It starts with a birthstone...
“Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive are tied up in memory.” Nick Cave
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
What I Did Yesterday - Amy Mae Ellis at The Cumberland Arms
'My mother said I never should. Play with the fairies in the wood.'
'Do you Believe in Magic? In a young girls' heart.' The Lovin' Spoonful
My year of gigging recklessly continues. Coming up to the end of May and I'm pretty much into double figures though I'm not counting just yet. Meanwhile, the year itself is gathering pace. Newcastle, where I live, has had a long unbroken spell of sunny, beautiful days that seem set to continue and I'm making the most of it while it lasts.
Yesterday didn't start well. I'm slightly down for reasons I don't need to go into and am not going to here. It happens. To us all sometimes. To you too I'm sure. It was hardly the Black Dog of lore, but was at least the mean reds that Holly Golightly suffered from in Breakfast at Tiffany's or an onslaught from the Blue Meanies attacking The Beatles for no good reason in Yellow Submarine, except that they got a kick from it.
Swimming is generally good for repelling mean reds or blue meanies. I've recently started swimming again after a slightly enforced break during Lockdown where my bones and muscles have started to get alarmingly slack and I've genuinely started to feel my age. I've rejoined the fitness club at The Royal Station Hotel which I've been using on and off since I came to Newcastle almost fifteen years back.
It was all pretty empty yesterday which I always prefer and I made the most of it by pushing myself a bit. Swimming more lengths than usual, spending as long as I could in the red hot sauna, breaking it up by dropping in the ice pool when required.
When my work day was done I made my way into town. During this unbroken stretch of wonderful weather I've come to see my Newcastle as a couple of square miles around my flat that I like to explore on a pretty much daily basis, stopping off at a varying set of favourite destinations; cafes, record shops, restaurants, bars. I try to vary those destinations and route so things don't get stale.
Today, a pint at The Bridge, Tapas at El Torrero, a walk down the Quayside. Up to The Free Trade, the pub on the hill at the end of Tyne. Hoping my artist friend Billy is there. He isn't but Fiona, who I used to work with, is. In the beer garden. Always nice to see Fi. We have a brief chat and then I'm off again. To another pub on another hill. The Cumberland Arms. Perched above the Ouseburn Valley where The Cluny, (Newcastle's major venues, for all things independent), is.
I've been at The Cumberland Arms quite a bit recently which is always fine by me. In many ways it represents everything that is so wonderful about this quite magnificent city. It's tough, and resilient, and very, very Northern. People bang on about Manchester being The North. Or Yorkshire. But I've been here for fifteen years now, feel myself adopted by the locals and repay them in any way I can whenever I can. This is the real North.
The best thing about the people here is their friendliness. Their openness to life and all it has to throw at them. Their warmth. You can go out on your own any evening and be sure that you'll find yourself in conversation. And it will be an interesting one. Today's example of that turns out to be Les. The upstairs room at the Arms is lined with chairs tonight as what we'll be listening to is Folk essentially. A relief, as despite my work out at the Station Hotel I still fear that my leg muscles will start to get stretched and ache if I have to spend a couple of hours standing. A guy in his sixties asks if the seat next to me is free. I say it is and we start to chat. It's Les.
It's the most natural thing in the world. At least it is here. I'm from London, and it certainly isn't always that way there. Les's thing is clearly Folk and he knows it and the local scene back to front. He starts to talk about what's happening in Folk in the Faroe Islands. I'm clearly out of my depth so I change the subject to Richard Dawson, who I spent a wonderful fifteen minutes in a pub in the company of six months back.
Nat Johnson. Blurred. Sorry Nat Johnson.
Les is happy to chat about the wonderful nature of Richard Dawson's personality and music. Then we agree that Alasdair Roberts is pretty wonderful too. But the first support of the night is now on and we sit up and give her our full attention.
Amy Mae Ellis
She's a charming, beautiful young woman who your heart goes out to as soon as she starts to sing. She's got cool boots, a cool guitar and a beautiful face. Her stage name is Osaka Jo, because she spent some time in Osaka and her first name's Jo. Her dog yelps from the back of the room and she laughs and says he's offering her support.
