Friday, 30 September 2011

Life of Live - The Diggers

What a thankless task it must be to play live at a beer festival. You have to put up with the fact that everyone is pissed and more interested in singing their own drinking songs , drinking even more than they can physically hold or desperately trying to cop off than listening to a band play, especially one who have only released one lp which no one in the audience has probably heard.

I went along because to I think it was the Clapham beer festival and sat in a tent because I had got the Scottish bands lp which was chock full of sing along pop tunes with a beatley feel that was the corner stone of a lot of Britpop bands.

Before i get too snobbishly superior I should point out that I can remember virtually nothing of their set as I singing made up songs , drinking more than I could physically take and no doubt singularly failing to cop off. This was a shame as the band split up shortly afterwards I hope not related to playing at a beer festival

Nobody's Fool - The Diggers

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Palo Alto

James Franco must be very annoying to know , good looks and a acting career that combines the blockbusters of Spiderman and also small films that garner critical acclaim and in 127 hours' case an oscar nomination. Not only that but he has had art exhibited in New York and now can add published author to his cv.

Palo Alto is a series of short stories with interconnecting characters. Tales of alienation in suburban America. The writing style is sparse and distant in a way that brings to mind the early novels of Brett Easton Ellis , especially Less Than Zero.

Although some of the characters actions do shock, which in a couple of places feels a tad over calculated , it is the banality and deadness of his characters that Franco gets over so well again drawing comparisons with Ellis. These characters though aren't the children of the mega rich and privileged, but the middle and working classes. Boredom drives them and emptiness is filled with discovering drugs sex and violence.

I am a bit of a sucker for this kind of setting and Franco's style captures the emptiness that his characters feel so well.

If you likes the novels of the American literary bratpack of Ellis , McInerney or Janowitz don't be put off by the "hollywood actor has a stab at writing" preconceptions and give it a go. I hope he follows this up with a novel soon

You can buy Palo alto here 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Beautifully unlistenable?

One of the comments on a recent post about David Sylvian described his most recent releases (Mana fon and Died in the Wool) as beautifully unlistenable which sums it up perfectly

Both lps contain virtually the same tracks as each other although Died in the Wool is slightly more accessible .....just.

The words (in a couple of tracks poems by Emily Dickinson) seem to have come from a completely different place to the music. At first is seems like a whole lot of mess, the worst kind of random free form playing and . However gradually snatches of tunes, rhythm, structure and places where the his vocal melody swims alongside that of the backing track start to emerge. Then the music starts to wash over you and pulls you under so that the words and the music begin to blend in a way that feels like they were made for each other.

Beautifully unlistenable , soothingly uncomfortable, naturally awkward, jarringly relaxing ... they all kind of fit.

I've posted one of the tracks with the words of Emily Dickinson

A Certain Slant of Light - David Sylvian

You can buy Died in the Wool here and there is a more detailed explanation of the lps origins at his website here

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Return of Miracle Mile Monday

When I first started this blog I did a series called Miracle Mile Monday as the posts were all about one band and the series happened every monday (that is about as imaginative as I get)

I just couldn't understand how Trevor Jones and Marcus Cliffe's band didnt get the sales aand profile that their talent deserved. So in my niavety I thought if I featured a track a week then people would give them a go and discover a whole load of hidden gems... a kind of if you play it they will come idea, especially as they had mastered the rare trick of making each lp slightly better than the last.

I guess I was probably preaching to the converted but hopefully they picked up a couple more fans on the way.

Anyway after a 2 solo lp sabbatical, a new Miracle Mile lp is in the works, intrigingly the songs are inspired by a piece of fiction that Trevor has written

As part of the process Trevor has started a blog which can be found here where he is tempting us with the following

I'm hoping to add some early mixes, lost songs, video (we are currently having a short film made inspired by a new song 'Big Circus'.

There is a back story to the ideas behind 'In Cassidy's Care' that I can share, even a story that I've written (a chapter at a time) that inspired the album's songs...

It is early days but if you like good old fashioned quality songwriting , lyrics that are like the best short stories, good recommendations of stuff to read and listen to as well a fair few random thoughts then pay him a visit

If you wander what all the fuss is about then you can hear a selection of Miracle Mile songs at the band's website here

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Lazy Sunday - The Kane Gang

Lazy Sunday and this week a track form one of Kitchenware's 4 finest. This track didn't make the final cut of the second lp Miracle. I'm not sure if it ever was a b side (being lazy sunday I haven't bothered to check) but it appears in re release Miracle of the Kane Gang that brought together the 2 lps.

