FLAMING LIPS GRAteFUL DeAD
th e past, pr es e nt
“He refused to be brought down”
A GENIUS REMEMBERED
GREAT MODE RN
the DOORS JAPANDROIDS
THE XX eitzeL mARk
an d f utu r e of g r eat m us i c
2017 preview IN THE STUDIO WITH
ROGER WATERS FLEET FOXES PAUL WELLER THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN THE WATERBOYS AND MORE
one YeAr on
SeGALL BILLY BRAGG MOSE ALLISON THE BLUE AEROPLANES TIFT MERRITT JULIE BYRNE
RETURN TO OMMADAWN
The brand new album in two parts Written, produced and all instruments played by
MIKE OLDFIELD 20th JANUARY 2017
Heavyweight half-speed mastered vinyl in gatefold sleeve with free poster
“If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game/If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame” mik
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or all the righteous fury, writing a good protest anthem can be a delicate business: how to articulate the visceral horrors of the world when so much of a songwriter’s energy is traditionally focused on the most personal and internal of dramas? Leonard Cohen evidently thought long and hard about the dilemma, as one suspects he did about most things. When he addressed global iniquities on Popular Problems in 2014, he had evidently decided self-reflexive irony might be his best mode of attack. “There’s torture and there’s killing, and there’s all my bad reviews,” he noted, unflinchingly. “The war, the children missing… Lord, it’s almost like the blues.” In a month where we celebrate the wisdom and artistry of Cohen, with some tender assistance from his collaborators, “Almost Like The Blues” also makes the cut in our rundown of the 50 best protest songs of the past decade. From Bob Dylan to Beyoncé, via a litany of old Uncut favourites and neglected new voices, it proves that politically charged music is as vital as it’s ever been, even if it’s not always acknowledged as such. In our list, you’ll find a song about the financial crisis by a personal friend of Donald Trump,
a 17 20
on the cover: Rob Verhorst/ Redferns
and another that actually brought down a government. one more significant entry in the Top 50 (and a highlight of our free accompanying CD) is an old Hurray For The riff raff song, “The Body Electric”. Their forthcoming album is discussed in a third major feature this month – an extensive preview of 2017’s musical highlights. Hurray’s The Navigator isn’t just a superb album, it’s a critically important one in 2017: “An empowering battle cry for the people who are being pushed out,” as the band’s Alynda Lee Segarra tells us. “A lot of the songs I wrote at the time seemed dystopian ideas,” she continues. “‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Now it’s pretty much the worst you’ve ever seen – so it feels very timely to put out.” To borrow a title from another song in our Top 50, I guess this is why we fight. Until next time,
John Mulvey, Editor. Follow me on Twitter @JohnrMulvey
4 Instant Karma!
Tributes to David Bowie, the return of The Blue Aeroplanes, and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
12 Mike Oldfield
An audience with the multi-instrumentalist
16 New Albums
Including: Japandroids, Mark Eitzel, The xx, Michael Chapman, Julie Byrne
40 The Archive
Including: The Doors, the Grateful Dead, Gene Clark, Mose Allison
52 Leonard Cohen
David Cavanagh examines the life and work of rock’s late master poet, while Cohen’s collaborators share their intimate memories
64 50 Modern Protest Songs Songwriters still raging against the machine, from Dylan and Young to Jarvis Cocker, Julian Cope and Janelle Monáe
76 Albums Preview
Wilco, Hiss Golden Messenger
Paul Simon, Steve Jones
A survey of 2017’s most anticipated releases: The Jesus And Mary Chain, Paul Weller, The Waterboys, Peter Perrett, Depeche Mode, and many more reveal all
La La Land, Rules Don’t Apply, Manchester By The Sea
86 Leon Russell
Danny Says, Bob Dylan
Uncut pays tribute with a previously unpublished interview in which the great collaborator looks back at his extraordinary life
92 Billy Bragg
The making of “A New England”
96 Ty Segall Album by album
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116 DVD & Blu-ray 118 Not Fade Away This month’s obituaries
Plus the Uncut crossword
122 My Life In Music Tift Merritt
ThiS moNTh’S REvElATioNS FRom ThE woRlD oF UNCUT
FEATURiNg... David Bowie | The Blue Aeroplanes | The Rolling Blackouts
4 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
“Something heartfelt to honour David…”
Seventy years after his birth, and one year on from his death, David Bowie is remembered in intimate and significant ways – with a performance by his enduring bandmates, a documentary uncovering the truth about his last five years, and a new photography exhibition… “he was absolutely fascinated by his past and the mythology.”
AviD Bowie, london, 1980. This reflective portrait comes from a new exhibition showcasing the creative relationship between Bowie and the photographer Brian Duffy (who shot, most famously, the covers for Aladdin Sane and Lodger). Bowie By Duffy runs at Proud Chelsea, london, between January 6 and February 5, 2017. www.proud.co.uk FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 5
PhoTo DUFFY © DUFFY ARChivE
INSTANT KARMA Tribute to David bowie at the brit Awards, the O2 Arena, London, february 24, 2016
The Stars Are Out Tonight Bowie’s illustrious bandmates reunite to celebrate an auspicious legacy
Karwai Tang/wireimage/geTTy images
hen asked about their tribute to David Bowie at last year’s Brit Awards, each member of his former backing band shares a different memory. For Gerry Leonard, Bowie’s guitarist since 2001, the performance was therapeutic. “It provided a moment when we could meet with common purpose, do something heartfelt to honour David, rather than sit around swapping war stories,” he explains. Mike Garson, who joined Bowie in 1972, recalls lengthy rehearsals in London – “about four days – maybe 50, 60 hours just getting the medley together” with David Gilmour’s bass player Guy Pratt deputising for Gail Ann Dorsey. “I had a show in San Francisco that just allowed me to get in to London on the afternoon of the Brits,” Dorsey recalls. “I had one runthrough. I had to learn the medley in my hotel room, get on the plane and hope there wasn’t any bad weather.” Dorsey, Bowie’s bassist since 1995, admits she found the event “highly emotional” – unsurprisingly, she is not alone. “We were in the dark, getting ready to play, and Annie Lennox and Gary Oldman were onstage about 30 yards from us,” recalls Garson. “They were talking about David and we were all crying 6 • UNCUT • febrUArY 2017
on the stage, wondering if we’ll ever be able to play.” The Brits performance – on February 24, 2016 – was not the first public tribute to David Bowie following his death on January 10; but it was the first to feature a full complement of Bowie alumni. On January 8 2017, Garson, Dorsey and Leonard will appear alongside other Bowie players at Celebrating David Bowie – a benefit at O2 Academy Brixton to honour Bowie’s 70th birthday. The origins of this event – which will also take in shows in new York, LA, Sydney and Tokyo – date from an ad hoc performance at the LA Roxy only a few weeks after Bowie’s death that involved 70 performers, ranging from Gary Oldman and ewan McGregor to Seal and Mike Garson. “They called me two days before,” says Garson. “I jumped onstage as a guest artist. I played ‘Aladdin Sane’, then Seal jumped up and did ‘Disco King’.” The organiser, Angelo ‘Scrote’ Bundini – an LA-based musician – has a history of pulling together musicians for special events, including celebrations of Talking heads, Miles Davis and even Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. “We’d get into a song, then a singer would pop up, there’d be an improv out of it to the next
song,” he says. “For me, it’s musical research, community driven, and it needs to have an element of, ‘You’re going to do what?” The success of the Roxy show on February 8 led to another, at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom on March 22. This attracted Mark Plati – Bowie’s musical director from 1996 to 2003. “Up until then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be involved in such concerts – it was all still a bit surreal – but I decided to go for it and I was was very glad I did,” he says. “The highlight for me was opening the show with Gary Oldman singing ‘Dead Man Walking’. It was so heavy, it would have been enough for me – I could have left after that!” Perhaps because of the date and its proximity to Bowie’s birthplace, the Brixton show promises a heavyweight contingent of Bowie’s former musicians, including earl Slick, Adrian Below, Zachary Alford and Sterling Campbell. Oldman – a friend of Bowie’s since the late ’80s – will also participate in the Brixton show. “There’s people coming and
going on stage the whole time,” explains Scrote, who has been planning the Brixton event since June. “A guy might be up for three songs on guitar, you look away, there’s another guy up and the choir that popped up for a song has been replaced by a string section. It’s constant, the whole thing, shifting. It’s complex but thought out, so the stage flow is smooth.” “It’s a big task,” laughs Mike Garson. “It’s insane!” “I’m not sure what to expect,” says Gail Ann Dorsey. “I hope there’s less chaos and a bit more form. I know the intention is to be very pure and serve the music, but a lot of what David did was not very complex or chaotic – if it was chaotic, it was in a very organised way. The alumni know that, better than anyone.” Gerry Leonard, for his part, sees the event as a chance to reconnect with old friends and bandmates. “It feels authentic when I play with earl, Sterling, Mike, Catherine [Russell] and Gail. They were my guys. There’s a chemistry.” “I’ve had many people come to me about doing tributes throughout the year,” adds Dorsey. “even for me to turn up and sit by the stage. But I thought it would be something really good to do for the fans – to hear the music again and see us and connect.” MICHAEL BONNER Visit www.celebratingdavid bowie.com for more details
“Five years, that’s all we’ve got”
The maestro’s last days. A new bbC documentary investigates Bowie’s most secretive phase
n early 2004, David Bowie’s tour bus pulled up at the Town Pump truck stop on Route 15, near Great Falls and Shelby, Montana. Camcorder recordings of this pit stop – during Bowie’s A Reality Tour – capture Bowie and guitarist earl Slick engaged in a friendly battle to win a prize from an arcade claw machine. Later, Bowie truffles through the CD remainder bin and grimaces good-naturedly to the camera as he pulls out a copy of the first Tin Machine album. Uncut watches this footage – never publicly shown before – as part of a sneak preview of a new BBC documentary, David Bowie: The Last Five Years. The centrepiece of a series of programmes showing during January to celebrate Bowie’s 70th birthday, it will air alongside a new archive compilation, Bowie At The BBC, on BBC Four, and a Radio 2 documentary on Life On Mars? David Bowie: The Last Five Years has been produced and directed by Francis Whatley, as a follow-up
bowie stalwarts Gail Ann Dorsey and Gerry Leonard
to his 2013 doc, David Bowie: Five Years. That film’s success – Whatley estimates more than 100 million people have seen it globally – meant the BBC looked to Whatley after Bowie’s death to develop a tribute. “It’s not just about the last five years,” explains Whatley. “It’s about how the last five years relate thematically to his whole career. So when we look at ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’ we look at ‘Fame’ – not just the song, but how he craved fame at one time.” Whatley’s film begins with the A Reality Tour footage – a period Gerry Leonard cites as an especially happy time in Bowie’s life, despite its unhappy conclusion. “David loved the camaraderie,” he says. “he would come to our dressing room before and after the show and have a laugh, especially if someone made a mistake. It felt like a real thing.” “After his heart attack at the hurricane Festival [June 25, 2004], the film really starts,” says Whatley. “Then he returns to the Garbo of old, the elusive JD Salinger character.
“Alienation, otherness, mortality”: bowie in the “Lazarus” video
“It’s about how the last five years relate thematically to Bowie’s whole career” I think the contrast is fascinating.” For his new film, Whatley has reunited Bowie’s most recent bands – The Next Day alumni and the more recent H group. “We recreated ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’, and that was the first time that we had all played it since the studio,” says Gail Ann Dorsey. “It was kind of odd. normally, you make a record and then you go on tour. But we never toured The Next Day. It was exciting, but it was very emotional.” Meanwhile, Whatley filmed the H band in new York’s 55 Bar, where Bowie first saw them play live. his cameras attended rehearsals for the Lazarus musical and spent eight hours with Tony Visconti. We also hear from video directors,
photographers and other associates. Alongside new interview and performance footage, Whatley has assembled a rich archive of unseen material. Uncut is shown thrilling film of Ziggy-era Bowie goofing backstage with the Spiders From Mars, as well as behind the scenes clips from the set of the “Where Are We now?” video. “Mike Garson tells how Bowie would stand in front of a mirror copying moves from old Sinatra and elvis films,” says Whatley. “We have footage that hasn’t been seen of him onstage doing those moves. In the first film, we were saying, ‘Isn’t it amazing? he changes from one year to the next.’ While that is true, those changes are superficial. The themes that he is discussing on the albums of the last five years are the themes that he has always been discussing – fame, alienation, otherness, mortality.” MICHAEL BONNER
David Bowie: The Last Five Years will be broadcast in January on BBC Two. Lazarus runs at King’s Cross Theatre until January 22
This month: David bowie at Aylesbury friars… Hawkwind at the Hobbit’s Garden. Melody Maker, 25/9/1971
febrUArY 2017 • UNCUT • 7
INSTANT KARMA A quIcK oNe A new Smiths 7-inch appears to be in the works, according to quasi-official fansite True To You. The single is said to feature two previously unreleased tracks: a demo mix of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” and an unreleased version of “Rubber Ring”. The sleeve was designed by Morrissey and features a photo of Albert Finney in the theatrical production of Billy Liar. Dennis Hopper’s record collection is for sale on fashion website Moda Operandi. The haul is surprisingly small – just 110 records – but also includes “handwritten notes to the actor from various artists”, “several unreleased records” and a 1970 recording of “Blue Suede Shoes” that Carl Perkins made specifically for Hopper. Asking price? £129,600!
As previewed by Uncut last spring, the American epic TV series promises to be something of a roots music landmark, as the documentary-makers take a hands-on approach to a nation’s musical history. Robert Redford, T Bone Burnett and Jack White are also involved, the latter enlisting the likes of Steve Martin, Elton John and Beck to try out 1920s-style recording equipment. The three-part series begins on BBC4 on January 15. This month’s additions to the Uncut range: an expanded, updated and upgraded edition of our Ultimate Music Guide to Nobel Prize pin-up bob Dylan; and a History Of Rock for 1982, with Nick Cave at his battiest on the cover. 8 • UNCUT • febrUArY 2017
The blue Aeroplanes in 2014, with Gerard Langley, second left
“How to make the quite good song you’ve written a bit less boring…” Welcome back The Blue Aeroplanes, rock’s unsung poetry masters
famous. They were playlisted on f influence was measured in Radio One, recorded in lA with Pixies record sales, The Blue Aeroplanes producer Gil norton, and became “a would be living in a house made priority band on chrysalis” in the uS of gold discs. Bristol’s tangled folkwith their most successful albums, rock-and-poetry collective boasted Swagger and Beatsongs. “it was a a dancer, the mercurial Wojtek heady time,” says langley. “We were Dmochowski, back when Bez in the thick of it, primed to take that was familiar only to the Greater big alternative slot that ReM had just Manchester constabulary. They were vacated by going stadium. ‘Yr Own deploying mandolins years before the World’ had loads of radio play, but the organic-rock boom of the late ’80s. sale of our record company forced the After inviting the band to support cancellation of all tours and our radio ReM on the Green tour and singing on play stopped. it went down the pan.” their 1990 album, Swagger, Michael The big breakthrough never came, Stipe began writing distinctly but he’s proud that “we’ve got a Aeroplanian discursive pieces continuous history. We’re one of the such as “low” and “Belong”. few bands that have never split up.” in the ’80s, the Aeroplanes sounded On the contrary, at times langley has like the missing link between Richard appeared to be a one-man musician Thompson, The Velvet underground and WH Auden. Back then, the poetic, employment scheme, welcoming half-rapped vocals of the band’s leader and wordsmith, Gerard langley, were unique. Today, they feel pioneering. “There’s quite a few doing it now,” langley nods. “it doesn’t sound as out-there-onits-own as it used to. You’ve got George The Poet, courtney Barnett, Kate Tempest. even kids who mainly do singersongwriter stuff, they’ve grown up with rap, so it’s familiar. i come at it from a different angle, but it ends up xxxxx xxxxx in much the same place. You flight club: The hear things and think, ‘Ooh!’” blue Aeroplanes in 1989 Rewind 25 years, and The Blue Aeroplanes were almost
more than 50 part-time and full-time members to the ranks. The latest incarnation – together more than four years, “the longest-lasting Aeroplanes lineup” – recorded new album Welcome, Stranger!, the band’s first in six years. “it’s pretty hooky, lots of nice little guitar riffs. We did some longer, more discursive tracks that we’re saving for the next one. i view this as the first album of another couple. We’re looking forward all the time.” in recent years, langley has combined being Bristol’s premier Beat-pop poet with his role as lecturer in songwriting at the BiMM institute in Bristol. One of his former students is George ezra, who thanked his tutor on his debut album, Wanted On Voyage. “He paid attention in class! You could see him working on it, and he was clearly writing things good enough for a major label. One of the songs on his album was written while he was there.” What wisdom is langley seeking to impart to his students? “Basically, how to make the quite good song you’ve written a bit less boring.” Thirty years of consistently inventive music-making suggest that it’s his specialist subject. GRAEME THOMSON Welcome Stranger! is out on January 8. The Blue Aeroplanes tour the UK next month, starting at Liverpool O2 Academy on January 11
UNCUT PLAYLIST On the stereo this month...
HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF The Navigator ATO Alynda Lee Segarra returns to her Nuyorican roots for the first great protest album of 2017.
LAURA MARLING Semper Femina MORE ALARMING/KOBALT
Sixth album, and still only 26, Marling reaches her Hejira phase, with customary grace and poetic good taste.
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
wE’RE NEw HERE
50 Song Memoir NONESUCH The Blackouts: (l-r) Joe Russo, Joe White, Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, Marcel Tussle
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Recommended this month: the new wave of Australian jangle-pop!
and bassist Joe Russo (Tom’s brother) plays in a style Keaney describes as “funk-disco”. Together they add some muscle to the spiralling guitar lines and tense vocal interplay between the three frontmen. “There are just some organisms that few years ago fran Keaney was travelling click better than others,” Keaney says. “from day in europe – far from his native Melbourne, one, this set-up fit together perfectly. The songs became more rhythmically driven while retaining but not exactly homesick – when his old the melodic and lyrical ambitions we had at the friend and former bandmate Tom Russo sent him outset.” Those twin missions come through on a few songs he’d recently written and demoed. their recent single, “Julie’s Place,” the first taste of “They struck a chord with me,” Keaney says. their new mini-album, The French Press, due in “They were tugging at some sort of familiarity. March. An edgy ode to misguided lust, the song You felt like you’d heard them before, but you races along frantically, its streamlined guitars hadn’t. They were a voice from home.” slicing against each other and Keaney reaching That contradiction – familiar but fresh, old but into his upper register for the earworm new – defines Rolling Blackouts I’M YOUR FAN chorus. “I’m standing here like a Coastal fever, the band Keaney and burning house,” he sings, as the band Russo eventually formed with three kick up a conflagration. friends. On their debut, the “miniCurrently, all five musicians are album” Talk Tight, released in early balancing their musical ambitions 2016, the quintet tinkered with pop with professional realities. Keany touchstones from Australia and works a nine-to-five in family law, beyond: the bittersweet melodicism of Tom Russo in advertising. white is Brisbane’s Go-Betweens and the surfa landscape gardener, Joe Russo a punk momentum of Sydney’s Radio “I’m always Birdman, coupled with the jittery interested to give psychology student; Tussle is a barista jangle of The feelies in America and bands that claim and drums in a country band called Cash Savage & The Last Drinks. It the crisp melancholy of Glasgow’s to be influenced takes no small amount of strategising Orange Juice. Rather than copycats, by mine a listen. and compartmentalising to make it all the Blackouts emerged with a distinct And as usual, work, which will only get harder now creative personality. I don’t hear too that the Blackouts have signed to Sub It didn’t happen right away. when many direct Pop and are planning extensive tours Keaney returned from that trip, he and influences. in 2017. After two mini-albums, the Russo and guitarist Joe white started a Sonically, the band are gearing up to record their band called world Of Sport. “we were record sounds first full-length. “Our vision for it has honing our point a bit, but we weren’t kind of mid ’80squite there yet,” says Keaney. “It was a ish, in a good way. clicked just in the last few weeks,” says Keaney. “You only get to release one stepping stone to the Blackouts.” That I look forward to debut album, so our focus is on core trio remains, augmented by an hearing more.” making it a classic – even if it’s just agile rhythm section: drummer Stan Demeski, in our estimation.” STEPHEN DEUSNER Marcel Tussle sidelines in a funk band, The Feelies
MCLEAN STEpHENSON; FuMIE ISHII
10 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
Not quite 69 Love Songs in scope, but Stephin Merritt marks his 50th birthday with a song for every year of his life.
THE NECKS Unfold IDEOLOGIC ORGAN Aussie jazz improv legends sell out, sort of, with four tracks rather than the usual epic one. Immersive, transcendent vibes still guaranteed, nevertheless.
NADIA REID Preservation BASIN ROCK Second set from the fine Aussie singersongwriter, much recommended to fans of Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen.
VARIOUS ARTISTS New Order Presents: Be Music FACTORY BENELUX Hefty comp of the band’s early ’80s production work – all your Quando Quango and Section 25 catered for!
KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD Flying Microtonal Banana HEAVENLY Yet more Australians – this time Melbourne’s answer to Thee Oh Sees, with the first of a projected six psychedelic freak-outs in 2017.
ANIMALS THAT SWIM Workshy ONE LITTLE INDIAN A neglected classic of ’90s London indie gets the deluxe reissue treatment, its droll kitchen-sink dramas no less affecting, 23 years on.
SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE Burning The Threshold DRAG CITY After inventing a new musical system, Ben Chasny returns to the reassuring environs of apocalyptic folk. Ryley Walker guests, among others.