Osaka Jo doesn't need it. She's doing fine on her own. She's got charm. Not all of her songs are strictly Folk, but what does that matter, except to purists. Les has just warned me about them, particularly the ones in The Bridge located Folk Scene. I've already been in The Bridge of course this evening. Newcastle is a small enough place that everything connects. I tell him the same applies to the local Jazz scene which I'm already familiar with. This generally applies to some extent to any scene. Any club. Any institution. It pays to be eternally vigilant of this.
Anyhow back to Osaka Jo. She's making new friends. Her songs are charming with loads of heart. She does a Folk-ified version of ABBA's Mama Mia and that's charming and has heart. too. It's a terrific set all round. I thank her at the Merch Table before going out to the front garden for fresh air. This is the kind of place this is and the gregarious attitude, it encourages and demands. In the large backroom downstairs a set of musicians largely violinists are gathering for a jam..
Ten minutes later the second support is preparing to go on. Her name is Nat Johnson and Les has already told me that she's the main reason he's here. She's a well versed, experienced musician, who has done time in Monkey Swallows the Universe and Nat Johnson & the Figureheads. I don't know them but I bet they were good because she certainly is. From the moment she begins to work the stage. My heart goes out again.
She's recovering from a bad throat and it means she doesn't hit all of her notes. She doesn't musically either. But that doesn't matter. Nothing does this evening. Anyhow, her talent is abundantly clear. In between songs she mentions her sorrow at the departure from late night radio of 6 Music DJ Gideon Coe. Some of us share the sorrow and applaud. Afterwards I thank her, take one of the CD's she's generously giving away and we chat for a bit about the loss of Gideon from our radios.. A sad thing indeed. And I'm serious. What is happening to the world?
I go to the merch stall Amy Mae Ellis's stuff is there, as is Nat's. Amy is there too. She's an arresting person immediately. An elfin type, very tall, hair up in a high bun like Jean Shrimpton's younger sister, (she's a true beauty, that's for sure), and dressed in a terrific jump dress which it seems she's inordinately proud of. She's every inch an eight year old precocious child, allowed to stay up late for her birthday, showing off her birthday dress.
I ask her if I can take her picture. . I want this because I'm a terrible photographer and my shots of artists onstage are invariably appallingly blurred affairs. I don't want to embarrass her but she's a natural extrovert. A performer. She bobs and weaves and laughs. I get some nice snaps.
And fifteen minutes later she and her band are onstage and it's immediately evident that we're in for a proper treat. They're coming to the end of their first significant national tour and they're match fit. Their first number is half Velvet Underground half Joanna Newsom. Amy has definitely got something of Joanna as well as Jean Shrimpton's sister about her.
They chat, or largely she does, relentlessly between numbers. To her left onstage is Gemima, a blond haired, pretty young woman, who is clearly Amy's main sparring partner. Their pure joy and immense comfort in each others company is evident immediately. They seem like they've been inseparable best friends since they were six.
They're supported ably by a tall bespectacled drummer called Billy and a broad shouldered double bassist called Brad. Double Bassists in my experience need to be broad shouldered. They need to carry the instrument around all evening for starters. They're both ridiculously young, like Amy and Gemima, but seem strong, solid types. The kind that a mother wouldn't mind trusting their darling daughter to tour the country with in a small van. Not rude, surly, drunken sorts.
The band play a long set and it's an ongoing thrill. Amy chatters away between songs and draws the crowd in, as if casting a genuine spell. She was raised in a remote part of Yorkshire and this is clearly the source of the magic she and her band are capable of. I've been reading Cider With Rosie earlier on in The Bridge and there seems an element of that poetry happening this evening. A Northern equivalent. She talks about the witches reputed to haunt the neighborhood where her parents still live. No one scoffs for a moment.
It's been a wonderful evening but all good things must come to an end, the set included. Before the last song, Amy announces they're going to have a small auction in aid of a charity that's close to her heart. She holds up a small wooden goose, The band's best song and highlight of their splendid debut album Over Ling & Bell is called Wild Geese, and Amy has carved a set of delicate and charming geese in its honour.