Despite the very dated 80s production it has a nice white boy soul feel

Lonesome Weary and Blue - The Kane Gang

You can buy the cd here (both lps and extras for £9 - bargain!)

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Glover's Mistake

Nick Laird's debut novel Utterly Monkey was a real joy but for some reason I'd never got round to reading his next one. I saw it on a lunch time Waterstones visit and decided to give it a go.

The novel is built around a love triangle and is told from the perspective of David an overweight 30 something who spends his days in a dead end teaching job bitterly thinking about his missed opportunities and his nights writing scathing reviews on his blog (I shudder to think what he would have said about aha's Take on Me).

One day he bumps into an old art teacher and now famous artist Ruth, who he always had a crush on. He makes the mistake of introducing her to his christian, virgin , good looking flat mate Glover and watches in horror as the 2 fall in love, moving from flirting to seeing each other to engagement. At this point I was a bit confused s the title refers to Glover's mistake and not David's.

What then emerges is a bit of a modern day Othello. There is no murder or mass suicide but David, as the best friend ,on one hand offers support and a sympathetic ear whilst subtly doing all he can to undermine the relationship.

"David knew enough about jealousy; after its introduction, like some rapacious non native species, it spreads out and destroys , transforming the landscape for ever"

All of this is played in a world of opposites, David's failure to Ruth's success, his conversations with his parents and his life in London, Ruth's Bohemia and Glover's religious beliefs (which soon get modified when sex is on the horizon) and David and Glover's likely lads world of their flat with the shallow pretentiousness of the art world.

The two things that Laird does really well is firstly satire the art world, especially through a series of secondary characters but even better is capturing how smug and selfish love can be to someone stuck on the outside.  

At the end of the novel you are clear that Glover has made a massive mistake, but that mistake is less an indiscretion that drives the plot along and has more to do with trust , choices, naivety and looking for support in exactly the wrong place.

You can buy Glover's Mistake here

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Electric Dreams

An early contender for the Xmas wish list, although I'll probably end up buying and reading it before then. Released in early October David Buckley's book tells the story of the Human League, Heaven 17 and Sheffield's role in developing synth sound of the early 80s.

You can preorder the book here

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Live of Live - Everything But The Girl

A lot had happened to Everythig But the Girl since the last time I'd seen them live. Ben Watt had suffered a prolonged life threatening illness and helped by a remix of Missing they had had a big hit and discovered dance music.

The new direction produced the excellent Walking Wounded and the disappointing Tempermental. Since then Benn Watt has concentrated on djing and Tracy Thorn has recently released 2 fantastic solo lps.

I saw them tour Walking Wounded and wasnt sure what to expect. They did try and give some of the older songs the dancey treatment and by and large it worked pretty well, although the songs they played with their more traditional sound still worked the best and got the biggest cheers.

I've posted the title track from the new lp which for me is still the best of their dancey songs

Walking Wounded - Everything but the Girl

Monday, 19 September 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter part 20 of 26 - Aqualung

Aqualung is the recording name for singer songwriter Matt Hales, although his brother Ben also plays a big part as his main collaborator. After being in various bands it looked like his chance had past when debut single release as Aqualung was used in a VW advert. This help to propel Strange and Beautiful to top 10 in the Uk charts.

The mournful voice (always reminds me a bit of Thom Yorke) and subtle backing being ideal for featuring in American TV series and tracks have features in all the usual suspects.

Equally at ease with electronic or acoustic backing, his songs can pack an emotional punch.

He has released 5 lps but the track I'm going to post is form the second lp Still Life. The track has a gorgeously understated guitar and piano lines and one of his best lyrics.

Another  Little Hole - Aqualung

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Lazy Sunday - Ballboy

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile is a track from Ballboy's I worked the Ships lp. What I like about it apart from the great lyrics is that this is how music blogs should work. I'm ashamed to say I can't remember where the post was but one of the blogs I read featured a track by the band,
I loved the track and promptly bought the band's back catalogue - still I guess home taping then music sharing now is killing music!

Disney's Ice Parade - Ballboy

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Wonders of the Internet - The Hit parade

I've written about the strange pop world of the Hit Parade before here. I had most of their music but was missing 2 lps Light Music and The Sound of the Hit Parade.

The band seemed to have purposely picked their name so that threw google searches into disarray or land on 1000s of dodgy compilations.