THE FEELIES In Between BAR/NONE Just in time to admire latest acolytes Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (see left), the New Jersey janglers nonpareil return to celebrate their 40th anniversary.
calm after the storm: Mike Oldfield in the Bahamas, 2016 12 • uncut • FeBRuaRY 2017
A hurricane is like having the devil in your backyard an auDience with MiKe OLDFieLD
Do you still have your Blue Peter badge? John Yule, Aberdeen yes I do. I remember somehow meeting Valerie Singleton (right). She had a TV programme, and I think I wanted to be in it. We had a couple of hours off before actually shooting so Valerie Singleton and I went to the BBC bar. I think
“Valerie Singleton and I went to the BBC bar. I think we got a bit tipsy together, because when she went on air, I was watching it and she looked a bit wobbly. That was my fault” interview by michael bonner here’s one he recorded earlier: Oldfield’s Blue Peter theme; Valerie Singleton, 1969
we got a bit tipsy together, because when she went on air, I was watching it and she looked a bit wobbly. That was my fault. Around that time, Blue Peter asked me to do a version of their theme tune. It wasn’t going to be the theme tune; they just wanted me to do a version, and they wanted to film me doing it. They were very nice.
have you heard of aussie duo tubular Bells For two? Do you approve? Paul Conn, via email oh yes – they do a good job. I’m quite impressed. They play it very well, and especially the fact that there’s only two of them. I wouldn’t call them a tribute band. They’re playing a piece of music; it’s not as if they’re pretending to be me. There’s some wonderful versions of Tubular Bells. The most recent was a russian one, playing Tubular Bells II. The Ukulele orchestra of Great Britain made a fantastic version of Tubular Bells. There’s also a very good all-female one from New york, who play synthesisers.
in a period of less than two years, David Bedford, Lol coxhill and Kevin ayers died. what are your memories of your time with the whole world? David Fernandez, via email I was only 15, 16, when I joined The Whole World. They used to call me “young Michael”. Kevin was a lovely man. I looked up to him. We did a tremendous amount of travelling in a transit van. Got to know the motorways, the service stations. The Blue Boar, Watford Gap. you’d often pass other bands coming back from gigs up north. We’d share bills with bands like Pink Floyd, even the heavy metal bands. We were all the same, all gigging musicians. I learnt a lot from Kevin, Lol and David. They gave me confidence. Kevin leant me his tape recorder when we lived in Tottenham, and it was on that tape recorder that I made the demos to Tubular Bells. It’s one of those things about getting old. People pass away way too early and it’s terribly sad.
Do you still have any of your old guitars? Susie Shinn, St Ives I don’t, but I got new versions of the old guitars. My very first electric guitar I had was a white Telecaster. That got lost ages ago, so I got a new white one. My original white one used to belong to Marc Bolan. My agent, roy Guest, had worked with Brian Epstein in the NEMS building, and I think he just had it lying around. Maybe Bolan went to get one of these more elaborate guitars and he didn’t need his old Tele, and he thought, ‘I’ll give it to this young lad, see what he can do with it.’
as a noted trekkie and having an interest in space, have you booked a seat on Richard Branson’s rocket ship? David Collopy, via email I once made the mistake of going in a balloon with richard Branson. He was FeBRuaRY 2017 • uncut • 13
© Bahamas Visual serVices 2016/craig lenihan; anl/reX/shutterstock
orry,” says Mike oldfield, breaking off our conversation. “There’s an extraordinary bird right outside my window. I think we’ve got roadrunners here, like in the cartoon. It’s about 10 feet away, staring right at me.” “Here” is Nassau, where oldfield has lived for the past six years. He has, it transpires, nomadic tendencies. “I’ve moved about 20 times. The only things I’ve got left are my Blue Peter badge and an original track sheet from Ommadawn.” This month, oldfield makes a Return To Ommadawn – a sequel to his 1975 album. “I thought it would be fun,” he explains. “And it was fun, playing all those sorts of instruments again. There’s not even a click track turned on; a lot of it is playing free.” Plenty has happened to oldfield during the intervening 40 years since his first foray to Ommadawn. Not least, his changed geographical circumstances. “These days, I wake up very early,” he says. “I got into the European rhythm when I lived in Ibiza. People get up early, they have lunch and a siesta, then often stay up late. So getting up at 5.30, I can get two days for every one.” And with that, oldfield prepares to answer your questions – on hurricanes, the olympic Games and Kevin Ayers.
INSTANT KARMA What happened to the dog on the cover of Hergest Ridge? Becky Scott, Oxford That was Bootleg. He was the Irish wolfhound at the Manor. He spent most of the time we were recording Tubular Bells under the mixing desk. He lived a very long and good life, as far as I know.
You’ve recorded sequels to Tubular Bells and now Ommadawn. Why revisit them? Nick Walker, Cheam Have you ever gone back to look at your old school or the house where you grew up? Sometimes it feels like a complete circle. Ommadawn was always a special album, but then things went downhill, in terms of my relationship with my record company. I was on the verge of running out of money, so I had to reinvent myself in the early ’80s. Eventually, “Moonlight Shadow” was a huge hit. I lost my way in the late ’80s, then there was Tubular Bells II. Up to that point, we’d had sequels to films, but nobody had the idea to do a sequel to a piece of music. So I floated the idea and it was a big success. I always wanted to do an orchestral LP [Music Of The Spheres]. After I made a rock album [Man On The Rocks], I thought of doing an acoustic one. The last time I did an acoustic album was Ommadawn, in 1975. I thought, ‘Yeah, that’ll be a great idea, I’ll be playing things with my bare hands again.’
The Whole World in their hands: Oldfield (far right) with (from left) Dave Bedford, Lol Coxhill and Kevin Ayers, London, 1970
the pilot, and we came very close to going down one of the gigantic chimneys at Didcot power station. Finally, after flying so high that were out of options, we crashlanded on a bakery in Oxford. We had to be rescued by the fire brigade. I made my mind up then that anything that’s to do with Richard, with flying, I don’t want to be part of it – unless it’s a proper aeroplane with a proper pilot. I wouldn’t like to go in his spaceship with him, no. I’d love to go to space if it would be comfortable, like Star Trek, with anti-gravity and a bar like on the Enterprise. But it’s a bit early days of space travel for me to be interested.
What is it like to experience a hurricane? Marie, via email
You played the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. How nerveracking was that? Arturo Varona, via email
We’ve had three hurricanes in six years. Irene and Sandy and Matthew. This house is well placed to survive. One of the most dangerous things is that the storm surge can be as much as 20 feet, then waves on top of that. So you don’t want to be right at the water’s edge. Plus this house is built into the rock. So the front is looking out at the ocean, the back is in the cliff. It’s like wedged into the rock, so it’s never going to blow away. The big problem after a hurricane is that you run out of drinking water, so we’ve luckily got a well. We’ve got a good generator, too. Make sure you’ve got enough food to survive for a week and your generators have enough fuel. Then hide. Matthew came past about 8am. It’s like having the devil in your backyard.
It was certainly nerve-racking on the night, going onstage. It was the number one gig on Planet Earth for any musician. By some miracle, I landed it. I felt part of a wonderful team, with Danny Boyle at the head of it, who gave everyone confidence. Apart from the half an hour before going onstage. I couldn’t get into the green room, as Arctic Monkeys had taken over with their huge entourage. I was stuck in
“I once made the mistake of going in a balloon with Richard Branson. We crash-landed on a bakery”
Your early acquired guitar skills are pretty well known, but when and how did you learn to play the piano? Rennie LeDuc, via email
Gijsbert Hanekroot/redferns; nils jorGensen/reX/sHutterstock
my dressing room, the size of a shoebox. I was alternating between that and a smoking area, which had very thoughtfully been provided for us outside the dressing area.
When I lived in Harold Wood, Redden Court Road, my grandma came to live with us. She was a pub pianist in the days when pubs were nice places, and people would go for singalongs and could smoke. She brought her old piano to ours. It had a lovely vibe to it. Most of Tubular Bells was written on that piano. I started out like any other kid with “Chopsticks”. But I’ll tell you how it really started. There was this LP, [Terry Riley’s] Rainbow In Curved Air, a sequence. If you listen to it, you’re playing a sequence with one hand and the same sequence like a round, two or four beats later, with the other hand. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. I was determined I wanted to do that.
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Your live shows have often been very spectacular – have you ever had any major mishaps with them? Andrew Marlow, Bradford Oh yes. That’s the Horse Guards Parade. It was the premiere of Tubular Bells II right outside Downing Street. It pelted down with rain and the generator that worked the lighting rig went off. We were on live TV in Spain and playing in the dark. Someone managed to get some streetlights up. The funny thing is, the audience loved it. I’m not sure if they knew that something had gone disastrously wrong. For some reason British people love that – they start having a real party in the rain. It should’ve been a disaster; it ended up being a triumph. It was a wonderful evening. With Richard Branson at Virgin Megastore in London, September 1987
We are getting a Return To Ommadawn – any chance of revisiting Hergest Ridge? Mark Olds, via email I’ve incorporated little elements of Hergest Ridge into Return To Ommadawn. The introduction has got a droney background and distant penny whistles, which is the same as Hergest Ridge. It’s a nice way to start something, and it’s very in keeping with the Ommadawn mood, I suppose. Return To Ommadawn is released by Virgin Emi
cargo records - best of 2016 PuBlic service Broadcasting
live at Brixton test card recordings 2lP+dvd / 2cd+dvd
the alBum Paranoia tough love lP / cd
future standards fire records lP / cd
forward constant motion fire records lP / cd
josefin Öhrn + the liBeration
hiss golden messenger
avocet earth records lP / cd
Blisters in the Pit of mY heart fortuna PoP! lP / cd
requiem rocket recordings lP / cd
sq 1 damaged goods lP / cd
Brian jonestown massacre
kaitlYn aurelia smith
third world PYramid ‘a’ recordngs lP / cd
ears western vinYl lP / cd
heart like a levee merge records lP / cd
the dear one Blow uP lP / cd
mirage rocket recordings lP / cd
nocturnal koreans Pink flag lP / cd
Patch the skY merge records lP / cd
going, going… scoPitones 2lP+cd+dvd+7” / cd + dvd
oh no hYPerduB lP / cd
ultra hYPerduB lP / cd
dusk trouBle in mind lP / cd
luBBock (on everYthing) Paradise of Bachelors 2lP / 2cd
New for JaNuary 2017
half jaPanese hear the lions roar
fire records lP / cd Wildly eccentric and humorous, the fierce and compelling new album features a cohort of 90s musicians including john sluggett, gilles-vincent rieder, jason willett, mick hobbs and jad fair.
stanleY Brinks and the old time kaniks
vieilles caniques / nouvelles caniques
fika recordings 2lP / 2cd Brinks (aka andre herman dune) is accompanied by stripped back folk duo the kaniks for a double album of modern day tales of love, loss and mischief.
close Your eYes
wild comBinations lP / cd one of new Zealand’s most revered musicians of all time releases psychedelic pop masterpiece mixing original material and covers including tracks by kanye west, the Blue nile and nick drake.
gringo lP / cd takeshi terauchi vs the wipers done notts style, this time it’s war, seen through the eyes of the barrel staring 2010s.
ireland: Belfast - head / Belfast - sick scotland: glasgow - love music / glasgow - monorail wales: aBerYstwYth - andY’s records / cardiff - head / cardiff - sPillers / newPort - diverse / swansea –derricks north- west: liverPool - ProBe / manchester - PiccadillY records / Preston action records north-east: huddersfield - vinYl taP / leeds - crash / leeds - jumBo records / newcastle – j g windows / newcastle - Beatdown / newcastle - reflex / sheffield - Bear tree / sheffield - record collector / stockton on tees - sound it out midlands: BurY st.edmunds - vinYl hunter / camBridge - lost in vinYl / leamington sPa - head records / leighton BuZZard – Black circle records / louth - off the Beaten track / nottingham - rise / oxford - truck store / stoke on trent - music mania - stoke on trent - strand records / witneY - raPture / worcester - rise south: Bexhill on sea - music’s not dead / Brighton - familY store / Brighton - resident / BromleY - head / deal - smugglers / eastBourne - PeBBle / folkestone - hot salvation / godalming - record corner / leigh-on-sea – fives / london - casBah / london - flashBack / london - intoxica / london - rough trade east / london - rough trade talBot rd / london - sister raY / romseY - hundred / southsea - Pie & vinYl / southend on sea - south records / st alBans - emPire records / watford - lP cafe / wimBorne - square records / whitstaBle - gatefield sounds / winchester - elePhant records south west: Bristol - rise / cheltenham - Badlands / falmouth – jam / frome - covers ltd / newton aBBot - Phoenix sound / totnes - drift mailorder and internet onlY stores: Boomkat.com / normanrecords.com / recordstore.co.uk / sPincds.com / BleeP.com
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“So I left my home/And all I had/I used to be good/But now I’m bad”
NEW ALBUMS FEBRUARY 2017 TAkE 237
1 mARk EiTzEl (p20) 2 the xx (p22) 3 ThE BlUE AERoplAnEs (p23) 4 michael chapman (p28) 5 jUliE BYRnE (p32)
the uncut guide to this month’s key releases
near To The Wild heart of life AnTi-
Vancouver twosome branch out on belated, blistering third. By Graeme Thomson
16 • UnCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
an unashamed anthemic quality, filtering apandroids’ rise through the album in overtly mainstream influences. “Fire’s ranks has coincided with the OF THE Highway” was equal parts John Mellencamp golden age of the power duo. The mONTH and Fucked Up. The “Oh yeah, all right” Vancouver band, comprising refrain on “Evil’s sway” nodded to Tom petty’s Brian King (guitar, vocals) and 8/10 “american Girl”. “adrenaline nightshift” david prowse (drums, vocals), have sounded like The replacements shot through come to prominence during a postwith a dose of Thin Lizzy. The album title was no White stripes boom dominated by the likes of empty statement: here was a band who did not regard The Black Keys, royal Blood, shovels & rope, rock with a capital r as a dirty word. drenge and Wye oak. The blend on Celebration Rock was so effective it Like those pairs, their popularity is rooted in the was hard to see how it could be improved upon. it kind of exhilaratingly raw live performances that offer turns out that King and prowse have reached a similar a corrective to the pre-set, almost-live predictability conclusion. Their third album reflects significant of so many contemporary rock bands. What makes Japandroids stand out from most other duos, however, changes in the world of the band. Japandroids effectively downed tools following the end of the is the lack of an overt blues base. Essentially a Celebration Rock tour in the autumn of 2013. The standard four-piece guitar band cleverly compressed hiatus was followed by a label transfer, from polyvinyl into two units, their take on classic ’70s and ’80s rock to anTi-, while King moved away from Vancouver comes filtered through the stringency of punk and and settled into a serious relationship, necessitating post-punk alternative rock. a shift in working practices. That said, the influence of in short, in the five years their more abrasive forebears since their last record, they’ve has steadily decreased with taken a deep breath and time. Whereas on their 2009 surveyed their options. The debut, Post-Nothing, “Young result is an expansive record Hearts spark Fire” sounded that fizzes with a desire to play like dinosaur Jr colliding with around with the possibilities Hüsker dü – all careening of the studio rather than the melody and upstart lo-fi stage, shifting the parameters energy – by 2012’s follow-up, of their music beyond the Celebration Rock, Japandroids fast and frantic. were more streamlined. While guitar-pop thrills Though still anchored in the aren’t exactly absent here attack aesthetic of their stage – “Midnight To Morning” shows, the songs now boasted
Finding wildness in unexpected places: (l-r) David prowse and Brian king
FEBRUARY 2017 • UnCUT • 17
new albums and “No Known Drink Or Drug” are particularly potent examples – when they do arrive they now come with a crisp, arena-friendly sheen. Elsewhere, a willingness to experiment leads to some surprising results. The album’s seven-minute centrepiece, “Arc Of Bar”, is alternately vastly ambitious, deeply silly and hugely enjoyable. It starts with a skittering electro pulse and a mockpompous brass flourish, like some bighaired ’80s synth-rock epic. Later there’s a gum-chewing chorus of singsong female voices and a surfeit of the off-thepeg “Woh-oh-oh” background vocals that are scattered across the album. All the while, King colourfully details a nefarious night-time scene. It’s a tad histrionic – “For her love I would help the Devil/ To steal Christ right off the cross” – but its mix of brash bombast and sheer chutzpah is ultimately hard to resist, and stands as a totem for the ambitions of the whole record.
“Arc Of Bar”, alongside “True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will” and “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)”, finds Japandroids staking new ground. Built over a pummelling martial tattoo and a simple, circular chord sequence, the former is the most intense, introverted song in their catalogue. The latter, meanwhile, is a brief, atmospheric interlude that borrows the guitar riff from Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and features King’s distorted vocal over an array of atmospheric augmentations. Both speak of a new willingness to brood rather than burn. The lyrics are equally reflective. You wouldn’t call Near To The Wild Heart Of Life a concept album, exactly, but its loose coalition of themes feels like a story unravelling. There’s plenty of God and Devil talk, life depicted as a series of choices between good and evil. King returns consistently to the tensions between home and the road,
SLEEVE NOTES tracklist: 1. near To The Wild Heart of Life 2. north east South West 3. True Love And A Free Life of Free Will 4. I’m Sorry (For not Finding you Sooner) 5. Arc of Bar 6. Midnight To Morning 7. no Known Drink or Drug 8. In A Body Like A Grave produced by: Jesse Gander and Damian Taylor recorded at: Rain City Recorders, Vancouver; Golden Ratio, Montreal personnel: Brian King and David Prowse (all instruments and vocals), olga Straffon, Melissa Gregerson, Louise Burns (vocals)
Japandroids: “Plans to settle down/Plans to up and split”
the difficulties in making vital personal connections while living life on the run. In “True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will” he “plans to settle down/Plans to up and split”. What happens when you want both? The brace of opening songs set the scene. The title track is a classic rock’n’roll creation story. Sent off with a kiss by the local bar girl – “Give ’em hell for us!” – like some kind of alt.rock Dick Whittington, King recounts his coming-of-age tale with a clumsy, if appealing, lack of irony. “It got me all fired up to go far away,” he cries. “I left my home and all I had.” It’s a stadium-sized rabble rouser, urged on by Prowse’s thundering drum artillery. “North East South West” tracks our heroes on the next stage of their quest. Namechecking Texas and Tennessee – “America made a mess of me” – it weighs up success and escape against the siren call of home, via the kind of supercharged chorus specifically designed to cause mayhem at summer festivals. As the album moves through its eight chapters, King’s commitment to a rooted kind of love becomes stronger, while his attachment to the itinerant life he’s chasing becomes more conflicted. The fantastic “Midnight To Morning” finds him reflecting, “So many miles, so much to lose.” It’s pretty much a perfect guitar song, recalling the fast, flighty urgency of the best of Celebration Rock. Musically and thematically, “No Known Drink Or Drug” nudges things further along. Over a kinetic buzz of noise and melody, King concedes that the vagaries of love trump the more reliable pleasures of intoxication. The final track offers a reckoning of sorts. The thrilling “In A Body Like A Grave” begins with a Who-ish flourish of acoustic rhythm guitar, while King’s declamatory vocal weighs up the conflicting pressures of church, work, school, smalltown ties, love and inevitable compromises: “Age is a traitor/Bit by bit/Less lust for life/More talking shit.” Against it all, he concludes, you do your best and take what you can. It’s an unflinching yet ultimately affirming climax to an album that finds wildness in unexpected places.
how to buy...
ROAD mAp TO the wild heart Four rock records that had a major bearing on Japandroids’ latest opus
Bruce SpringSteen Born to run cOLuMBiA, 1975
The Boss’ breakout masterpiece was a template for the cohesive, monolithic feel that King and Prowse sought for their new direction. “It’s a very dense and very meticulously arranged and sequenced record,” says King. “I tried to mimic this approach throughout the writing and recording of Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. And it’s eight songs!” 18 • uncut • FeBruAry 2017
Smith’s mercurial debut, fusing punk, progressive rock and poetry, remains one of the most inspirational records of all time. It certainly fired up King: “Also only eight songs and, in spite of this, like Born To Run, it manages to take the listener on both a sonic and emotional journey from start to finish that very much feels ‘complete’ by the end.”
Marquee Moon King named the epic title song as one of Japandroids’ top 10 tracks of all time. Another eight-track gem, straddling classic rock, punk, new wave and art rock, Marquee Moon boasts the kind of restrained yet dynamic firepower that Japandroids strove for on Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. Both pivot on a long, ambitious number at the halfway point.
the hOLd SteAdy
Boys And girls in America vAgrAnt, 2006
Craig Finn’s torrential tales have parallels in Wild Heart’s religious imagery, its protagonists caught between heaven and hell. “Their music is for a certain time and place, and I think our music is also for that certain time and place,” King has said. The Hold Steady have covered Japandroids “Continuous Thunder” live.
new albums “Just the two of us”: King and prowse
After the Celebration Rock tour, you announced you needed “time to disappear into the ether for a while”. how did that pan out? When we finished touring Celebration Rock we realised we hadn’t really taken any time off from the band in five or six years. It was an awesome experience – we did 500 shows all around the world, we made two albums, but physically and mentally we were so burnt out. We’ve always loved what we do, but we just needed a break to get excited about it again. We took about six months off, the first half of 2014, and after that we were dying to get together again, close the door and turn up the amps. By the late summer of 2014, we started working on this record. It seems like we did it in secret, but not really. We’ve been really busy; we just weren’t updating Twitter and Instagram at the end of each day!
did your working process change after taking that break? Dave and I have always lived in the same neighbourhood in Vancouver, but when we finished touring I moved to Toronto, which is in the same country but five hours and three time zones away. Not long after that I started dating my girlfriend, who lives in Mexico City. For the first time we had to figure out how to write songs and be a band while straddling multiple time zones. We spent a lot of time apart working on stuff, then getting together for very short, concentrated chunks of time in one of those three cities, and showing each other everything we had done and trying to put it together. It produced a record I don’t think we could have made if we met up every day at three o’clock to jam. It was an attempt at a new way of writing songs.
