.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Complete sellout. (Co) Writer of some brilliant comedies, The Young Ones, Blackadder etc and political stand up who stuck it to Thatcher in the 80's before turning completely shit, becoming the safest most 'establishment' figure of his generation, writing indefensible musical 'We Will Rock You' and betraying everything he (allegedly) ever stood for. He also became, briefly, a massive selling author, with his book ‘Popcorn’. I read one of his later novels 'Dead Famous' which was a weak riff on what was then the new phenomena of 'Big Brother' and thought it was poorly written, quickly knocked off rubbish with terrible dialogue and characters. As a man, a blueprint for selling your soul.
I last recall seeing him co host a 'comedy' show called 'Get a Grip' in which he bemoaned the state of the 'modern world' with such foax enragement that it would likely be described by Elton himself as 'Saaaaad maaaaan' with an unclear amount of irony and even less relevance.
Is hatred of Ben Elton simply a facet of modern life, a shared joke amongst the nation and a measure of ones comedic appreciation, or is he actually, beyond some dodgy associations, a decent and important comedian?
'One Night Stand' is a series of Comedy Roadshow type events which feature a big name performing and then introducing the lesser known acts. The first was headlined by non other than Mr Ben Elton himself. His quick intro concludes with a 'turning around and walking into the door - Ow! – I’ve hurt my nose' gag. Like a lot of his work tonight, it’s kind of ironic without the irony. Like he is making a relation to a tired and formulaic style, but without expanding or explaining it... so just 'doing it'. Am I reading too much into this? As the credits roll and I see this man described as the 'Godfather of Alternative Comedy' and my toes curl.
Instead of jumping straight to the gig, we bear witness to the pointless exercise of Ben Elton going back to his childhood home. 'Oh look they've paved the garden' he quips. Whilst snooping round his old school he comments that in his day the only choice they had was orange or lime squash, whilst 'nowadays' (a favourite prefix of his) they have 'Lilt injected intravenous into their veins'. What kind of in depth social commentary is this? Pleasingly a teacher confirms its still orange squash for her kids.
So what’s this all about? Well, the venue for the gig tonight is in his old stomping ground, so it’s clearly to add a bit of local flavour and interest. Not because this is produced by DAVE and they can’t afford the likes of BBC’s Apollo. No, local flavour, don’t forget that. And don’t forget its DAVE either. It’s unlikely since Elton mentions it every few seconds, though its clearly in the contract. One day it'll be really old fashioned to moan about sponsorship like this, but it really sucks some of the fun out of it. It’s the kinda thing you imagine Elton would like to be perceived to be against, yet once again, doesn’t manage to pull it off in reality.
His material follows a similar vein, a mix between old school audience pleasing and attempting to be seen as tackling 'edgy' topics without ever making any kind of point. He doesn’t avoid getting a cheap audience 'Woo!' out of mentioning 'Catford', though that'll pass since its his home town. He delivers a simple exploration of town names and their meaning before astounding us with the revelation that 'I’m feigning ignorance for comic effect because that’s what comedians do'. It’s a typical Elton premise, somehow suggesting, in post modern style, he is well versed in the comedic language (which he undoubtedly is) without actually elaborating or subverting it. Just stating it. It allows him to delve forth with an historical lesson in the town names true origin that just makes him come across like an office bore, overly pleased with the sound of his own voice.
'Marketing is the modern disease' he rants 'everyone thinks rebranding is the substance - its not – it’s meaningless'. He is fond of these sweeping truths. He sounds like he is putting a mad world to rights, but is not saying anything at all. How does he back up this audacious claim? 'KFC is Shit'. Great point there. Another ridiculous modern thing?! 'What a piece of wank that is'. You tell em Ben! Its well wank, that thing you mentioned! Lazy. He also 'tackles' creationism, which is to say he makes some very old and tired points. It’s like he wants to be the kind of comedian that tackles high concepts, but has nothing of real substance to say.
The first genuine moment comes as he lists with mock contempt the names people give their children 'these days'. Same old crap, 'Brooklyn', 'Chardonnay'; laughing at celebrities children names. But then he reminds us that nowadays people even name TV Channels 'Dave'. Its not a throwaway gag, there's a real suggestion of spite in there somewhere. Maybe its call back to his earlier over mention of it, but whatever, it gets the biggest cheer of the evening.
After the other two comedians, he returns with the horrifying line 'Given my reputation, I guess I should touch on politics'. Reputation? He's not clueless, he know people hate him, in televised interviews he has put this down to one thing: jealousy. What crazy reality is this, where he is known for his presumably insightful and perhaps incendiary political statements? We were about to find out.
Well, turns out that he thinks the Cameron’s seem like nice people 'just a shame they're fucking Tories'. His political insights themselves consist of a really really laboured Pull and Reveal joke about Nick Clegg being like a baby. And that’s it. In a terrible link he moves to the amount of ladies toilets in theatre venues across the country, BECAUSE THATS A POLITCAL ISSUE. And, coincidentally, whether he realises it or not, the toilet is firmly where his 'political reputation' belongs.
