Thursday, 31 October 2013

REVIEW: McDermott's 2 Hours - 'Anticlockwise' (On The Fiddle Records)

To some, Brighton would seem an unlikely breeding ground for Irish flavoured folk-rock with a burning punk spirit, yet the town has played home to the two groups who have done it best over the past few decades. One of them, the Levellers, are familiar to a lot of people. The other band are McDermott's 2 Hours, the lesser known but hugely influential unit led by Nick Burbridge. Members of both groups have crossed paths many times, teaming up for three collaborative albums, as well as touring together. Despite having such a close connection, the two groups have travelled very different paths. While the Levellers scored more gold and platinum discs than any other UK artist during the 90's (a little known fact, but true), Burbridge preferred to use his talents for various artistic outlets rather than for any sort of commercial purposes, writing novels, poems and theatre plays as well as continuing to make some fine records. 'Anticlockwise' is a 14 track compilation that brings together some of the best moments from the six previous MD2H albums, along with two awesome new tracks. 

Active for over 25 years now, they remain one of British music's best kept secrets, a lack of commercial success being the result of never fitting in with any trends and always refusing to compromise. Besides, the mainstream and the music industry don't deserve them anyway. Burbridge doesn't play the game, instead he gets more satisfaction from bringing his ideas to life in an unmistakably raw, expressive way. Those tired of the increasingly conservative, industry-approved coffee table folk that has become popular in recent years will find these songs a refreshing and encouraging antidote. They rage with the spirit of the underdog, a voice that acts as an outlet for pain, fury and dogged defiance. And these are songs that could have only come from the mind of someone who has experienced as much turbulence as Burbridge has throughout his life. He's able to channel the pain of others as well, the storming opener 'Dirty Davey' based on a real life story concerning the death of a punk in police custody, a classic track that was covered by the Levellers themselves in 1993. Buoyed by the same uptempo momentum is the excellent 'Darkness And Sail', while the medieval-sounding 'World Turned Upside Down' is a truly remarkable piece of songwriting topped with Gregorian flavours, tangled acoustic guitars and some utterly superb vocal arrangements. 

The celebratory yet poignant 'Harry Brewer' pays tribute to the author's grandfather, an Irishman who enlisted to fight for the British Army in the First World War, while the fantastic 'Song For A Brother' pours scorn on a cruel and incompetent care system. Again voicing his own struggles and the pain of those close to him, it tells of how after 50 years safe keeping in hospital, his disabled brother became a victim of Care in the Community. It's personal struggles such as this that bring the untamed emotion to his music, which in his own words “draws on the grit of personal experience: entanglement with mental illness, havoc wreaked by hard drugs and homelessness; sexual thirsts inappropriately met; the search for an abiding faith.” It's often claimed that tortured souls are the ones who create the finest art, and here is a man who definitely hasn't had it easy, at one point suffering a nervous breakdown caused by depression, a relationship split, parenting pressures and a tough time helping his brother with his battle. His experiences, knowledge and staggering talent shape these songs in a unique, profound way. The words and music really put the listener in the picture, as the emotive, expressive vocal delivers vivid lyrical imagery and the tunes bring to life atmospheres, places and a wide array of feelings.

With its haunting fiddle making up part of the stunning instrumentation, 'Black Sun (Of Genoa)' is another astonishing moment that grows more intense with each verse, while the mournful tone and wonderfully poetic flow of words that move through the brilliant 'A Fable From Aigge' combine with a glorious vocal. A powerful tribute to the strength and determination of Irish travellers, 'Molloy' is one of those songs that you find yourself singing along to during the very first listen, and its chorus packs one hell of a punch. Elsewhere, the mysterious charm of 'River' plays partner to an infectious melody, something that can also be found on the stormy, untamed 'Trickster'. The two new tracks that close the collection find the group adding angered electric guitar to their sound for the first time, to create a grittier sound. The rousing 'Erin Farewell' provides a bittersweet Celtic flavoured singalong in contrast to the furious 'All In Your Name', addressing some of the problems and misery that religion can cause.

