Saturday, 17 August 2013

RW/FF With Ben P Scott #25

This week: I pay tribute to Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes, an incredible musician and a wonderful man. Massively underrated psychobilly legends Frenzy celebrate their 30th anniversary with a brilliant and intimate gig, Asian Dub Foundation return with a fiery new LP, and Kanye West’s latest album gets the kicking it deserves. Elsewhere, new music from Atlanter, Steve Cradock, Hello Skinny, Horse Thief, The Family Rain, Gary Numan, Little Kicks, No Ceremony, Tripwires, Troumaca and Weekend. The second half of the column continues my nostalgic recollections of 1995 and the arrival of Pulp and Supergrass into my life…

On Tuesday morning I was extremely saddened to learn about the death of Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes. When the band formed in 1988, at age 20 he was the youngest founding member of the group who would on to become one of Britain’s best loved indie rock acts. 

After being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010, Jon underwent surgery before suffering another relapse in 2012, and recently undergoing a third operation. During the years Jon spent as a professional musician, he recorded with a host of other artists including The Chemical Brothers, and also co-wrote much of The Charlatans musical output at their own recording studio. A man with a huge passion for music, Jon also worked as a producer, band manager/promoter and website developer/social media advisor for up and coming artists. In addition, he created The JB Studios in the West Midlands and his own label One Beat Records. The night before he died I had been listening to the band’s self titled 1995 album and admiring the power that Jon put behind his rhythms. After hearing of his tragic passing I spent much of Tuesday paying tribute to his work by giving the band’s magnificent and utterly essential singles collection ‘Forever’ a blast.



The mighty smash he gives his kit on ‘One To Another’, the simple yet magical fills on ‘North Country Boy’, the brilliant drum track that looped throughout the stunning ‘Forever’… his rhythms made those songs what they were. Not very often do indie guitar bands possess a sound where the drumming truly stands out, making Jon a genuinely special musician. Those who knew him couldn’t find a bad word to say about his warm nature, and the fans who admired his work could always rely on the man to provide a powerful backbeat. His death is a real loss to the world of music and yet another cruel tragedy for the surviving members of the band. Most groups can easily replace a member, in fact in the case of drummers, their places can usually be filled by someone else and not have much of an impact on the sound. Brookes wasn’t one of these replaceable drummers, and his rhythms certainly weren’t the sort that could be easily be recreated by another. If The Charlatans do decide to soldier on, they will undoubtedly be a different group without him. Thoughts and best wishes go out to his family, friends and the other members of The Charlatans. Jon Brookes, we salute you.

Psychobilly greats Frenzy celebrated their 30th anniversary with a fantastic gig a few weeks ago at The Three Horseshoes in Bradford On Avon. In a small room packed full of true Frenzy fans, the band gave a hugely enjoyable performance, ripping through their stellar back catalogue with aplomb. Beginning with their 1983 debut single ‘Robot Riot’ and ending with a hyperactive, storming ‘Johnny Rocket’ (from 2010’s ‘In The Blood’ LP), in between we were treated to a selection of highlights from throughout their career as well as four well received covers. When they launch into a tough, brutal rendition of ‘Surfin’ Bird’, it’s the one that sends the front row mental. Still one of the most fun, exciting and energetic live acts that I have ever witnessed, after 30 years it’s about time that others from outside the psychobilly scene started learning about this band and their terrific musical output. Their website is HERE, and you will soon be able to read an extensive feature that I am writing on the group and their three decades in the business…

Much excitement today as a copy of the new Manic Street Preachers album ‘Rewind The Film’ fell through my letterbox. It’s Friday and I have to finish writing this column before moving on to other activities, so I’m currently sat here with it unopened, resisting the temptation to listen to it. Later on this afternoon/early evening I will be debuting this MSP album in the same way I have done with all of their previous ones: without any distractions. All Manics fans are advised to keep reading this column over the coming weeks for previews, teasers and more information on the band’s 11th studio album. I also recommend tuning into my weekly radio show over the next few weeks for some very special Manics-shaped treats… More info on that coming soon.


Steve Cradock’s third solo album ‘Travel Wild Travel Free’ has been on my stereo for a lot of this week. You will know Cradock as the guitarist in Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller’s most valuable collaborator, without a doubt a gifted and highly skilled musician. But in an attempt to distance his solo work from the underappreciated OCS, his PR people are trying to convince us journo folk that these 13 songs are more reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine than old-fashioned mod rock. Nonsense. However, such dubious comparisons don’t prevent this record from being a successful departure and expansion of Cradock’s horizons, casting an impressive psychedelic ambience over the instinctive melodies and accomplished hooks. A proper review of ‘Travel Wild Travel Free’ will be coming nearer its release date of September 30. In the meantime, have a listen to ‘Sheer Inertia’ below.