Were there things you consciously wanted to change? We felt we had refined our band and our songs to a pretty fine point. To some extent, that’s what our second record is: hitting the nail on the head of a very specific kind of song. I know a lot of people would love us to make that record over and over, but this time we really set out to expand on the kind of songs we wrote. Not every song has to be really fast, or have the energy at 10 the whole time. We tried to make an album that was a little more complete, like those great rock’n’roll albums that have a little bit of everything, where you feel you are taken on a journey over 40 minutes. It was a lot of trial and error trying to break out of our comfort zone. There were no rules. Whatever we thought sounded cool, we went with it, and the more different things were from our first two records, the better. We followed our instincts.
is it still just the two of you in the studio? It’s just the two of us! We’ve expanded on the instruments that we record, and the way we record, but at the end of the day it’s just the two of us. A couple of friends sang back-up vocals on “Arc Of Bar”, but everything was laid down by either Dave or myself. We made the first two records live in the studio; this is the first record where we decided to throw out that oldschool rulebook and build and layer. Just
“It took a lot of trial and error to break out of our comfort zone. There were no rules”
trying to use the studio the way it was designed to be used. It’s not just about capturing a show any more.
you’ve suggested the record forms a loose narrative. What story does it tell? We put a lot of time and a lot of care picking the songs and the order they went in, and trying to tell a story. The songs and the sequencing kind of wrote themselves. [The title track] was always going to be No 1. You’ve got this song about being at home, and chasing your dreams and leaving; then “North East South West” is second, about what happens when you actually do that, and being out in the world. It just makes fucking sense! There’s a sense of two very different lifestyles and ideas of how to live clashing on this record: the romantic life of being in a band and travelling, against being with someone you love and building a home, and being old enough to appreciate how important the little things are. There are a lot of different interpretations about what a really wild and romantic life actually means. The record is like being pushed and pulled back and forth, trying to pull the best out of both of those things.
All your albums have eight tracks. Why? We’re in our early thirties, we’re the last generation that grew up listening to albums before the internet, where the album was still the thing. The CD generation was: if you can put 80 minutes on an album, you should. Now, there’s a mindset that the more songs you have, the better – you get more Spotify streams, more downloads. We always think a record should be a coherent listening experience. With eight songs, four on each side, you can really create something strong. Maybe you have to leave some songs off. That’s OK! INTERVIEW: GRAEME THOMSON FeBruAry 2017 • uncut • 19
brian King on finding a new level on third Lp
MARK EITZEL Hey Mr Ferryman DÉCOR
8/10 Steely character portraits, from an unflinching eye. By Jon Dale
his record is what it’s like to never know what the fuck happens next,” is Eitzel’s parting shot in our recent interview about his new album. it’s a psychological state that Eitzel’s often used as a starting point for his songs: his forensic eye turned towards the workaday reality of living with and through love. Eitzel’s understanding of the unpredictability of the interpersonal, positions him as one of today’s most curious writers, documenting the confusion of the human condition with rare candour. 20 • UNCUT • FEBRUARy 2017
Hey Mr Ferryman was written during a complicated time for Eitzel. As he notes in our Q&A, he was shuttling between cities for much of the past few years. The songs themselves were initially recorded with Eitzel’s two bands (one in California, one in the UK), but they “needed some care and attention and so nothing really gelled”, he recalls. After connecting with producer Bernard Butler, they initially considered a simple acoustic album – “mostly because it was all we could afford”. But Butler’s perfectionist streak won out, and he took it upon himself to
arrange and rebuild the album, the end result, Eitzel marvels, being “the record i wanted to make all along – but simply didn’t think i could”. Butler is an interesting choice of collaborator: a gifted producer, writer and musician, if there’s any risk in getting him on board, it’s an occasional tendency towards the mannered, the overly polite. But he can also dress songs in remarkably sympathetic settings, and so it is with Hey Mr Ferryman. he knows when to lay it on thick, as with the opening “The Last Ten Years”, a wonderfully droll performance from Eitzel gilded into a ’70s car-radio classic by Butler, but he also knows when to pull back and let Eitzel’s voice and guitar do the bulk of the work. indeed, it’s those acoustic performances, gently flecked with female backing vocals, keyboard arrangements and clacking drum machines, that are the core of Hey Mr Ferryman. “Nothing And Everything” is Eitzel at his observational, unflinching best, an evening’s tale of the chill of a fraught relationship, where “night falls like a chain”, where dependence becomes liability, the story eventually panning out to show us a tableau of narcissistic
new albums inter-relations. Eitzel’s performance here is chillingly gentle, while Tanya Mellotte’s backing vocals suspend the song in amber. The following “An Angel’s Wing Brushed The Penny slots” is similarly unsettling in its frankness, though much of the charm of Eitzel’s writing here is in his canny eye for minutiae, with the meeting of the song’s protagonists made all too human by the off-hand observation, “I tried to rise to her, but the carpet I caught.” Elsewhere, Eitzel turns his gaze to that most puzzling of social gatherings, the band on tour, and “The Road” is as devastating in its bluntness as it is sympathetic in its capture of the group’s character. Opening with a scenario that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s toured – “We’re on a drive that’s never over/To play for a barman and his hateful brother” – Eitzel teases out the strange, strained suspension of reality that occurs when a group hits the road. The song’s drawn from “watching a touring band play for four people at a bar in Denton, Texas, a few years ago”, Eitzel recalls. “it wasn’t my kind of music but they played their guts out anyway. You really have to love a touring band. You spend 23 hours trying to make one hour where time doesn’t matter.” ‘Time doesn’t matter’ – that’s a good summary of the state that Eitzel often seems to be aiming for in his songs. The gentle melancholy of the closing “sleep From My Eyes”, a love song from someone in a coma, is another case in point, though here the script flips, and time matters all too much. Either way, the portraits of Hey Mr Ferryman, shaped into gorgeous studies of sympathy by Bernard Butler’s production, are compelling in their starkness, their raw, unchecked humour, and their kindness toward people who, as Eitzel says, are looking for “something that will lead them to light and safety”.
With Bernard Butler’s help, the end result, Eitzel says, is “the record I wanted to make all along – but didn’t think I could”
SLEEVE NOTES Tracklist: 1. The Last Ten Years 2. An Answer 3. The Road 4. Nothing And Everything 5. An Angel’s Wing Brushed The Penny Slots 6. In My Roll As Professional Singer And Ham 7. Mr Humphries 8. La Llorona 9. Just Because 10. Sleep From My Eyes Bonus Deluxe CD tracklisting 1. Let Me Go 2. The Singer (for Jason Molina) (unreleased) 3. Your Ghost (unreleased) 4. An Answer (aternative mix) 5. An Angels Wing Brushed… (demo) 6. The Last Ten Years (demo) 7. Stay Stay Stay (unreleased) 8. Never Fall Asleep (unreleased) 9. Nothing And Everything (demo) 10. Just Because (demo) 11. Mr Humphries (alt recording UK band - Danton Supple Mix) 12. An Answer (alt recording UK band - Danton Supple Mix) Produced by: Bernard Butler Recorded at: 355 Studios Personnel include: Mark Eitzel (acoustic guitar, vocals), Bernard Butler (electric guitar, bass, keys, perc, drums)
what you would call a serious person” I remember reading somewhere that the follow-up to Don’t Be A Stranger was going to be called I Am Not A Serious Person. Obviously that’s changed… Well, yeah – I am not what you would call a serious person. Every time I take myself too seriously it ends bad – though I know recent events in the world make such frivolity annoying… My history is a bit of a burden and a
lot of the writing I do now is to set up the karma so there is only goodness happening and no sour grapes.
From what I’ve read, these songs were written during a time of personal upheaval – moving a lot, travelling, performing… I can’t complain. I had to fix up my house to rent to make some money as I am fairly unhireable at this point. So then I’m driving back and forth between LA and SF trying to keep a relationship with my partner, and now instead of doing the job most musicians do,
This month… P22 P24 P26 P29 P30 P32 P34 P37 P38
THE xx COLDHARBOURSTORES AARON LEE TASJAN MICHAEL CHAPMAN VALERIE JUNE JULIE ByRNE THE FLAMING LIPS Ty SEGALL A TRIBE CALLED qUEST
CHRIS ABRAHAMS Climb VEGETABLE
8/10 Solo piano reveries by Australian Necks maestro Fans of The Necks’ involving, meditative jazz-trio jams may have been a little wrongfooted by the last solo album from their keyboardist, Chris Abrahams: a set of frictional, often atonal electronica called Fluid To The Influence. One year on, Climb, his 10th solo endeavour, is a more reassuring beast, focused entirely on the sort of ravishing piano flurries that figure most prominently in his work with The Necks. it’s often tempting to see Abrahams as a Reichian minimalist, operating in an improvised music world. But the likes of “Roller” privilege a lyricism and romantic spirit that recalls Debussy as much as it does Bill Evans. A lovely prelude to the next, sensational Necks album, Unfold, due next month. JOHN MULVEY
Future Politics DOMINO
no clue. Maybe they are people who spend their time hoping that they will find a way out of the endless dark of the cave. You know? Like in the movies: suddenly there is the sound of “rescuers calling out”. Or the hopeful scent of “fresh air”. Something that will lead them to light and safety… I’m right there with them. I’m on their side.
Self-produced third from Canadian electro-pop donna Katie stelmanis’ Austra project is an odd, hybrid beast with an indeterminate natural habitat. her third album is another set of darkly gleaming synth-pop tunes built on sweet melodies and radiating a pristine otherworldliness as it tacks between avant New Age-isms, witch house and a backdrop to goth-folk bar chat. Now, however, stelmanis looks outward, as well as inward: “The system won’t help you when the money runs out,” she warns on the title track, while the glittering disco drive of “Freepower” hints at liberation via the dancefloor, as well as creative self-determination. Powerful and intriguing stuff, but the emotional spark never quite catches.
INTERVIEW: JON DALE
Q&A Mark Eitzel: “I am not
which is selling beer, I’m scraping paint and washing walls.
what connects the characters that populate Hey Mr Ferryman? Ha – I have absolutely
FEBRUARy 2017 • UNCUT • 21
i See you yoUng TURkS
Bashful London trio defer their big pop moment for a more nuanced evolution. By Sam Richards IT’S not difficult to make a case for The xx as the most influential British band of the past decade. Their slow-burning 2009 debut (recorded in a garage, more than 1.67 million copies sold) tentatively joined the dots between indie, R&B and UK bass music, making it acceptable once again for shy white kids to sing the blues. James Blake, Jamie Woon, Alt-J, London Grammar, Låpsley, Jack Garratt, even The 1975 and Sam Smith – these staples of the Mercury Prize shortlist all owe a debt to The xx. But the band have been reluctant to cash in their steadily accumulating cultural stock. Second album Coexist was even more understated than their debut, to the point where it verged on boring. Since then they have kept a low-ish profile, preferring small bespoke residencies – such as their painfully intimate shows in the round at 2013’s Manchester International Festival – to attention-grabbing headline tours. Last year, Jamie xx’s club-oriented solo album, In Colour, which featured guest vocals from his bandmates, offered a hint of what the group could achieve if they threw open the shutters, especially on the gospel-tinged “Loud Places”. Finally, then, The xx are ready for their big pop moment. 22 • UncUT • FeBRUARy 2017
Except they’re not, quite. Lead single “On Hold” might throb with a previously unexplored disco pulse, pivoting on a shameless sample of Hall & Oates’ classic guilty pleasure “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”, but it still never fully unfurls, never quite abandons its puttering rhythm for an uninhibited dancefloor throwdown. Disco is a genre built on heartbreak, but it tends to be of the more dramatic “how do I live?” variety. “On Hold”, as its title suggests, is all about inertia and mixed signals, rather than definite endings. It’s those in-between emotions that The xx mine so successfully; they don’t write break-up songs so much as fizzle-out songs. “Performance” is another devastating example, perhaps their most powerful yet. “If I scream at the top of my lungs/Will you hear what I don’t say?” sings Romy Madley Croft, her voice noticeably fuller and more assured than before. Sparse and drum-less, the song is very much of a piece with the first two albums, save for the furiously bowed strings that add an additional layer of drama. This, broadly, is the template: rather than drift towards more conventional, radio-friendly arrangements, The xx have instead fleshed out their introspection more inventively, weaving in treated acoustic instrumentation, unexpected samples (post-minimalist composer David
Tracklist: 1. Dangerous 2 Say Something Loving 3. Lips 4. A Violent Noise 5. Performance 6. Replica 7. Brave For You 8. On Hold 9. I Dare You 10. Test Me Recorded at: The Park Avenue Armory, New York; Marfa Recording Company, Texas; Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavik; Perfect Sound Studios, LA; The Church, The Pool, The Square, Fortress Studios, RAK Studios, all London Produced by: Jamie Smith and Rodaidh McDonald, with additional production by Romy Madley Croft Personnel: Romy Madley Croft (guitar, vocals, keys), Oliver Sim (bass, vocals), Jamie Smith (programming, synths, keys, drums, violin, vocals)
Lang, soft-rockers the Alessi Brothers) and bursts of found-sound noise that sometimes recall Björk’s work with Arca on Vulnicura. There is an immediacy, even a hint of aggression, to some of these arrangements, if not necessarily the sense of release that In Colour partly foreshadowed. The trumpet fanfares and insistent Afro-garage beats of “Dangerous” make for an exhilarating opener, yet the melody retains a minor-key melancholy, the lyrics a defiant fatalism. On the glorious “Say Something Loving”, a celebration of new love is haunted by the spectre of past insecurities (“I almost expect you to leave,” “Am I too needy?”) so the final “Don’t let it slip away” contains a hint of desperation. “Test Me” begins in familiar territory, with Croft and Oliver Sim whispering in unison, “Just take it out on me/It’s easier than saying what you mean.” But via some distant muted trumpets, a submerged choir and an eerie burst of theremin, it ends up somewhere very strange indeed. The easy yacht-rock glide of “Replica” is the only hint that the band recorded part of this album in California, but even then Sim’s lyric is freighted with doubt and regret. There’s still an occasional sense of frustration that The xx are holding something back, deliberately swerving the big chorus or euphoric breakdown, their innate reserve preventing these songs from realising their full potential. But their cautiousness is also what prevents them from ever slipping into sentimentality or songwriting cliché. On I See You, The xx have expanded their horizons without sacrificing any of the emotional intimacy that makes them one of the most compelling acts around.
new albums Ancient m’ocean PHAnTASy
7/10 Surf’s up for shadowy São Paulo sorcerer Brazilian avantgardener Babe, Terror – Claudio Szynkier – has kept a low profile during his tenure as a sort of one-man Animal Collective on Erol Alkan’s Phantasy label. Now he drifts far out to sea on maritime odyssey Ancient M’Ocean, a bold, abstract work of 15 absorbing tracks that share the blissfully turbulent aesthetic of Wolfgang Voigt and My Bloody Valentine – that is, repetitive, churning grooves such as “Windsurf For Souls” and the four-part “Allureon” suite that submerge melody in polluted waters while Szynkier grinds on with no end in sight. The Caretaker-ish crumble of “South” offers a chink of light, but Szynkier never comes up for air. PIerS MArTIN
SoPHie BARkeR Break The Habit DiSco gecko
6/10 Third solo album from former Zero 7 vocalist Since writing and singing Zero 7’s biggest hit, “Destiny”, Barker’s career has abseiled wildly from working with Groove Armada to singing “Leaving On A Jet Plane” on a British Airways TV ad. The two threads come together on an album that mixes soft-edged electronica and sweet balladry. She has an undeniably thrilling voice, heard to best effect on the moody, trip-hop blues of “Three Things”, which evokes Shara Nelson signing “Unfinished Sympathy”. But while a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” suggests she aspires to be Stevie Nicks, for much of the time she comes across as a slightly edgier Dido. NIGeL WILLIAMSON
Traditional music of notional Species ii PAn
7/10 Outer-limits electronic music from Syria-born experimentalist By day, Rashad Becker works as cutting engineer at Berlin’s Dubplates & Mastering, ensuring other artists’ vinyl sounds as immaculate as possible. Around the day job, though, he composes abstract but richly detailed soundscapes of gurgling timbre and loopy rhythms that, as the title of his second LP suggests, could be extraterrestrial in origin. At times it recalls the musique concrète of figures like Bernard Parmegiani; elsewhere, as on “Chants/Dances VIII”, it could
almost be some strange ethnographic folk music, sourced from a remote Tibetan monastery or untouched rainforest. It demands an open mind, but Becker shows a rigour and inventiveness many of his peers lack. LOUIS PATTISON
Anomie Belle Flux
Diving Bell RecoRDing co
7/10 Musical mixed media: baroque electronica from Seattle auteur The latest project from a classically trained, Seattlebased musician, Flux is billed as an “interdisciplinary album and art project exploring disillusionment”, and each of its 14 arch, atmospheric tracks is accompanied by a newly commissioned visual art piece. Beyond the high concept, this music is icy – with Nico-ish, detached vocals dressed in glitched, textured electronic bleeps and beats; a record as processed and hyper-real as its distinctive cover. “Saturday Gives” unwraps gorgeously around a string quartet; elsewhere, as on “Lovers”, you’ll hear the ’90s trip-hop influences of artists with whom she’s shared a stage (Tricky) and a studio (Sneaker Pimps). MArk BeNTLey
THe BlUe AeRoPlAneS Welcome, Stranger! ART STAR
8/10 BA fly again, after a six-year absence Though The Blue Aeroplanes have existed for 35 years, and had nearly that many guitarists – sometimes all at once – they nevertheless sound irresistibly fresh and zesty. Welcome, Stranger! ranks among the more upful entries in The Blue Aeroplanes’ catalogue, Gerard Langley’s freewheeling monologues borne by the familiar jingling jangle: “Dead Tree! Dead Tree” and “Elvis Festival” are among many fully fit to be considered alongside the venerable likes of “Jacket Hangs”. If it might be reasonably observed that this is more of The Blue Aeroplanes doing what they do, it could be just as accurately retorted that nobody else is, has or does. ANDreW MUeLLer
The Blue Aeroplanes: upful
RASHAD BeckeR A man exploring the far side of synthesised music
inyl mastering is a corner of the music industry that troubles few casual listeners, but for a certain stripe of audiophile, the words “Mastered by Rashad Becker at Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin” will come as the highest possible recommendation. Becker has worked at D&M since the mid’90s, and today leaves his fingerprint on around 100 releases per year, ensuring recent LPs by Holly Herndon and Matmos come out as sharp as a tack. He has also struck up a relationship with Berlin label PAN, which now releases his second album, Traditional Music Of Notional Species II. Becker rejects the idea of crossover between his day job and his music. “Mastering is basically a service industry,
BonoBo migration ninJA TUne
6/10 Downtempo doyen looks to broaden horizons Bonobo’s Simon Green has racked up more than half a million album sales since he emerged in the early 2000s as part of a wave of producers blending acid-jazz and trip-hop for weary clubbers. His soulful after-hours electronica – often elegant if prone to blandness – took an introspective turn on 2013’s The North Borders, but Migration, road-tested in DJ sets, finds Green cruising into that emotional landscape occupied by the likes of Jon Hopkins and Mark Pritchard. Snowflake vocalists Rhye and Nick Murphy tremble on R&B cut “Break Apart” and sad banger “No Reason” respectively, as Green spears his prey on by-numbers chuggers “Figures” and “7th Sevens”. PIerS MArTIN
while composing music carries very different aspirations,” he says. But Traditional Music… certainly shows off his keen ear and impressive imagination. A collection of “animated sonic entities”, which Becker designs first on paper before bringing to life with an array of studio tools, they sound curiously biological, possibly intelligent. “The record is entirely synthesised,” says Becker, and it’s a point of pride for him that no acoustic instruments are involved. “I always feel an analogy to movies versus animated movies. In the latter you are entirely free of the legacy of cinematography – it has its own legacy, but it can capture angles and timelines that are simply not possible with a real camera.” LOUIS PATTISON
STAnley BRinkS & THe olD Time kAnikS
vieilles caniques et nouvelle caniques FikA RecoRDingS 7/10 Pan-european folk whimsy from André Herman Düne The former frontman of whimsical, acoustic duo Herman Düne continues his move into arcane folk music. Following two 2016 LPs – the ukulele-led Fiddles and a jugband collection, Turtle Dove – the prolific Parisian now reassembles his Norwegian band, The Kaniks, who back him on banjo and fiddle while his sighing tenor voice moves between French and English. These 26 songs – split into “Vieilles” (old) and “Nouvelles” (new) – sound like ancient folk shanties, but the wry lyrics (“I give all my money to Jim Beam and John Player/But I keep my good loving for you”) remind you that these are thoroughly 21st-century constructions. JOHN LeWIS FeBRUARy 2017 • UncUT • 23
new albums jettison the silliness but keep the surliness on their second full-length, which marries synth-saturated garage rock to feminist lyrics and occasional asides about smelly apartments. The supremely catchy “Nurse Ratched” and “Told You I’d Be With The Boys” trace an LA pop lineage from The Runaways and The Go-Gos, while the crunchy guitar riffs on the title track reveal Creevy as a capable shredder. Deconstructing socio-cultural norms rarely sounds like so much fun. STEPHEN DEUSNER
ClOUD nOthInGs life Without sound WIChIta
Cloud nothings: Dylan Baldi, second left
Frank Carter & the rattlesnakes Modern ruin
InternatIOnal Death CUlt/kOBalt
7/10 Crowd-friendly punk rock from ex-Gallows frontman This is the second album from Frank Carter, the punk singer from Hemel Hempstead known for his bruising live performances and love of Black Flag. If his recent excursion as singer in Pure Love is anything to go by, Carter has mellowed since the Gallows days, but there’s plenty of the old fury here. Within its narrow punk framework, the music is reasonably effective –“Lullaby”, “Snake Eyes” and “Real Life” are all driving guitars, big choruses and bubbling disaffection. It’s Carter’s passion that really sets it apart, as illustrated by “Thunder”, where he rails against political and racial hatred using stark lyrical imagery. FIONA STURGES
