Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Life of Live - Del Amitri

I'd spent my time at poly playing the jangletastic first lp of Del Amitri to death wondering what had happened to them. In the pre internet days you had to rely on the music press and the NME weren't interested in anything that wasn't in the C86 mould.
What I didn't know is that the band had been on a literally never ending tour of the states often staying on the floors of fans bedrooms as they zig zagged from state to state. Along the way they had grown their hair and side burns, discovered chords (a rule of the debut lp was such things were banned) and cowboy boots.
They came back with a bit of mid atlantic guitar pop Kiss this Thing Goodbye. The sound had moved on but the indifference from the press remained the one constant. It wasn't until the reflective Nothing Ever Happens that they finally broke the charts.
I saw them play the small Duchess of York pub in Leeds. I remember being on one hand bitterly disappointed that the aztec camera like rush of the pop songs from the first lp that I'd lived and breathed for the last 4 years were ignored and replaced with foot on monitor rock poses, guitar solos, and mid atlantic rock songs.
However after a few songs I noticed my feet were moving , that the band were throwing everything into their performance and that the songs weren't half bad and maybe the inclusion of choruses this time worked (something else that they had banned on the first lp). It ended up being a great gig and made the Waking Hours lp seem all the better for it.
Justin Currie's lyrics were as good as ever and partly due to this, behind the power chords melody was still king and the memories of this concert The Waking hours is the lp apart from the debut that I return to most
When youre footloose and you just feel limbless
Life gets in the way
So we get loaded or totally legless
But stay the same
we are the dead life

Monday, 28 March 2011

Monday Moments - part 50/52 Cemetry Gates

Monday Moments is finally coming to an end and I can't finish it without at least one track form the Smiths. It could have been the guitar break in This Charming Man , the piano in Asleep, the chorus of How Soon is Now or any number of clever couplets.

However I've gone for Cemetry Gates which I originally heard as a b side. Johnny Marr has played some sparkly acoustic guitar tunes in his time and this along with Billy Bragg's Greetings to the New Brunette is one of his best.Morrissey's lyrics almost tumble over each other in an attempt to keep up.

His attack on his friend's plagiarism is intentionally a little ironic as he wasn't scared to lift the odd line from his favourite films and books. I remember a documentary on the band, it may even have been the South Bank Show, but they interviewed one of Morrissey's old friends who was supposedly the girl in the song. I always thought how cool it would be to have such a great song written about you! (on the other hand imagine if you're the subject of a real stinker)

The smiths were always pigeon holed by some of my friends as depressing. I just thought they were full of humour and in this tune they're almost "feel good"

My monday moment is right at the beginning where Johnny Marr's jangly guitar weaves itself around the often overlooked bass playing of Andy Rourke

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Lazy Sunday - Pet Shop Boys

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile is a track from the Pet Shop Boys's Nightlife lp. What do I like about it .... well what a great title and somehow so typically Pet Shop Boys

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Former lead singer ...Anthony Reynolds

For this week's monday moment I posted a track by Jack and referenced the lead singer, Anthony Reynold's solo lp British Ballads.

Released in 2007 it was criminally ignored at the time and deserved to do a lot better, especially as the high cost and low sales seemed to have put paid to a follow up. Anthony Reynolds has a great voice and a classic song writing style that brings to mind those big ballads of the 60s , kind of a cross between Burt Bacharach and Scott Walker.

The lp does exactly what it says on the tin with swooning ballads

with a sense of Britishness

as a bit of a footnote, whilst in Jack , Anthony Reynolds also made a couple of lps under the name Jacques. The second one contained this version of an Abba song

He has also written a couple of biographies , one on the Walker Brothers and the other on Jeff Buckley which you can get from his website here

You can buy British Ballads here

Friday, 25 March 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Sunnyside

Glen David Gold's first novel Carter Beats the Devil was one of the best debuts I've read. It seemed to be one of the those word of mouth successes, where people who read it bought it or recommended it to others (if you've not read it then give it a go - it is a great galloping romp of a read).

It has taken 8 years for his next novel to appear so when reviews for Sunnyside started to feature in the sunday papers anticipation started to build.

Sunnyside takes as its main themes the birth of both the film studio system and cult of celebrity along with America starting to flex its muscles on foreign shores through world war one. As a result there are lot's of parallels with what is going on in the wider world at the moment.

To get this across Gold weaves together 3 main stories, the first and by far the best involves Charlie Chaplin, the second and almost as effective focuses on a frustrated actor who is forced to join up and serve in Belgium, the third involves another army recruit, this time stationed inside a Russia tottering on the verge of revolution.

