One of those mythical Punk people, not as a musician, but as a face of the movement and representative of its essential values. Find her story here. Good that she has a song.
Monday, August 31, 2020
Marie-Agnes Halle who writes the Piggledy Pop blog listed to the right hand side of this page contacted me a while back to say how much she likes my own humble efforts. I'm more than happy to reciprocate the appreciation. Marie-Agnes's writes Piggledy Pop in French and sometimes the Google translation leaves something to be desired, but she generally focused on things that are very much to my own taste and this post is a case in point of something great that I'm grateful she's directed me towards.
Stuart Moxham was once in Young Marble Giants a group reponsible for one of the greatest one off leftfield musical statements of all in Colossal Youth. YMG produced a number of great singles and sessions too but really as a statement Colossal Youth simply can't be beaten. A definitive statement of what you can do with primitive synths, a cool voice and no end of imagination.
This record does not sound like YMG. It's forty years on from there after all and it would be rather odd to find Moxham still retracing the same minimal keyboard patterns all this time down the line. The Devil Laughs, the record we're concerned with here finds him working with Louis Philippe, French singer- songwriter and gloriously football journalist.
The result is a charming, reflective record, like an afternoon spent wandering round an old and picturesque English village. No attempt is made to be cutting edge. These are quaint meandering melodic songs. Thoughtful moments in time.
Apparently this album has been around for five years or more and is only just being released. I've no idea why because The Devil Laughs has much to recommend it. Thanks again to Marie-Agnes for bringing this to my attention.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Something of a revelation when I chanced upon it on Friday evening. Canadian duo Gum Country's debut album Somewhere. Locating the soft spot between Stereolab's 'loopy grooves' and Breeders leftfield charge, the record has a lot to recommend it.
Almost the very definition of lo-fi, the record is choc full of delightful and surprising moments and sounds. An indie pick and mix.You may never be quite sure where it's coming from but you might be really glad that is.
Full of eccentric, melodic twists and turns, at twelve tracks Somewhere probably outstays its welcome slightly, but there's plenty of highly diverting underground dissonance on show here.
Many of these songs sound like hits from an alternative and better adjusted musical planet. It Thurston Moore ruled the world, (and sometimes you can only wish he did), this would be the prescribed global diet.
Gum Country in the noble traditions of much of the best Rock and Roll, 'Don't want to grow up. There's too much contradiction.' Who can blame them when they're clearly having so much fun. Scuzzy Indie album of the year.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Way back in February, only six months ago but it seems like a lifetime away, I went to see Jeremy Tuplin and his band playing at the Cobalt Studios in Newcastle. I'd been incredibly impressed by his second album Pink Mirror from last year and written a glowing review which I'd send to Jeremy. He in turn had liked it and posted it on his Facebook page.
When I saw they were playing my hometown I send him a message asking whether he'd have time for a chat before they played. Very graciously he agreed and on the evening of the gig I spent a good hour talking with him and his band. Mostly about music obviously. I was very aware of not coming across as a starstuck, imposing fan but they never gave me that impression and were simply very chatty and accommodating bunch of people. The gig was terrific too.
That was the last time I've been to a concert in close company of others. Three weeks later the Lockdown curtain fell and we were all herded into this alternative reality that we've been in ever since. A few weeks ago Jeremy's (sorry for the familiarity, but I have met the guy), latest album Violet Waves came out.
It's a companion piece to Pink Mirror, not vastly dissimilar to its predecessor either in terms of its sound or its lyrical concerns. But it's no mere retread either. Put simply its just bloody good work. What struck me most about Pink Mirror is that a persona is adopted in the great English Pop tradition, going back to Ray Davies and including and encompassing Marc Bolan, Kevin Ayers, David Bowie,Bryan Ferry, Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker, Brett Anderson and Luke Haines.
Noble tradition for sure, but there aren't many who attempt it nowadays. Nor is it a conceit that's particularly easy to pull off. But Tuplin, (OK, perhaps I am being over familiar, I only met him for a couple of hours), does so quite effortlessly over the course of Violet Waves. He's louche, he's detached, his eyebrow is permanently arched. He's ironic but you know he'd deadly serious at the same time. This is English outsider Pop at it's very best and its great to see it achieved with such flair and aplomb.
Tuplin's a solo artist, but he's ably supported by a sympathetic band who clearly know their Velvet Underground from their Roxy Music. Violet Waves is another outstanding album and I can only hope that they're allowed out soon to play it to appreciative audiences soon. Hope they get the chance to come to Newcastle again so I can pester them once more, though I realise that might be pushing it!