So I’ve been promising for the last fortnight a review of Kanye West’s latest album ‘Yeezus’. Some of you may be wondering why. In some ways, even I’m wondering why...

Over the years I have learned many things about music, and now I am at the point where I operate on standards, not restrictions to specific genres. Anyone can impress me as long as they make something great. If I operate on ignorance there is a chance that I will miss out. Of course there are limits: I know not to waste my time listening to reality TV singers or boybands, as I already know they have nothing to offer. But I try to keep an open mind towards all creative people, and if they can prove themselves musically then they can earn my respect. I know the charts and the mainstream are clogged with stinking garbage, but bad music also exists within the underground and indie scene. The general public choose to restrict themselves to nothing but chart music, and whenever they do get a rare chance to hear “alternative” music, what they hear is usually the bad stuff that’s unlikely to inspire anyone. Some of us indie folk can be almost as bad: sticking to non-chart music and avoiding ANYTHING that features in the singles charts due to the fact that none of it usually provides anything of any worth. Functioning on the basis of prejudice and ignorance isn’t something I aim to do.

The amount of new music I hear massively outweighs the music I am able to find time to write about, so usually I will only write about the very best releases. But sometimes when other sections of the music press declare a certain album to be brilliant, it feels like my job to investigate the truth. If a lot of the media give a record 10 out of 10 then chances are a lot of people are going to be convinced by such hype. If that record sells by the truckload but turns out to be poor quality, this equates to scores of music buyers being fooled and misled by untrustworthy critics. In cases like those, I’m here to help if necessary by balancing things out with truthful and more accurate accounts of the albums in question. In the past I haven’t even bothered to give much of Kanye West’s output a chance. What I needed to hear was a track strong enough to capture my attention and make me want to investigate more. A short while back he unleashed the ace ‘Black Skinhead’, which impressed me a great deal more than he ever has done. Maybe, just maybe this man COULD be a genius. Perhaps this new album of his will see him revolutionise hip hop and prove all the doubters wrong…

Such hopes are extinguished by the reality. Here is a man with a ridiculously oversized ego so big that any album he makes will always struggle to live up to his claims of brilliance. A man who protested that security staff not allowing him to roam freely at an awards ceremony was “blasphemous to music”. A man who probably isn’t reading this review because he’s most likely sat in one of his big houses repeatedly listening to his own music and convincing himself that he’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to civilisation. Although he isn’t likely to be reading this, he certainly should. It’s time for Kanye West to face the truth, and it’s a truth that he’s not going to like…

After listening to this album in full, it felt like ‘Black Skinhead’ was some sort of a bluff: deceptive bait full of promises the rest of ‘Yeezus’ can’t keep. But he gets credit where credit is due. It towers above the rest of the album, a clear highlight set to a stomping glam beat, its furious energy blowing away any trace of complacency and its power flattening everything in its path. But it’s actually quite dangerous to give birth to such an awesome thing when the rest of your album sucks as badly as songs like ‘New Slaves’ and ‘I Am A God’ do. He seems to have absolutely nothing to say at all, and spends most of the record bragging about himself. At times his completely self-absorbed nature enables him to experiment a bit: maybe he thinks that the masses will buy his album no matter what it sounds like, and therefore feels that he can do anything and break any boundaries. But most of the time he doesn’t bother: he thinks that the masses will buy his album no matter what it sounds like, and therefore doesn’t have to try very hard. Which results in lazy, stereotypical nonsense like ‘Hold My Liquor’, and unimaginative auto-tuned garbage like ‘Guilt Trip’. The utterly shallow 'Blood On The Leaves' attempts significance by uncomfortably reprising and disrespectfully trying to retread the same ground as civil rights anthem ‘Strange Fruit’. It doesn’t work. Mainly because it seems to be a lot more concerned about wealth and material possessions than civil rights and freedom.