The Sound of was released on Sarah records in 1994 and like all things Sarah was impossible to get hold of and when it did appear on ebay would go for silly money

Thanks to a comment on one of my posts here I finally managed to track down The Sound of the Hit Parade. (well track down is a bit of an exaggeration as all I did was follow the link)

Looking at their website, the Hit Parade's sleeve notes for the Sound of....are as quirky as ever

This new CD is entitled 'The Sound Of The Hit Parade' and is inspired by going on holiday, watching black and white films and owning old books by dead people. Quite unusually for a modern beat outfit, The Hit Parade aren't very good musicians, they have no career plan and don't have a clue about what will happen next.

The music is pure pop and the lyrics , although not quite as obsessed with an ex girlfriend as the first lp still have a sense of something lost and stay just the right side of whimsical. I've posted the first track which is as bright and shiny as pop music should be

On the Road to Beaconsfield - The Hit Parade

All but their latest releases are sold out, although with a recent lp and a couple of one off singles which you can buy from the website here, the band seem to be well into their second lease of life

A big thank you to Tinsel Heart for the link

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Boxer Beetle

I’m not sure where to start with Ned Beauman’s debut novel. Is it a comedy , a modern day thriller , an historical novel, is it a novel of big ideas or of base human vanity. It is a bit of all of these things but also none of them.

It is one of those rare books that satisfies both the need for thought and the need for action. Into a big melting pot are thrown a collector of nazi memorabilia with an unfortunate odour, a 9 toed alcoholic boxer and a sexually confused upper class heir with an unhealthy obsession in eugenics as well as a disturbing type of Beetle. Add in murder, sex, riots, blackmail, politics, race , language and you have a book that fizzes with energy ,and ideas all within 250 pages.

The book flits between 2 ages, a mystery and a chase set in the present day, with a a quest and a mis matched relationship in the 1930s. the book also zips along across continents introducing a range of weird , grotesque , outrageous supporting characters along the way

The clever structure means that the action in the 2 time periods echo and impact on each other. The book is full of ideas with the 1930s and its off kilter science , its upper class Englishmen flirting with fascism especially well drawn.

I did read the book really quickly and part of that is due to the fact you get caught up with the pace of it all , however there is a nagging thought that if you paused you would find the loose thread that would pull the complex plot apart (there are elements that stretch credibility a tad too far)

The only minor criticism is that in tying up all the various plot elements the ending struggles to live up to what has gone before.

If you want a fresh new voice and a book that is tackles the head as much as entertaining the heart then give this a go. I’m looking forward to see what Ned Beauman comes up with next

You can buy Boxer Beetle here

On the other hand I’ve also read Julian Barnes’s short booker nominated novel The Sense of an Ending. This has got rave reviews but I can’t see why. We meet Tom Webster at school as he forms a friendship with Adrian Finn. In middle age we slowly begin to realise that Tony has created his own interpretation of his past and shaped his own memory. a solicitor’s letter send Tom on a journey of discovery to eventually face up to the chain of consequences that a past action has caused. As ever with Julian Barnes (I’ve liked a lot of his previous novels) he writes some interesting ideas - “history is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” which pretty much sums up the theme of the novel in in sentence.
My main frustration with the book comes the school and college years. , which were set in the 1970s, 80s and yet felt like the 40s and the 50s. The characters felt so out of time I think I’d have enjoyed the book more if Barnes had set it 30 years earlier. They seemed so far of the mark that it spoilt some of the good passages set in later life. This may have been Barnes’ point again memory is distorted by the narrator giving his 40’s ideas and reflections to the mouth of his teenage self...... or it could simply be that Julian Barnes can’t write a teenage voice. One to miss which means it is a certainty for the booker prize

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My Indie Past - The June Brides

Of all the C86 bands (in the sound sense as The June Brides were invited to feature but apparently declined) Phill Wilson's June Brides were the ones whose style echoed the postcard sound most closely (an English Josef K?)

Their one lp There are Eight Million Stories was a mainstay of the indie charts (hanging around for 38 weeks) but the usual disillusionment with record companies meant that then never managed to take that next step and broke up in 1986 just as their sound was about to launch 100s of indie bands with jangly guitars and the add bit of brass.

One of my school friends was in a band Johnny Says Yeah whose finest moment apart from a Janice Long Session was supporting the June Brides in Peterborough, and for that reason alone the band could do no wrong and the lp was played to death on our 6th form common room record player  (except  by those who were still into Pink Floyd, but they kind of kept themselves to themselves)

Phill Wilson went on to have a solo career on creation and became a kind of godfather of indie as recognition of the June Brides' influence grew

For more info you can read a short interview with band member Simon Beesley here

I've posted probably their best known tracks which has memories of the indie discos flooding back

From Sunday to Saturday - June Brides

Every Conversation - June Brides

You can get a great compilation here that pulls together the best of the June Brides and Phill Wilson's solo work

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Life of Live - Martin Stephenson

There was a time when I would tell anyone who would listen that Martin Stephenson was the best live act going, just as good with the Daintees or on his own. There is many a reluctant friend I've dragged along and I've yet to have any ask for their money back.

