Sunday, July 22, 2018

What I did on Wednesday - Trembling Bells at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle

The Cumberland Arms is a community style pub on a small hill above the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle. In addition to the normal social drinking that goes on there, it arranges a range of different events including hosting regular gigs in it's small upstairs room above the bar. I've had some wonderful nights there over the years; Thurston Moore with Michael Chapman, Subway Sect, The Blue Orchids and The Nightingales and just last Wednesday Trembling Bells. An evening fit to compare with any one of them.

I went alone, taking the taxi from Central Newcastle in a foul mood. I'd had a run in with a dreadful corporate drone at work which had depressed and angered me, and I'd thought about passing on the gig. This however is not a good idea in my experience, always leaving a 'what if?' question mark hanging which I've always harboured since missing an early Stone Roses concert on the cusp of their fame in my university days, when I'd come down with a slight cold and stayed in. After all, if things don't work out you can always leave early. I certainly did the right thing this time round.

The Cumberland Arms is a very pleasant venue, particularly during this apparently endless, glorious summer. I sat in its front garden supping beer rather than watching the support acts, who veered rather towards the more conventional kind of Folk that I've always been wary of. Various members of the band wandered past at various points and we exchanged pleasantries. I also saw a good friend of mine, Steve Drayton who's a local celebrity and all round man on the scene whose Record Player  evenings at the Tyneside Cinema were a definite inspiration leading me to start writing this blog more than five years back.

Needless to say Steve was great company as always and his friends were fine people too and this all helped to while away the time 'til The Bells were due to play. Just beforehand I found myself inside the small back bar when Alex Neilson the drummer, main songwriter and leader of the band came past me. I told him that Christ's Entry into Goven (the centrepiece of their wonderful latest album Dungeness),was my favourite song of the year, which it is,  and he thanked me, shook my hand and asked my name, then went off to prepare to play. I thought nothing more of it at the time.

A few minutes later upstairs dramatic rumours were whispered. Alex was apparently not well at all, (food poisoning apparently), and wasn't sure to play. The rest of the band assembled somewhat uneasily onstage without him while he hovered at the doorway uncomfortably. 

Just as they seemed about to set off without him he made his way though onto the low stage and they started to play. What followed was the finest hour or so of live music I've experienced this year.

Trembling Bells aren't for everyone, partly because they aim high. Their music is perhaps best described as Cosmic Folk although there is a large dose of Prog in their mix. They remind you of things, how could they not given their sound? In my case these are a lot of things from the early Seventies that I probably wouldn't choose to listen to myself, (not being a Prog man myself by any stretch of the imagination), but in their hands it all becomes deeply palatable and appealing.

Perhaps the most immediate set of references for what they do come from main singer Lavinia Blackwell who was perched at the front of the stage on keyboards and mic. As soon as she opens her mouth and sings, the reference points are undeniable; Sandy Denny, Grace Slick, Mariska Veres and Sonja Kristina inevitably come to mind and the spirit of their most wonderful records is invoked. 

That the band, (and Neilson most of all apparently), become slightly disgruntled by such comparisons, is understandable because of how good they are, but the comparisons are inevitable and its actually a veiled compliment to them as what they do is so powerful and thought through.

The evening passed in a happy blur. It felt like 1972, (when I was six and into Chicory Tip). The fact that the walls of the room were visibly sweating was little more than an irritant. At a certain point Neilson from his drum stool made a reminder between songs to, 'Go and buy our records'. In many respects he was quite right to do so. They're far too great a band to still be playing venues this size at this point of their career. Frankly, it's a damning indictment of our time and tastes.

And then the  highlight. At least for me! When it came to playing Christ's Entry, Alex from his stool said, 'I'd like to dedicate this to Bruce...' and off they went. I found the gesture incredibly touching and if it incurred Mr.Drayton's humorous wrath the next day in a message to me on social media, 'As their Number One fan, I should have had it...' , so be it. I left the venue sated and momentarily freed from the grip of the  corporate drone. Pretty much only music can do things like  that. So, Trembling Bells, you were and are wonderful, Dungeness is a genius album and I'm now an even firmer devotee than I was before Wednesday night. Many thanks!

Songs Heard on the Radio # 260 Beth Orton

Bit of Beth on a Sunday morning. Nice!

Songs About People # 659 M.C.Escher

'I don't know if I'm coming up or down...'