West considers himself to be a “fucking genius”. A genius would be able to come up with something better than “these bitches can't handle me, I can't control my niggers and my niggers they can't control me." A genius wouldn’t consider cliché-ridden shite such as ‘New Slaves’ to be fit for human consumption let alone “the fucking end-all, be-all of music”. A genius wouldn’t write utter dogshit like the vulgar, misogynistic and unpleasant ‘I'm In It’ and then have the nerve to try and pass himself off as “the nucleus of culture”. It’s simply not good enough. The fact that the man makes such wild claims of superiority just makes the piss-poor quality of this album even more annoying. Throughout the course of 'Yeezus', West comes across as a deluded, self obsessed moron. ‘I Am A God’? Oh please. “Hurry up with my damn massage, hurry up with my damn ménage, get the Porsche out the damn garage… In a French ass restaurant hurry up with my damn croissants.” What a wally. 1.5 out of  5

Asian Dub Foundation are a band who have been off my radar for a few years now. In fact if I’m honest, 2000’s ‘Community Music’ was actually the last record of theirs that I was really aware of. So despite the release of five studio albums and a “Best Of” since, their new album ‘The Signal And The Noise’ provides me with a route back into their music after over a decade. My fault for not keeping myself updated, but in some ways being unaware of their more recent output has made me appreciate this band a lot more, and the new LP is something I am hungry to set ears on. The new single ‘Radio Bubblegum’ is a perfect bit of commentary on the current rotten state of mainstream music, and as well as the hard-hitting lyrics the music packs a fine punch as well. ‘Signal And The Noise’ was produced by the legendary Adrian Sheerwood, with group member Dr Das promising “a new take on old skool ADF vibes”…



After discovering a great new band, it’s always interesting to hear what else some of the members get up to. Hello Skinny is the brainchild of Tom Skinner, drummer with Melt Yourself Down (whose superb debut album I reviewed last week HERE) who also plays for the Owiny Sigoma Band, another recent favourite on this site. The ‘Revolutions’ EP consists of five impressive tracks, including the smooth hypnotic dub vibes of the title number, the free-jazz workout ‘Revolutions II’, and a wonderfully minimal remix of ‘Crush’, provided by the much-loved Zero 7. The heavily percussive Crewdson remix of 'Knot Blue' is another fine moment, and the original can be heard below... Go HERE for more info on Hello Skinny.


More top class new music for all to investigate…




Horse Thief - Colors
Horse Thief are a psychedelic folk rock band based in Oklahoma City. They released an EP earlier this year called 'Grow Deep, Grow Wild'. I don't know much else about them yet apart from that and the fact that 'Colors' is a fantastic tune... More info on the band HERE.




The Family Rain - Pushing It
The Family Rain are a blues rock influenced band formed from Bath, comprising of brothers William, Ollie and Timothy Walter. They are getting ready to release their debut album later in the year, after signing to Mercury Records. This is the title track from the 'Pushing It' EP (released a few months ago), and should probably appear on the album too. More info on the band HERE.




Gary Numan - I Am Dust
‘Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind)' is the new album from electro pioneer Gary Numan, released October 14 on Mortal Records, and from it here is the rather tasty 'I Am Dust'. A rather accurate press release describing it as "a statement of intent, combining heavy grind with his archetypal anthemic pop skills." no kidding.




Little Kicks - Girl
Sadly NOT named after the Mansun album. The Little Kicks are a four piece from Scotland, already on their third album despite being completely new to these ears. Delicious indie pop with a strong rhythm, crisp guitar and irresistible hooks. Find out more about the band HERE.




Tripwires - Shimmer
Baggy meets grunge... Reading band who after six years together have recently released their debut album ‘Spacehopper’. Judging by this excellent track, I'm going to have to check that album out. More info on the band HERE



Troumaca - Layou
A genre defying five piece from Birmingham, Troumaca's latest single caught my ears on the first play. It's out now, and you can pick up a copy and find out more info about the band by going to their website HERE. Their debut album 'The Grace' is out in a couple of weeks time on August 26. 



Weekend - July
Weekend are a lo-fi trio from San Francisco, California with a noticeably shoegaze-like edge. The band formed in 2009 and have just released their second album 'Jinx' on Slumberland Records. From it here is the excellent 'July'...