I used to to see him play once a year at least and then all of a sudden I stopped going. The records started to get a bit too rootsy for me and as concert going got less , it was easy to think well there are other people I want to see now.

Some of that time was down to the last time I saw him . He put on a great show as usual although looking back some of that was due to the fact that I along with the rest of the audience would have forgiven him anything. When he came on he was a bit worse for wear, the songs were a bit shambolic with lots of stop starts and forgotten lyrics. The in between banter rambled along but just as I'd begin to think what is going on and me and my wife began to look nervously at each other he pulled it out of the bag and rediscovered his touch. It was a close thing though and it was close enough to make me hesitate the next time live dates were announced. A hesitation that has lased ever since , definitely my loss.

The evening wasn't helped by the fact that I'd taken a friend who got hammered and spent the whole car journey home moaning that he had ended on a slow song (there is nothing worse being sober with someone who is drunk , except if you are in the car driving!)

Martin has since started touring again with the Daintees and a released a great lp with them in Western Eagle. They are touring again this Autumn and I'm going to put an end to the hesitation

Here is a track from for me the best of his solo lps

Hollow Days - Martin Stephenson

Monday, 12 September 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Teitur

Not another singer songwriter this week features Teitur (old Norse for happy apparently) Lassen. Originally from the Faroe Isles, the fact he won a recording contract and publishing deal with universal strangely won him business man of the year in 2004!

Relocating to Denmark he has released 5 lps of hushed vocals and quiet romanticism. Equally at home with acoustic strums as with rich orchestral backing, his songs spend a lot of time in a minor key.

I got to know his music through a compilation he put out All My Mistakes which pulls together a selection of songs from his previous 4 English Language lps (he as recorded one in his native tongue)

I Don't Want You to Wake Up - Teitur

If you liked this then I'd heartily recommend All My Mistakes which feels like it could be the soundtrack to a Wes Anderson film

You can buy All My Mistakes here

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Tidy up

Quick note to say I'll be tidying up and removing links up to this month (march - august) in the next couple of days

Lazy Sunday - A House

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile is a track from Irish band A House. Probably best known for their track Endless Art, this one rattles along with a nice bit of bite and bile.

Small Talk - A House

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Pop Opera part 3/3 - Eskimo

I've posted a track by this artist before and had a take down notice so this one will have to be a bit cryptic. What made his debut lp stand out from the sea of other singer songwriters was the ability to take songs into unexpected places.

So what starts as a bit of melancholy starts to build with a more classical backing until at 3 1/2 mins a powerful operatic vocal  kicks in and takes the song soaring to a different level


So that ends the mini theme of opera mixing with pop (and not in a Tommy type way) - I'm sure I've missed loads and any suggestions welcome but these were 3 of my favs

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Pop Opera part 2/3 - Passengers

Released at a time of their most creative and before they lost the plot a bit again with Pop. Miss Sarajeva comes from the lp of soundtracks to imaginary films that U2 and Brian Eno made together under the name Passengers. This track was a little different in that the film did exist, a documentary about a beauty competition in Sarajeva, painting the impact of war on something as far removed as a beauty parade.

Bono has described it as his favourite U2 song. The backing is an great bit of eno mood music with Bono's hypnotic and understated vocal a perfect fit. Pavarotti sings the opera piece providing the emotional contrast to an almost dead pan Bono.

The Italian libretto roughly translates as

You say that like a river finds its way to the sea/ You will find your way back to me/ You say that will find a way/ But love I'm not a praying man/ And in love I can't wait anymore."

The track debuted live at a Pavarotti and friends concert

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Pop Opera part 1/3 - Malcolm Mclaren

I've been to one opera and that was enough for me. It is very small minded but like most classical music I figure there is so much pop music I haven't heard that there isn't much room for anything else.

Sometimes a bit of opera sneaks its way into pop music and as i mini series I thought I'd share 3 examples where it really works

First up is Malcolm Mclaren who recorded a whole lp "Fans" of the mix up. At the time he claimed it would be the new rap music or something, master of the understatement as usual.

The track that was a single was Madam Butterfly that merged elements of Puccini's opera with Mclaren's narrative as Lieutenant Pinkerton with Cio Cio San his unfortunate Japanese wife played by both an opera singer and a pop singer.