JUstIn Carter the leaves Fall MIster satUrDaY nIGht
6/10 Chamber pop and experimental electronics from NYC party prince Justin Carter is one of the organisers of voguish Brooklyn club night Mister Saturday Night, but on the sly he cuts a more introspective musical furrow. The Leaves Fall is a measured and sparse collection of songs for acoustic guitar that employs technology in subtle but ingenious ways. “Infinite Pieces” and “Leaves” recall the murky electronica of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, Carter casting his voice over dusty techno loops, while the pizzicato soul 24 • UnCUt • FeBrUarY 2017
of “Know It All” points out to Arthur Russell or the more introspective passages of John Martyn’s Solid Air. Its more muted moments feel slightly beige, but The Leaves Fall is tailor-made for the morning after the night before. LOUIS PATTISON
Brent Cash the new high MarIna
7/10 Stylistic wonder: Georgian’s third LP channels super-sophisticated pop Delving deep into an array of winsome moods and breezy melodies, Athens, Georgia’s Brent Cash – playing all instruments here except strings – is like a little flash of 1971 projected onto the now. Deep post-traumatic melancholy akin to The Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up and The Beatles’ Abbey Road dwells in Cash’s rolling piano fills and the dexterously high tenor. Each song comes on like some long-lost 45, though Cash’s sometimes-odd lyrical juxtapositions (especially the singsong irony of “Out For Blood”) add elements of the unpredictable. “I’m Looking Up”, echoing Carole King, and the ethereal “All In The Summer” are the highlights. LUkE TORN
CherrY Glazerr apocalipstick seCretlY CanaDIan
8/10 LA teen sensations grow up… kind of Clementine Creevy made her first Cherry Glazerr record before she finished high school, singing songs about crushes and grilled cheese with teen-punk insouciance. Now a trio, the band
Cleveland upstarts deliver old-school American rock album worthy of their heroes Cloud Nothings’ 25-year-old frontman, Dylan Baldi, has been an impressively prodigious polymath when it comes to the varieties of American alt.rock over the past three decades, especially the ones involving Lou Barlow or Rivers Cuomo. But with his band’s thrilling fourth album, Baldi successfully develops his own take on the merger of powerpop and hardcore brawn originally devised by Hüsker Dü on Flip Your Wig. Beefed up and buffed up by producer John Goodmanson, songs such as “Enter Entirely” and “Modern Act” see Baldi shift away from the lo-fi and emo trappings of 2014’s Here And Nowhere Else without sacrificing any of his irrepressible energy, or his enviable knack for hooks. JASON ANDERSON
COBalt Chapel Cobalt Chapel klOve
8/10 Space-age easy listening from unorthodox duo Cobalt Chapel are Cecilia Fage (a singer in Matt Berry’s band and an occasional actress) and Jarrod Gosling (one half of Sheffield’s I Monster). Together they make wonderful and atmospheric queasy listening, pitched somewhere between Stereolab, Le Mystère De Voix Bulgares and early Tangerine Dream. Their debut features some appealingly wonky organ instrumentals in jazz-waltz time, but the USP is Fage’s blank, English-accented voice and her elaborate harmonies. “The Lamb” is a terrifying choral reading of William Blake’s poem; “We Come Willingly” is a space-age hymn in 5/4 time; “Black Eyes” a pulsating mix of Motown drums and gothic chord changes. JOHN LEwIS
COlDharBOUrstOres Wilderness enraptUreD
7/10 First outing in 15 years for mysterious, London-based quartet
It’s been a while for Coldharbourstores – their debut album, More Than The Other, was released in 2002 – but Wilderness is a logical step for the group, honing their aesthetic (post-4AD pop with glistening electronic touches), and finding intimate rapture in the peak moments of their carefully crafted songs: on “Genie”, Lucy Castro’s voice is flooded, ready to burst with joy. Parts of the album don’t quite work – Scott Heim’s spoken word on opener “Sightless” is unnecessarily portentous; the brightness of the production can have the songs feeling a little over-exposed – but there’s plenty of uncommon beauty here, too. JON DALE
DelICate steve this Is steve antI-
7/10 First Anti- outing by world’s only guitarist who can claim Tame Impala, Death Grips and Paul Simon as admirers A remarkably adept musician from upstate New Jersey, Steve Marion masterminded two hook-filled instrumental albums as Delicate Steve for Luaka Bop before devoting much of the last four years to work as sideman, collaborator and opening act (Mac DeMarco and tUnEyArDs dig him, too). On much of This Is Steve, he comes off as a one-man jam band, aiming for maximum amiability on “Animals”, “Together” and the aptly titled “Cartoon Rock”. Evidently aware that some listeners may be weary of such an abundance of good cheer, he wisely throws a few more curveballs, thereby counter-balancing the sunny pop pleasures with the fragmentary boogie of “Swimming” and various fuzzier abstractions that suggest his true stylistic kin may be Ariel Pink and Sun Araw. JASON ANDERSON
elInOr rOse DOUGall stellular
8/10 Synth-infused second effort from London singer After making her name as one third of the polka-dot trio The Pipettes in the mid2000s, Rose Elinor Dougall made a solo album and then travelled the world as a singer in Mark Ronson’s touring band. Now she has returned with a second solo album, produced by Oli Bayston, aka Boxed In, which finds her tinkering with disco, synth- and indie-pop. There are shades of The Smiths and The Sundays in the likes of “Strange Warnings” and “Take Yourself With You”, while opener “Colour Of Water” is a near-perfect piece of electro-pop, at once wistful and joyful. FIONA STURGES
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americana album Of The Month
aaROn LEE TaSJan Silver Tears nEW WEST
9/10 Dope-smoking nomad’s dazzling bag of tricks “I SIng jokes/And call ’em songs/no-one knows where I belong,” Aaron Lee Tasjan offers in the opening lines of “On Your Side”, one of the more seemingly earnest songs on Silver Tears – but it’s hard to tell whether he’s making a confession or putting us on. That wry elusiveness is at the heart of a musically and thematically rich album that makes it clear this veteran back-liner is ready for his close-up. Initially renowned among his peers as a hot-shit guitarist, the Ohio-born musician did stints as a hired gun with the New York Dolls, Semi Precious Weapons, Everest, Alberta Cross and Drivin’ N’Cryin’ before forming his own Madison Square Gardeners. In his latest shape-shift, Tasjan has reinvented himself as a singer-songwriter with a stylistic range as far-reaching as his CV. On some of the dozen songs of this second LP, produced by Eli Thomson of Father John Misty’s band, the welltravelled, now East Memphis-based artist comes off as an eloquent country/folk songsmith, going Southern gothic on “Ready To Die” and “Refugee Blues”, and shaping an instant classic in the
atmospheric ballad “Memphis Rain”. But Tasjan refuses to be typecast on an LP loaded with left turns. The stoner’s lament “Hard Life” recalls Roger Miller in its wit and wistfulness (“I guess some life choices are cries for help/That nobody ever hears”), while “Out Of My Mind” embeds excoriating self-analysis in a rockabilly rave-up. On the wicked-clever monologue “12 Bar Blues”, Tasjan wanders tipsily into Tom Waits territory, reeling off the watering holes he’s frequented from NY to LA, quoting Dylan and working in references to Philip Levine and Hootie & The Blowfish along the way. But this barfly is equally convincing as a classic popster: “Dime”, an intricately arranged jangler, cruises along with the dynamism of Rockpile and the Traveling Wilburys, complete with strategic handclaps, tinkling piano and falsetto harmonies. Equally stunning is the panoramic “Little Movies”; set off by huge drum fills and mock strings, this pocket symphony overflows with Beatles/Beach Boys lushness, building toward a climax that evokes Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air”. Tasjan may have come out of deep leftfield, but Silver Tears is the work of a major artist. Nilsson in a Nudie suit. BUD ScOPPA
8/10 Raw, fierce electronic constructions from London-Bristol two-piece There’s a quite fearsome discipline at the heart of Emptyset – the duo of Paul Purgas and James Ginzburg appear to sculpt their strangely oxymoronic ‘epic miniatures’ from the base matter of electronic music: raw blasts of white noise, thudding beats, sonar pulses, and screeds of feedback that are corralled and tamed. As such, Borders meets a brutalist aesthetic that’s been going around in British techno for a while now, but Emptyset stand out from that crowd due to the poetry in their reductionism. The album is only 30 minutes long, but that’s plenty enough exposure to live electricity. JON DALE
BRIan EnO Reflection WaRP
8/10 Eno’s latest attempt to bring peace on earth Though Reflection sets out in a similar mood to last year’s The Ship, its title provides a clear signal that this is a more contemplative album, and indeed its atmosphere remains unbroken for its entire 54-minute duration. Typically for Eno’s ambient releases, it employs the technique he once dubbed ‘generative music’, with different musical elements playing out according to a specific system of his devising: “I then set the whole system playing and see what it does,” he said in a statement. In this case, sustained synth notes and chimes entwine to create a meditative environment that, while no longer as revolutionary as Discreet Music once seemed, is just as serene. WyNDhAm WALLAcE
Burn Something Beautiful FanTaSY RECORdS/PROPER
CURtIs WAYNE MILLARD
ameRiCana Round-uP Lots to shout about in the New Year. February sees the release of Notes Of Blue THIRTY TIgERS , the eighth studio effort from the Jay Farrar-led Son Volt. Informed by the Delta blues, Farrar has used the tunings of Mississippi Fred McDowell, skip James and others as a platform from which to explore themes of redemption and everyday strife. Meanwhile, Chuck Prophet turns his gaze further west for Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins YEP ROCK, a “California Noir” partly inspired by the strange death of the “I Fought the Law” rocker in LA in 1966. Backed by the Mission Express, the singerguitarist pays tribute to Fuller, murdered Bay Area security guard Alex Nieto and, in 26 • UnCUT • FEBRUaRY 2017
“Bad Year For Rock And Roll”, David Bowie. February also welcomes back Michigan collective Frontier Ruckus with fifth album, Enter The Kingdom LOOSE . the Us ’burbs again provide the backdrop to Matthew Milia’s dry, detailed studies of everyday life. specifically, his father’s struggles to keep the family afloat after being made redundant. on the live front, texan singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz returns to these climes in support of the wondrous Undercurrent. Her tour starts at Celtic Connections, Glasgow, January 22, and runs through to Canterbury in early February. Look out, too, for The Felice Brothers, whose UK jaunt also kicks off in Glasgow at the end of January. ROB hUGhES
Texas roots rocker reflects on life and mortality Sixty-five-year-old Escovedo’s 12th solo album and the first since 2012’s highly lauded Big Station, is in fact a collaborative work with REM’s Peter Buck and The Minus Five’s Scott McCaughey, who co-wrote and produced the songs. Written after a health scare and, more recently, a near-death experience during a Mexican hurricane, the album finds Escovedo veering between anxiety and celebration. In the latter category is “Heartbeat Smile”, a jaunty paean to friendship, while in the former is “I Don’t Want To Play Guitar Anymore”, a brittle country doo-wop number in which he takes stock of his life and stares death in the face. FIONA STURGES
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Morning” and “Humidifier”, in which he bottles the combined scent of various women he’s known. Hence the album title. rob huGhes
and skin-flaying riffs, topped with the gorgeously dispassionate voice of Andrea Morici. Jon DALe
Trials And Truths
Hear The Lions Roar FIRE
HALF JAPANESE Jad Fair The intuitive musical free-wheeler
took a music class in high school and my teacher told me that I needed to first learn the rules before breaking them,” half japanese auteur jad Fair tells Uncut. “Well, no, you don’t. the thing about learning something is that it’s difficult to unlearn it. It’s easy to fall into accepted patterns. It’s your music. do whatever you want.” that philosophy has defined the 62-year-old’s free-wheeling musical career since he and brother david started home-taping lo-fi screeds in mid-’70s Maryland, Fair’s sideline in paper-cut art has yet to stem his prodigious musical output. A prolific
collaborator, recordings with the Pastels, teenage Fanclub and yo La tengo underlined his cutie-pop credentials, though he has interests beyond indieland. “I’m a huge fan of nrBQ,” he says. “I would love to record with them.” half japanese’s day-Glo punkishness remains thrillingly sloppy, but would Fair call his art naïve? “I would prefer to use the words ‘natural’ and ‘intuitive’,” he says. “I certainly know what I’m doing, and the end result is usually very close to what I was aiming for. It may not be close to what other people think I should aim for, but it’s what I think it should be.” JIm WIrTh
overloaded pastiche taken to ludicrous but highly entertaining extremes.
8/10 Los Angeles duo indulge their eclectic influences Foxygen aren’t suffering an identity crisis: they simply want to be everybody. Recorded – beautifully – with a full symphony orchestra, Hang sounds like a dozen FM radio stations playing simultaneously. Fans of todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Prince, early Springsteen, gram Parsons et al can trainspot at will. the fruity vaudeville of “Avalon” begins as Queen’s “Killer Queen” and ends as ABBA’s “Waterloo”; “Mrs Adams” is virtually all of Diamond Dogs sung by lou Reed, Scott Walker and iggy Pop; on “Rise up”, Sam France does Phil cornwell doing Mick Jagger on Stella Street. Self-aware and possibly self-satisfied, this is wildly 28 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
JONNY FRITz Sweet Creep ATO
8/10 Piquant country tales from LA-based maverick Much like the work of Roger Miller, Fritz’s music is often a study in duality: throwaway satire mixed with serious intent. this fourth album is his most satisfying yet, his keening, haunted voice backdropped by nagging country rhythms and the hillbilly fiddle of Joshua Hedley (produced by Jim James, it also features Dawes’ goldsmith brothers). the affecting “Are You thirsty” and “cries After Making love” are equal parts Jonathan Richman and Will Oldham, offset by the knockabout “chilidog
Cutie-pop dinosaurs’ 16th art-pop wig-out “We never rehearse,” said Jad Fair, explaining how Half Japanese have maintained their sloppy purity over a 40-year recording career. Maryland’s musically incontinent answer to Jonathan Richman, Fair continues to spew ultra-naïve art-punk by the bucketload, and if Hear The Lions Roar sounds to the uninitiated like guided By Voices with a much worse singer, regular listeners will thrill to the spook frenzy of “Attack Of the giant leeches” and the emasculated Stooges thud of “it never Stops”. Somewhere on the feral fringes of indie civilisation, Half Japanese remain kings of their own tiny jungle. JIm WIrTh
HIS NAME IS ALIVE Patterns Of Light LONDON LONDON
8/10 more prog-psych overload from Livonia’s finest it’s been a long ride since His name is Alive first appeared, with an album of fragile, gossamer space-folk, on 4AD in 1990. they’re still broadcasting from space, but on Patterns Of Light, Warren Defever and crew have written a disorienting prog-psych-metal-rock monster built from an invitation to play in Switzerland at cERn’s large Hadron collider. Sounds ludicrous? it shouldn’t – Deerhoof played there last year, after all. Patterns Of Light grasps the surreal potential of the situation and responds with an Ott concept album, all harmony solos Jonny Fritz: seriously satirical
HORSE THIEF BELLA UNION
7/10 Flaming Lips-endorsed okies deliver thoughtful, pastoral second the confident thrust of a touring, toughened band refining their inner chemistry and songwriting strengths marks the follow-up to 2014’s full-length debut, Fear In Bliss. Frontman cameron neal filters Anglophile influences (the Smiths’ melodic grace and new Order’s tender resolve) through Horse Thief’s graceful widescreen Americana to empower cautionary drug song “Drowsy” and the stirring “Evil Rising”. With its baleful harmonies and solar-powered guitar, “Empire” (“I just want a new Empire”) has the feel of a timely anthem in waiting. Overall, a triumph of assurance and tenderness. GAVIn mArTIn
INVISIBLE BOY Invisible Boy
TOTALLY GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT
7/10 solo pop first from Poliça bassist chris Bierden has been playing solo shows as invisible Boy for a decade, but his duties as bass player with Poliça (and leader of several other bands) have always kept him from recording. His debut has strikingly little connection to his day job, revealing a way with tender and wistful, lo-fi piano/guitar pop with a vintage veneer (as on opener “All the Kids”), glam-dusted country balladry (“Darling”) and last-dance gospel/soul (“Boat Of gold”). Bierden hasn’t bothered to hide his fondness for Bolan, lennon, the carpenters, Harry nilsson, or his own heart; what might have been slight is in fact poignant and full of charm. shAron o’ConneLL
new albums Michael Chapman: exile on any street
MICHAEL CHAPMAN 50
PARADISE OF BACHELORS
Loner folkie meets his musical offspring. By Jim Wirth Scuttling down a pothole-scarred approximation of chris Rea’s “Road to Hell” on the apocalyptic “Sometimes You Just Drive”, Yorkshire guitar maven Michael chapman keeps returning to the same refrain: “I’m still waiting, waiting on my reward.” in a 50-year career that has brought little in terms of tangible success, this album may be it. chapman turns 76 on January 24 having almost managed – following a transatlantic Mexican stand-off lasting several decades – to break America. Reinvented as an improv guitar maestro following collisions with thurston Moore and the no neck Blues Band, his glowering gifts as a songwriter now find sympathetic echoes in the works of Bill callahan, Ryley Walker, Hiss golden Messenger and Kurt Vile. All of a sudden – and for the first time – he has a uS label, with sometime Vile sideman Steve gunn having assembled a young(ish) band to make 50, a resetting of a cluster of jewels from the second half of chapman’s career with a clutch of new songs thrown in. Vindication here we come.
lush and lively, 50 features nathan Bowles’ chuckling banjos, a “railroad line”, a levee, a preacher and hobos, but the language of the blues – lovingly cribbed from Forces radio and long-lost vinyl – is one chapman speaks with an unmistakably English accent. 50 reeks of rain-sodden Hunslet, fish-stinking Hull and wind-lashed northumberland; it comes from – as chapman puts it in “Winter in Memphis” – “beyond the edge of nowhere”, the only place he has ever felt musically comfortable. A confessional songwriter who doesn’t really do personal detail; a John Faheyspangled steel-string guitarist who sounds better plugged in; a folkie who doesn’t really like folk music – the former leeds art student has fallen sullenly between a good few stools in his time. A latecomer to music after teaching art and photography, he was 28 (a year older than Paul Mccartney, two years older than Bert Jansch) by the time his 1969 debut, Rainmaker, was released. He never moved to london (“i’m a Yorkshireman – i don’t waste money,” he told one interviewer), a reluctance to fit in that might explain why his most bankable musical foil, guitarist Mick Ronson, left him so readily for David
SLEEVE NOTES Tracklist: 1. A spanish Incident (ramón And durango) 2. sometimes you just drive 3. the Mallard 4. Memphis In Winter 5. the Prospector 6. Falling From Grace 7. Money trouble 8. that time of night 9. rosh Pina 10. navigation Produced by: steve Gunn Recorded at: Black dirt studio, Westtown, new york Personnel: Michael Chapman (vocals, piano, guitar), Bridget st john (vocals), steve Gunn (guitar, vocals, drums), nathan Bowles (drums, percussion, banjo, organ, vocals), james Elkington (guitar, piano), jimmy seitang (bass, synths, vocals)
Bowie. Soon afterwards, chapman abandoned the bright lights of Humberside for an unheated farmhouse in the Hadrian’s Wall borderlands, where a trip into town means the fleshpots of Brampton. the hobbies that have sustained him during his lengthy exile? “Music, books and logging.” However, while there are hacksaw marks here and there, 50 is a finely turned piece that surveys the looming thunderclouds of mortality and the biblical gloom of the times, and – quietly, unshowily – transcends both. He hovers between duplicitous life and ignoble death on Bob Dylan-ish opener “A Spanish incident (Ramón And Durango)”, his car being repaired by shifty mechanics as he prepares for a long journey across barren country, and lapses into fever delirium on “Sometimes You Just Drive”. An end-of-days riff inspired by the floodravaged streets of carlisle post-Storm Desmond, his hot-headed visions (“Trees caught fire, skies turned red”) are cooled somewhat by feedback fog, sensitive percussion and an icy backing-vocal blast from Anglo-nico Bridget St John. Minor-chord gaunt, “Winter in Memphis” is darker still. Propelled by an ominous, foot-stomping rhythm, the John cale-ophone chapman goes all Deliverance as he warns: “Never go into the darkness, never, never leave my sight/There are just too many crazies and you can die just beyond the light.” “the Mallard”, meanwhile, wistfully equates the fate of the mid-20th century’s star steam train with that of life and love, with a Prefab Sprout-ish twinkle from gunn. chapman gets the feeling he too is being shunted into life’s sidings on autumnal nick Drake throb “Falling From grace”, confessing in a voice like a battered suitcase: “I’m beginning to feel like that man in the park who can make the kids cry and the dogs start to bark/He’s lonely by day and no better by night.” However, he has not run out of steam, or hope. cD and download buyers get two extra tracks – discursive instrumental doodle “Rosh Pina” and a sombre reworking of “navigation” – but “Money trouble” and “that time Of night” are 50’s proper closing salvo. the former celebrates the quiet victory of frugal survival with a loose, Band-style hoedown, while the latter – a third-age upgrade of Eric clapton’s grisly “Wonderful tonight” – finds wee-small-hours anxieties magically dispelled by love’s redeeming wonder. “We have left behind places others never get to,” the eternally husky chapman drawls, the downhill trudge of declining years reimagined as a stately victory parade. And that’s 50 in its essence. A lifetime ago, chapman lamented “time passed and time passing” on John Peel fave “Postcards Of Scarborough”, sounding like a man with a long way to go. Suddenly in tune with his times, he sounds as if his ill-defined destination is finally in sight. “I love it when you want me,” he slurs on “that time Of night”. in this light, who wouldn’t? FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 29
new albums lerOY
bambadea sCHaMOni Musik
Valerie June: memories of a southern childhood
New Yorker revisits her Southern roots. Norah Jones guests Tennessee-born, Brooklyn-based Valerie June sings in a scratchy drawl, drawing out her syllables on these 12 hymns to a Southern childhood: sitting beside family members in church, eating grandad’s homemade rolls for lunch. The nasal tonality of her vocals has garnered comparisons to Billie Holiday, but the eccentricity of her phrasing recalls Vic Chesnutt or Lucinda Williams. A vivid storyteller, June approaches traditional music with a similar mix of irreverence and affection, inviting friends and family to provide imaginative updates to old sounds – in particular the communal gospel of “Love You Once Made” and the spacey blues of “Astral Plane”.