Gemima gets the bidding going. The audience join whole heartedly into the spirit of the thing and are honking their bids as Gemima has asked them to. It's so Un-English, I feel a rush of embarrassment, almost shame, shooting through me. I'm from The South. But we're in The North now. No need to worry about that here.
With a last joke at London's expense, which I won't share with you here, lest it offend anyone from London reading this, they're off and I meet Amy again at the merch stand and buy an album and a bag embossed with more geese to carry it home with. I'm splashing out, but frankly I don't care. I've had a wonderful night and want mementos.
I make my way to the bus and who is there, on the seat behind me but Les. He opted for the violin performance downstairs, attracted by another local folk legend. I tell him Amy and her band were great and he would have enjoyed it and we agree that it doesn't matter as we've both had wonderful evenings. The bus arrives in the city centre and we bid each other farewell.
PACKS - Crispy, Crunchy, Nothing
Slacker. So slack it can't get out of bed and isn't even going to try. Turns over instead and digs deeper into the eiderdown intent on at least half an hour more shut eye.
This is Crispy, Crunchy Now, the latest from Madeline Link or PACKS who divides her time between Toronto, Ottawa and Mexico City. At least she did for the making of this one.
PACKS have been good before, but now they're getting better. They're hitting their stride and getting damned comfortable in their Slacker skin.
If they were a band they would be The Breeders. If they were a song they would be Spent The Day in Bed by Morrissey. But comparisons are spurious now. They, or rather Madeline, deserves respect. She has carved out her own space.
The cover is terrific. Everything about this package is. It's Madeline apparently cuddling a wrinkled, oversized apple. Like James setting forth on his oversized peach into The Home Counties. This is just made for a 15 year old boy or girl, struggling with puberty and in need of a record to embrace and devour.It feels like an artist and a record whose time is now.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,405 Spencer Cullum
If you heard and enjoyed Spencer Cullum's fine 2021 album Spencer Cullum's Coin Collection then you won't want to miss its follow up, wait for it, Spencer Cullum's Coin Collection 2.
It's a paen to eccentricity. Individuality. Unmistakably English though Spencer now lives in Nashville. I wonder if he wears a stetson. He's directly in a line that goes back to Ian Dury, Kevin Ayers, Marc Bolan, Syd Barrett and David Bowie and is relentlessly intent on finding reasons to be cheerful.
There are plenty here. Ventures into Portuguese. Lots of sunshine. You can tell almost immediately that Spencer has listened to plenty, but the fact that he's relocated to Nashville attests to his drive to become his own man.
Coin Collection 2 is a treasure trove of small moments that accumulate to half an hour of listening pleasure. This is niche but would find a happy home in any collection that already houses Hunky Dory or Whatevershebringswesing.
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Songs About People # 1,366 Mickey Mantle
Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 565 Tony Bennett
Kevin Morby - Photographs II (a Continuum)
Another album from Kevin Morby. You are kidding me right! That man is so prolific I feel sorry for the rest sometimes,. I also feel he should stop. Give the poor listener a break, time to reflect before rushing on to the next.
But really Kevin is the one who's on script while others are failing it. He's only running at the pace that musicians used to run out back in the day when everybody worked on frantic schedules like this. Write a set of songs, rehearse it, record it, release it, tour it like fury then back to the writing. Utterly unrelenting, because that's what you had to do.
Anyhow, it's another good one. Photographs II (A Continuum). His album from last year was called A Photograph. It's a fine record from a true artist. One who can channel, Dylan, Cohen, Cash, or even Bobby Womack if he chooses.
Photographs II is a record that takes its time. A reflective album. As often with Morby it seems concerned with legacy. With honouring and holding the past up to the light. It's admirable really that he puts out so much stuff. So much really great stuff.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,404 Shirley Collins
I never quite know how to approach records like these. Records by great, revered artists coming towards the end of their days. I sometimes expect we're all supposed to bow down before them without even listening to them in order to get instant cred from others in the music fraternity. We understand it and deserve an instant badge of cool. Reflected glory.