Everybody loves Escher surely. Teenage Fanclub certainly showed an interest writing this for Thirteen, their 1993 smudged follow up to Bandwagonesque. It was one of the best songs on the record.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 303 The Senseless Things

A jukebox with a mind of its own the one at Rosie's . The Senseless Things have recently turned up, with Too Much Kissing, their best known song. A South London band who had their moment as the Eighties became the Nineties. They loved The Replacements and that's plainly apparent here with much of that bands ragged momentum and tattered romanticism. It's a good little record from a bygone time.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 175 Ritchie Valens

Song(s) of the Day # 1,645 Blues Lawyer

Four tracks from Oakland California's Blues Lawyer and their debut album Guess Work which came out in April. An impromptu project from members of various bands, it's full of neat, concise Independent pop songs, working from the template of Wire's Pink Flag and Television Personalities with a dash of Velvet Underground circa '69 Live and Loaded, looking ahead to Modern Lovers Roadrunner and occasionally further than that to The Strokes and Moldy Peaches. If you like any of these, you'll find much to treasure here.

It's a cool little record. Call and response from Rob Miller and Elyse Shrock abounds across the album. It's a record which draws lovingly on the groups record collection but informs proceedings which a beautiful felt teenage ennui.

Recorded over a couple of days and available on cassette and Bandcamp download, Guess Work never wastes a moment or skips a beat. Ten songs checking in between one minute and three which kind of make you hope that the contributors shelve their main projects and become full time lawyers.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Songs About People # 658 Fred Rogers

And to round-up this Innocence Mission moment, a song from 2016's Hello I Feel the Same, for Fred Rogers, all-round American icon of the way things were and perhaps what has been lost. A Tom Hanks film about him is forthcoming.

Covers # 95 The Innocence Mission

One of the great 'innocence' songs of all from the band's 2004 covers album, Now The Day Is Over. 

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 177 The Beatles

Song(s) of the Day # 1,643 The Innocence Mission

The Innocence Mission, a rare discovery in my constant search for new music from a couple of weeks back which I'm finally coming to write about just in time for a much needed weekend.

I'm very late on this particular case as they, (essentially a project built around married couple Karen and Don Peris), have been putting out records for nigh on thirty years having first met while taking part in the preparations for a high school production of Godspell.

They've changed greatly over the intervening years, beginning in rather orthodox fashion considering what they are now, their early records inviting comparison to the likes of The Cranberries or  Mazzy Star. Gradually over time they've worked on their sound and vision to the point where they've sculpted something of awe and wonder, documenting the beauty of the commonplace. All of this is wonderfully realised on their latest record Sun On The Square, just released in the UK on Bella Vista Records.

It's music which can quite easily push you to the verge of tears, if you're so inclined, such is its simplistic loveliness. Karen's voice is at the core of the spell being cast here. A lesson in how the purity of youthful existence can be maintained into adulthood and a reminder of how important it is to never completely let go of that magic. William Blake knew, Nick Drake knew and so do the The Innocence Mission.

The album yearns for a return to this innocence. They're an aptly named band. Each song unfolds at graceful pace, evoking the feel of a summers day in a city square, sun shining on trees and flowers, people going about their business and everything maintaining a spectral unity. The miracle of everyday existence.

The Peris now have and are raising children of their own and this surely feeds into the impact of the record. Each song feeds off and melts into the last, building towards a golden half hour of listening. Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine's Sam Beam are highly vocal fans and you can easily hear why as the qualities and seeds of their own best records are nakedly evident here.

Karen's voice is a distant twin of Joanne Newsome's and it works its way into you over the course of Sun On The Square. The Innocence Mission are clearly a back-burner project that the Peris have somehow managed to maintain over the years as a backdrop to nine to fives and child raising and this only heightens its appeal. There is a clear grasp of the mundane and everyday here which is the central core of its achievement.

Credit to The Innocence Mission for the realisation of this. And credit to Simon Raymonde too of Bella Vista for recognising how special it is and putting out Sun On The Square. In many ways these songs feel like children's lullabies, but the record is a reminder of just how much we'll always need them. Even, and in fact especially as we journey further through adulthood.

So in honour of my small but wonderful discovery of a couple of weeks back, here is a small 'The Innocence Mission Tribute Day' on It Starts.  An extraordinary documentation of the experience of existence and love. Long may they run!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Ian Curtis

At the Paradiso, Amsterdam 1980.