Eclectic debut from London-based British-Lebanese chanteuse Khouri acknowledges 1980s dreampop as a seminal influence, and perfumed traces of Galaxie 500, Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins sweeten The Salted Air in almost every breath. But PJ Harvey’s amanuensis John Parrish has coaxed something more ambitious out of her than a shoegazing tribute. The fragile meditations of “Jerusalem Blue” and the title track are lovely enough, but she turns blues shouter on “Shake It Like A Shaman” and explores her Middle-Eastern heritage in the quartertone singing on “Thru You I Awaken”, while the haunting “Broken Star”is a wonderfully spectral incantation inspired by the troubled spirit of Virginia Woolf.
leOPOld & His FiCTiOn
The Order Of Time
COnTrOl Freak kiTTen reCOrds
The salted air
darling destroyer ila/naTiVe FiCTiOn
Maverick Norwegian performs 11 songs about motherhood The fifth studio album by this maverick Norwegian singer and composer is, by definition, a selfindulgent statement, documenting the premature birth of Karijord’s daughter after a problematic pregnancy. “The Orbit” turns the experience into a stompy pop banger; “Your Name” is a hymn to motherhood that recalls Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”, but the best tracks move beyond straight reportage and make poetry out of the experience. “Light as a feather upon my chest,” she sings against muted pianos on “Six Careful Hands”, while on “Stones”, the line about “listening to two hearts syncopating” fits in perfectly against a rush of syncopated prepared-piano arpeggios.
The ragged sound of Motor City Daniel Leopold’s fourth album under his literary pen name is a rough-hewn hymn to his Detroit heritage. Majoring on grimy garage rock with a rhythmic thrust, Motown, MC5, Iggy Pop (“It’s How I Feel” spins off “I’m Bored”) and Jack White are in the mix, alongside Led Zeppelin, The Black Keys (“Waves”), old time blues and classic soul. “Cowboy” rides roughshod over Lead Belly’s “Western Plains”, while “Better Off Alone” has served time with Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”. “Ride” explores gentler acoustic terrain, but more typical of Leopold’s frazzled urgency is a howling cover of Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”.
30 • unCuT • FebruarY 2017
Electronic-pop maverick introduces a melancholic edge Munich-based singer, songwriter and producer Leo Hopfinger made quite a splash in 2015 with his debut, Skläsh, a lazily ecstatic mix of strange abstractions and pure pop, equally indebted to Africa, Jamaica and the Balearics. His follow-up is markedly more reflective and downbeat, notably on the gently throbbing “Advantage Of Nothing”, where he murmurs like an existentialist having a rough Monday. It’s also less sprawling, yet retains LeRoy’s groovy elasticity, as “Coral Girl” and “Half The Way” attest. The first plays out lap-steel guitar and dub beats into electronic tinkering; the latter conjures a vibes-rippled cloud of desert blues both ancient and (post) modern. SHARoN o’CoNNELL
MiCa leVi & OliVer COaTes remain Calm sliP
7/10 Avant-pop maverick and Radiohead’s go-to cellist reunite for brief but entrancing collaboration This 28-minute work re-teams two musician-composers who routinely travel in the interzone between contemporary classical, electronic music, film soundtracks, UK garage and grime, and whatever qualifies as rock’s vanguard these days. Strategies from all these arenas come into play for Remain Calm’s 13 short but beguiling tracks, the most haunting of which recall the duo’s previous work together on Levi’s chilling score for Under The Skin. Other pieces feel more like rough sketches, especially when compared with the ultra-vivid soundscapes on Coates’ recent stunner, Upstepping. Either way, the music here should captivate anyone who ever imagined what a Burial remix of Arthur Russell’s World Of Echo might resemble. JASoN ANDERSoN
JaMes McarTHur & THe Head Gardeners burnt Moth MOOrland
7/10 Second album from welsh-born session drummer turned folkie
You’d never guess from McArthur’s bucolic melodies, intricate acoustic guitar-picking and lazy, dusty vocals that he spent years as a session drummer for the likes of Paul Weller, but his newly adopted folk livery suits him well. The simplicity is embellished by uncluttered arrangements for fiddle, mandolin and pedal-steel on songs such as the sun-dappled “What The Day Holds”, the meltingly lovely “Lonely Oak” and the swooning title track. Nick Drake analogies are now way too hackneyed to serve any useful purpose – but a British answer to Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam sums it up nicely. NiGEL wiLLiAMSoN
delberT McClinTOn & selF-Made Men Prick Of The litter HOT sHOT/THirTY TiGers
8/10 Texas treasure in fine fettle on 19th LP Delbert McClinton has seen a lot in his 76 years, and on the dozen songs on Prick Of The Litter, the sagacious old-timer deftly blends the sardonic and the bittersweet. He crams “Jones For You” and “Bad Haircut” with zingers in Randy Newman fashion, and on “Neva”, he tosses out non-sequiturs while his seasoned band locks into a slo-mo James Brown funk groove. Other songs venerate longterm relationships in increments of precious moments; the sublime “Middle Of Nowhere” recounts a romantic crosscountry road trip in telling detail, McClinton’s frayed voice intensifying the nostalgic payload. Somewhere, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and Mose Allison are tapping their feet and smiling. BUD SCoPPA
MenaCe beaCH lemon Memory MeMPHis indusTries
7/10 Yorkshire group deploy twin vocalists on ’90s-ish grunge pop Lo-fi, hi-energy Leeds band Menace Beach return with their second album following the wellreceived Ratworld, with a new producer and a renewed dedication to a template that takes them from indie pop to slacker rock via electro musings. The band’s clearest touchstones are fuzzy ’90s-indie – the influence of Dinosaur Jr is particularly strong – with tracks like “Sentimental” boasting a vocal rich in irony and a Breeders-like melody, while “Owl” has a cheerful Blur-meets-Stereolab feel. The band aren’t afraid to diversify though – “Can’t Get A Haircut” verges on sludge rock, while the electro title track sounds as if it was recorded with a broken keyboard. PETER wATTS
MANDOLIN ORANGE Blindfaller
TIFT MERRITT Stitch Of The World
THE FELICE BROTHERS Life in the Dark
“this is one of those albums that is destined to become a perennial favourite” - Americana UK
“Merritt’s achingly beautiful country-tinged tunes hark back to the musical work of Joni Mitchell, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Leonard Cohen.”–TIME
“Songs that subtly but powerfully address the suddenly shakier foundations of Trump-era America” - The Guardian
29/01 The Live Room at Caroline Social Club Shipley 30/01 The Musician Leicester 1/2 The Crescent Community Venue York 2/2 Celtic Connections at Broadcast Glasgow 4/2 The Lexington London
31/1 The Lexington London 3/2 Celtic Connections Glasgow 5/2 Celtic Connections Glasgow 6/2 Royal Festival Hall London 7/2 Corn Exchange Cambridge 8/2 The Sage Gateshead 9/2 Symphony Hall Birmingham 10/2 Bridgewater Hall Manchester
20/01 Button Factory Dublin 21/01 O2 ABC Glasgow 22/01 Gorilla Manchester 23/01 Brudenell Social Club Leeds 24/01 Plug Sheffield 26/01 The Old Market Brighton 27/01 The Fleece Bristol 28/01 Brooklyn Bowl London
JUlie ByRNe Not even Happiness BasiN ROCk
8/10 Chronicles of a wandering star. By Laura Snapes CULTURAL perceptions of the solo female voyager depict a loner destined to meet her fate on the open road. Since 2010, a few giant leaps into the unknown have made small steps towards correcting the impression. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild both started as memoirs, and their respective film adaptations spurred hordes of women to go and find themselves in India, or seek enlightenment hiking through Oregon. They’re welcome (if whitewashed) remedies to the lack of constructive women’s road narratives, although they only ever suggest wandering as a salve for trauma or misdemeanour. But the second proper album from rootless songwriter Julie Byrne rejects the idea of the great outdoors as a limitless confession booth, and makes it into a legitimate source of desire. “I’ve been called a heartbreaker for doing justice to my own,” she sings on opener, “Follow My Voice”. “I too been a fault-finder, but that life is broke.” Her unapologetic independence recalls that of Angel Olsen, another artist who arrived 32 • UNCUT • feBRUaRy 2017
SLEEVE NOTES Tracklist: 1. Follow My Voice 2. Sleepwalker 3. Melting Grid 4. Natural Blue 5. Interlude 6. Morning Dove 7. All The Land Glimmered Beneath 8. Sea As It Glides 9. I Live Now As A Singer Produced by: Eric Littman Recorded at: Byrne’s childhood home, Buffalo, NY; strings recorded in Holderness, New Hampshire Personnel includes: Julie Byrne (vocals, guitar), Jake Falby (strings), Eric Littmann (synths and production)
via incredibly lo-fi tapes dubbed by tiny regional labels. “No-one will ever be you for yourself,” Olsen sang on 2012’s Half Way Home. That same year, Byrne released You Would Love It Here and a self-titled tape, though it took a while for the Buffaloborn songwriter to arrive at a similar revelation. Her early work was domestic and tentative: “I test my aloneness against the weight and length of each day/I long for greener pasture, but they are not yet of what I am made,” she lamented on “Vertical Ray”. Her sound was equally intimate: her woolly guitar shading suggestive of enclosed, blanketed spaces, while she used vocal reverb as a cloak rather than a chorus. That’s all changed on Not Even Happiness, recorded at her childhood home in Buffalo, NY, which documents her past few years as she “crossed the country and carried no key”. She strikes and picks at her acoustic guitar, unnerving the lilting melodies of “Sleepwalker” with stubborn bass notes, disturbing the cadence of “Morning Dove” to emphasise how someone’s lips “splashed my dull house with music”. She sings out, her velvety voice becoming saturated – sometimes
confrontationally so – and the production has opened up enormously. An airy synthesiser conjures panpipes whistling around mountaintops on “Melting Grid”, while a bright synth part twirls and ascends like a sycamore seed reversing heavenwards on “The Sea As It Glides”. Strings recorded by Jake Falby at a cabin in Holderness, New Hampshire, enrich the immense atmosphere that stems back to the record’s title. After a winter walk along the People’s Beach in Rockaway, New York, Byrne wrote to a friend that she wouldn’t change the “palpable sense of emergence” she felt for anything, “not even happiness”. The realisation lends her words confidence, even as she contemplates how love might fit into her vagabond life. “Would you ask my permission next time you absorb me?” she asks on “Melting Grid”, sounding like a more assured Cat Power. “Natural Blue” manages to marry the two disparate pulls within the record’s loveliest melody. “When I first saw you, the sky, it was such a natural blue,” she sings, her voice conveying otherworldly rapture and sublime comfort. There are untold doubts and allusions to “when darkness lived in me and sleep it was not near” on Not Even Happiness, which can skew a bit vague, but they’re balanced by her captivating boldness. “I’ve been seeking God within,” she sings huskily at the start of the mellow, fingerpicked “All The Land Glimmered Beneath”. By its end, she’s found it: “I was in my heart and I answered me.” Byrne’s determination comes to a head on closer, “I Live Now As A Singer”, which clearly signposts where she might go next. Rather than fluttering acoustic, it’s made up of deep, reverberant synths that recall Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack, and – again – the leaps that Angel Olsen took with 2016’s My Woman. It’s as if Byrne has taken to the pulpit to deliver a final missive over its glowering, holy tones. “There ain’t no use fighting for me,” she declares in the first line, singing like Sinéad O’Connor at her most tender: “My heart ain’t in the ring for you.” If there’s anything the unrequited party can do, she reveals, it’s “tell me what it feels like to be here now”. But going by Not Even Happiness, in which Byrne fully transmits her faith in mystery, they’ve got very high standards to live up to.
Q&A Julie Byrne: “i had a desire to be released from the past” When were these songs written? Between winter 2013 and early spring 2016. Spanning those years, I lived in Chicago, Lawrence, Kansas, Seattle, briefly in New Orleans, and where I reside now, New York City. I lived without a fixed home from January 2014 ’til January 2015.
How does being rootless affect your creativity? At that time, having no fixed home placed me at the mercy of my daily experiences
and certainly at the generosity of other people. It also saw me to the end of a fantasy I’d had that I’d find a material place where I’d live beyond the reaches of pain that I’d long felt. Part of choosing to travel came from a desire to be released from the past and to begin again unknown, reflecting the ways I’d felt I’d changed. And though I was experiencing growth in travel, the difficulty I felt trying to stay in one place forged the realisation: the emptiness that had driven me and stayed with me couldn’t be filled by any external change. And though it’s
not easy to confront, there’s a sense of victory in finally seeing it.
What happens to your work when you’re in the same place for a long time? It depends on the place. The one I chose is vibrant chaos. The first year I was living in New York, I barely wrote at all. I eventually prioritised intention of the spirit and finding work that could provide purpose as well as financial stability before I had the mental and emotional energy to respond creatively to my experiences. InteRVIeW: laURa SnaPeS
neW albums TifT MeRRiTT
stitch Of The World yeP ROC
8/10 the Gen-X emmylou harris catches her second wind The backstory of Merritt’s sixth album shouts renewal, as her divorce and the start of a new relationship spurred a year-long writing retreat. Merritt was six months pregnant when she cut Stitch Of The World with co-producer/ singing partner Sam Beam (Iron And Wine) and a studio band anchored by the song-serving rhythm section of drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos. Merritt’s signature restraint is livened up by the roofrattling roots rockers “Dusty Old Man” and “Proclamation Bones”, on which guitarist Marc Ribot and steel player Eric Heywood trade heated fusillades. Throughout, the songs are delivered with a powerful undertow that recalls Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. BUd ScOPPa
Musik für Metropolis BUReaU B
7/10 cluster man’s final score The Swiss half of Krautrock smoothies Cluster, Dieter Moebius died in July 2015, aged 71, leaving loose ends untied. Invited in 2012 to soundtrack Fritz Lang’s silent dystopia Metropolis, he produced a raft of pre-sets and samples to be woven into a live improv piece, recreated here by former collaborators Tim Story, Jon Leidecker and Jonas Förster in this blissfully creepy 50-minute glitchathon. Woozy Jim O’Rourke-style guitar cuts through the dystopian clanks of “Schicht”, and while there are nods to the pre-Cluster cacophony of Kluster on “Mittler”, there remains – like Lang’s film – an optimistic sweetness beneath the sturm und drang. JIm WIRth
america’s Velvet Glory iNNOVaTiVe leisURe
7/10 anxious indie rockers playing up like a reborn modern lovers With a name that references Ginsberg and a deep love of Jonathan Richman, the delightfully nerdy Molochs have produced an excellent album. It’s hard to escape Modern Lovers comparisons – check out the imploring “No Control” – but the band also adore British Invasion bands, VU drone and hometown LA greats like The Doors. It’s a classic combination, simultaneously knowing and loving as on the Stonesy “Charlie’s Lips”, the ace single “No More Cryin’” or the howling,
flo Morrissey & Matthew e White
stuttering Lou Reed-aspiring “New York”. It’s all insanely catchy, with even slower numbers like “I Don’t Love You” bringing a Who-like snarl to the dancefloor. PeteR WattS
flO MORRissey + MaTTHeW e WHiTe Gentlewoman, Ruby Man
We’re neW Here
7/10 Soul and folk-tinged covers project On Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, Matthew E White applies his signature Spacebomb ’70s soft-soul style to the pristine tones of UK folkie Flo Morrissey on a series of quixotic covers, with mixed results. James Blake’s “The Colour In Anything” and Frank Ocean’s “Thinking Bout You” transfer well to the blithe but buttoned-down yacht-rock grooves of nibbling guitar, organ and crisply understated beats. Elsewhere, White’s lolloping “Suzanne” lacks the original’s luminous grace, and Morrissey’s rather affectless delivery drains any celebratory urge from “Grease”. But “Sunday Morning” is a triumph, the Velvets song given a chunky Spector/ Wilson-style arrangement of chugging keyboards and backing vocals that expertly lifts the spirits. andy GIll
The feudal spirit
THe MOlOCHs lukas fitzsimons: “i always felt like an outsider…” NSPIrED by ’60s pop bands and guided by an “underlying minimalist philosophy”, The Molochs’ jewel of a second album, America’s Velvet Glory, was largely written by Lucas Fitzsimons (pictured, top right). “We love ’60s music and certain aesthetics about it,” says Fitzsimons. “But a lot of our favourite music from the ’70s up to the present day is by bands that were also heavily influenced by music from the ’60s – Nikki Sudden And The Jacobites, The Clean from New Zealand, the Go-Betweens from Australia, The Only Ones from England.” Fitzsimons himself was born
in Argentina but raised in Los Angeles, and always felt like an outsider. “I think that experience put me in this sort of ethereal sphere of existence,” he says. “It was lonely at times, but maybe I’ve learned to exploit that now for my own benefit. Might as well get something out of it.” The Molochs took their name from Ginsberg’s “Howl”, with the moniker in some ways reflecting the band’s classic take on indie-pop. “It was only over time that I realised how much the concept of Moloch as seen through Ginsberg’s eyes and also the film Metropolis really represents my views on the world and human culture, modern society,” says Fitzsimons. “I wanted a really basic name, but I guess now it carries more of philosophical value. It feels more timeless in a way.” PeteR WattS
7/10 latest addition to your expanding post-Jack Rose collection Not, as some might hope, a PG Wodehouse concept album, The Feudal Spirit is instead the latest dispatch from the American Primitive school of guitar-playing. As usual, “Primitive” seems a chronically inaccurate word: Noyes, from Massachusetts, is an acoustic guitarist whose take on folk traditions is delivered with a certain frenzied complexity. Indeed, on the dextrously overdriven likes of “Paydirt”, The Feudal Spirit shapes up as one of those unvarnished solo 12-string records where you could occasionally be forgiven for thinking there are a couple of instruments duking it out in the mix. Prettiness abounds (cf “Further Off”), but Noyes is scrappy more often than meditative, closest perhaps to Peter Walker from the original Takoma generation. Neat Raymond Pettibon sleeve, too. JOhn mUlVey
Branson’s original protégé revisits the scene of an early triumph Like its 1975 predecessor, Return To Ommadawn emerges from a period of highs and lows: 2012’s Olympics ceremony reintroduced Oldfield’s music to a vast audience, just as Tubular Bells did, but his son died soon after, as his mother had shortly before Ommadawn was recorded. Both serve as therapy, and Oldfield’s 26th album inevitably covers similar ground, even reworking original vocal recordings and utilising the same (if sometimes digitally replicated) instrumentation. It’s less dynamic, but the prog-folk flavours remain intact, with penny whistles and acoustic guitars central to its two sentimental, sometimes meandering halves. Wyndham Wallace
Brit soul royalty’s spacey slowburner. Robert Glasper and leon Ware guest On only his eighth studio album in 25 years, Omar LyeFook MBE has found a formula that really works. Marshalled by his Grammy-winning little brother The Scratch Professor, Love In Beats draws tellingly on newer influences, including the squelchy neo-soul of D’Angelo, and Kendrick Lamar’s storytelling sampling. This creates an edgier, away-from-the-wine-bar setting for Omar’s biggest asset: that rich, honeydripping voice. “Vicky’s Tune”, featuring jazz’s new tastemaker Robert Glasper and rapper Ty, is superb, its rumbling basslines owned by Omar’s cool, controlled vocal.