These are songs of despair, songs of anger, and songs of hope. They also provide a fantastic introduction to the work of this massively underrated artist, a true genius in the world of modern folk music. Although Nick Burbridge never gets the credit that he deserves, his recent and well deserved Spiral Earth Award for Best Songwriter may be a sign that more people are starting to acknowledge his brilliance. After hearing these 14 songs, you may very well be glad that you also took notice. 8.5/10

Track Of The Day: Black Submarine - 'Black Submarine'

Black Submarine are a five piece band, with two particular members going by the names of Nick McCabe and Simon Jones. Do those names sound familiar? If so, that would be because the aforementioned gentlemen were once members of The Verve. And judging by this new material of theirs, they seem to have more fuel in their tank than their former bandmate Richard Ashcroft, who seems to gone to ground after the poor attempt at reinvention that was his United Nations Of Sound album. McCabe and Jones formed the group in 2008, originally going by the name Black Ships before a legal threat by an American electronic duo changed that. As well as the ex Verve pair, the group also includes Davide Rossi (multi-instrumentalist/string arranger for Goldfrapp/Coldplay who did work on The Verve's final album 'Forth'), Michele ‘Mig’ Schillace (ex-drummer with Portishead/Santa Cruz) and Bristol-based vocalist Amelia Tucker.

'Black Submarine' is the first taste of their upcoming debut LP New Shores', set for release on February 3 2014. It's atmospheric and weird, and I certainly didn't expect them to sound this electronic, but it's undoubtedly more song based than material from the 'Kurofune' EP they released in 2011 under their former moniker. You can listen to the new track below and download for it free from the band's website HERE. The press release describes their sound as being made up "of spaced-out vocals, deep beats, rolling bass-lines, molten soundscapes, meditative chord sequences and explosive string-arrangements."

REWIND: Screaming Lord Sutch - 'Till the Following Night'

Halloween. What a load of bollocks. Out of all the special days of the year, it's the one that I see as the most pointless. I'm all up for kids going out dressed up as monsters and having fun, but when so-called "grown ups" use it as an excuse to dress like a twat all week and get bladdered, then the appeal wears very thin indeed. But since all the other music sites (and most of the people I follow on Twitter) are featuring Halloween-themed tunes, I'm going to pitch in with one that a lot of people won't know. It absolutely shits all over 'Thriller' too. Quite a coincidence I should play this particular artist, since the other day my good friend Jason B gave me a signed Screaming Lord Sutch 7" single, acquired from one of the Lord's close friends. I've also been finding out a bit more about the man, and had no idea that he was also the founder and leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party... The first time I heard this song was when UK psychobilly legends Frenzy covered it for their 2006 album 'Nitro Boy', and I was VERY tempted to feature their version for today's 'Rewind'. But an intro featuring a blood-curdling scream from the one and only Joe Meek? Too good not to feature! Frenzy's cover version, featuring a fantastic video, is below the Sutch original...

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Track Of The Day: Gaz Coombes - 'Buffalo'

Former Supergrass man Gaz Coombes releases a brand new single 'Buffalo' this week. Going solo has clearly allowed room for Coombes to explore more imaginative ideas, yet that gift for crafting ear catching melodies remains evident throughout much of his brilliant solo material. With its changing verse and chorus rhythms, 'Buffalo' isn't too far from something that could fit on Supergrass's self titled third album from 1999, yet its sonic flavours bring it into 2013 with ease. Pre-orders have begun for a signed, limited edition 7" vinyl and download, available worldwide from Gaz's store HERE. The vinyl will also be on sale at Gaz's UK shows while stocks last.

“I've been tucked away in the studio these last few months recording my follow up to Here Come The Bombs,” says Gaz. “The whole process is coming together really well so I was keen to get a track out there to give people a flavour of what I'm up to.”