Goon Sax - Make Time 4 Love

Goon Sax return with yet another track from their forthcoming second album due this Autumn which is shaping up to be something very wonderful indeed, at least on the basis of the two songs released. This one Make Time 4 Love, (and no I don't like the use of 4, they're supposed to be budding poets), is a peach. Just two minutes long but what a lot they do in that time. Sure their templates are utterly blatant, Jonathan Richman, (that offbeat phrasing) and Robert Forster, (Robert's son is in the group). But they make splendid use of their ingredients. The song blooms with magnificent Indie understatement at its midway point. Respect to the youth for not letting it go to waste!

Songs About People # 657 L.S. Lowry

Some of the music inspired by the British Punk Revolution was among the most honest, refreshing upfront, rawest music ever made in the whole rich, glorious story of Rock and Roll. The Television Personalities, Wreckless Eric, Patrick Fitzgerald, ATV, 999, Spizz Energi, Wire's Pink Flag et al. Perhaps you wouldn't want to listen to it absolutely all the time but in short, sharp bursts, now and then, it really can't be beaten.

Ben Edge of the splendidly named Ben Edge & the Electric Pencils understands this only too well. He's based his whole musical persona upon it after all. Every song on his eponymous debut album, which came out last year, is a small new wave classic. Here's the one he wrote about the man who painted matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs. 

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 178 Little Stevie Wonder

Song of the Day # 1,642 Kacey Johansing

Rather lovely Folk inflections fronted by a quite beautiful voice. From an album called The Hiding which came out in March.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 179 Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five

Songs About People # 656 Thelonious Monk

And while we're here, here's another that also passes muster!

Song of the Day # 1,641 The Roves

Now this is a very odd concept. A London band playing very early British Invasion influenced Rock and Roll, (particularly early Beatles, the twangy treble of Lennon is really evident in the mix), with some lyrical inflections in the mix to leaven the dough. It would clearly sound best in a pub. Here's the first track of their eponymous debut album, which is the one which strays furthest from the flock and is also I'd say the best song on the record.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Songs About People # 655 Sophie Calle

of Montreal, hyper-pretentious Elephant 6 Collective band identify their favourite conceptual artist. Generally, my policy is to post things I like on here, but good luck if you're planning on sitting through and listening to this.

Gruff Rhys

I'm still looking to post a brief write-up of Gruff Rhys' fine new album Babelsberg. In the meantime, here's something else that's new from him. A song, (very much in the vein of the Super Furry's very first single, Hometown Unicorn), in support of our marvelous NHS which is under constant attack from market forces and has been for many decades. Here's what he says about it:

'I was approached by National Theatre Wales recently to write a song for their NHS70 festival, which launches today. In most of my songs I mostly deal in lyrical abstraction, but as the NHS has had such a profound effect on every aspect of my life since birth, this was a commission that I felt duty bound to throw myself into out of respect for everything it’s given me. The title ‘No profit in pain’ is an attempt to counter the mentality of ‘No Pain no gain’ and ‘tough love’ which keep being peddled about by zealous free marketeers. The NHS is something that we can too easily take for granted. But the NHS has been there for me throughout my life and has also saved many of my family members lives. In that sense it means more than anything I could ever hope to convey in a melodramatic synth pop power ballad like this one, so for the song I’ve focused on the battle to keep the NHS as a free service in public ownership. There’s loads of swearing in it. Privatisation is creeping in and signifies a death knell for the NHS we all love and cherish if we are not vigilant. As a devolved issue in Wales, and as an idea that was born here, the idea of a free health service for all is something that serves as a beacon of what we can achieve as a nation and is something we must pass on intact to future generations. The song will be available on most streaming services and I’ll perform it today in Cardiff. A van has been hired to advertise the song. I researched hiring a brexit style red bus but it was too expensive, so in the end I just went for a repurposed bog standard home office style ‘go home’ scare vehicle. We’ve only got it for 2 days, I’m using it for my performance today and designer and profound thinker, Mark James shot the video yesterday as we decorated it, ready for today’s release. Kliph Scurlock plays the drums and Llion Robertson produced it. All proceeds will go to NHS charities in Wales.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 180 Chuck Berry

Song(s) of the Day # 1,640 Lotic

I don't often venture into this kind of territory, but this piqued my interest when I heard it the other day. A couple of claustrophobic but nevertheless intriguing tracks from Berlin based musician Lotic. Originally from Texas and officially J'Kerian Morgan, Lotic, has sights set firmly on nightclubs I'd imagine, though it's not entirely clear how you'd dance to either of these. In any case, they and their parent album Power, (just out), warrant further exploration. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 302 Jesus & Mary Chain

Probably my favourite Jesus & Mary Chain song. Some thirty years later!