A lot of the new music I feature in the column is also played on my weekly radio show The BPS Broadcast, which goes out live every Monday night 5pm-7pm on my new local station Melksham Town Sound. Since the first show I have been playing two tracks a week as part of a feature called ‘1 To Z’ where I am working through my entire record collection, and attempting to play every single band and artist whose music I own. After 3 Colours Red, 808 State, 13th Floor Elevators and A, this week it was time for AC/DC’s ‘Riff Raff’ (from the classic 1978 live album ‘If You Want Blood You Got It’) and Add N To (X)’s obscenely brilliant ‘Metal Fingers In My Body’. Well at least I thought it was time for those, I turned out to be wrong since I seem to have overlooked The 101ers, 2 Wounded Birds and The Abyssinians. Hear those on Monday night’s show by tuning in HERE in between 5pm and 7pm… 


From my present back to my past…



1995 (continued from RW/FF #24 HERE)


The summer of 1995 was something I still daydream about to this very day. A summer soundtracked by classic songs that were not only hit singles, but musical treasures crafted by truly exciting bands who would soon go on to be legends.


Another one of these soon-to-be legends entered my life as the instantly addictive and unforgettably anthemic ‘Common People’ catapulted Pulp into the mainstream and to the attention of this 11 year old. I can recall buying the song on cassette during a day out with my Dad’s friend John Hanson, his son Wilf and my brother. My only clear memories of the day are standing in Melksham park while my brother and Wilf played football, more interested in looking at the new addition to my tape collection that I had proudly purchased. I also remember I got another single on that same outing, ‘Caroline’ by Kirsty McColl, who I had got into via my (then) Uncle Phil and who I knew from her vocals on ‘Fairytale Of New York’ by The Pogues. Brilliantly ‘Common People’ kept Michael and Janet Jackson’s unimaginative, overblown ‘Scream’ from the number two spot, but was outrageously denied a number one by Robson And Jerome’s dire karaoke cover of ‘Unchained Melody’. Oh well, you can’t win them all I suppose. But true to my theory of hating bad music more if it enjoys more success than good music, I utterly DESPISED these two pricks… Actors from a TV show singing a tacky novelty cover version, catering for the most unimaginative and simple of minds, enjoying more success than Pulp?

Just from his lyrics and his vocal delivery, I could tell that Jarvis Cocker was going to be a hero of mine. I certainly identified with his geeky, outsider style and to me the song seemed to lay into the shallowness of wanting to be cool and popular, and celebrating being different. Of course that wasn’t exactly what the song was about, but you could tell that was where Pulp were coming from.


Supergrass also arrived into my musical world during that summer of 1995, albeit in an unexpected way. My family had a habit of holidaying in Lyme Regis, since I used to be fascinated with prehistoric life, and was keen on fossil hunting. But the lack of a campsite in Lyme Regis meant that we stayed at the Newlands Holiday Park in nearby Charmouth, a place that ended up becoming an annual holiday destination for us. I can’t quite remember if it was that year or maybe one that shortly followed it, but ‘Boom Boom Boom’ by The Outhere Brothers could be heard almost repeatedly blasting from a nearby funfair for hours. It probably was that year, since that atrocity was everywhere at the time. Having become a DJ myself, visiting the campsite’s bar and club meant spending much of the night criticising the DJ for playing too much kiddy-pop and not enough club tracks. Of course I more than enjoyed the growing number of indie songs that were spun, but when I saw this annoying family up on their feet singing along to this unfamiliar track, it irritated me and intrigued me in equal measures. I thought they were sad and needed to get a life, trying so hard to make the rest of the place aware that they were fans of this song. But what was this song? It was jolly, fun and very catchy indeed. And to my ears it sounded French for some reason. I soon heard the song again on the radio. It was ‘Alright’ and it was by Supergrass. After arriving back from the holiday I soon bought a copy of the CD single from American Dream, the small comic and CD shop in Corsham.


The influence of my Dad’s aforementioned mate John was important: introducing my ears to Radiohead, the Cranberries, Pink Floyd and most importantly, Blur. It was like being given a leg-up, like being moved three years ahead. But my actual age meant that it took me a while to decide what was good or bad, in fact it was like having an 11 year old musical brain and a more critical 14 year old musical self. This allowed me to balance things out and form a realistic opinion on the things that were good or not. And if BOTH sides of my musical brain told me something was good, then I’d know it for a fact. Sometimes songs like ‘Dreamer’ by Livin’ Joy would be rejected by my mature side for having no depth, but appealed to my young side because of their instant melodies and catchy hooks. I’d accept them as “enjoyable rubbish”, harmless pop music that was fun to listen and sing to but sounded nowhere near as essential, important or substantial as the various guitar bands who were emerging at the time. I knew the difference between liking something and knowing that something is genuinely, undeniably great. I was fully aware that Alex Party’s ‘Don’t Give Me Your Life’ wasn’t one of the era’s golden greats, yet I enjoyed it hugely back then. But when I heard McAlmont And Butler’s majestic ‘Yes’ for the first time, I could immediately detect real magic.