Reminder to self that I should listen to more evening radio in my quest to find new things to enjoy and write about here. A week or so ago doing so helped me chance upon Billy Nomates and her wonderful debut album. Now, listening to Marc Riley's evening show a couple of days back has helped me discover New Truth, the altogether wondrous third album by Jenny O.
Druggy, happy, dreamy and melancholic by turns, it's a record that drags you imperceptibly and effortlessly into its headspace, an incredibly soothing place to be . In this respect it works in a similar manner to Ora Cogan's latest Bells In The Ruins, which I wrote about on here a while back this conjures up and maintains a particular haunting, spectral ambience. By he end of its twelve track run I was utterly won over. Under its spell. So started listening again from the beginning. Only the best records do that.
Jenny O was born on Long Island but is now based in California. This seems appropriate, given the stoned, immaculate qualities of New Truth. The record is rooted in old school songwriting craftsmanship pure and simple. Laurel Canyon meets Harry Nilsson, meets Nick Drake meets Weyes Blood. Somewhere in the early Seventies.
The album was born from the saddest of circumstances. Jenny contracting a rare condition leading to complete and permanent deafness in one ear. But this is by no means a self pitying record. Nor a one mood one either, this shifts in the most subtle and effecting manner from track to track like sunlight playing across a dappled landscape.
It's difficult to pick highlights here, because every track contributes something to the mood. A truly lovely record. Familiar but strangely fresh. An album I anticipate playing to death over the coming weeks and months.
Friday, August 28, 2020
A few years ago I was very much taken by an album called All Yours by Pacific Northwest duo Widowspeak. So much so that I bought it as a Christmas present for a nephew. I suspect he barely played it.
Now they're back with a new record Plum, and I'm rather partial to this too. Nine groovy, shuffling laidback songs that seem purpose built to improve the listeners mood. Somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Mazzy Star if you need reference points. Dreamy, soft psych that is not so much verse chorus verse as evocative, creating and sustaining a rather lovely ambience.
There's also a pleasing simplicity, a modesty about the record that makes it very easy on the ear. Not a record that's likely to shake your world as one that's likely to settle it, and one that's extremely good company for its thirty five minute run.
McCarthy were one of the more interesting and individual groups on the C-86 scene.Essentially coming on like a poetic, Marxist Byrds. Here they nod to Peregrine Worsthorne, the kind of know it all toff who seemed to plague the airwaves in the Seventies and Eighties. This shows how much this marginal strain of music was capable of as an expression of artistic discontent with genuine reach. Quite excellent.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
'Wire have come to be as important as fellow ahead of their time adventurers The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Iggy Pop. It's (Pink Flag is) an act of generosity that will live on as long as art-rock does, and I dare say that will be forever.'
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Monday, August 24, 2020
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Coming to general notice as a journalist for Melody Maker in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Reynolds was always an intellectual writer first and foremost. He uses his educational training of semiotics and Post Modernism consistently in pretty much everything he writes. But he's also an informed one and has very good taste.
During his time at the Maker he consistently championed the likes of The Young Gods, A.R.Kane, Loop, Throwing Muses and the like. Not many of these people had actual hits. But Reynolds always wrote about them as if they should do and in many cases he was quite right.
Since leaving Melody Maker he's moved onto bigger things with books, blogs and newspaper and magazine journalist generally focusing on music but always with a broader perspective in mind too. Rip It Up, Totally Wired and Shock & Awe are essential Pop Culture reads. his blogs are great too and he makes a point of archiving his own writing and posting it again whenever it seems relevant.
I was also very pleased when he actually posted a reply a couple of years back to something I'd written on here. It was a nice moment.
For no other reason except that I'm in posting mood. There's a good argument to be made by a trainspotting music fan that the true test of an album is how good the second track is. These are all pretty great. The records they come from are personal favourites of mine, and one of these songs
gives this blog its name.
gives this blog its name.
Following That Petrol Emotion, here's my review of The Undertones Sin of Pride from five years back:
Not probably a much remembered record. But the first Undertones album I bought. Their swansong when they'd pretty much outgrown the audience they grew up. They split shortly thereafter, largely as a result of its lack of commercial success, as well as a growing distance between Feargal Sharkey, their remarkable, warbling vocalist and the rest of the band. Still an LP with a thoughtful, introspective and beautifully crafted sound which I suspect has been unfairly, ignored, neglected or forgotten by most.