Return To Ommadawn
love in Beats
maRk Bentley feBRUaRy 2017 • UNCUT • 33
THE FLAMING LIPS Oczy Mlody BELLA UNION
6/10 The Lips continue to explore the joy and sadness of existence. By Stephen Deusner THROUGHOUT their 30-year career, but especially in the last decade, the Flaming Lips have made selfindulgence a virtue. They’ve recorded a 24-hour song, covered full albums by The Beatles and Pink Floyd, released music via giant gummy skulls, and – perhaps most notoriously – recorded an album with Miley Cyrus, which they released for free but couldn’t give away. That playful unpredictability is compelling even when the music is not. And most of the time it’s not. These projects are probably more fun to create than they are to hear. But that only makes their studio albums somehow miraculous. Embryonic in 2009 and The Terror in 2013 stand among the band’s finest releases, each expanding the Lips’ candy-coated psychedelia while balancing the extreme whimsy and extreme melancholy that have become the band’s signature. Long after several generations of contemporaries have folded or flopped, the Flaming Lips are still writing the story of their career, adding some essential and entertaining chapters. Oczy Mlody is perhaps the inevitable outcome of the Lips’ endearing selfindulgence, combining the best and worst traits of their main and side projects into a concept album that is sure to be divisive even among their diehard fans. There are unicorns and demon frogs and wizards 34 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
and rainbows, guest spots by Cyrus and the comedian Reggie Watts, and instrumental interludes that sound like Pink Floyd got chopped-and-screwed. At times it dares to reach for beauty; often it settles for a strained frivolity. Musically, the Lips claim they were inspired by Syd Barrett and A$AP Rocky; lyrically, by a Polish translation of Close To Home, a novel by Erskine Caldwell. The details of that book have nothing to do with Oczy Mlody. Instead, the Polish language, with its logjams of consonants and curlicue ogoneks, provided the foundation for the lyrics and concepts. Wayne Coyne would scan the pages, his eyes catching on unusual clusters of letters and his brain translating the strange words into
Tracklist: 1. Oczy Mlody 2. How?? 3. There Should Be Unicorns 4. Sunrise (Eyes Of The Young) 5. Nigdy Nie (Never No) 6. Galaxy I Sink 7. One Night While Hunting For Faeries And Witches And Wizards To Kill 8. Do Glowy 9. Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes 10. The Castle 11. Almost Home (Blisko Domu) 12. We A Famly Produced by: The Flaming Lips, Dave Fridmann and Scott Booker Recorded at: Tarbox Road Studios, NY
skewed fairy tales. Hence the title: Oczy Mlody translates into English as “eyes of the young”, but it translates into Coynese as a futuristic drug that allows users to sleep for three months at a time. Or something like that. “There Should Be Unicorns” offers the most concrete evocation of this world and its strange rules, with Coyne painting “Day-Glo strippers” and “edible butterflies” into the landscape like Bob Ross on ’shrooms. The music is never as animated as the lyrics, and the lyrics sound more juvenile than usual, especially when the fantastical intermingles with a real-world problem such as police brutality. There’s nothing on Oczy Mlody that is any more or less silly than Yoshimi battling those pink robots or that Christmas skeleton pleading with a suicide bomber, but there’s no metaphorical underpinning to give emotional weight to so much whimsy. The unicorns are merely unicorns. At least on the first half of the record, the instrumentals are more compelling than the lyric-based songs, mixing the Lips’ familiar psychedelia with beats and hiphop production techniques. The opening title track in particular evokes the mood of a particularly bittersweet fairy tale, pitting bottom-heavy rhythms against delicate synth melodies. As the album progresses, however, it accrues gravity and import – a particularly puzzling magic trick. “Do Glowy” is a zero-gravity boudoir slow jam, “Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes” a seven-minute mini-opera whose creepycrawly sound effects and stargazing lyrics conjure an almost pagan ambience. “The Castle” is all metaphor: a painfully detailed portrayal of how a fragile soul processes tragedy and pain, inspired by the suicide of a close friend. “Her brain was the castle,” Coyne sings, “and the castle can never be rebuilt again.” Here the imagery not only has poignancy and emotional heft, but makes that personal loss sound incalculable. That’s the underlying theme of this record, which is strange even for the Lips: the thin veil between existence and oblivion, a mortal dread so intense that it pervades every bubbly note. Oczy Mlody continues the Lips’ longstanding mission to explore the joy and sadness of simple human consciousness, so that even when the album loses its footing – which it does, often – it never loses its way.
Q&A Wayne Coyne: “It’s like we’re making a soundtrack” Which comes first: the songs or the concept? These things never come as an idea. It’s almost as though something happens and it leads to another thing happening and before you know it, you’ve got something really magical. One song gives you another piece of an unknown story.
How did that process work for Oczy Mlody? The very first
track on the record, “Oczy Mlody”, had been around for a while. Steven [Drozd] and I kept going back to it. It had a mood to it, but we didn’t know what to do with it. Then we stumbled upon “The Castle”, which I wrote after a session one night, just singing into my phone. I liked that idea of singing about the castle as the structure of your life or whatever. I filled the song with lyrics that hint at the fairy-tale world – unicorns and stuff like that – which really hinted towards a new flavour that the Flaming Lips hadn’t really explored before.
How did that change Oczy Mlody? We started to tie the two songs together. Oh, Oczy Mlody is a drug you take in this futuristic fairy-tale world. It just kept going from there, the same [way] we would have hit upon concepts for all our records. It feels like we’re making the soundtrack to a movie. We have characters and locations and moods and things that are happening. It helps us feel like we’re in the same story, even though we’re not sure what happens. InterVIeW: stePhen DeUsner
neW albums When On Fire GLITTERHOUSE
6/10 spooky singer-songwriter, with support from Mark Lanegan With whispered vocals layered over dense foundations of distorted dreamy keyboards, Owman’s latest begins with the appealingly sinister creep of “Those Eyes” – “I never want to see those eyes again,” goes the unsettling refrain – and then maintains that spooky sense of something under the bed thereafter. Mark Lanegan pops up to duet on the title track, adding a little fire to Owman’s ice, but otherwise this is her baby, with songs like “Denial” and “That Low” resting on beds of synth and strings, occupying territory located in a place between classical and gothic rock with a dash of Kate Bush. Peter Watts
PIANO MAGIC Closure
8/10 twelfth and final album from south London collective Led by Glen Johnson – an indie stalwart who’s worked for the Rough Trade label and runs Second Language – Piano Magic bring their 20-year career, largely overlooked in Britain, to a gutsy conclusion with a characteristically indefinable collection guaranteed to please their larger continental fanbase. Seeped in nostalgia, the brooding, 10-minute title track recalls the art-rock of 4AD acts such as Pale Saints, while “Exile” shifts the focus to plaintive, electronic pop. There’s also Go-Betweens-style melancholy on “Attention To Life” (featuring Apartments’ vocalist Peter Milton Walsh for added Antipodean authenticity) and “Landline”, whose intricate guitar lines recall Television’s. WYnDhaM WaLLaCe
Dream Underground HANGING HOUSES
6/10 alt.rock first from eighties Matchbox refugees Andy Huxley (singer/ songwriter, guitarist) and Sym Gharial (bassist, lyricist) have UK cult-rock form. Both were members of scabrous millennial psychobillies The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, whom Huxley left to form deranged death-jazz outfit Vile Imbeciles. But Piano Wire are a different breed; the quartet’s debut features far more straightforward song structures and draws from an odd well of influences – Jane’s Addiction, Hüsker Dü, Killing Joke and Swervedriver included. There’s no denying the strength of the
tunes or the band’s dark energy, and “Cherry Coma” packs a satisfyingly dirty punch, but their rampant Americophilia and lyrical reliance on sex, drugs and the other thing disappoint. sharon o’ConneLL
Piano Magic: Felt fan Glen johnson (centre)
RICHARD PINHAS Reverse BUREAU B
8/10 ecstatic psych burnouts from French prog visionary and friends As the guiding force behind the 1970s group Heldon, guitarist Richard Pinhas pioneered a progressive rock of a distinctly Gallic stripe. Four decades later, he’s still active, albeit more aligned with the noise and avant-garde scene than anything conventionally “rock”. Inspired by a portentous Tarot reading, Reverse captures Pinhas in turbulent and psychedelic mood, crafting four space-rock jams with assistance from Oren Ambarchi (credited with “dronz”) and a small guest ensemble. Masami Akita, aka Merzbow, helms a gurgling analogue synth through the soupy psychedelia of “Nefesh”, while drummer Arthur Narcy is a furious presence throughout, pushing “Ketter” to the brink and then just over. LoUIs PattIson
A PROjECTION Framework TAPETE
7/10 second album from the bubblegum Joy Division This Swedish quintet leave us clutching at myriad postpunk references. Isak Eriksson sings with the neurotic, stentorian bark of Ian Curtis, while Amos Pagin’s heavily flanged and chorused guitars recall The Chameleons. “Dark City” has a gothic intensity that recalls The Mission; “Sensible Ends” sounds like early Human League morphing into Adam And The Ants. They sound a bit silly when they get moody – “Hollow Eyes” is like the Muppets doing a Joy Division parody. But it’s the pulse-quickening intensity of songs like “Transition”, “Hands”, “Scattered” and “Betrayal” – moody post-punk with aspirations to stadium rock – that’ll win you over. John LeWIs
Gallic source: Richard Pinhas
PIANO MAGIC Glen johnson looks back over two decades well spent ’M a huge fan of Felt, who famously rounded everything up in 10 years,” says Glen Johnson of his decision to end Piano Magic, “but I think we only just got going 10 years ago, so 20 years was the next available junction to get off at.” Like Felt, Johnson’s band never matched critical acclaim with commercial success, despite a dozen records for some of the finest indies. Aside from a prematurely curtailed stopover at 4AD, however, Johnson has few regrets. “It was my dream label when Ivo Watts-Russell was there,” he recalls. “We sort of forced them to drop us because we
wanted to be on the old 4AD, not the new one. That was quite naïve.” Their tendency not to play the game also cost them dear, he admits. “We never had any interest in touring in the UK when we could’ve been touring, say, Italy; our music was always changing and thus we’d lose fans almost seasonally.” Nonetheless, he has plenty of positive memories, not least collaborations with Vashti Bunyan, Brendan Perry, John Grant and Alan Sparhawk. He promises more music in different guises, too. “I still have a million avenues to explore, sonically, lyrically, personally…” WYnDhaM WaLLaCe
THE PROPER ORNAMENTS PSCH-PSHIT Foxhole
Parfaite Et Impudique
Gorgeous tunes and overwhelming sadness on excellent second LP There’s a divertingly gentle undertone to Foxhole, The second LP from this collaboration between members of Toy and Ultimate Painting, but also a rich vein of melancholia, as demonstrated by beautiful single “Memories”. Much of the album was written on piano, bringing a change in texture from debut, Wooden Head, with songs stripped back to throw the emotions into relief. And those emotions are overwhelmingly despondent: “1969” is a fine example of sad psychedelia, “When We Were Young” drips with nostalgia, while closer “The Devils” is a suitably downbeat way to end a fine album. Peter Watts
electronic sensualists explore dark side of europop Disbanding four years ago after their romantic relationship ended, the FrenchItalian duo Alice and Mariele have now buried the hatchet and reactivated their queer-feminist electro-punk collective with this belated debut. Steeped in sulky bilingual spokenword poetry and doomy electronica, it is a mostly gothic affair with echoes of arty female pioneers from Liaisons Dangereuses to Fever Ray. Psch-Pshit’s retro-gloomy aesthetic is limiting at times, but there is sassy humour, plus contemporary electronica touches, like the ear-bashing “Phoenix Autruche”. The LP title translates as “perfect and shameless”. Half right. stePhen DaLton FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 35
discovered introducing this month… courtney marie andrews
coURtneY maRie andReWs
8/10 Gripping folk-country confessionals. By Rob Hughes HONEST Life may be her first European release, but Courtney Marie Andrews is hardly the neophyte. The 26-year-old Arizona native has been gigging for the past decade, either alone or with others, as well as negotiating a fair amount of session activity. Perhaps the most high-profile collaboration to date has been with US emo rockers Jimmy Eat World, for whom she sang back-ups on 2010’s Invented and this year’s Integrity Blues. Until recently, too, Andrews was Damien Jurado’s live guitarist. Then there are her five prior solo albums, beginning with 2008’s Urban Myths, issued on tiny indie label River Jones. Nevertheless, and mindful that she’s already withdrawn the first three of those, Honest Life is likely to serve as an introduction to most of us. In fact, and by her own admission, this is the record to which all roads have been leading. The journeying metaphor is pretty apt. Conceived in Belgium while touring with local singer Milow, Honest Life is the product of both heartache and homesickness. These are essentially break-up songs, their vulnerability made all the more 36 • UncUt • feBRUaRY 2017
acute by Andrews’ physical dislocation. It is a remarkably assured piece of work, gracefully furnished and artfully wrought. Andrews has been eliciting lofty comparisons to Joni Mitchell in the States. Certainly, tunes such as “Irene” or “Not The End” are marked by that same crystalline glide and swoop, though there’s more of a quiver in Andrews’ voice that aligns her just as equitably to the late Judee Sill or, on the more countrified songs, Emmylou Harris. Like Harris, she has an ability to traverse folk and country with apparent ease. Nowhere is this better illustrated than
Produced by: courtney Marie andrews Recorded at: Litho Studios, Seattle Personnel includes: courtney Marie andrews (vocals, guitar), Dillon Warnek (electric guitar), charles Wicklander (piano), alex Sabel (bass), William Mapp (drums), Steve norman (pedal steel), andrew Butler (organ), rebecca chung (cello), abby Gundersen (harmony vocals), Jonny Gundersen (harmony vocals)
on “How Quickly Your Heart Mends”. Over piano and pedal steel, steadied by a ticking rhythm, Andrews details the empty consolations of life with an airy elegance that leavens the song’s disconsolate mood: “The jukebox is playin’ a sad country song/ For all the ugly Americans/Now I feel like one of them.” Others display a kind of stony wisdom that belies her relatively tender years. The baroque-styled “Only In My Mind” suggests that we knowingly live with our own illusions, both as a comforting strategy and as protection against aspects of ourselves that we refuse to deal with. “In my mind, life was a road without any turns,” she sings, as if caught in an absent reverie. “Every chance was given/ No hard lessons to be learned.” The other musical strand at play here is Southern soul. Andrews has assembled a backing band capable of navigating the emotional and stylistic nuances of her songs. In particular, the subtle embellishments of pianist Charles Wicklander and pedal-steel player Steve Norman. Andrew Butler’s Hammond organ gives wings to “15 Highway Lines”, whose sedate acoustic strum eventually makes way for a Memphis beat and a gorgeous vocal line in which Andrews truly soars. “Put The Fire Out”, which examines the duality between letting go and reconnecting with your roots, is similarly endowed, with its shuffling piano and sudden urgency. One of several songs that were written after Andrews returned to Seattle to bartend at a tavern, it’s about as close as she gets to closure over her romantic woes, finding succour in the company of those with a shared experience: “There’s a place for everything/ And I think I know mine now/Now that I’m off this plane, I think I’m ready to stay.” Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Honest Life is the options it presents. On this evidence, such is Andrews’ intuitive feel for disparate musical idioms that she could take a number of directions from here, from Nashville country to austere American folk. And she clearly has a great Southern soul album in her. For the time being, though, it’s enough to wallow in the possibilities.
Q&A courtney marie andrews:
be back home came from. it’s a kind of break-up travelogue record.
musicians here, but i think La is a lot more conducive to songwriters.
You call Honest Life your coming-of-age record…
Did you need to leave home in Phoenix, arizona, in order to blossom? oh yeah. i’m definitely
it feels like i’m at my most mature as a songwriter and finally have enough experience to make a record like this. it’s been a therapeutic process. it’s amazing how heartbreak will change your values, how much it will shake the core of who you are and make you reassess your life. That’s where a lot of these songs about wanting to
one of those people who grows very well amid change. i like to throw myself over the edge a lot of the time, just to see what happens. i’ve always thrived in that way. i’m a restless spirit; i think that’s just part of who i am. in fact, i’m currently in the process of moving from Seattle to La. i’ve met a lot of great artists and
what’s next for you? i’ve already started writing the next album and hope to record it in the spring, if i can nail down the time after my european tour. it’s really moving towards a soul kind of feeling, but there are also a lot of songs involving the empowerment of women. That comes from my love of aretha Franklin and odetta, those kinds of people. i’m already so excited about these new songs.
“i’m a restless spirit; i think that’s just part of who i am”
iNTeRView: RoB hUGhes
new albums Reflections in cosmo Reflections in cosmo
the adventures of selfie Boy Pt 1
Thrashy, Nordic take on jazz rock Comprising members of mysterious Norwegian outfits with names like Motorpsycho and Humcrush, this quartet fall marginally on the “rock” side of the jazz/rock divide. The slow-burning “Ironhorse” pits Kjetil Møster’s soprano sax over a grindcore bassline in 9/4 time, while “Fuzzstew” puts Møster’s honking baritone over a squalling guitar freak-out from Hans Magnus Ryan. Elsewhere, the emphasis is very much on texture over melody – there are organ drones and distorted synths that recall the voicings on Miles’ Bitches Brew and On The Corner, but here they are taken into slightly terrifying thrash-metal territory. Muscular, bracing stuff.
Loved-up boogie as 2 Bears soul boy goes solo Cuddly cosmonaut Raf Rundell has grown in confidence under the wing of his more experienced 2 Bears partner, Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, to the extent that his solo debut as self-styled south London soothsayer Selfie Boy feels like the start of something substantial. Rundell is a big-hearted character with a gravelly voice, whose uplifting songs tend to be riven with small-hours self-doubt, leading to soulful house confessionals such as “Shoppin’ For A Shaman” and “Right Time”. But he’s at his best exploring new territory on Balearic funk oddity “Cosmos Boss” and the ramshackle blues of “Carried Away”. pieRs MaRTiN
lose my cool RecoRdsHoP
7/10 Rebooted neo-disco diva broadens her musical spectrum Nottingham-based producer-singer Veronica Sampson earned warm praise for her 2014 debut, Selectadisc, which leaned heavily on 1980s disco-pop influences, specifically vintage Madonna. Between recovering from a serious auto-immune illness and becoming pregnant with her first child, Sampson has broadened her horizons on this largely selfproduced second album, mastering a richer range of sounds and styles from clipped synthfunk to sleek R&B to sumptuous gospel-pop. The melismatic lushness of “Feeling Is Believing” and the shimmering, cascading, Erasure-sized synthpop anthem “Never My Love” help excuse the more anodyne tracks. But “Dissolve” is easily the best thing Sampson has yet produced, a sublime excursion into swoony, glitchy, glossy, contemporary electro-soul. sTepheN DaLToN
freaking ty segall
close Your eyes Wild comBinations
5/10 Covers Lp from multi-platinum Kiwi Runga clearly possesses a classy record collection that ranges from Love and Nick Drake to The Meters and the Blue Nile via Neil Young and Françoise Hardy. Whether she should have raided it to make her personal Pin-Ups is another matter. There are moments – hearing a female voice singing “Andmoreagain” and “Tinseltown In The Rain”, for example – that are intriguing enough to offer fresh insight. But plodding covers of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” are gratuitously dull and, somewhat revealingly, the most rewarding tracks are probably Runga’s two original compositions, seemingly appended as an after-thought. NiGeL wiLLiaMsoN
tY seGall ty segall dRaG citY
8/10 prolific garage darling expands his freak-out frontiers
cool customer: Veronica ‘Ronika’ sampson
Ronika the ‘madonna of the midlands’ expresses herself eronica ‘ronika’ Sampson was nicknamed ‘the Madonna of the Midlands’ on the strength of her 2014 debut, the retro-flavoured Selectadisc. The nottinghamborn dance-pop diva’s second album, Lose My Cool, spans a much richer spectrum of r&B, disco and electronica. But she is not embarrassed by the M-word. “i was definitely giving a heavy nod to ’80s disco Madonna on Selectadisc,” ronika says. “She’s made some of the greatest pop music ever. But with Lose My Cool i wanted to change up my sound and draw on a different set of musical influences.”