These are silly, unworthy thoughts of course. Just listen to the music and see and say what you think of it. The record in question here is Archangel Hill, the latest album from Folk Legend Shirley Collins .Collins has become with the passing years one of those legacy artists. Someone who represents more than she is.
Like Pharoah Sanders, Aretha, Johnny Cash, Bowie. She represents a pure state and somehow seems beyond criticism. Fortunately Archangel Hill on playing it over the last few days, seems effortlessly to be just that. It's joy itself.
Named after a hill near Collins' home in Lewes, Sussex, it's a walk in English countryside. Making her way steadily towards her nineties, Collins voice is cracked and veined now, but in the wonderful way that Cash's was in his late years.
Some traditionals. Some variations on Folk favourites, this is testament to experience. A 'third act' as Mojo's review aptly puts it. Slot her next to Cale and Eno as great artists who still have it and from whom we can learn.. A wonderful record.
Monday, May 29, 2023
Song(s) of the Day # 3,403 Alex Lahey
Alex Lahey sound ludicrously like Courtney Barnett for the first thirty seconds of her latest album The Answer is Always Yes. I mean ludicrously. Then she suddenly makes a radical shift and becomes Sheryl Crow singing All I Want To Do as the song proceeds.
It's good to hear the influence of Courtney impressing itself. It takes a while this kind of thing. She's been on the scene for a good ten years now. But it's heartening. I always feel like I'm with a good friend again as soon as I heard her voice. Lahey seems like she's more in the Pop lane while Barnett always motors down the Rock one, given her enduring debt to Nirvana and Lemonheads.
Lahey's latest album The Answer is Always Yes is an easy and positive start to a Monday morning, which it was for me as I was writing this yesterday. It's determined to find the silver lining. Maintain the line that the glass is half full and not running down.
Lahey is Australian like Courtney and it shows. She's born of the sun. The record becomes a bit bland occasionally. But it's something you'd be more than happy to turn on daytime radio and hear it blaring out. You'd crank it up. That's more than good enough. It should sell like hot cakes. And fully deserve to.
Sunday, May 28, 2023
Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 564 The Whispers
Fog Lake - Midnight Society
I love an immediately recognisable sense of place in a record. That you're being transported to a Saharan sand dune or a Brazilian swimming pool. Somewhere you'll probably never go to, but that you can experience as richly as if you were there right now just by putting on and listening to a record. Today children, we're going somewhere colder but don't throw your hands up, because trust me you're going to enjoy it, because we've got a really great guide. You'll want to tell mum and dad all about it, when you get back home.
One of my favourite moments in the release calendar in recent years has been when I spot a new Fog Lake record appearing on the schedule.. Aaron Powell, for he is Fog Lake, has been proffering invitations to an arctic horizon for a number of years now. Powell hails from Glovertown, a small rural town in Newfoundland, Canada and boy can you tell from the briefest exposure to his music. It's a blurred and occasionally numb sound, but warming too. Like opening the door to the town's only bar on the coldest night of the year, sitting down, discarding your mittens and warming them in front of the blazing, open fire.
Latest record Midnight Society is a familiar but vital variation on the particular seam Powell is intent on. His life's work, a shelf of records of a certain experience. Every bit as vital in their way as E. Anne Proulx and Anne Tyler's bookshelves. Powell's delivery is whispered and wistful. But he's always intent on extracting the warm moment from the savage landscape and I must say, having listened to his records any number of times he's always excellent company. A master craftsman.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,402 Jonnine
I like doing this. Trying to describe a new record every day. It's like exploring new worlds. In the words of Captain Kirk, seeking out 'new life, and new civilisations.' It gives me something to focus on. Where I'm going next I'm never sure.
Australian artist and musician Jonnine is embarked on a more serious endeavor than most. No pop frippery here, or just making a noise because she can. Latest album Maritz is almost scientific in its attention to artistic detail. A calm precise record, ticking calmly like a Grandfather clock on the stairwell landing of your parents or actual grandparents home.
It's worth referring to Jonnine's Bandcamp homepage. Apparently 'it captures a versatile artist at a widening crossroads.' The description proceeds in sombre tones like the labels at an exhibition at a modern gallery, explaining the inner workings of artworks you can't really make head or tale of without help.