The Undertones were always a band slightly apart. Not least because they hailed from Derry, in Northern Ireland in the late seventies which was a world away from the London Punk scene which inspired their birth and gestation. They experienced first hand the height of the troubles but didn't much sing about them, at least explicitly as their whole reason for being was to escape from it to simpler, purer pleasures. They were one of the truly great pop bands.
Their early singles and albums had been joyous, melodic jewels brimful with the hormonal rush of teenage years. Songs about love and lust, Mars Bars, the pain of loss, the sheer rush of being alive and discovering the world for yourself for the first time. Blessed with the talents of three songwriters as well as the unique presence and gorgeous voice of Sharkey they sold no shortage of records and found an audience beyond UK shores as their package was by no means uniquely British, fired up as they had been in their early days by the classic sixties American garage sound.
But their horizons broadened as they overcame their spots as did their record collections and this was reflected in the sound of their albums which matured and for the main part became more introspective and thoughtful. To some extent I have my older brother to thank for turning my attention to them. For the most part our age difference indicated the changing of the guard that Britain was undergoing at the time between 1977 and 1982 the years I spent at secondary school.
I never took much to his Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Wishbone Ash albums. They spoke of a world I was never to become part of. Starting secondary school and witnessing bearded, impossibly grown up fifth years who in fact represented a vanishing world as all of this was taken to the sword and usurped by Punk and New Wave. But my brother did have the first Undertones album which he's since past on to me and I'm grateful. Listen to that record and then this one and it illustrates as well as anything the difference between being seventeen and twenty two.
As a young boy I was also intimidated by the extreme side of Punk, early representatives of which began to sprout up and multiply on the streets of Richmond in South West London where I grew up. The visual impact of the way these early convents dressed was fully designed not to be understood and slightly terrify the likes of me, products of loving middle class families brought up on my parents Frank Sinatra, Carpenters, ABBA and John Denver records. In 1977 I was far more interested in Bugsy Malone than The Sex Pistols.
As 1978 became 1979 however, bands like Buzzcocks, Undertones, Elvis Costello & The Attractions and Blondie began to make inroads into the charts and onto Top of the Pops. This was much more amenable to me and The Undertones in particular began to worm their way into my affections. Listening to their records now, it seems they rarely put a foot wrong.
By 1983, and the release of their fourth and last album, they'd lost their way commercially. Perhaps their audience wanted them to stay teenagers forever. But instead they'd discovered a new blue eyed soul sound, still poppy and immediately accessible, but decidedly grown up. The arrangements of the songs on The Sin of Pride invite the adjectives sophisticated and mature. They'd been listening to and taking notes from Smokey Robinson in particular. You couldn't choose a better tutor. Augmented by different instrumentation, arrangement and orchestration, it's an ambitious record that fitted well with the contemporary chart sounds of The Human League and ABC.
But these people were having Top 20 hits. The Undertones no longer were. I'd argue that this wasn't down to the quality of the records they released, The Love Parade sounds like a Top Ten single to me, but because they'd already had their time in the sun and the charts and seemed old hat by now. Their fanbase was moving on to pleasures new.
I think the core of this album and what makes it an unrecognised minor classic are the slower tracks where Sharkey's voice really connects and The Undertones reveal their maturing souls. Love Before Romance, Soul Seven and Save Me, are beautifully crafted songs. Elsewhere there are countless examples of the kind of thrilling guitar driven pop nous they'd already amply demonstrated over the preceding years and were merely in the process of refining.
The Undertones are now back on the road, without Sharkey, who probably sensibly decided that he didn't want to be in a field singing Teenage Kicks as he made his way through his fifties. I imagine they play very little from this record and that there's little call for it from a crowd reliving their youth through them and waiting for them to play Male Model one more time.
I think that's a shame though. Listen to these eleven songs. Perhaps the horn arrangements and soulful backing singers ground it in its time and place it slightly but the love it's crafted with doesn't date for a moment. Thoughtful lyrics, great vocals from Sharkey and the rest. Smartly produced by Mike Hedges and the band themselves. An excellent pop album. And like so many of the things I post on this blog a record that's properly recognised and remembered in a universe far from here!
A couple of years ago I went to Manchester to attend a spoken word music festival organised by the Louder Than War team. The discussions involved a broad selection of musicians and writers, mostly veterans from the Punk and Post Punk years. It was quite a gathering. Jah Wobble, Jordan, Rat Scabies, David Keenan, Robert Forster, Paul Morley and so on and so forth. On the Sunday morning I went to see a talk given by Michael Bradley, guitarist of Irish masters The Undertones, to publicise his memoirs, Teenage Kids.