If anyone found Segall’s 2016 album, Emotional Mugger, something of a Devo-infatuated misstep, the garage rock maven’s second self-titled LP is a reassuring retrenchment, of sorts. As with 2012’s Slaughterhouse, the vibe often suggests The Beatles turning up on Sub Pop in the late ’80s (cf “Break A Guitar”), though Segall’s Lennon/McCartney channelling appears to have moved on a few years, from beat boom ramalam to ‘White Album’ baroque. In this, he’s helped by an expanded band, with faithful retainers Mikal Cronin and Charles Moothart augmented by Chicago multidisciplinarians Emmett “Cairo Gang” Kelly and Ben Boye. Pleasingly, Segall’s root wildness is enhanced rather than diffused by their jamming virtuosity: witness “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”, which mutates over 10 minutes from slashing grunge to jazz-tinged freak-out, distant cousin to the sort of thing Boye has indulged in with Ryley Walker. JohN MULVeY
ronika’s career so far reads like a DiY punk masterclass. She self-produces most of her own music and releases it on her own label, recordshop, which she launched with a BBc Performing arts Fund bursary. “That was a gamechanger,” she recalls. “i was making all this music and had no idea how to get it out of my bedroom studio and into the world.” Set to give birth to her first child around the time Lose My Cool arrives, Sampson clearly has her hands full – but her future business plan sounds watertight. “Just trying to increase the body count of people who have been knocked dead by my music,” she says. sTepheN DaLToN
sHaRks killers of the deep 3ms mUsic
8/10 1970s supergroup excel on first album in 40 years A key inspiration for both The Clash and the Sex Pistols (Paul Cook serves here as drummer) and Eno’s onetime backing band, Sharks were a connoisseur’s dream band. Session guitar ace Chris Spedding and indomitable frontman Snips Parsons, encouraged back to the mic by Jimmy Page, deliver a swaggering, legacyhonouring return here. Lean, mean, catchy and ferocious, Snips’ lyrically engaged, memorably antic songs come packed with several shades of perfectly tailored guitar magic. Clarion-call chords and splenetic thrills abound, with no chaff – a total blast. GaViN MaRTiN feBRUaRY 2017 • UncUt • 37
new albums A trIbE CALLED QUESt We Got It from Here… thank You 4 Your Service EPIC
A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Soft Error Mechanism VILLAGE GrEEN
6/10 Evocative sound paintings from retro-savvy Krautronica duo They may take their name from a digital computer glitch, but British soundscape duo Soft Error invoke a more analogue musical hinterland on their debut album. Recorded in Iceland, Mechanism is full of electro-acoustic instrumentals in a neo-Krautrock vein, all linear grooves and whooshing synths layered with live instrumentation. Retro-kosmische pastiche is now firmly established as a lazy good-taste signifier, but it does not excuse mundane plodders such as “Turncoat” or “Motorbath”. Thankfully, Soft Error move beyond retro-hipster orthodoxy on their best tracks, from the slow-burn clonk and slither of “Ridges” to the evocatively titled “Southend After Everyone Has Left”, a gleaming ambient study in lonely, desolate beauty. StEphEn Dalton
8/10 Gloomy electro-crooner turns his gaze outwards on sunnier second Christopher ‘Sohn’ Taylor’s 2014 debut, Tremors, was a sublime exercise in navelgazing minimalist electronica. But it seems relocating from Vienna to LA, getting married and becoming a father has nudged the British-born producer-performer closer to conventional R&B electro-pop on his second album, with mostly positive results. The beats are tougher, the spectrally pale sonics now have more colour in their cheeks, and the bleating self-pity that marred Tremors has given way to more politically anguished torch songs such as “Primary” and “Falling”, whose insistent loops and squelchy textures invoke Thom Yorke’s glitchy digital side. Meanwhile, “Hard Liquor” is a piston-pumping electro38 • UNCUt • fEbrUArY 2017
blues processional with a vaguely Depeche Mode feel. Mainstream success looms closer. StEphEn Dalton
frED tHoMAS Changer PoLYVINYL
6/10 Michigan stalwart rings changes On his eighth album, 2015’s All Are Saved, this fortysomething US indie perennial hit upon a new, wryly autobiographical seam that at times sounded like Craig Finn singing the songs of Father John Misty. As per its title, the follow-up is a less unified, more frantically helterskelter take on similar themes. Only two of these 13 tracks exceed three minutes. Atmospheric instrumentals (“Oval Beach”) and oblique fragments (“Changer”) vie with faux-naïf campus rock (“Voiceover”; “Brickwall”) and the more ruminative “August Rats, Young Sociopaths” to create a pleasing if scattershot set. If only Thomas’ smart-ass, sing-song drawl was as appealing as his songs. GraEME thoMSon
tHroWING SNoW Embers
7/10 Bass mechanic’s invigorating song cycle Bristol-based former dubstepper Ross ‘Throwing Snow’ Tones misfired last time the pressure was on. Having made his name with a brace of innovative bass jams and a set of spooked folktronica as Snow Ghosts, he packed his 2014 debut album, Mosaic, with soulful guest vocals. Embers is a different, more elegant affair: a 14-track instrumental song cycle inspired by the natural world and composed using analoguesounding gear that flutters and flanges in all the right places. On the likes of “Helical” and “Allegory”, melodies and arpeggios collapse into each other with a mid-’90s Aphex sensibility, while the whole suite possesses a satisfying strangeness. piErS Martin
poignant, energising return/ farewell from hip-hop masters Among the glut of artistic farewells these past 12 months, We Got It From Here… occupies a unique position, at once a comeback and an epitaph. A Tribe Called Quest’s first album in 18 years is also their last, in the wake of “funky diabetic” Phife Dawg’s death last March. But while tragedies, both personal and political, figure heavily, Tribe carry their burdens as lightly as they did on rap landmarks such as People’s Instinctive Travels… and The Low-End Theory. Q-Tip still sounds, magically, like a tongue-twisting 14-year-old, riding over nagging jazz and reggae hooks (Musical Youth!) with his colleagues – including the rarely spotted Jarobi – and his conscious rap progeny (Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak). Elton John materialises out of a web of “Benny And The Jets” samples. Jack White contributes punctuational guitar solos. Nothing, though, detracts from the mastery of one of the wisest and most playful American bands of the last three decades. John MUlVEY
8/10 San Fran graphic designer’s trilogy draws to an impressive conclusion Though Scott Hansen’s fourth album – the third in a triumvirate that began with 2011’s Dive – reiterates his already well-established formula, it’s also undeniably his most successful yet. Maintaining an upbeat pace for all but three tracks – notably the closing, dreamlike “Field”, which is dominated by fragile, reverb-heavy guitars – he boosts post-rock structures and dynamics with woozy Boards Of Canada electronica on the busy “Glider”, while “Slack”’s guitars could have been borrowed from U2, or even Big Country. Most of the time, however, Epoch sounds like the album Ulrich Schnauss has been promising for a decade. WYnDhaM WallaCE
7/10 French disco-pop veteran goes back to the future Pascal ArbezNicolas aka Vitalic
Billed as a “cosmic odyssey”, the fourth studio album by Parisian DJ/producer Pascal ArbezNicolas references an idealised analogue era of vaguely soft-porn, sci-fi disco-pop. Initially conceived as a drum-free throwback to the 1970s, Voyager is awash with cascading Jean-Michel Jarre-ish Eurosynths and pulsing Moroderesque rhythms. But Arbez-Nicolas eventually diluted his plan by adding contemporary beats, noises and guest vocalists, including a playful pastiche of The Normal’s post-punk electro classic “Warm Leatherette” called “Sweet Cigarette” and an icily romantic dystopian synth ballad featuring Miss Kittin, “Hans Is Driving”. The sappy cover of Supertramp’s “Don’t Leave Me Now” is an endearing naff touch, and very French. StEphEn Dalton
WILLIE & tHE bANDItS Steal JIGSAW
7/10 Fourth album from “hardestworking live band on the circuit” There’s nothing radical about Willie Edwards and his outlaw band’s organic take on classic bluesrock. But they play it with a dynamic energy and have built an enviable live reputation, playing 200 gigs per year around the UK and Europe and selling their records from the stage. They now finally have a record deal, and their first album not to be self-released showcases both their considerable virtues and their limitations, from the slide-driven Allmans-influenced “Miles Away” to the appropriately-titled “1970” , which sounds like Free and serves as a homage to the era that remains their primary inspiration. niGEl WilliaMSon
A WINGED VICtorY for tHE SULLEN IrIS
8/10 Unexpectedly ominous soundtrack for French thriller Given Dustin O’Halloran’s recent success as a soundtrack composer – he won an Emmy for Transparent’s theme tune – it was only a matter of time until he and Stars Of The Lid’s Adam Wiltzie accepted their own commission. While the duo’s tempo remains measured and its atmosphere is typically grand, thanks to a 40-piece orchestra, Iris puts more emphasis on modular synths than O’Halloran’s piano melodies, especially on the urgent “Retour Au Champs De Mars” and the uncomfortably tense “Le Retour En Foret”. “Galerie” confirms, nonetheless, that their tender side remains intact, despite Iris’ generally darker tone. WYnDhaM WallaCE
“Strange days have found us/Strange days have tracked us down…”
FEBRUARY 2017 TAkE 237
1 ThE gRATEFUl dEAd (p44) 2 klEEnEx/lilipUT (p46) 3 BERT jAnsch (p47) 4 mosE Allison (p48) 5 slApp hAppY (p50)
reissues | comps | boxsets | lost recordings
ThE dooRs The london Fog Rhino
A band takes shape, live in ’66. By John Robinson
father had passed on his enthusiasm for few moments before reissue audio recording to his daughter, The Doors it alights on a rooftop OF THe were on this night near the start of their first sunbather in a bikini, MONTH professional engagement, their performance the roving aerial camera supported by friends from the university. of R Lee frost’s 1966 7/10 As with the Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser movie Mondo Bizarro free Trade Hall, there’s a degree of mythology makes its way down an in play with an event like this. Nettie herself in her unprepossessing street of dawdling traffic and sleevenotes recalls it being a standing-room-only kind shabby sun-bleached awnings. we see a minibus of event, although the tape suggests a more sparse parked. There are a couple of Volkswagens. turnout. In 1972, Ray Manzarek recalled that the club “This,” an actorly narration informs us, “is Sunset was no thriving concern. This was the sort of place Boulevard, legendary street of dreams and myths. you’d find in a Tom waits song: peopled by the odd Young people from all over the world are drawn drunk, serviceman or prostitute, but not generally here by the glamour and the film industry. for this is by bands going places. This tape is said to come Hollywood. Here are the fabled clubs and watering from May near the end of the band’s run – the band places of the celebrated…” first auditioning in late february, and then playing fabled? Celebrated? It doesn’t look that way. Still, as throughout March and April. the camera moves, it accidentally catches something By mid-May, the band of particular historical were let go by The London interest above the frontage of fog, the club closing shortly The London fog, the newest afterwards. But this was not but also paradoxically the before The Doors had been shabbiest of the clubs on the checked out by Ronnie Haran, strip. It’s a red sign that reads: who booked the considerably “The Doors”, announcing a more prestigious whisky A new band from the city, then Go Go club nearby. Haran in residence. wouldn’t sit down in The It’s an enchanting, and London fog (“I might get exciting, moment, and this crabs,” she apparently said at current release has much of the time), but was blown away the same qualities. Recorded by the band. Ray Manzarek at the club by a UCLA student said she fell instantly in love named Nettie Peña, whose 40 • UncUT • FEBRUARY 2017
Early doors! (l-r) densmore, morrison and krieger
FEBRUARY 2017 • UncUT • 41
ARcHIVE with Jim Morrison. Haran today says she fell instead for Manzarek’s playing. The Doors were at this stage fuelled-up and on the runway, but not yet taken off. The previous year the band had made a rudimentary five-song demo, which had won them a contract with CBS (which would not ultimately be taken up). More significantly, they had just secured the services of another UCLA student, Robby Krieger, to play guitar, who now added his tangential blues to songs such as “Moonlight Drive” and “Hello, I Love You”. Listening to The London Fog captures their evolving promise. This clearly isn’t yet The Doors of another officially released early live show, Live At The Matrix, 1967. There, the young band offer a full and discursive hour-and-a-half display of their powers from “The End” to “Crawling King Snake”, their own compositions politely blowing the minds of lightly applauding turtlenecked hipsters at an all-seater San Francisco nightclub. As with that release, there’s an interesting insight into which were the band’s earliest songs. Here, among the covers that make up the majority of the half-hour recording, there’s a reading of “Strange Days”, which is already much as it would appear on the band’s second album, down to Ray Manzarek’s ornate organ intro. It’s magnificent, and clearly a very different order of thing than what has previously transpired in the set. It unfolds with the dark ellipsis of a short story – which is probably why it’s greeted with what, hand on heart, you’d have to report as nothing more than polite
SLEEVE NOTES TRAckLIST: 1. Tuning (I) 2. Rock Me 3. Baby Please Don’t Go 4. You Make Me Real 5. Tuning (II) 6. Don’t Fight It 7. I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man 8. Strange Days 9. Lucille
applause. The other original composition in the seven here is “You Make Me Feel Real”, which wouldn’t show up until Morrison Hotel four years later. It’s a minor song, a basic 12-bar rocker, but it gets a far better reception, an innocent fact that won’t have gone unnoticed by the band as they worked on their evolving stagecraft. It’s probably this that is the revelation of The London Fog. We’re not so much hearing the heft of a fully formed, not yet famous group, as we did with the Matrix recordings, but instead one that has a talent, charisma and presence already very much working for it, even if all the material isn’t quite there yet. After some tuning, the opener, “Rock Me”, a take on BB King’s song from two years previously, shows just how the band can open up a song to create their own space and drama. The logical end of this was the band’s extended excursions on “The End” and “Light My Fire” (it is at this point Nettie Peña becomes in a small way the
villain of the piece – a second reel of this performance containing “The End” and possibly “Moonlight Drive” has got waylaid during a house move somewhere at some point in the past 50 years), but here the band set quite their own pace and style. Like other bands of the period, blues was their starting point but, piloted by Manzarek’s entropic musicality and Robby Krieger’s intrepid noise, The Doors leave it quicker than most. “Baby Please Don’t Go” isn’t, in principle, going to offer huge surprise to anyone familiar with blues-based music of the 1960s. However, Morrison’s innate theatricality draws you in, as the volume lowers, to focus attention on the singer as the conductor of events (“the shaman”, as Manzarek recalled the young Jim). It was a dramatic resource on which he and the band would draw throughout their existence. Their swinging take on Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It” does something similar, but in a tempo that throws forward to “Love You Two Times”. Elsewhere, the impression is of a band with a particular dynamism and a burgeoning confidence – to the point where they are happy to let the keyboard player sing “Hoochie Coochie Man”, and not the singer. All round, it’s more than the sum of its parts, if not quite the event that is clearly hoped for – and as the facsimile packaging, 10-inch vinyl release and so forth might encourage you to believe. Discovered in 2011, this has clearly been awaiting the right occasion to bolster its release. The 50th anniversary of The Doors now provides just that – along with the welcome reminder that a release such as this doesn’t have to be completely mindblowing for it to be quietly historic.
How To buy...
THE DOORS LIVE A lot of Lizard for your dollar…
Absolutely Live eLekTRA, 1970
The only live album released by the Doors in their lifetime. Much of the band’s 1969 tour was cancelled after Jim Morrison’s felony indecency charge – their 1970 dates, however, were recorded in some detail. The result, apparently, of 2,000 engineer edits, this gives you a lot of Lizard for your dollar. The expanded In Concert from 1991 includes the most electric Doors live moment, “Roadhouse Blues”, an edit previously heard on American Prayer. 8/10 42 • UNCUT • FeBRUARY 2017
Live At The Matrix 1967
Live In Pittsburgh 1970
RHINo/BRIGHT MIDNIGHT ARCHIVeS, 2007
An early recording, but one by a recognisable, fully-formed Doors at a San Francisco club owned by Marty Balin’s dad. Not dissimilar to The London Fog shows in its inclusion of early songs such as “Summer’s Almost Gone”, but also compelling takes of monsters such as “When The Music’s Over”. From a label dedicated to slightly more lo-fi Doors archive material, of which there’s a lot. 8/10
A heavy, hypnotic but also exploratory set, the tone set by Robby Krieger’s intergalactic playing on “Back Door Man”. Interesting digressions like “Away In India” make an excursion into Byrds ’66 territory, and lesser-spotted numbers such as “Universal Mind”, while remaining recognisably The Doors. Genuinely excellent stuff. 9/10
Q&A The Doors circa ’68: (l-r) Morrison, Manzarek, krieger and Densmore
Y the time of these recordings, you’d been in the group maybe six months, right? Was it that
quick? When I got in the group they already had four or five songs and I added my guitar and changed them a bit. Then, Jim said, “Hey, we’re gonna need more songs, you should write some too.” It was the first time I thought about writing. I went home and wrote “Light My Fire”, which worked out pretty good, and the second was “Love Me Two Times”… “You’re Lost Little Girl”… This was all in a couple of months of joining the group.
Tell me a bit more about writing “Light My Fire”. I was living with my parents in Pacific Palisades – I had my amp and SG. I asked Jim, what should I write about? He said, something universal, which won’t disappear two years from now. Something that people can interpret for themselves. I said to myself I’d write about the four elements: earth, air, fire, water. I picked fire, as I loved the Stones song, “Play With Fire”, and that’s how that came about.
How would you write back then? One time Jim came and stayed at my house when my parents went on a trip and we wrote “Take It As It Comes”, “Strange Days”, lot of cool songs, a couple of months later. “The End” was written then, which was a love song about a guy breaking up with his girlfriend. Usually, he’d have an idea for the lyrics and I’d put what I heard as the music. It always seemed to work. When I had something, he always made it better.
block away. We thought it was pretty cool… until the second night. The first night, we must have had 100-150 people and after that, the second night, nobody. And over the next couple of weeks maybe a couple of sailors would come in. It was pretty boring, but it was good as we could play our own songs and work ’em up – it wasn’t like rehearsing, we had to play them – in case anybody actually came in. But it was disappointing that we weren’t building up a following. I guess it was a new club – people didn’t know to come in.
What strikes you about the young Doors? It sounds very raw, obviously, but you can tell it’s us. We were making mistakes and stuff. Ray was singing a lot at that time, and was a bit out of tune. Jim, even though his voice wasn’t fully developed yet, he had the chops: he could go real high and had that low croony thing going on. The sound is pretty good for an audience recording. What I think is pretty cool is when we finish a song and you hear like… three people clapping.
Were you impressed with Jim? At first no, but as the residency continued, he came out of his shell. I think that must have been after we did it for a couple of weeks. It was towards the end of the run. He was beginning to feel it by then. He used to be very shy, he wouldn’t even look at the audience – his back was turned. When we rehearsed at home, we rehearsed in a circle, so we could look at each other and he’d know
Did The London Fog gig feel like a big break? It did at first, as it was a club on
“Jim used to be very shy, he wouldn’t even look at the audience – his back was turned”
the strip, a new one. It wasn’t the status of the Whisky, but there it was, only a
when to come in. You can’t do that on a stage. Eventually he turned around and started interacting with the audience.
Tell me about your experience of the blues? When I began playing guitar, I started playing flamenco music. But I had a couple of buddies who were playing steel string guitar; they were trying to get into blues, and we all discovered these old records – one of the guy’s dads had a bunch of old records. I really liked Blind Willie Johnson, who played slide, and Robert Johnson, of course. I didn’t try to emulate them especially, but I did love the slide and experimenting with that. I thought that sound would work with rock’n’roll. So “Moonlight Drive” was an important song for us; it was the first song we played together, the four of us, when we got together for the first time. That was all it took, man, they loved that sound.
You played that at The London Fog, I presume? Yeah. Unfortunately, half of the songs have not been found yet. There were two tapes, but only one has been found. I had no memory of Nettie Peña – I was in the regular school, not the film school; I was younger than them. I heard that some tapes had been found. All this time we’ve been trying to find the other tape. We haven’t stopped looking. It’s gotta be in storage in her house somewhere. I should go over there with a magnetometer… We’ve known about it all this time, it’s pretty frustrating. There was a guy at the Whisky who recorded a lot of stuff, John Jernick, and no-one knows what happened to him, or his tapes. There’s nothing from the Whisky – he did the sound there, he was an audio freak and he made tapes – so somebody’s got it.
How does it feel to be approaching your 50th anniversary? It doesn’t feel like 50 years. It’s cool that it’s lasted this long. What moves me is when people say things like, “The Doors changed my life” – it feels great when you’ve affected people positively that much. INTERVIEW: JohN RobINsoN FeBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 43
K & K ULF KRUGeR OHG/ReDFeRNS
Robby krieger: “When I had something, Jim always made it better…”
ARCHIVE Dead ahead: (l-r) Garcia, McKernan, Weir, Kreutzmann, Lesh
ThE GRATEFUL DEAD The Grateful Dead RhINO
An unlikely proto-punk classic. By Rob Mitchum
HE late ’60s are littered with lost proto-punk classics, bands who accidentally bashed their way into time travel through a combination of blues simplicity and amateur talent. Since Lenny Kaye’s seminal Nuggets in 1972, excavating these unsung heroes of the garage has 44 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
been a favourite pursuit of rock’n’roll paleontologists, fuelling many a compilation and deluxe reissue. But one of these early transitional species might just have been hiding in plain sight all these years, on Warner Brothers, under the nameplate of a band that ended up about as far from punk rock as possible. The first of the Grateful Dead’s studio album reissue series – the extension of the band’s unending 50th anniversary selfcommemoration – is possibly the most surprising of their discography. Here, what would become the flagship band of long, psychedelic improvisation sounds urgent, direct, pithy, and a variety of other adjectives you’d
never use to describe their later career. Packaged with similarly frenzied live material from the 1966 Vancouver Trips Festival, the reissue argues the case that the Dead initially had the fuzz-and-Farfisa sound that would still get them on the hippest garage-rock compilations today. When the Grateful Dead entered the studio in January 1967, the psychedelic scene was still a blank slate, blindly feeling its way from the mind-cracking anomalies of the Acid Tests to a paisley worldwide wave. Before the Summer Of Love codified the hippy aesthetic, there was a volatile mixture of concurrent countercultures, appropriately represented in the original Dead lineup by the biker bard Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan, the folk-bluegrass licks of Jerry Garcia, the avant-garde classical-jazz of Phil Lesh, the maximum R’n’B clatter of Bill Kreutzmann, and the beat music brashness of Bob Weir. Throw these seemingly incompatible parts into a California blender of new sounds and new
Q&A Bob Weir: “All the tempos seemed a bit bright to me”
on a macrobiotic diet at the time, so all the tempos seemed a bit bright to me.
Which memory sticks out the most from the recording of the first album? It was all new to me,
The band was already starting to stretch songs live by the time you recorded the debut – how much of that did you want to capture in the studio? Was there label pressure to keep songs shorter?
so it all stuck out.
One striking element about the debut is how fast everything is played, which some biographers have attributed to Ritalin. Or was it first-album nerves? Most of the band was cranked up on Ritalin for just about the whole four-day process. I wasn’t, because I was
I think the prevailing wisdom was that we would try to keep the tunes at least kind of concise, as we didn’t want to put out something that no-one could relate to. It didn’t seem at the time that records were the best place to stretch out.
drugs, and what came out sounded – at least initially – a hell of a lot like punk rock. With about a hundred shows’ experience by the time they got to the studio in 1967, the Dead were rapidly building their sterling live reputation. But as songwriters, they were still pre-pubescent, as reflected by their debut’s 7:2 ratio of covers to originals. While drawing mainly from pre-war country blues and folk of the Harry Smith variety, the early Dead were hardly a throwback act, electrifying their roots and playing them at breakneck speed. Of course, the drugs helped – though in the case of the self-titled LP, it wasn’t acid, but the more mundane Ritalin, taken by threefifths of the band to help complete recording in the four days allotted. The resultant high tempo might be the most jarring feature of the debut for seasoned Deadheads, with stately classics such as “Morning Dew” and “Cold Rain And Snow” played at double the bpm of later versions. Nearly as disorienting might be the democracy of the nascent Dead. Pigpen’s early frontman status was more of a live thing than displayed here, where he only gets a single lead vocal (on a characteristically skeevy “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”). But his generally unheralded organ stands toe-totoe with Garcia’s lead guitar, swirling merrily through the serpentine middle-eight of “Cold Rain And Snow” and pumping the beat through Weir’s lead shouting turns, “Beat It On Down The Line” and “New, New Minglewood Blues”. Despite the preponderance of covers, the two originals that made the debut are no slouches. “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” probably sounded dated by the time the ’60s ended, but its ragged harmonies and carnival swirl were a more accurate depiction of early acid-test euphoria than the genteel contemporaneous psychedelia of your Donovans and Byrds. “Cream Puff War” is the true lost gem, with jagged strums and a rope-adope rhythm that predict absolutely zero about the future of the Grateful Dead, but maybe a little about the fussier hybrid of post-punk.