It is this 3rd part that highlights the problem with such an approach. It isn't nearly as effective as the other 2 and so every time the story switches over to Russia I couldn't help rushing through those pages eager to get back to the 2 other strands. Also although various elements cross over the image of Chaplin rather than the man himself stitches the strands together, I was expecting some convergence at the end. This doesn't happen, instead it is as if a camera just fades to black as the action keeps going so it just felt that the author had a surplus of good ideas, spending all his energy on big set pieces and giving too little thought to fitting those pieces and ideas together. This is made worse by the comparison with Carter which was so tightly plotted.

There are flashes of what made Carter so good, the period detail and sense of time and place are skillfully evoked, fact and fiction blend seamlessly, the big set pieces fizz along and evoke the kind of one reel serials of early hollywood, the myriad of characters are well drawn (although too many appear and disappear too abruptly,leaving you unsure of what they add)
The whole Chaplin strand had me hooked, his friendship with Fairbanks and rivalry with Pickford, his complicated love life and his even more complicated relationship with his mother. He manages to make Chaplin's inner voice as he struggles with his art and his ambitions completely believable. The Chaplin strand left me wanting more and kind of wishing he had dropped the other two elements and stuck with Chaplin's story

Overall, it is a wildly ambitious novel from a very talented writer but as with a lot of big budget films individual scenes stay with you at the expense of a satisfying sense of the whole. Something that you can get away with in film but is much harder to pull off in a novel.

You can buy Sunnyside here

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Strange covers - The Divine Comedy

Neil Hannon has had a go at a few cover versions and they can be a bit hit or miss. The version of Party Fears Two didn't work for me but this one definitely does.

I was never a big fan of the whole shoegaze thing, I bought Ride's first lp but if I'm being honest largely on the basis of the cover and didn't play it that much.

However this version of their song takes it to a poppier place as is much better for it

Monday, 21 March 2011

Monday Moments 49/52 - Lolita Elle

Jack were a Welsh band with the soul of Scott Walker in their sound and an orchestral take on pop that at times could be compared to The Divine Comedy and at others The Tindersticks.

They produced 4 lps of the usual critical acclaim and close to zero sales - too smart for the charts

Anthony Reynolds the lead singer with rich vocals ,kind of an English Paul Quinn, has made various records under various guises the latest of which under his own name and called English Ballads continued the big emotional songs but a tad more retrained and was the better for it.. although it still didn't sell.

My monday Moment this week comes from the second lp and follows a love affair on a drive across the states with a typically cinematic backing. it has some great lyrics

"she smiled and said you know a love like ours is as doomed and stained as snow" and "like our youth and the road below we both knew it couldn't last"

My monday moment comes in the anticipation of the song, the slight pause, the space between the initial plucked guitar before the vocals start

Lolita Elle - Jack

You can buy the Jazz Age here

Sunday, 20 March 2011

What the Nu Folk - King Creosote

Last of this week's Nu Folk theme and this time it is King Creosote who has played with James Yorkston in the past but unlike Yorkston (with whom he forms part of the collaborative fence collective) and Hobotalk his vocals are purely in his his own accent, no hint of mid atlantic drift here. The other thing is that compared to say Hobotalk, King Creosote tends to revel in experimentation and taking sharp left turns with his songs. With each lp you are never quite sure what you are going to get although the quality of the songwriting never dips.

The recording name of Kenny Anderson from Fife and over the last 12 years he has released a mind boggling amount of stuff - almost impossible to keep track of , the polar opposite of the Blue Nile. With so much on offer it is difficult to know where to start

The lp that got the most coverage was Bombshell probably due to a short holiday on a major label. Although the sound is more polished, the songs and lyrics still have a great quirkiness

You can buy Bombshell here

Saturday, 19 March 2011

What the Nu Folk - James Yorkston

Jamie Yorkston is probably the closest to the traditional sound of folk music of the people I've featured. Originally from Fife and backed by the Athletes as well as various other well known Scottish musicians who er on the side of acoustic.

After various singles and eps the first lp was released in 2002. Moving up Country had a folk/country feel to it but not in the traditionalist sense in that the whole thing was mixed by Simon Raymond of the Cocteau Twins.

It is a set of songs that simply seem to melt out of the speakers with the subtle musical arrangements matching perfectly his understated vocal. I do think the lp should come with a free bottle of malt whisky as they make perfect companions

As further lps came out the path does move closer to a traditional folk sound with the soon to be released new lp covers of traditional songs from around the globe. I lost a bit of interest along the way although I'm not sure why as the reviews just kept getting better and better. Re - listening to Moving up Country again has made me want to check out the later lps

"For me, listening to James Yorkston’s music is like coming across the interesting-looking person on the fringes of a party. Before you know it, you’ve spent the evening listening to their compelling tale. In this record, I get a real sense that he has found his true voice. There’s a quiet confidence in his craft; his singing, the words and instrumentation, all blend seamlessly to produce a really affecting record.” – Philip Selway, Radiohead on 2008s "When the Haar Rolls in"

You can buy the lps from his website which you can find here.