His 'fact' stating ('everyone is obsessed with themselves', 'no-one knows how to grow old gracefully these days') followed by lame observation / justification formula quickly become tired and only really offers an insight into his own fractured view on himself, more than the world. He says, come February, he will have been in the business for 30 years, which receives applause. But he hasn’t gigged for 5 years. And how much in the last 15 years? So it’s not 30 years. I haven’t ridden a Skateboard for ten years, but if I jumped on one now does that mean I’ve been in the skateboarding scene for ten years. Why mention it? Rather self obsessed Ben? Well, that’s people these days int it.
I could say it’s hard to judge - would he really have the incentive to work hard and produce great work for a Dave comeback? But if not, why bother? I really don’t think he needs the cash. I think reputation, as mentioned, may be a key reason. He hasn’t 'sold out' here, to do that he could have easily mined his illustrious career, especially his time in the 80's for some well received nostalgia. Instead, he attempts to emulate the part of him that he wants people to remember; the man tackling awkward issues with a 'right on' attitude, sticking it to 'the man' and all that. But it’s completely empty of meaning and sadly I think that sums up the man pretty well. His delivery in this show was not of a man repeating the same old schtick - he was pacey and energetic and animated - but it did stink of going through the motions. He's not a comedian that likes to involve the audience. You feel that whether there are laughs or not, he would continue in the same way, the same relentless, exasperated manner, suggesting that the pleasure is all his, the enjoyment in showing people how clever he is. It wasn’t as awful as I had expected, and the passion and energy pulled him through, but any closer inspection reveals that those features are just another element of how he wants to be perceived and nothing to do with the true man himself. Approaching comedy in that manner is never going to result in anything great and as such I still regard Ben Elton as an enemy of art, expression, creativity and honesty. I KNOW YOU BEN ELTON!
Weekend Review: Horsforth Modern Art / Raise The Roof / Freschard + Stanley Brinks / Manic Street Preachers
But this was a little different. It was a lot more cosy and welcoming. The variety of types of work were inspiring and the artists themselves were there to offer insights into their work, which had surrealist touches, but were tied to a more tangible reality, a sense of history and old world running through them that made them accessible. Ian told us about the history involved with a sculpture he had created which included a small Roman broach imbedded into it. Naturally, this made it very expensive. There were lots of works created using found objects and I especially enjoyed the slyly altered countryside maps that were beautifully presented. The whole event did get me pondering about how Art is priced, but my ponderings didn’t get me too far. But it reminded me how important Art is in our lives, and I guess if you are talking value for money, it is something that could last a lifetime. I think it’s important to fill our homes with interesting, creative things, whether they are expensive works of art, or a child’s drawing on the fridge and I found that positive attitude inspiring at HoMA. The night was concluded with Brendon singing a ditty with his Banjo and it was really homely. And so, the exhibition is well worth a visit, even if you're a bit skint, like me.
I then popped across town to the West Indian Community Centre in Chapeltown to attend 'Raise the Roof', which I guess you would say was a 'music event', but only if you were very dull, or at a loss to describe the majesty of what lay within such humble surroundings. We entered to the sounds of Honeydrum, basically about 30 people pounding out rhythms on drums and cowbells whilst people danced around. It was awesome, and with no encouragement the crowd were joining in. I didn’t though, I, erm... had a pint and might have spilt it. It did give me time however to admire the wider spectacle. A massive amount of effort had been put into decorating the room, beautiful banners and Japanese style lampshades, big mushroom chairs and decorated archways beckoning you in. Now, I appreciate you may think, what the hell difference does all that make? Was the music any good? Well it makes the world of difference thank you. It made it feel special and made me feel privileged to be there. It made me feel I was in the hands of interesting, brilliant people, who really care. It made me ashamed that I have ever 'just' put on guitar bands in pubs.
After the excellent performance from the drummers we popped next door to the second room, where we found some rather more electronic beats pumping out. I don’t know the genre, but it sounded fucking cool. It was the start of the night, so it was empty, but I bet it was bouncing in there later on.
Sadly, and in rather boring style, I had to leave early, due to having an early start for work. I was disappointed, as what I'd seen suggested something really positive and massive fun. I missed out on sets by East Park Reggae Collective, Middleman and all kinds of DJ sets, including one by The Sunshine Underground. I did manage to see China Shop Bull, who coincidentally were one of the first bands I reviewed for Rhubarb Bomb, back before the coup, when I was a but an aspirational writer. On that occasion I wasn’t too nice, but they've certainly improved and their heavy Ska / Asian Dub influenced sound was perfect for the occasion.
Next year - must book this off work in advance. Starting at 9pm and ending at 5am... I’m gonna need a long time to recover from that.
Saturday evening i paid a visit to Henry Boons in Wakefield. On the Ride Promotions had organised something a little special in the tiny upstairs room of the pub, and told me I simply must attend. I missed last minute additions to the bill, our old friends IMP, performing what i was informed was a memorable diversion from their usual raucous Indie pop, to a raucous ACOUSTIC Indie pop set.