An intimate tour will see Coombes fronting a band completed by his brother Charly (keys/loops) and former Ride/JAMC drummer Loz Colbert. The dates are:

18th November - Manchester - Salford St Philips - Tickets
19th November - Glasgow - Oran Mor - Tickets
20th November - Leeds - Holy Trinity - Tickets
21st November - London - Union Chapel - Tickets

REWIND: The Jam - 'The Butterfly Collector'

Can a song as amazing as this REALLY have been a mere B side? You can find this on a forthcoming 8 piece vinyl box set featuring all six of The Jam's studio LPs plus four sides of singles and B sides. It looks beautiful, it will sound astonishing and it comes out on November 26. 'The Butterfly Collector' was originally released as the B side to 'Strange Town' on 17 March 1979, the single reaching #15 in the UK charts. The same single was released in the U.S. in May 1979. However, for the American release 'The Butterfly Collector' was catalogued as the A-side.

Also included in 'The Studio Recordings' boxset will be a 44 page Hardback retrospective on the band with introduction by Paul Weller himself.

The full contents are as below:


In The City
This Is The Modern World
All Mod Cons
Setting Sons
Sound Affects
The Gift

Extras-Special Singles: 1977 – 1982 (Volume One):

Side 1
1. All Around The World
2. Carnaby Street
3. News Of The World
4. Aunties And Uncles
5. Innocent Man
6. So Sad About Us
7. The Night

Side 2
1. Strange Town
2. The Butterfly Collector
3. When You’re Young
4. Smithers-Jones
5. See Saw

‘Extras-Special’ Singles: 1977 – 1982 (Volume Two):

Side 1
1. Going Underground
2. Dreams Of Children
3. Liza Radley
4. Funeral Pyre
5. Disguises
6. Absolute Beginners
7. Tales From The Riverbank
8. The Great Depression

Side 2
1. The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)
2. Pity Poor Alfie / Fever
3. Beat Surrender
4. Shopping
5. Move On Up
6. Stoned Out Of My Mind

7. War

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Track Of The Day: Samaris - 'Viltu Vitrast'

It's very, very lazy when a music journalist describes any Icelandic female singer as "a bit like Bjork." This particular track from this teenage trio from Reykjavik does in fact have a little hint of the ex-Sugarcube about it (although it's a LOT more laid back), as well as lush, expansive moods not too far from Sigur Rós territory. Sung completely in their native tongue, Icelandic really is a beautiful language to listen to, and the fact that I have no idea what the words mean only adds more mystery and intrigue to this gorgeous tune. I also love the fact that (as with their other tracks) it features a touch of haunting clarinet, an instrument not usually paired with smooth, icy electronica of this sort. This is taken from the band's self titled debut album, which came out in July on One Little Indian Records. Samaris consists of Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, Jófríður Ákadóttir and Þórður Kári Steinþórsson.

REWIND: The Velvet Underground - 'Pale Blue Eyes'

So following on from the great Lou Reed's death on Sunday, TV channels and radio stations spent much of the day paying tribute to him. As well as my own Monday night show The BPS Broadcast featuring a number of Reed and Velvet Underground tracks, BBC 6Music's Gideon Coe hosted a special show which also featured VU drummer Moe Tucker. This was the last song played on the show, and what an incredible thing it is. 

To all cynics, naysayers and sceptics who have been asking "what's all the fuss about", let me tell you exactly. A famous Brian Eno quote claimed that although only around 30,000 copies of 'The Velvet Underground And Nico' were sold during its first few years, all 30,000 of those people went on to form bands. It's probably not far from the truth. It just shows how potent their influence has been: only a few people heard it, but those who did were massively inspired by it and started making their own music. Then those bands inspired others, and so on. You'll find that most of the music YOU own that was made post-1969 is either going to be influenced by The Velvet Underground or influenced by a band who were influenced by The Velvet Underground. If Reed was never here in the first place, would your favourite band exist? Or would they sound anything like they do if it wasn't for him? The world of music as a whole would be a vastly different place, and poorer for it. Reed's remarkable legacy will last for all eternity, and in that sense he will ALWAYS be with us.