Tender to the Blues - James Yorkston and the Athletes

Friday, 18 March 2011

What the nu folk? Hobotalk

If candidate had an English folky sound then at the same time Hobotalk were releasing stuff that felt like the missing link between folk and what would become known as Americana (so many labels that mean so little!)

Hobotalk are a Scottish band and the vehicle for the songs of lead singer Mark Pilley. Like a lot of Scottish bands before them they looked west for inspiration although this time not Steely Dan but Tim Buckley. The cover of the debut lp Beauty in Madness captures their sound perfectly , there is woozy dream like quality, the kind you get on a summers day when the sun is just a tad too bright.

The lp has the classic songwriting feel of the 70s , more of Beauty in Melancholy rather than Madness

The usual record company bother meant that it was 5 years before the follow up Notes on a Sunset came out. The sound hadn't changed much although if anything the Californian feel was even stronger and on a couple of tracks they even get close to jaunty

As with Candidate I've only got the 2 lps for some reason I've not got round to getting Hobotalk's latest 2 (Homesick for Nowhere and Alone Again Or)

You can buy their lps here and I would start with the debut it deserves to be heard more than it is

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

What the nu folk? - Candidate

Nu folk is the name associated with a loosely associated series of bands and singers whose music seems to set echoes of earlier folk music in a pop song setting. It does feel a bit of a marketing ploy as there have been plenty of others before Noah and the Whale , Mumford and Sons etc came along.

One of these fore runners is 3 piece (although often helped out by a collective of other musicians) Candidate.

I'll quote from the bands website

At the very fag end of 1998, after years in other bands making a noise in rehearsal rooms, Candidate turned their back on the noisier end of their record collections and recorded a series of basement demos (at a volume that wouldn't disturb the neighbours) that pricked record company interest.

After a few bruising experiences at the hands of a confused and bewildered music industry, the band took matters into their own hands, and began releasing records themselves. The Snowstorm label was willed into existence and three increasingly confident EPs were put out, ending with the “Leader” EP, whose catchy, thumping title track, with its upbeat, Nilssonesque chorus, gained the band an enthusiastic following.

A first album, "Taking On The Enemy's Sound" came out in April 2000. An independently released, self-financed, self-produced record, Candidate's first album stood out like a sore thumb, and got suitably enthusiastic reviews.

Candidate had never really planned to be a live band, so they played a single celebratory gig and went into hiding, building their own home studios so they could work quietly without time limits or outside pressure.

Obsessively writing and recording for six months before finding the right blend of ideas for their new record, dozens of songs were completed and summarily rejected.

Finally, it clicked. In two parallel home studios on different sides of London, a set of tracks were worked up that took the band where they wanted to go. More considered, layered and textured than the spare music on the first album, this was somehow a much more intimate and personal record than the band had attempted before.

“Tiger Flies” was a sprawling, wilful oddity, filled with fingerpicked guitars and wheezing synthesizers, clattering drum machines and cavernous flutes. More ambitious than its predecessor, with a wider range of influences, Tiger Flies was a confident and ear-catching achievement. The record was picked as Album of The Week by The Sunday Times and hailed everywhere as announcing the arrival of a band to watch.

It was with Tiger Flies that I picked up on the band. The lps does have a folky feel but what you really notice is the melody and an ear for a catchy tune

Wreck of the Breeze - Candidate

What happened next was the band took a further step to the folk and recorded and imaginary soundtrack to the film The Wicker Man, recording on location and staying in the same hotel where Edward Woodward's doomed policeman stayed and Britt Ekland's body double did a dance.

Not wanting to get pigeon holed as a nu folk band (before the name nu folk had been used !) They changed direction with the next lp Under the Skylon and went for a more widescreen sound as the songs covered the ride and fall of a love affair, but explored through the metaphor of the Skylon built for the 1951 festival of Britain (so much for straight forward pop/rock songs)

Nothing Between us But Sky - Candidate

Another lp followed which I've not yet heard although I soon will as you can download the back catalogue here for the princely sum of £1:28 per lp (it is publicised on the band's website so it isn't a dodgy rip off)

Monday, 14 March 2011

Monday Moments - Blue Skies

This weeks monday moment comes form a modern concept lp. The lp tracks the breakup of the lead singer, Charlie Fink's relationship with fellow nu folker Laura Marling (who to confuse matters now goes out with one of Mumford and Sons).