Songs About People # 654 Jean-Michel Basquiat

Cowboy Junkies are back with a promising sounding new album. Here in the meantime they are from ten years back with a song you'd assume was written with the legendary cult artist in mind. 

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 181 Wilbert Harrison

Song(s) of the Day # 1,639 Salad Boys

A record I very much liked at the turn of the year was This Is Glue the second album from Christchurch, New Zealand's Salad Boys. At that point there was nothing available to post from it but that situation has changed over the last few months so I'm pleased to be able to write about it now.

It's a spirited and sensitive record interchanging between the full on attack of opener Blown Up which strikes a midway point between Magazine and Buzzcocks and the more plangent approach of second song Hatred, still one of my very favourite songs of the year. Anything that reminds me of those utterly beautiful moments of early R.E.M. gets my approval. Hatred is an absolute peach, from start to finish.

And it's where This Is Glue takes this line that it works best for me. It's not a perfect record, some songs work better than others, but when it hits home Salad Boys really mine the seam of their compatriots glorious Flying Nun heritage. The Bats, The Clean and The Chills all come to mind at various points.If Psych Slasher is rather too close to Foo Fighters territory for my own personal tastes, when they slow the mood and open up emotionally, I'd say they come into their own.

They do exactly that with the run of tracks that follow, Right TimeChoking Sick and Exaltation, things of beauty one and all. Singer Joe Sampson's lyrics are never very clear in the mix, in finest Stipe tradition, but the songs build up a real head of steam when they slot into that golden sound of eighties college rock.

So a fine record in a noble tradition. Salad Boys got a fair bit of attention since the release of This Is Glue and they're fully deserving of it. As for my review, better late than never!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Songs About People # 653 Edson Arantes Do Nascimento (Pele)

With the World Cup coming to a close, here's one for the man who's probably still the greatest player there's ever been.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 182 Rick Nelson

Song(s) of the Day # 1,638 Luluc

Australia has become the font of so much that is really interesting music-wise over the last few years. There seems to be no end to the number of  original and creative artists springing from that market these days. And as if to underline that here's Sculptor the new album from Aussie duo Luluc four years after their second Passerby made such a splash.

It's a thoughtful, graceful record. Modern Folk in many respects, with Zoe Randall's serene and resonant voice recalling Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and June Tabor. The arrangements are sparse and yes 'sculpted' and this seems an album destined to grow in power and emotional pull with every play.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 301 R.E.M.

R.E.M's Dead Letter Office turned up on the jukebox at Rosie's a few weeks back. Much to my delight! It's the small things. One of my very favourite records of their's. Full of early B Sides, covers and songs that didn't make their early records final cut. The Velvets covers, Crazy, Bandwagon, Voice of Harold and much more. And also Chronic Town, their debut EP, tagged on the end of the CD release. With this, Carnival of Sorts, still one of my favourite song of all of theirs. Echoing down the years!

Songs About People # 652 Charlotte, Emily & Anne Bronte

This is funky to the max and what it might have to do with the Bronte sisters is rather beyond me. But it certainly slots in here rather nicely.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 183 Jerry Lee Lewis

Song(s) of the Day # 1,637 Primo!

Blast off! A new album out yesterday from Melbourne trio Primo! made up of members of Shifter. It races from the traps on the first and maintains its jittery, giddy momentum without missing a step to the last.

This is familiar stuff. Think Girls at Our Best, Mo-Dettes and Dolly Mixture and so forth. Splendid things all, and Primo! do the legacy proud, each of the song checks in between one minute and three and seems perfect for a John Peel session in the early Eighties.

Does it matter that virtually every note of this could and probably was put out over thirty five years back? Not to me. Because it's all done with unwavering freshness, melody and nous.

On a week when I came upon four or five albums that floated my boat, Primo's Amici, is up there with any of them. All three band members chip in throughout on harmonised vocals. In some ways there's something of the ethos of early Ramones here. As Charles Shaar Murray wrote about that band: 'it's like eating peanuts, cherries or smarties. You can never have just one.'