'Pale Blue Eyes' was written by Lou Reed, and was included on the band's 1969 album 'The Velvet Underground'. 

GIG REVIEW: Teeth Of The Sea/Esben And The Witch/Thought Forms - The Exchange, Bristol - 14/10/2013

Joint tours can often be great value for money, although some gig goers may turn up to find that their particular favourite act only have time for a short 'support act'-length set. However, no matter what band people are here for tonight, all three groups compliment each other brilliantly while all offering something refreshing and different. Yes, this is the climax to the Quietus-sponsored jaunt around the UK that has seen shamanic drone merchants Thought Forms, and Brighton's "gothic pop" three-piece Esben And The Witch join the mighty Teeth Of The Sea in mesmerising audiences up and down the country. Throughout the tour the groups have been taking it in turns to headline, and first on at The Exchange tonight are Teeth Of The Sea. 

Pairing squealing, otherworldly guitar sounds with hard disco beats, buzzing analogue keys and hypnotic repetitions, the London-based foursome play a tantalising set of doom-prog electro-psych post-rock to a room vibrating with the indescribable music's dark, ferocious energy. As well as a taste of their earlier material, they treat the audience to excerpts from the terrific new album 'MASTER', an apocalyptic cosmic beast of a record where their entrancing musical ideas reach new levels. As the brutal menace of the extraordinary 'Responder' sprawls across the final ten minutes of their set, stomping beats clash with vocoders, blaring trumpet and synths that receive an absolute pounding. It all flies by far too quickly, a short taste leaving you in no doubt that their full show would be even more of a wonder to experience. EVERYONE needs to hear this group. Your lives would be poorer without them.

Despite being the most commercially successful of the three bands, Esben And The Witch are the ones that I am the least familiar with. Hearing their songs interpreted in a live setting immediately casts a new light on the group, who are able to create intense, spiralling atmospheres with the aid of impressive dynamics and impressively focused musicianship. Pitch black post-punk moods drift through the venue like a ghostly mist, and the sultry mystery of singer/guitarist/bassist Rachel Davies' vocals add to the icy ambience. 'Smashed To Pieces In The Still Of The Night' sees the trio at their very best, closing the set with intertwining guitar patterns and dramatic drum work.

Although Thought Forms are from Melksham (my hometown in Wiltshire), the not too distant city of Bristol seems to have accepted them as its own. Appropriate, since they are part of the Invada Records family, and probably spend most of their time here anyway. So tonight is something of a homecoming for the captivating threesome, who put in a stellar headline set to end the tour on an explosive high. Kicking off with the heaving drone of 'Landing', it's a howling, crushing entrance to roughly 40 minutes of downtuned distortion, high impact contrasts, post-rock soundscapes and vicious guitar treatment. As the beautifully panoramic 'Ghost Mountain You And Me' rings out into the night, the other side to the group is showcased, a soaring, shoegaze-esque sound that transports the assembled crowd to a vast, scenic high point far away from these rainy streets of Bristol. Watching the bare footed Deej Dhariwal play is fascinating, turning his attention to his array of fx pedals at the most effective moments, and gently picking out delicate melodic notes one minute before subjecting his strings to a ferocious assault moments later. 

The chemistry and tight-knit alliance between Dhariwal, the super-cool Charlie Romijn and explosive drummer Guy Metcalfe is something truly special to witness both on stage and on record. Tonight they seem louder and fiercer than ever, and yet you could have heard a pin drop during the immaculate opening section of 'O', which rages into chaos towards the end after a precise, suspense-fuelled build-up. What a way to end the night. Their recent 'Ghost Mountain' LP is an absolute revelation. Seek it out and thank me for my recommendation later.