Main pairing of Clemence Freschard and Stanley Brinks took to the stage next. Freschard, a gently smiling, beautiful and down to earth lady from France played first, Stanley backing her up with some cleverly understated guitar. I love it when artists take the old girl / boy and a guitar and manage to do something special with it. I sit there examining the chords and thinking about the melodies and there's nothing especially clever or innovative, just the bare bones of something unfathomably perfect. In this case, and recently with David Tattersall, on whoms album Freschard recently appeared, the result is utterly captivating. The gentle, genuine approach, the sweet French pronunciations and the intimate surroundings made this a wonderful experience and I could quite happily have sat their and listened to her songs all night.
Stanley Brinks then took to the stage alone for a run through of his songs. A little darker and more solemn in tone, with some quite seedy suggestiveness, if i was hearing things right, it wasn’t quite as effecting as the first half, but still a very delicate lesson in minimalism. The songs were so quiet that you could often hear the music pounding through the floor below. For this was Saturday night in Wakefield. An occasional vision of actual hell. Tonight, On the Ride managed to carve a little bit of bliss amidst the horror of a Wakefield Westgate Weekend and I have to admit, part of me was sat there thinking; there's a French person on stage! That’s how backward things can get here. On The Ride have made my weekend. I leave feeling becalmed and at peace. Then, as I hit the bottom of the stairs and I am faced with the stag and hen and office parties dancing to SHIT and its almost washed away. But not completely.
In true Craig David style, I 'chilled' on Sunday. Well, I worked ten hours, but you know what I mean.
Then Monday night, I made my way up to Leeds Academy to see the Manic Street Preachers. I like the Academy; it’s a great venue to see someone like the Manics in. It’s actually pretty intimate in there, for an Academy type venue and tonight it is sold out. Its just makes for a better Manic’s gig, instead of the arenas they were only half filling five years ago. First up though are British Sea Power who I saw loads years ago, but haven’t seen since their 'Do You Like Rock Music?' album. They were still good, but in a slightly different way. They are more what I would describe as 'Arcade Fire-y' which may be wrong, perhaps more what I expect Arcade Fire to sound like since I’ve never really got into them at all. I always liked BSPs wistful, yearning vocals, which are still present, and it’s a pretty varied set. At their own gig, perhaps at Brudenell, I would have lapped it up. But here, I, and everyone else in the room only want one thing...
The curtain is removed to reveal a bizarre stage set of disco ball mirror covered mannequins, one a full on muscled Mr Universe type, another with an acoustic, sat on the bass amp. Very odd, and funny too, better than a simply recreation of the latest albums artwork. They bounce on stage, Nicky Wire looking the best he has in a decade, with a delightful Leopard skin jacket he picked up during the day. Launching straight into 'You Love Us', 'Your Love Alone' and 'Motorcycle Emptiness' the room is electric. Any fear that the writing and recording of their rather tame, yet passionate, new album 'Postcards From A Young Man' would result in a similar live show are blown out of the water.
As ever, it’s a hit heavy set with a fair mix from all their 10 albums (only 'Know Your Enemy' and Lifeblood' are ignored) and non album tracks 'Motown Junk', 'Suicide is Painless' and 'The Masses against the Classes'. How can they still play Motown Junk, a song they wrote over 20 years ago with such passion and conviction? I don’t know, and it’s probably a question they ask themselves often. But tonight finds them completely within the moment and the lap up every second of the admiring crowd. 'Leeds you're on fire tonight!' James Dean Bradfield declares. They are unashamedly crowd pleasing tonight and look like they are having the time of their lives. An unusual and slow rendition of 'This is Yesterday' is moving, a spiky retread of 'Jackie Collins Existential Question Time' is sinister and JDB's 2 song mid set acoustic section is great, leading to crowd singalongs of 'Stay Beautiful' and 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'. Slightly cheesy? Perhaps, but wonderful all the same.
Its gigs like this that I want my non Manic appreciating fans to see. For all the spiel I could produce about how intelligent and ambitious and magnificent they were, and can still be, all the examples of the amazing things they have achieved, if they were to see a live performance like this... it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t 'get it' and weren't into them as a whole; the pure power and energy of performances like this would surely win them over. I’m not a Manic’s fan with the blinkers on, but I always have time for them. It’s interesting that despite all their stylistic experiments since their commercial peak 10 years ago, the live show has always remained high energy. If they were to build an album around that idea... that Motown Junk still sounds fantastic live... well, y'never know.
Interestingly, before the show i found myself surrounded by what could only be described as 'idiots', loudmouthed, small brained blokes and their birds mouthing such inanities it took all my energy not to bash em. Yet later in the gig I would see them mouthing along to the words and I had to think twice. I never really believed that thing about subverting the masses from within. I believed in it as an idea, but I thought, in the Manics case at least, it was long dead as a prospect. Yet here it was in action and I thought that was pretty cool. Ive never seen the band so at ease and enjoying themselves so much. Its was a great night.