Jonnine is certainly more seriously inclined than most. The twenty minutes of Maritz are intense reflection. Spacy and echoey, introspection that made me think of Japan. The band not the place.
Saturday, May 27, 2023
Sparks - The Girl Is Crying in her Latte
And from something that feels like a new thrill to original Pop Pioneers Sparks, something of an advertisement for healthy Californian living in 2023. Fifty years on the stage and still feeling as quirky and alive with invention as they ever did, more than 25 albums in.
They seem to be permanently in the spotlight at the minute, wherever you look on the Pop pages, and no-one has ever quite deserved acclaim and the multiple curtain call they're getting right now as richly as the Mael brothers . They're truly getting the third act they so richly deserve which American Life generally refuses so many to quote the late Scott F.
Latest record The Girl is Crying in Her Latte, is slightly patchy, there are early songs that come across as more irritating than innovative, let's face it Sparks always had the tendency of coming across as slightly faddy, even though they also exuded Pop Genius at one and the same time. The brand that kept on reinventing itself and giving new, surprising Birthday Gifts.
So persevere here. There's plenty to marvel at still. They're still your favourite eccentric uncles round for tea and still as odd as ever, still dancing to one's tune but their own. A last track entitled Gee That Was Fun this time as if they're aware that this might be their last spin at the wheel, and they're keen to write their own epitaph. It would still be no surprise though to see their immediately recognisable heads pop up on the new releases and touring schedules a couple of years down the line.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,401 Water From Your Eyes
Finding it difficult to keep us frankly now. With all the great music and live musical experience coming my way. Every time I lower the virtual needle onto the virtual record these days or find myself in a club or at a gig, I seem to encounter a thrilling experience, a thrilling journey that I immediately need to bear witness to on here. Well, it beats thinking about work.
This is the latest. Everyone's Crushed the new one from Brooklyn duo Water in Your Eyes which is currently burning its way into my memory banks. It's their fifth album in all, but the first to come to my attention, thanks to a review in A Pessimist is Never Disappointed the blog that misses very little, listed on the right side of this page.
A pair who have been working at the Pop seam now for a number of years now in search of a sound. Everyone's Crushed feels like the moment they emerge from the laboratory with their new discovery raised above their heads.
It's all buzzing electronic noise and scientific discovery. I was reminded of early Eighties Pop pioneers; Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Heaven 17, DAF and the like. Even Eurythmics before they came on their gold dust formula. There's something fabulous experimental here. It feels at once retro and thrillingly cutting edge
Friday, May 26, 2023
Songs About People # 1,366 Veronica Lake
Sparks are back with a new record and tour and this is always a good thing, I'll try to get round to the record in the next few day, on first play I'm not entirely convinced but this, for the divine Veronica, is one of the better tracks.
Califone - Villagers
Califone's latest, Villagers, is Album of the Month in Uncut Magazine this month. That's worth taking note of because it's no exaggeration to say that Uncut Magazine never ever get it wrong in this respect. Now there's a magazine that know its eggs.
Califone, (out of Chicago, Illiois, like so many of the best things), are a modest project that have been around the block any number of times. They're Indie in the best sense of the word, as in Independent, (something I imagine I've said before but humour me, I'm going to say it again). They're possessed of the attention to life's small details, wry humour and musical chops. The important things. A perfect recipe for listening enjoyment.
There's lots of space in Villagers which is always the sign of a band who know what they're doing. A slight debt to Wilco particuarly but those are good people to be in debt to. They're certainly not in any hurry here so you sense immediately that you're in very safe hands.
Occasionally they meander into Jazzy interludes but mostly it's the vocals of Tim Rutili that anchor this. He's been powering his and his band's wheel for almost three decades now, and by this stage of the name he's a master craftsman. A midfield dynamo in his late thirties powering forward after seventy minutes from deep, in a nil-nil deadlock, to power a shot from outside the area past the opposition goalkeeper's despairing dive. The ball landing in the bottom corner of the net to win the match. A Pirlo, a Modric for those who know and love the game.