It's a fantastic evening of musical pleasures, offering encouraging signs that real alternative music in the UK is alive and creatively thriving away from the conformism of the mainstream. With no commercial expectations or major label pressures to hold them back, these three groups are proving that the independent underground is indeed where the most interesting and potent ideas are coming from. Win, win and win.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Lou Reed:1942 - 2013 - A tribute

It's always sad and something of a shock when any great musician passes away, but living in a world without Lou Reed is sure going to take a lot of getting used to. Last night, my reaction at the breaking news of his death at the age of 71 was sheer disbelief, followed by sadness and then an evaluation of what this man's work has meant to me since hearing him when I must have been about 10.

Like with many others, 'Walk On The Wild Side' was my first taste of Lou Reed. I heard it on a white cassette (with no cover or case) that my Dad owned called 'Rock Anthems'. Coming to think of it, I now remember my Dad often referring to the man as "Louie Reed". There was something about his lyrical approach that intrigued me, as well as his very casual vocals, an effortlessly cool style that seemed to not give the slightest hint of a fuck about anything. But I was also confused about the line "she never lost her head, even when she was giving head." What did it mean? Obviously I know now, but back then it seemed like a puzzling phrase. The stunning 'Perfect Day' was something that couldn't fail to move and amaze me upon hearing it for the first time. 

My first encounter with The Velvet Underground was an unexpected one, an otherwise very MOR compilation entitled 'Top Gear' included the overwhelmingly dark 'Venus In Furs' alongside the very unlikely company of ZZ Top, Queen, Fleetwood Mac and other groups that seemed to be on a far more basic level than this extraordinary blacker than black monster emerging from the speakers. Of course, what I also didn't know was that this song was about bondage. In the late 90's I got myself a copy of 'The Velvet Underground And Nico', mainly because I'd read many of my favourite bands raving about their influence. And what an album it was. The pounding 'Waiting For The Man', the gorgeous 'Sunday Morning' and the raw, uncomfortable intensity of 'Heroin' made me aware of what all the fuss was about. Since then I have added a number of Reed's other records to my collection, however somewhat unbelievably I have yet to acquire the classic 'Transformer'. Now would be a fitting time for me to correct that.

He kept himself busy in recent years. As well as contributing vocals to the Gorillaz track 'Some Kind Of Nature', in 2009 he began touring with the Metal Machine Trio, which was widely viewed as a return to his exploration of noise and sound. In 2011 he teamed up with Metallica for the bizarre, hugely divisive collaborative LP 'Lulu', and claimed that fans of the band were "threatening to shoot me", but remained as true to himself as ever adding: "I don't have any fans left. After 'Metal Machine Music', they all fled. Who cares? I'm essentially in this for the fun of it." In March of this year Reed surprised fans in New York when he made an appearance at a playback of his seminal album 'Transformer', later discussing with them the album's best moments and wider cultural significance. But later that month his wife Laurie Anderson revealed that he had undergone a life saving liver transplant, Reed posting a message to fans reading: "I am a triumph of modern medicine, physics and chemistry. I am bigger and stronger than stronger than ever... I look forward to being on stage performing, and writing more songs to connect with your hearts and spirits and the universe well into the future."

At his first public appearance since the operation, hespoke out against music downloading, stating that MP3s were reducing music "to the lowest common denominator" and were "a really miserable sounding thing... people don't understand what they are missing", comparing the "horrifying" sound of MP3s to the "beautiful warm sound you get on vinyl". His last public appearance was at the GQ Men Of The Year Awards last month (September 2013) where he won the Inspiration Award. But last week he returned to a clinic to undergo surgery, but decided to return home after doctors could no longer treat his end-stage liver disease. “We all agreed that we did everything we could,” his physician Charles Miller said. Reed died at his home in Southampton, New York, on Long Island. Miller noted that Reed "was fighting right up to the very end. He was doing his Tai Chi exercises within an hour of his death, trying to keep strong and keep fighting."