The lyrics of the lp are painfully honest, uncomfortably so when they deal with the first time he sleeps with someone else, it is soul laid bare stuff.

Towards the end of the lp there is a sense finally letting go and looking forward and that glimmer starts with Blue Skies.

My monday moment comes the first time the almost choral backing vocals come in on the chorus. They are pitched at just the right level, quietly offering support and hope as the fragile lead vocals ......

This is the last song I'll write when I'm in love with you

This is the last song I'll write when you are even on my mind

Because it is time to leave those feelings behind

Blue Skies are coming

But I know that its hard

At the top of the post I mentioned Nu - Folk - I'm still not really sure what an earth this label really means - however it has prompted this week's mini themes, over the next 3 posts I'll write about 3 bands who I think were kind of front runners to try and get to grips with it.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lazy Sunday - Aztec Camera

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a tune from the lp that a lot of Aztec Camera fans feel the most uncomfortable with. The production hasn't dated that well but I think most of the songs really stand up and here is one of the best of them and probably the most Aztec Camera like of the lp

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Life of Live - The Triffids

I saw the Triffids play live to support their as it turned out final lp the wildly ambitious Black Swan. David McComb the singer had envisaged a double lp where every song was recorded in a different style. His band members were doubtful his record company hostile so it ended up being butchered into a single lp which although a bit of a mess , is one hell of a beautiful mess.

Recently and sadly after David McComb's death the lp has been re-released in the way it was originally meant.

The 2 things I can remember about the concert were the intensity that David McComb brought to every song and the quality of the bands playing as styles and instruments were swapped around. It was a shame that the richness of the sound deserved a Royal Albert Hall and not where we were, a dark room with beer sludge on the floor at the poly.

The track I've posted is their attempt at an Eastern European Gypsy folk song... no come back it is great

The Clown Prince - The Triffids

You can buy the Black Swan here

Thursday, 10 March 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Let the Right One In

Let the Right One is probably better known for the author John Ajvide Lindqvist's film adaptation and the recent American remake than for the original source novel. The film helped by two outstanding child performances was about as close to an art house vampire movie as you could get. I had heard in reviews that there were various threads in the novel that the film didn't cover and so was intrigued enough to give it a go.

For those of you that don't know the plot, the story focuses on Oscar who lives in block of flats in Sweden with his mother. Oscar is bullied at school and has fantasies about taking violent revenge on those that torment him. He makes friends with a new girl, Eli, who has just moved into the block and who is amazingly agile , doesn't feel the cold and whose flat has all the windows blocked out. The community is gripped not only by winter but by a series of "ritual " murders that are happening in the local area, carried out by an old man Hakan who is "looking after" and providing food for Eli.

I guess the big question is if you have seen the film , does the book offer anything more? The story is broadened out , we learn a bit of Eli's back ground and how she became infected. Hakan is given a back story so we get to see what his motives are which always seemed a bit odd in the film, as he wasn't a vampire himself. The events of the film are pretty much confined to the first half and very end of he book. There are a couple of major changes , the first probably removed from the film due to timing (it takes up a big chunk of the second half book and the other, specifically involving Eli, because in a 90 min film without the benefit of hearing the character's thoughts, it would have complicated the relationship between Oscar and Eli too much.

However as a result of the first omission it does mean that the book offers a number of story strands and characters that were dropped from the film. These only go to heighten the theme of loneliness and isolation whether it is Oscar for his lack of friends , the local drunks for the death of their dreams , Tommy for the death of his father, Hakan for a physical desire he can never satisfy, Oscar's parents for the death of their marriage and Eli the ultimate isolation of living forever. All heightened by the sense of being trapped by the winter, poverty and the country (the only clunky bit has a soviet submarine run aground in Swedish waters)

It can alos be seen as a horror version of Larkin's view of parents, none of who come out of it well.

Can there be such a thing as a social commentary vampire story? ..well this is as close to one as it gets

You can buy Let The Right One In here

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Strange Covers - Elbow

I've no idea where I got this , I think it may have been on a free cd from Uncut or the Word. It is a cover of a The The song that originally appeared on Mindbomb. As most of that lp was a bit of a state of the world address , this one, a song about the breakdown of a relationship really stood out.

Elbow have managed to do a cover that keeps the essence of the original but somehow makes you believe it is an Elbow original

Monday, 7 March 2011

Monday Moments - Jocelyn Square

A couple of weeks ago monday moments I featured one half of the splinters from Friends Again, this week it is time for the other.