Some of the lyrics are cringe worthy especially Mclaren's who talks in a bizarre American accent. Puccini's music weaves in and out of an electronic backing. The whole thing should have been a massive mess but somehow it really works. It helps that the female pop singer (couldn't find out who the singer was) does a great vocal and in her own way holds her own with the opera singer.

Released as we were just about to enter a period of pop blandness, this still sounds as fresh as when I first heard it.

Madame Butterfly - Malcolm Mclaren

The video however has that mid 80s "art piece" written all over it


Monday, 5 September 2011

Not Another Singer Songwriter - Brendan O Shea

This week's singer songwriter is another Irish native that has relocated to the US of A and is now ,according to his website, a resident of the New York Singer Songwriter scene (living in sunny Teddington I've no idea if there what such a scene is like but is does sound kind of romantic and hip). He has released 3 lps of acoustic driven songs

The track I've posted is from his debut lp from 2003 , Into the Light. The music fits along side other such songwriters I've featured that have taken a similar journey eg Mark Geary and Luka Bloom. There isn't anything radical, but with such a warm voice and a sense of melody, who cares

Hollow Moon - Brendan O shea

You can buy all 3 cds direct from his website here

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Lazy Sunday - Hot Chip

Lazy Sunday and this week top of the shuffle pile is a bit of smart pop from Hot Chip. I like the fact that it manges to be throwaway and smarter than your average bear at the same time.

Alley Cats - Hot chip

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Paul Auster is one of the few novelist that I read everything they write. His novels tend to fall into 2 types. There is the good old fashioned story telling like Mr Vertigo and The Brooklyn Follies , then there is the high concept, post modern stylised books such as the New York Trilogy and Oracle Night. While the later are often intellectually interesting their sparse clean style can at times leave me a little cold (Travels in the Scriptorium being the worst case)

Sunset Park is of the former, a straight forwardish story with diversions into the forgotten heroes of baseball, the film The Best years of Our Lives , erotic drawings and the mechanics of publishing, some more interesting than others

The theme of broken families that appears in a lot of Auster's books is central to Sunset Park. The book starts by focusing on educated and privileged Miles who feeling responsible for the death of his step brother has left the family home and cut off all contact with his parents and their relevant spouses. We get a sense of both his guilt and feeling of restleness, following him as he starts a relationship and begins to learn to love again. There are the quirky details that are present in Auster's best books for example Miles's hobby of photographing "lost" things that he finds in houses the team he belongs to are sent to clear. It is in these details that his writing is at its best, linking a small quirk to a wider theme.

So far the story is told from Mile's perspective but when he suddenly has to return to his home city of New York and ends up living in a squat , this changes. We are then introduced to his housemates and his parents with each chapter moving the narrative forward but from one characters' perspective. On one level this works well especially in the chapters told from his parents perspective that lead up to an eventual reunion.

However, this technique also includes his 3 house mates in the squat, Bing who is the unofficial house leader, damaged and frustrated artist Ellen and Alice stuck in a stale relationship,struggling with her thesis. At this point all the fleshed out back stories start to confuse and too many diversions end in cul de sacs which leave you thinking what was the point of that.

It all leads to the feeling that there will be a "big" ending but the end set piece is so under played and so many loose ends are left hanging that whilst the journey was interesting the destination was a bit of a let down

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Life of Live - Boo Hewerdine

It is about this time in Life of Live that I started to see Boo Hewerdine (formally of the Bible) play live on a pretty regular basis. A few times really stick out (the one in a village hall springs to mind) but looking back it is hard to differentiate one concert from the next. That is not a bad thing as they were consistently fantastic , it is just a struggle to remember what happened when and where! Some were with a band some on his own and some as a duo with Neil MacColl (which were always my favourite ones).

There were always great stories to go with the songs, a mixture of old and new, fast and slow. To get round my rubbish memory I'm going to try and link the concerts to Boo's various lp releases. Having already covered the first lp a couple of days ago, I'll move onto the second one Baptist Hospital and still one of his best.

He doest half write a good sad song and Last Cigarette fits the maudlin bill perfectly. I do remember at this concert a recurring theme of the stories were how fame would tempt him with an outstretched hand only to pull it away and blow a raspberry.

The story relating to this song was that Kd Lang had recorded it for an lp of songs with smoking as a theme (does beg the question why would anyone want to do that but hey). Boo and Neil were asked to back her on the song for a big live performance of the lp in front of various important industry people . Apparently they were all set to go when Kd Lang came on promptly tripped fell off the stage and left in a huff with the concert pulled and Boo and Neil having to shuffle off. A funny story with a sad song which sums up a Boo Hewerdine concert nicely

Last Cigarette -  Boo Hewerdine

AS ever you can buy the lp from his website here