Tracks like this were the ones I’d listen to most at home, saving the club anthems for my nights behind the decks. The dance hits of the time were sometimes novelty rubbish and some sound very dated in retrospect, but there’s no doubting that the quality of even the worst pop songs of 1995 eclipsed most of the garbage churned out by major labels nowadays. There are in fact a number of club hits of the time that I still recall fondly, including ‘The Bomb!’ by the Bucketheads, Strike’s ‘U Sure Do’, ‘I Luv U Baby’ by The Original, ‘Push The Feeling On’ by The Nightcrawlers, and the equally repetitive ‘Son Of A Gun’ by JX. There were also songs I considered to be rubbish, but harmless fun rubbish that could get people on the dancefloor: the pointless Perfecto Allstarz update of Pigbag’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’, Corona’s ‘Baby Baby’, and the inescapable ‘Dreamer’ by Livin’ Joy, a big hit that was number one for weeks.

Clock were an awful novelty dance act, almost like a budget 2Unlimited. However that didn’t stop me from playing their lame ‘Axel F’ cover during my sets. Same goes for some other musical mishaps of the period: Bobby Brown’s ‘Two Can Play That Game’,  D:Ream’s ‘Shoot Me With Your Love’ and pseudo-rasta Shaggy’s terrible remake of ‘In The Summertime’. I even bought ‘Think Of You’, the forgotten follow up to Whigfield’s massively annoying ‘Saturday Night’. I think I got it to play during my DJ sets so I’d have an excuse not to play THAT previous hit… All awful songs sure, but none of them as offensively shit as 2013’s big pile of manufactured chart trash…


I was young, unaware of underground music and willing to make compromises, unlike now. But the cheap musical filler didn’t matter when there was a new Blur album about to come out. The new Oasis LP wasn’t to be released until later in the year, and with Blur winning that infamous chart war as well as being Britain’s biggest band at that point, ‘The Great Escape’ was surrounded by anticipation and a lot of high hopes. On a day trip to Poole (or somewhere very near) there was a record shop not far from the beach where I can remember seeing the promotional display stands for the album. The week it was released I purchased it on tape and on the very first listen could tell that this would never sound as good as ‘Parklife’ did. So what do you do when you have a successful formula? Blur did more of the same on what is considered to be the third and lesser past of a classic British trilogy. This time the character based songs were more prominent: 'Country House' was the silly but infectious tale of a millionaire with an empty life, 'Charmless Man' concerns an upper class fool who hides behind his lifestyle, and 'Stereotypes' is a superb bit of commentary on sex and suburbia. 'Entertain Me' is a relative of 'Girls And Boys', with an irresistibly funky bassline from Alex and a Mark E Smith-esque vocal from Damon. Despite the presence of two of their greatest tracks, the misty-eyed melancholy of 'Best Days' and the classic 'The Universal', overall the album certainly wasn't as consistant as the previous two, and in places the cheeky Britpop sound began to wear thin. But what I didn’t realise was how many memories the album would conjure up every time I would listen to it in years to come. 


Pink Floyd’s live album ‘Pulse’ was a number one album at around the same time, and I bought a copy of it on tape, not being able to afford the fascinating CD version with the flashing LED light. I admired the weirdness of the artwork and the dark ambience of the music, all making for a rather mind blowing thing for an 11 year old to experience. The weird 20-plus minute soundscape that followed the live ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ on tape 2 wasn’t something I could get my head around at that age.

At some point during that summer I also acquired a copy of ‘I Should Coco’, the thrilling debut from the previously mentioned Supergrass. John’s ex-wife worked as a rep for EMI and was frequently given promo CDs, a lot of which ended up in John’s hands. In fact, he could pretty much get hold of anything new-ish for free as long as it was released through EMI, and knowing that I was really keen on Supergrass, he managed to get me my own CD copy for free. At this point it MAY have been the very first CD album I ever owned, and a bloody good one it was too. I have a lot to thank John for. He was the cool grown-up who introduced me to many great things at a vital stage in my life, the age where seeds are planted and future tastes are shaped. Thanks to him I decided not to support Manchester United like all the other kids, and chose Chelsea instead. But even more vitally he directed me towards the right musical path. Cheers John. In September it was time for me to start secondary school , and one of the greatest summers of my life was over…

Next week, I recall the latter part of 1995, when Britpop continues to grow even more unavoidable… Bye for now.

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