If the Bathers went for a more European sound then Love and Money looked west. James Grant has a fantastic voice and when he formed Love and Money it seemed like they were set for super stardom . I remember every week it seemed like the Record Mirror had some review or article championing the band and what ironically was I think their weakest release - the debut lp All You Need is Love and Money.

Despite not selling that much the record company pulled out all the stops for the follow up lp A Strange Kind of Love, calling in Steely Dan producer Gary Katz. As a result the guitar work outs are toned down and there is a more polished feel.

My monday moment comes from one of the singles from this lp. I moved to Glasgow straight from poly and went from knowing everyone in the pub to only knowing the person I went for a drink with. I loved the city but felt isolated, not helped by the fact that for that year the city lived up to its raintown reputation and this song touched a nerve. On the long drives to visit poly friends I would play this and belt out a sing along in the relative privacy of my nearly new Ford escort company car. My monday moment is the first verse especially the "still think about you but only when it rains" which still sends a shiver down my spine and takes me back to singing/shouting/driving in the dark

Wrote you a letter and i sent it on the first of July

Now its November and still I've heard no reply

It will be my birthday soon if I don't see you I'll survive

I would be happy if you let me know you re still alive

Still live on Jocelyn square nothing much has really changed

Still think about you but only really when it rains

Sometimes you don't know something is open until it shuts

I loved you so much I hated your guts

Love and Money released a couple more lps and one the record company rejected and James Grant continues to record solo lps , the latest, last year's Strange Flowers, contains some of his best songs

Strange Kind of Love recently had a re release and can be bought here

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Lazy Sunday - Levi Johnston's Blues

Last year saw an interesting collaboration between Ben Folds and Nick Hornby. The resultant lp Lonely Avenue is full of top tunes and clever songs. This week Lazy sundays shuffle has thrown up this track

All about the dread felt by the father of Sarah Palin's grandchild

What do I like about it .. well the lyrics are very funny and I like the fact that Nick hornby wrote them from Levi Johnston's point of view

You can buy Lonely Avenue here

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Three Lives of The Wild Swans

First Life

Formed by Paul Simpson in 1980 the band were an essential part of the the Liverpool early 80s scene and supported both the bunnymen and the teardrop explodes on tour. They released the classic single Revolutionary Spirit. For some reason the music buyer in my local Boots bought a job lot of them and it was in this shops bargain rack that I bought it, if I'm honest purely on the back of liking the cover.
It is one of the great lost singles of the 80s

Second Life

The band broke up in 1982 and Paul Simpson went on to form Care with Ian Broudie who also in Flaming Sword made a classic single that sold zilch. When that band broke apart the Wild Swans reformed ans signed to a major label releasing the lp Bringing Home the Ashes in 1988. Not much had changed in terms of sound , although with more money behind them the rough edges were smoothed off. The lp has aged well and has one classic single on it

Third Life

This lp and it's follow up didn't sell that well (they were re-released on one disc in 2007) and the band were dropped by Sire.
2007 saw the third incarnation of the band with a new lp due for release this year. If it is anything like this fantastic single from 2009 then it should be good. The sound is unmistakeably the Wild Swans although without the sheen of a major label it is a more stripped down sound, also Paul Simpson's voice as aged to give it a slightly different tone

Apparently the lp features the following :Paul Simpson, Les Pattinson (ex Echo and the Bunnymen), Ged Quinn (former Wild Swan), Ricky Maymi (Brian Jonestown Massacre), Mike Mooney (Spiritualized), Will Sergeant (Echo and the Bunnymen), Henry Priestman (Its Immaterial/The Christians), Candie Payne, Steve Beswick (The Heart Throbs)

There is a lot more to find out at the band's website here and you can buy some of the lps at reasonable prices and some at ridiculous prices here

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Why I Love Country Music - Obi

Thought it was about time for another why I love country music post as it has been months since the last one.

This one comes from Brighton band Obi who made a couple of melodic pop lps. They got classed with the new folk movement but that pigeon holed them unfairly as their music took on a range of styles and influences.

Here is one track that had a country feel

This is from their debut mini lp and if you like you music full of melodic subtleties then it is worth a go and you can buy it here

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Leagacy of the Sound - The Open

A while back I did a post on the Sound and how you can hear their influence in the likes of the Editors and The Doves. Another band whose big guitar sound can be traced back to that band are Stafford's The Open. In 1994 they released their debut lp The Silent Hours which was full of soaring vocals and swirling guitars.

They didn't get the sales they deserved maybe not helped by the fact that the 2nd lp swerved off into a direction closer to Talk Talk's later lps and away from the big guitar sound of the debut.

In the meantime here is one of the singles

Close My Eyes - The Open