At the end of it I asked a question about the last Undertones album The Sin of Pride, one of my own personal favourites and to my mind a much underrated record. Bradley clearly didn't agree with me but answered politely anyhow. I think mannered was the word he used to describe the record, said it wasn't really the direction they should really have been headed in and cited That Petrol Emotion, the band the O'Neill brothers formed after The Undertones demise, as a worthier next step.
That Petrol Emotion were a consistent feature of my memories of my first year at university. They released and furiously toured their first album Manic Pop Thrill during that time and I saw them play a number of times. They were a ferocious, engaged live proposition. Built around the same classic five piece set up as The Undertones. A twin guitar attack, pounding drums and bass and fronted by perky American singer Steve Mack, they never disappointed. I played the record to death during that time and listening to it now almost thirty five years on, stand fully behind my judgement. Still sounds great.
Perhaps the band were always destined to be a less immediately commercial proposition than The Undertones. Firstly, they were a Rock rather than a Pop band, (regardless of the name of their first album) although with John O'Neill as their principal songwriter they inevitably retained plenty of immediate Pop nous. But they were uncompromising, bruised and unapologetic too, and perhaps never likely to make the cover of Smash Hits or become fixtures on Top of the Pops as The Undertones had.
That doesn't negate what they did have going for them for a moment. But they were certainly always coming at the listener from the margins. Manic Pop Thrill is in many ways an underground record, an album that foregrounds the influences of a maturing musical palate. The kind of stuff you start getting into in your late teens and early twenties. Pere Ubu, Television, The Stooges, The Stones, Captain Beefheart, The 13th Floor Elevators, Sixties Nuggets Garage, the gentler Velvet Underground and more can all be heard in the mix. Also The Undertones too inevitably, though this is clearly quite a different band.
But the record is by no means derivative. It takes its ingredients, pops them in the pan, and heats them up to boiling point with great flair and evident relish. There isn't a weak song on here and it never lets up once during its twelve track run. The tunes and lyrics are great throughout. It has a momentum, a head of steam that builds and keeps building.
Most of all it's explicitly, and angrily political, in a way The Undertones had rarely allowed themselves to be, with the exception of the It's Going To Happen single and a few other moments. Here we see the other side of the coin and the whole Irish problem is consistently if often implicitly foregrounded. The band may not offer solutions, (what good political music does?), but they certainly ask all the right questions.
The record was not an enormous commercial success but it made That Petrol Emotion a lot of friends and set them on course for a fine five album run which kept them going until their split in 1993. They're certainly less widely remembered than The Undertones, who after all had a long run of classic Top 40 singles, and I'd say they were definitely the better band. One of the greats. But That Petrol Emotion were also highly capable, in their own way.
After all, The Stooges, Television, Captain Beefheart, 13th Floor Elevators and The Velvet Underground didn't have too many hit singles either. But they should have done and anyhow that doesn't make them any less wonderful. Manic Pop Thrill is a twisted, tense and tightly wound record. In the name of its fine hit single that never was, It's a Good Thing they do.
Anyhow, to get back to that Sunday morning a couple of years back, what exactly was Bradley getting at? I think he meant that The Sin of Pride was The Undertones attempt to make an adult record, and it didn't work. Manic Pop Thrill, what the O'Neill brothers did next, is certainly an adult record. And one that works. Anyhow, I like them both!
Saturday, August 22, 2020
Friday, August 21, 2020
Thursday, August 20, 2020
'I'm a backseat driver and I'm dying for control.'
Melancholia flecked, whisky drenched, bruised beauty. Powerless yet immensely powerful at one and the same time. Backseat Driver, the title and opening track of Lily McKown's album of the same name, sounds like a C&W tinged Rock song that you've known all your life.
You kind of know what's coming next on the record once it's three and a half minutes have run its course. Especially given that the next track is called Circle of Misery. Things are not going to get any better.
'Always on the B Team. And I'll be here 'til someone needs me...'
Sadly they don't and you might need a strong stomach or a stiff drink, or preferably both, if you're planning to stay the course. I confess I skipped some songs after particularly grim opening lines. This is the soundtrack to a film that is yet to be made called Same Shit, Different Day. It may not smash Box Office records.
Nothing on here quite lives up to the title track.Though B Team comes fairly close. McKown, described on her Spotify page as 'a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, who writes witty, somber folk rock.' I would have welcomed a bit more wit. But Backseat Driver alone is worth the entry fee. It'll be on my end of year song list.