I love listening to an album in its entirety. with time and space to appreciate it. A good album is like a good story, with plenty of scope for digression and wandering off the path and into the woods for a nosey, but also faithfulness to structural unity and overriding narrative objectives. Villagers is one of the best records I've heard this year. I would write more but I'm just getting to know it. This will do for the time being.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,400 Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan
I love reaching small milestones and heading onwards. Here's the latest...
A fascinating artistic adventure. A set of records that delve into the past and its attempts to anticipate the future. The Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan is a series of electronic instrumental records that unfold like an Original Soundtrack to a slightly creepy film set in the Seventies. In Warrington and Runcorn possibly.
They're absorbing, mesmeric albums. Somewhere between The Exorcist soundtrack, and a bunch of Northern geeks and their attempt to make a Kraftwerk record.
Gordon Chapman-Cox, the mastermind behind the project, is now four records into it and its shaping up to be a true labour of love. Anyone who grew up in the Seventies will recognise the vistas, contours and lineation he's mapping. The Nations' Most Central Location is just the latest installment.
Get yourself a set of headphones, sit back in a comfortable chair and close your eyes, to be carried backwards in time and into the future at one and the same time. This is blissful experience
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Horse Jumper of Love - Heartbreak Rules
Horse Jumper of Love strike me as one of those things you can rely on. Like the tide coming in and going out, the sun doing a similar thing, except for up and down in its particular case.
Horse Jumper of Love do something akin to this, although of course I wouldn't claim for a moment that what they do is quite so fundamental to all of our continuing existences and well-being. They put out rather lovely records though on a regular basis. That's more than enough to treasure them.
They hail from Boston, which should make your ears prick up. Boston is one of the World's Premier League music cities, always capable of a shock result to put the big boys in their place. HJoL specialise in charm. Mid paced songs that turn neat circles and unpack their beauty at a leisurely, assured pace.
Latest album, Heartbreak Rules, doesn't attempt to reinvent their wheel. In some cases, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr. Buffalo Tom, it's not required. They're the reliable guys in the Indie Rock pack. The friends to turn to turn to when life's hit you hard and you need a couple of stiff drinks and sound advice to set you back on the rails.
This is half an hour of damned good company. They've done it again. If you haven't discovered the small but perfectly formed world of Horse Jumper of Love, (and that in itself is a fine, fine name for a band), it's high time you did.
Song(s) of the Day # 3,399 Lauren Early
What do you need to run a successful, ongoing music blog. Not much frankly. Three things perhaps. Willpower, determination and a responsive reader. On Its Starts With a Birthstone we're coming up to our tenth anniversary in a week or so and although I'm not about to put bunting on and act like I'm The Queen or anything like that, I will write a couple of reflective pieces, because it's going to be an anniversary that will make me pause for thought.
The responsive reader is frankly the most important of the three options mentioned above. You only really need one. I'm a teacher as well as a blogger and when preparing my students to write I always ask them to plan and draft their writing with their imaginary reader in mind. My imaginary reader is Darren Jones. Though he's real and I know it, because he's constantly getting in touch. For a number of years now Darren has been responding generously to the music I've been posting on here and suggesting wonderful records of his own that he thinks I might like to listen to. Invariably when I do listen to his suggestions, I'm immediately sold and post about them on here in turn. It's the best spur for writing since the days of penpals.
So thanks again to Darren. The best penpal a blog ever had. And here's your latest suggestion. It's Lauren Early, a brazen Angelinos and her debut album Don't Take My Dream Away. Taking someone's dream away is never the best idea. My students are always banging on about theirs. And though, as is the nature of such things, the actual nature of these dreams are often slightly vague and speculative, they're clearly dear to their owner's hearts and are things to be respected. So to the case in hand. What exactly are Lauren Early's dreams.
As you might expect, the nature of these things are not altogether surpising. She wants to have fun first and foremost, not unlike the kind Cyndi demanded in the Mid-Eighties. Lauren's not lacking in ambition. In her own words:'I wanted to make a Last Splash, a Dookie, a Siamese Dream, an album with absolutely no dead weight, that takes you on a journey and adds another layer of joy catharsis and vibes to your life.'