As an appetiser for the forthcoming Goon Sax album, coming out in Autumn, it's perfect. Primo! (note the exclamation mark, it's wholly apt), are coming to Europe to tour and those who see them will surely love them. All for one!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 300 The New York Dolls

At last. Some decent New Dork Dolls on the jukebox. Although it's strange to see it's their second album Too Much Too Soon rather than their superior first. Nevertheless, it has some fine songs on it. Like this!

Songs About People # 651 Astrud Gilberto

Tigres Leones, who featured on this series yesterday, have another song that's applicable. So here it is!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 184 The Jewels

Song(s) of the Day # 1,636 Flasher

Sometimes it takes me a while to get round to listening to a band that are receiving a certain amount of buzz, simply because of their name. Such is the case with Washington D.C. trio Flasher whose moniker has rather unpleasant connotations in England.

My loss, because their debut album, Constant Image (which came out a few weeks ago), is full of sparkling moments and brash invention. Drawing on the legacy of Post Punk, like so many bands these days, but sounding fresh and immediate on their own terms.

Using a call and response approach between all three members, as some kind of calling card, they've put together a great set of songs here. My own personal favourite thus far is second track Sun Come and Golden which is a meld of classic Wire, Gang of Four and B52s motifs. While Constant Image doesn't altogether cohere as an album, (possibility on account of its diversity), it has the brazen urgency of the classic D.C. Punk sound, abrasive and immediate, although it also grows on me every time I hear it so perhaps my judgement on the record as a whole will shift. In the meantime these four should give you a good idea.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Songs About People # 649 Jackson Browne

Jackson at the wheel!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 186 Marvin Gaye

Song(s) of the Day # 1,634 The Lavender Flu

Mow The Glass, the second album from The Lavender Flu, is a startling and breathtakingly smart record which came out just last Friday. The record was rehearsed and recorded in a  small house in Oregon on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In other words distinctively lo-fi. But it certainly doesn't sound it. It's an album that arrestingly recalls a bygone age of psychedelic American voyage and discovery.

A project driven by Chris Gunn, (also of The Hunches), and a rotating circle of like-minded friends and associates, Mow The Glass is an album that just invites the description lysergic and comparison with golden and possibly long since unplayed records and bands in your collection.

Austin, Texas's favourite sons The 13th Floor Elevators are the most obvious and immediate reference point here. The Flu, like the Elevators are insistently frazzled and saucer eyed and come across occasionally as verging on mass-derangement in terms of their approach. But at the same time they are also acutely disciplined. Only one song goes beyond four minutes and every track is deeply imbued with fierce, righteous wonder. 

Apologies for spitting out whole sections of the thesaurus here but Mow the Glass is an album not only deserving of it but actually requiring it if it wants to be adequately described. In addition to the Elevators it recalls the phrasing of Dylan in his 'wild mercury' phase, the transcendental chime of The Byrds, Moby Grape, Country Joe, The Seeds and also Television who redrafted this stuff through the prism of New York street experience in the Seventies. Sonic Youth and early Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips also flit in and out of the mix occasionally.

Mow the Grass is more bucolic than much of that. It touches on Cosmic Country on occasion. But it's also wired. And strangely at the same time rather thought through and sculpted. Structured chaos.

There's plenty of stuff around these days a bit like this, (particularly coming out of America), but very little of it is both as thought through as this and yet still manages to come across as so utterly spontaneous. I've found listening through to it over the last couple of days a glorious trip, (sorry, but there you are), in terms of experiencing epiphanic moments that send me spinning back in search of their source.

This may not reach an enormous audience, (not many of the band's obvious inspirations ever did), but it really should. The band have very little social media exposure and possibly prefer life under the radar's blip. Nevertheless, you'll do well to hear a better record of its sort in this or many a calendar year. The Lavender Flu. Listen to Mow the Grass and 'gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing.'

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Songs About People # 648 Kim Novak

                    Song for one of the most classically beautiful of all American movie stars.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 299 Ms. Dynamite

This quite wonderful song went twice on the jukebox at Rosie's last night.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 187 Prince

Song of the Day # 1,633 T.Rex

Remarkably, I don't think I've had T.Rex as a Song of the Day up to now.  So, to amend that, here's something from their first album in their reborn form after the years as Tyrannosaurus. I was directed here by Johnny Marr.