Former bandmate John Cale paid tribute: "The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet …I've lost my 'school-yard buddy'". Velvet Underground drummer Mo Tucker responded by saying that Reed was "generous, encouraging and thoughtful. Working with him sometimes could be trying to some people, but never to me. I guess we learned from each other. We all learned from each other."

He left this world having spent decades exploring new sounds and ideas, creating a legacy of his own. He didn't waste his years compromising or treating commercial success as a priority over his art, and for that reason alone, the countless musicians that he has influenced in one way or another have a lot to thank him for. Always challenging himself and others, right up until the end he continued to rage against the dying of the light. The world is now short of one more genuinely unusual, maverick mind but is all the richer for him having been here in the first place. His influence on subsequent generations was utterly profound and to say that we will never see anyone like him again is no overstatement. 

So now the final curtain has come down on the lifetime of this true legend, a round of applause is in order.

Track Of The Day: TOY - 'Join The Dots'

Absolutely loving this. 'Join The Dots' is the title track taken from TOY's second album, recorded with Dan Carey in his South London studio and released last week (October 21) as a limited hand-stamped 7" single (300 copies only).

The LP is released on Heavenly Recordings on Monday 9th December 2013. 

REWIND: Lou Reed - 'Satellite Of Love'

Following the death of the legendary, unforgettable Lou Reed yesterday, it's only fair that today's 'Rewind' is one of his. 

'Satellite Of Love' was the second single from his classic 1972 album 'Transformer'.

Go HERE to read my short tribute to the great man.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Track Of The Day: Yuck - 'How Does It Feel'

In the two years following their self titled debut,Yuck experienced an upheaving line up change. When band members leave an outfit only a couple of years into their career, it can often be worrying, but when the frontman departs, most groups don't survive. However, Yuck's second LP shows that the magic didn't leave with Daniel Blumberg. Instead of leaving a gap, the line-up changes have enabled the remaining members to find more space for their ideas to flourish, and the new Yuck don't seem to be any less brilliant than before. 

Subtle, sometimes Bacharach-esque touches of brass shine on 'How Does It Feel', a superb Pastels-like helping of tuneful sadness that delivers a sparkling high point. A far more cohesive record than its predecessor, 'Glow And Behold' is a warming collection of songs from a tight knit group completely at ease with their sound despite the significant departure of their frontman. It may have been a blessing in disguise which has allowed the band to move in a destined direction where they can truly excel. Read my full album review HERE.

REWIND: The Fall - 'Psycho Mafia'

So yesterday was John Peel Day, a yearly occurence that marks the anniversary of the legendary radio DJ's death on October 25th. Next year in 2014, it will be exactly ten years since we bid farewell to Peelie. The first memory I have of hearing his show was on the car radio during the early 90's when me and my family were on the way back home from a holiday in Andorra. But it wasn't until Blur played a live session on his show in 1997 that I began listening. Often some of the more well-known groups who he made people aware of would be invited to play sessions on his show, and it was whilst listening to sessions from the likes of Gene and the Super Furry Animals that I realised just how unique and diverse JP's playlists were. Because the four session tracks were spread throughout the night, I'd have to sit through things that I didn't know, making me more aware of different genres, treasures from the past, and great records that couldn't be heard anywhere else. Although I (may have) purchased The Fall's 'Touch Sensitive' single previously, it was when Peel played a savage live version of 'Psycho Mafia' from the band's 'Live 1977' bootleg album, featuring the earliest known recording of the group. After this I started paying a lot more attention to The Fall. Cheers, John.

Friday, 25 October 2013

PHOTOGRAPHY: Photos of Suede (Bristol, October 2013)

Photos of Suede, taken at the Academy in Bristol on Thursday 24 October 2013. An absolutely superb night of music from the British indie legends. A review of this gig will be coming to these pages soon in the Gig Reviews section HERE.