Not asking much of life is she. Don't Take My Dream Away is front line reporting from a teenage bedroom. In this case a bedroom in Los Angeles, but it might as well be one on your street because nothing much changes where teenage dreams are concerned. Except perhaps for the nature of the heartache and hormonal change. It's always been the beating heart of Rock & Roll, and this time Lauren Early is the owner of that lonely heart.
That's enough weak pop puns from me. Don't Take My Dream Away is not the best record you'll here this year, but it might be the best you'll here today. It's not lacking in terms of either heart or dream power. Thanks again Darren. Enjoyed that one too!
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 563 Mike Flowers Pops
Sadly I don't care for Oasis anymore. It's like being told the same joke for the 100th time and still being expected to laugh. But I still like this. Heard it the first time since then the other day. Still think it sounds good. At the time there was also had the oddest Easy Listening revival for a while and things like Would You Like to Fly in My Beautiful Balloon and Mas Que Nada were being listened to again. It's a long time ago of course. Everything is a long time ago it seems.
What I Did Last Night - Ulrika Spacek at Zerox, Newcastle
I guess we're all looking for spiritual homes all our lives. Places where we we feel safe. Perhaps an actual home. With partner, kids, pet and well kept lawn, the option most of us hope and plump for. It might be a group, a gym, a church, a dungeons and dragons group.
Or in my case a pub where everyone knows my name, a club which looks like the club we dreamed of chancing upon all our lives and making a date with to return to at the end of the working week. A place where we can be ourselves. The low door in the wall, behind which adventures beckon. I think I've found another one.
Then after a soak in the sauna at the Royal Station Hotel swimming facilities where I'm a member. On to The Telegraph and a cider and a chat with Chloe and Courtney and some songs on the jukebox. This time I play a Beyonce tune, she's playing down the road at the stadium for a couple of nights. Beyonce in Sunderland. Fancy. It seems a bit incongruous. I imagine she probably won't be checking out the town. Going for a pint with her people. Back to The Sunderland Hilton I suppose for a foot massage..
Then down to the Quayside. I'm going to a gig. I've been doing this quite a bit this year. It's given me a new lease of life. Newcastle looks sensational in late Spring sunshine. Actual summer is not far off and the city I love so much is responding with a spell of bonny sunshine. The football team have qualified for the champions league and everyone seems happy. I see lots of smiles tonight.
I'm going to a new venue. Xerox next to William Armstrong's Swing Bridge. An engineering wonder and a reminder of when Newcastle was a pioneering hub, ahead of the pack, a forging and prosperous city. The envy frankly of the world. I never cease to marvel at this marvelous place. I'm so glad to be here and have no plans to go anywhere else.
I've heard mixed things about Zerox. Full of posy young people apparently, and an ex working behind the bar, who someone doesn't want to cross paths with any time soon. This begs a question for me. Why on earth should young people not be posy. Isn't that exactly what youth is for? Bowie was posy in his youth. So was Eno. We should all be posy in our youth and try to remain so. Growing up is overrated. And besides, there's an enormous amount in adult life that needs to be resisted. My own list grows every day.
I wile a way the time I have before the support comes on, chatting to the impossibly friendly barmaid. I keep trying to work out who the Ex to be dreaded is. They mostly all seem impossibly friendly and impossibly lovely though there's one who seems slightly more daunting and intimidating. I bet it's her. She's not someone I'd mess with. I'll have to ask the person I assume she dumped.
The support band
Anyway, the barmaid I'm with is just great and she really makes every effort to chat. She's not posy. Just young. A big smile, great mop of curly dark brown locks, a colourful array of tattoos which we chat about. Her name's Zen, impossibly. I feel like I'm in some scene in a Tarantino, set in Newcastle instead of Los Angeles. Next to The Suspension Bridge instead of in the shadow of The Hollywood Sign.
I have time to admire the decor and do so. Take some snaps. Cool long tables, spattered like Jackson Pollock paintings with what appears to be candle wax. Collages of black and white photos of the Rock and Roll cool set. Bowie, Basquiat, Patti, Clash, Johnny, Miles. There's so much thought and love behind it. It's a shrine. To wonderful things which deserve a shrine.
The gig room. Space for a couple of hundred I imagine. A bar at one end, a low stage at the other. A sound booth, a merch stand. Great wall deco of artistic squiggles on black. Simple. Artistic. But not pretentiously so. Anyway, the first band are on.
To my shame I can't tell you who they are. I try to get into in my brain over the course of the evening so I can record it here. But I'm 57 and fully aware that memory issues are mounting. They're Mek or Tek or something like that. They're from Manchester and dabble in Industrial Noise. They've got a set of buttons on a desk that they adjust and twiddle plus a guitar. I feel I might be at The Factory in the early days. Cabaret Voltaire or one of the bands on the Factory Label. Great film of warehouses and urban landscapes played on the screen behind them. They're great and I tell them so.
Half an hour to kill before the headliners. I go down to the bar. They're playing Neu! over the system. One of the impossibly long tracks that you hope will never end. I'm falling in love with this place. I sip my pink cider, crunch on the ice. Check the app on my phone to confirm virtually every song that's playing. Even Primal Scream who generally annoy me, sound great in here. Then it's time to go and watch Ulrika Spacek.
The room is more than busy enough but it's not packed. You can wander in and out of the spaced out and relaxed crowd. There are a few people at the front who are losing it a bit but inside themselves. Inner space.
The band are loud. Impossibly loud. But I choose to place myself right next to one of the enormous speakers at the lip of the stage. I'm a glutton for punishment but I love this sound. Ulrika Spacek have a sound that I can only describe as a ringing sound. It doesn't chime. This has nothing to do with The Byrds,. It bears far more resemblance to Radiohead who are from the same neck of the woods. Ulrika are from Reading, Radiohead from Oxford, a short drive away.
They sound like they're from where they are from. Not the most interesting part of the world, though the countryside is nice. Lots of time spend in cars going somewhere. Not much happens except 9 to 5 and paying off your mortgage. The occasional spate of murders to liven things up, if you believe Morse, which frankly I don't for a moment.
Yes, they're like Radiohead without actually sounding like them. There are five of them. A lead singer who actually looks like he might be a third Greenwood brother. A drummer who seems a bit younger. Dave Grohl type with similar long flowing hair and flailing limbs. He's the dynamo that drives them on. A bald bassist wearing the kind of arty round specs that Howard Devoto favoured when his hair gave up the ghost and he shaved his head in the early Eighties. A second guitarist who looks not unlike a Greenwood brother too. Surely there can't be four of them. A guy in beard and baseball cap who manages a third guitar and also does the keyboard work.
They make one hell of a sound. Their songs are like clockwork, if you broke them down they would resemble the inner mechanics of a clock. The band don't say much. They focus on their work. They are grateful that we're here and the singer says so between songs. They don't take it for granted that we have made the effort to come out and see them. Bands say something like this increasingly I find. Times have been tough during these Lockdown years. It's tough trying to create and keep going these days. To make ends meet.
Anyhow, they're astonishing frankly. I feel I'm witnessing the UK's most underappreciated band. They've been doing this for a few years now, put out a few albums. They're on hipsters radars for sure but few are saying how consistently superb they are.They tour Europe quite a bit. I imagine they're more appreciated there. Britain frankly doesn't deserve Art much these days.
I'm enjoying it thoroughly but I'm also struggling. Feeling my age. My legs are aching and I feel like I'm developing tinnitus. I fear for my ears tomorrow morning. I'm not going to make it to the end of the gig. Much as I'm enjoying it. Astonishing though it is.
I take one last look at the audience. They tell you as much about the band as their actual records do. Everybody has withdrawn within. Some are swaying, even dancing slightly, but everyone has withdrawn into themselves. They're a cerebral band that chart inner space. It's a wonder to behold and experience.
I head downstairs. Thank the lovely Zen and tell her how much I've enjoyed myself. Thank Christian too and tell him he's got the place just right in every respect and I'll be back. Frankly one of the best gigs I've experienced for years. Ulrika Spacek aren't really getting the credit and acclaim they deserve. But hey, who is. These are the times. Anyway. At least I've found another place to hang. Made some new friends. We soldier on. Terrific evening,