These songs were just what we thought were our strongest tunes. We hadn’t gotten all that fully into writing yet; this was before we hooked up with Robert Hunter, for instance.
AtoZ SANDY BULL
Fantasias For Guitar And Banjo (reissue, 1963) REAL GONE
Do you remember anything notable about the Vancouver Trips Festival gigs included here? I had taken LSD pretty much once a week, every week, for about a year at that point. I thought it was time to try something new, so I got into the macrobiotic diet. I also remember Michael McClure’s poetry reading – really powerful… InTerVIeW: roB MITCHuM
The bonus 1966 show reveals a less successful songbook of early originals – “Cardboard Cowboy” and “You Don’t Have To Ask” were mercifully euthanised soon after – but just as much gusto. Played in front of a less-than-enthusiastic crowd (“Our fame has preceded us,” Lesh comments after their introduction draws awkward silence), and upstaged by the light show, they nevertheless throw themselves into their set with abandon, stretching out “Cream Puff War” and tearing through early arrangements of “I Know You Rider” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. If you’re looking for true prophecy on the Dead to come, it’s found on both the album and live set in “Viola Lee Blues”, a lengthy update of a 1928 jugband 78. Even here, though, the improvisatory vibe is much less interstellar exploration than hard-charging blues explosion, with a gradually building tempo manoeuvre honed over dozens of sweaty Fillmore nights that starts straining EQs by its last couple of minutes. In a matter of months, they’d have a song called “Dark Star” that would launch them into a different orbit altogether, dramatically expanding the band’s sonic canvas and audience. But given how those late-’60s jam epics became synonymous with psychedelic rock as we still know it today, it’s a thrill to hear the
Here, the flagship psychedelic band sounds urgent, direct, pithy primordial ooze that preceded those more mature stages. Like any band or scene taking its first wobbly steps, it’s a hot mess in good ways and bad, an overflow of unrefined ideas that occasionally lap the abilities of the personnel on hand. That enthusiasm and ambition makes The Grateful Dead a historical document worth revisiting, even if it sometimes seems like a page from the wrong history book.
9/10 Startling innovations from visionary Greenwich Village instrumentalist The first track on Bull’s first LP contends for the most auspicious debut ever. “Blend”, over 22 riveting minutes, hurls listeners through a whirlwind of shifting rhythms and moods. Armed with guitar and banjo, and the drumming of free-jazz giant Billy Higgins, Bull blurred all boundaries. Mutating folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, R’n’B, classical and Eastern motifs, for starters, he laid much groundwork for future music. Indeed, the onslaught of improv, psych and world music across the ensuing years owes much to “Blend” and to Bull’s catholic approach. The LP’s second half, while stepping back from the precipice, is no less engaging. The Appalachian bluegrass tune “Little Maggie” may be as traditional as it gets, but Bull pairs it with an intense, dronish backdrop. “Gospel Tune” soon sheds its roots, pivoting to sparkling country blues, with a raw, tremolo-driven guitar style indebted to Pops Staples. Unpredictable and unique, Fantasias… opened doors, proving one could cross myriad social, emotional and cultural lines without uttering a word. Extras: None. Luke Torn
Spiral Scratch (reissue, 1977) LABEL
9/10 Vinyl reissue of Buzzocks’ vital debut eP One of punk’s most important releases, “Spiral Scratch” EP was the movement’s first DIY artefact. Recorded on the cheap with borrowed money, it sold 16,000 copies, launching the careers of Buzzcocks, Magazine and Martin Hannett while semi-inventing the concept of indie labels and putting the Manc music scene on the road to dominance. It’s also the only official release by the original Buzzcocks lineup, as Howard Devoto left the band as soon as it came out. This reissue – on 7-inch and in a replica of the original packaging – marks the 40th anniversary of a disc that can still surprise and amuse, showing how Buzzcocks offered something different from London punks, a wit and vulnerability. Punk had its art-school element, but that tended to be among managers and sleeve designers rather than musicians. Of the first wave, the Buzzcocks were the exception, and their arty sense of mischief and adventure is what illuminates “Spiral Scratch”, from the minimalist, demystifying sleeve to the two-note solo on “Boredom”, a musical joke pilfered from the Bonzos and Eno and applied with gusto, 66 times. Opener “Breakdown” is a jitter of nervous energy, “Time’s Up” an entertaining shambles, while “Friends Of Mine” offers a tapering close. Still glorious. Extras: 5/10. Also comes in a limited edition of 300 with replica of original press release. PeTer WATTS FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 45
Uncovering the underrated and overlooked
The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982 SIERRA RECORDS
8/10 Liliput: “Politics and play were not mutually exclusive”
KLEENEX/LILIPUT First Songs KILL ROCK STARS/MISSISSIPPI
PhOTOs cOuRTEsy OF KiLL ROcK sTaRs
Female Swiss art-punk supremos still sound vital KLEENEx weren’t Switzerland’s first punk band, not quite, but they were its oddest, and indubitably its best. Formed in Zurich in 1978, their music still sounds without peer: a kooky, exuberant guitar-pop embellished with wild blasts of sax and trilingual vocals that have the ring of both Dadaist performance art and schoolyard sing-song. For much of their existence, they were an all-female group – not for political or exclusionary reasons, but simply because the serious young men of the Swiss punk scene didn’t want to play music with them. “The guys were trying to become famous,” Kleenex’s guitarist/vocalist Marlene Marder told Perfect Sound Forever in 1998. “They had a record company that said, ‘No saxophones in a punk band.’ But they weren’t the ones who became famous!” Recognition came quickly. Kleenex’s selftitled 1978 EP found its way to John Peel, and soon Rough Trade was in touch to offer them a deal. Before long, they were on tour around the UK, and making connections with groups more on their wavelength – The Raincoats, Essential Logic and The Slits. Following legal threats from the tissue manufacturer, the group changed their name to Liliput, and underwent a couple of lineup changes, Marder and bassist Klaudia Schiff being the only constants. Liliput’s later work formalises their sound slightly, smoothing the rough edges but losing some of the anarchic energy in the process. Happily, First Songs – a double LP set bringing
46 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
together all the group’s pre-1982 material, plus singles and unreleased tracks – captures the band at their very best, naïve and often shambolic but full of giddy invention. Kleenex/Liliput are at their finest when their songs sound like first takes, or clatter along as if in danger of coming apart at the seams. The brilliant “Hedi’s Head” is nothing but the basics: a walloping backbeat, a haywire guitar motif and a nonsense phrase bawled in unison: “Hedi’s head, it’s so bad/Hedi is oh so sad!” On “Nighttoad”, drums canter and stumble, voices screech in call and response, and the track subtly speeds up throughout its running time, like a soapbox racer careening down a hill. Original lead singer Regula Sing possesses a deep, matronly Germanic baritone, but as often as not everyone pitches in with vocals, a cacophony of voices that recalls The Slits at their most raucous. Kleenex/Liliput were often silly and surreal, but this should not be confused with lack of purpose. “Hitch-Hike” is a song about a girl thumbing a lift because she can’t afford the train; you might not notice on first listen, but that instrument that toots jauntily throughout the song is a rape whistle. The swaggering “Eisiger Wind” – it translates as “Icy Wind” – was inspired by the riots that swept Zurich in March 1980, sparked when the city slashed youth services to refurbish the opera house. Not so naïve, then: Kleenex/Liliput understood the important post-punk lesson that politics and play were not mutually exclusive; four decades on, the music of First Songs still sounds as vital as ever. LOuis PattisOn
solo Gene: fractured journey through the enigmatic Byrd’s rich backstory Lost Studio Sessions, remarkably – collecting 24 unheard studio tracks – is the first career-spanning effort to shed light on Clark’s numerous undocumented sessions. Five crooner ballads from 1964 open it; Clark was surely seeking his musical identity in these pre-Byrds moments, but his capacity for lyrical self-reflection and brooding loneliness arrives crystal clear (highlight: “That Girl”), and his mannered baritone is a revelation. Arranger Leon Russell puts his expansive, orchestrated stamp, including strings and horns, on two 1967 cuts, highlighted by “Back Street Mirror,” Clark’s complex, wild-eyed observations and rhyming incantations echoing Dylan’s Highway 61. In the later material, with unadorned acoustic guitar and truly spartan melodies, Clark ruminates on the big questions – purposefulness, the tangles of time, and deep romantic longing – as on the vulnerable “Awakening Within”. Roadmaster-era cuts, and Nyteflyte, a partial Byrds reunion, retreat from the precipice, but yield many gems, too; a swelling, ethereal cover of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” from 1972 is as magnificent as anything Clark ever recorded. Extras: Six extra songs on two bonus CDs. Luke tOrn
PATRICK COWLEY & CANDIDA ROYALLE Candida Cosmica DARK ENTRIES
6/10 Burbling erotica from mid-’70s san Francisco Josh Cheon’s Dark Entries reissue label rounds off an exhausting 2016 – 37 releases! – with this latest posthumous addition to Patrick Cowley’s swelling discography. Cowley, who died aged just 32 in 1982 from AIDs, is best known for innovative hi-NRG hits such as “Menergy” and “Do Ya Wanna Funk” with the singer Sylvester, but recent archive discoveries have shed light on his post-punk outfit Catholic and gay porn soundtrack work (Muscle Up) while at college studying music. Most frivolous of all so far, perhaps, is Candida Cosmica, a slender document from the heady 1973-’75 period when Cowley lived in Haight-Ashbury and hung out with like-minded boho types, including budding singer and porn actress Candice Vadalla (later Candida Royalle). Against a backdrop of gay rights and free love in San Francisco – Vadalla describes the time as a “hotbed of unbridled political passion” – the pair became lovers and collaborators. Using his range of synthesisers, Cowley produced music for her stage performances and together they recorded freestyle swirls called “Candida Cosmica”, “Elementals” and “Shimmering (Where Am I?)”, Vadalla’s angelic coos caressing Cowley’s analogue frippery. Vital gear for Cowley completists; for everyone else, not so much.
Gene Clark: baritone delights
image of an Appalachian showband on the rattling “Route 22,” while “V-Blues” converts Scott Joplin’s bubbly ragtime piano style for guitar. Best are “Unknown Lament”, as cold as an icy winter’s day, and its polar opposite, “Over/Under”, which projects springtime optimism over a grid of stately, symmetrical cadences. Extras: None. Luke tOrn
Extras: 8/10. Comprehensive 16-page booklet with archive photos, a Vadalla interview and eyewitness accounts from friends and collaborators, plus a poster. Piers Martin
RICHARD CRANDELL Then And Now TOMPKINS SQUARE
8/10 Gorgeous guitar hypnosis: roadmusic missives from House Of Fahey Oregonian Richard Crandell has trod a unique if oftundetected path across some 40 years, from writing for Leo Kottke in the mid-1970s to playing the mbira and touring with Zimbabwe legend Thomas Mapfumo in the 2000s. Then And Now, a strong set of previously unheard (mostly 1990s) guitar instrumentals, reverts to his earliest impulses – striking, sharply envisioned compositions in the fingerpicking vein of Kottke and John Fahey. Keeping it simple, yet winding through an impressive array of tones and emotions, Crandell’s playing is subtly adventurous, sometimes playful, and inherently rhythmic. The plucked chords of the opener, a deft country-blues called “Road Trip,” set the stage, while alternating from six- to 12-string guitar adds variety; “American Friends,” employing the latter, is majestic. Crandell digs deep into Americana as well, conjuring the
MERL SAUNDERS & JERRY GARCIA Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings FANTASY
8/10 6LP collection of Dead man’s seminal extra-curricular jams Of the many myths of Jerry Garcia, the most compelling might just be the one about his overwhelming compunction to play guitar more or less all the time. The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings is fluent testimony to a man in love with making music, catching Garcia filling in the nights between Grateful Dead obligations at the Keystone club in Berkeley. His chief foil is Saunders, a Hammond player who gives as good as he gets in these spectacularly amiable sessions, the bulk of which surfaced on a couple of live albums in 1973 and 1988. Noodle sceptics may take a wide berth, but the 24 tracks here often sound as
close to the MG’s or The Meters kicking back as they do the Dead: check two stabs at “Keepers”, written by Saunders and bassist John Kahn. Garcia doesn’t bring any of his own songs to the party, but his gifts as an interpreter have rarely been better showcased, riffing effortlessly through “I Second That Emotion”, “My Funny Valentine”, “Mystery Train” and a couple of Dylan covers (“It Takes A Lot To Laugh…” and “Positively 4th Street”). A great showcase, too, for Garcia’s perpetually underrated vocals: his take on “The Harder They Come” is a tender triumph. Extras: 7/10. Poster, booklet, liner notes by Dead biographer David Gans. JOHn MuLVeY
Living In The Shadows EARTH
8/10 How the Pentangle man rediscovered his shape in the 1990s Offered the stark choice of sobering up or dying in 1987, one-time beatnik boy Bert Jansch slowly acclimatised to steadyhanded elder statesmanship, and this elegantly packaged box captures his rambling muse returning on three 1990s albums. The Irish-accented The Ornament Tree (1990) rises stately and handsome above period-piece production quirks, and includes a reworking of “Three Dreamers” – Jansch’s woozy memoir of the Glasgow lodgings he once shared with future Incredible String Banditos Robin Williamson and Clive Palmer. The sturdy When The Circus Comes To Town (1993) goes a bit John Martyn-jazzy on “Summer Heat” and “Living In The Shadows”, while highlights of 1998’s Toy Balloon include a gloomy reworking of Jackson C Frank’s “My Name Is Carnival” and a bewitching guitar tangle in “Bett’s Dance”. Bad sex connoisseurs, meanwhile, can sample Viagra-laced rocker “Sweet Talking Lady” (“She’s got a sexy body that fits me like a glove,” Jansch grunts, somewhat out of character).
revelations RICHARD CRANDELL The guitar virtuoso on the artistic debt he owes to Leo Kottke and John Fahey
usic was everywhere in multi-instrumentalist Richard crandell’s 1950s and ’60s Buffalo upbringing, but it was the uber-talented guitar composers, conveying complex emotions with just one instrument, who stirred him most once he trekked out west. “Eventually i heard John Fahey and Leo Kottke,” crandell remembers, “and realised that i could create complete solo guitar pieces from scratch, by
using my musical influences in a fingerpicking style.” One of these pieces, a contemplative number called “Rebecca”, even ended up being recorded by Kottke on his 1975 LP, Chewing Pine, though crandell’s career flew farther under the radar, playing local venues and recording for private labels. Reflecting on Then And Now today, crandell says: “i’m just another listener who happens
to have the ability to express what people are feeling… the pain, boredom, uncertainty, fear, and especially the joy, through a musical instrument… simply rhythm, a chordal structure, and usually a melody.” Or, as he more succinctly responds when asked about “Over/under”, the album’s most intoxicating groove, “Three or four minutes of that won’t hurt anybody.” Luke tOrn
An illuminating collection nonetheless. Extras: 7/10. A fourth disc, Picking Up The Leaves, sweeps up contemporary home recordings, notably a decluttered instrumental take of “Morning Brings Sweet Peace Of Mind”, two takes on an undocumented doodle recorded with John Renbourn, and a genuine find in the quietly optimistic “Merry Priest”. JiM WirtH
Precious – The Anthology 1963-72 KENT
7/10 Late, lamented new Jersey girl’s soulful stunners Linda Jones’ earliest, modest success came via a song co-written by Motown founder Berry Gordy, but it would be the closest she would ever get to the Detroit hit factory. Had she been given a nurturing, permanent home she might be more widely remembered today, but Jones spent most of her career roaming between labels (Red Bird, Brunswick, Big Top, Loma), dogged by bad luck, threadbare company coffers and ever-changing trends. This wonderful collection cherrypicks her most vital sides before her diabetes-related death, aged 27; from the knowing teen smoulder of Gordy’s hitherto innocent “Lonely Teardrops” to the testifying holler of Jerry Butler’s “Your Precious Love”. To many ears, the best-known song here is perhaps Goffin & King’s “I Can’t Make It Alone”, due to its inclusion on Dusty Springfield’s famed …In Memphis album, but Jones’ interpretation two years later raises the bar in terms of soul and vocal power. It could be argued that Jones was too powerful a singer to be marketed by the slick Motown machine to the ’60s masses, her rough edges and raw emotion more suited to the following decade of which she would see so little. Extras: None. terrY stauntOn
Richard Crandell: expressing feelings through music
MICHAeL oCHS ARCHIVeS/GeTTy IMAGeS
SLEEVE NOTES Tracklist: 1. I’m Not Talking 2. Parchman Farm 3. Foolkiller 4. If you only Knew 5. Baby Please Don’t Go 6. The Seventh Son 7. I’m Smashed 8. Wild Man on The Loose 9. If you’re Goin’ To The City 10. everybody Cryin’ Mercy 11. I Love The Life I Live - Mose Allison Trio 12. young Man’s Blues 13. Back on The Corner 14. you Can Count on Me To Do My Part 15. Lost Mind 16. eyesight To The Blind 17. your Mind Is on Vacation 18. Just Like Livin’ 19. If you Live 20. V-8 Ford Blues 21. your Molecular Structure 22. Hello There Universe 23. Western Man 24. Swingin’ Machine
I’m not Talkin’: The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-71 ACE
9/10 Timely retrospective of a distinctive bluesman and “genre in his own right”. By Nigel Williamson “THEY stole my music, but they gave me my name,” Muddy Waters once said of The Rolling Stones. Mose Allison’s status as a white boy stealing the blues was somewhat more complicated, for he grew up not in Dartford but in the Mississippi Delta, where he picked cotton alongside black sharecroppers and learned to plough behind a mule, before heading for university to graduate in English and philosophy. He mocked the cultural complexity of his backstory with playfully self-deprecating humour in “Ever Since I Stole The Blues”: “Well have you heard the latest, are you in the know/It’s in the mornin’ papers and on the radio/It’s even gonna make the TV news: ‘White Boy Steals The Blues’.” Yet in the end, it was white boys who stole Mose’s blues – especially white boys playing in London’s R’n’B clubs, following the landmark ’63 release of Mose Allison Sings, a compilation of the best vocal tracks from the six albums he’d recorded for Prestige between 1957 and ’59. The impact of that 1963 release was both instant and enduring, for what a defining
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generation of young British musicians heard was radically different from any of the other blues recordings finding their way across the Atlantic at the time, whether it was the electric Chicago blues of Waters and Wolf on imported Chess LPs or Robert Johnson’s spooked pre-war country blues on Columbia’s seminal 1961 comp, King Of The Delta Blues Singers. Allison’s blues were sophisticated and jazzy. His piano playing was a hybrid of boogie-woogie, stride, swing, Nat Cole, Errol Garner and early Ray Charles embellished with bebop improvs. He sang in a sly, slack-jawed voice with a distinctive rural diction and his lyrics were smart and witty, littered with puns and moonshine wisdom, indebted as much to Mark Twain’s Huck Finn as to the Delta argot of Johnson, Charley Patton and Son House. As Jamie Cullum noted almost half a century later, Allison was “a genre in his own right”. Georgie Fame recorded his songs and copied his style. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers covered him and so did The Yardbirds, The Kinks and Manfred Mann. Pete Townshend was inspired to write “My Generation” after hearing Allison’s “Young Man’s Blues” and The Who then covered the original composition on Live
At Leeds. On Allison’s first visit to Britain, he appeared on TV with the Stones and performed at the Cavern. Van Morrison later recorded with him, and The Clash and Elvis Costello also covered his songs. Half a dozen remastered tracks from that now legendary 1963 compilation are included on this timely and near-definitive 24-track retrospective of the first 15 years of Allison’s recording career. They include “Young Man’s Blues”, which first appeared on Allison’s 1957 debut, Back Country Suite For Piano, Bass And Drums, as a brief vocal interlude on a predominantly instrumental album that was inspired both by the country blues of the Delta and the classical/folk arrangements of Bartók’s ‘Hungarian Sketches’. Townshend recalled the impact the song had on him when he wrote the liner notes for an Allison compilation many years later. “The man’s voice was so cool, so decisively hip, so uncomplicated,” he enthused. “Mose was my man. I felt him to be the epitome of restrained screaming power… the voice of a gentle giant with the strength to change the world, but the humility and character to stand alone.” Equally memorable is “Parchman Farm”, a 1958 rolling piano blues about the Mississippi state penitentiary quite different from the Bukka White composition of the same name and which was recorded by Fame and Mayall, among countless others. “I’m goin’ be here the rest of my life and all I did was shoot my wife,” he deadpans with the laconic wit that was to become his trademark. Equally influential on British R’n’B were Allison’s early covers of Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son”, Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight To The Blind”, which arguably became better-known than the versions by the original artists. All are included here. Yet it’s Allison’s own compositions that remain his calling card. By the early ’60s he had moved to Atlantic and the 14 tracks here recorded between 1962 and 1971 mark the maturation of a unique “eccentric traditionalist”, as he came to describe himself. As his piano playing took on a darker resonance, with pronounced use of the sustain pedal to give his bustling lines a more elusive quality, his lyrics also grew more striking and idiosyncratic. On “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy” recorded in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, he essayed perhaps the slyest protest song of all time as he artfully noted, “Everybody’s cryin’ peace on earth jus’ as soon as we win this war.” Elsewhere lines such as “I’ve been doin’ some thinking ’bout the nature of the universe/I found out things are getting better, it’s just that people are getting worse,” appear heavy with a world-weary cynicism, although Allison refuted the suggestion. “There’s a strong ironical wit that comes from rural America,” he said. “It’s not pessimistic. It’s just dealing with a harsh reality.” I’m Not Talkin’ is a fitting testament to this eccentric traditionalist extraordinaire.
ARCHIVE Jon Lord
Drop +”, now double the length, provides a more rounded experience this time around, while “Akihabara (Electric Town) +” boasts an increased dynamic vitality thanks to drummer Phil Hurst. The addition of basslines of which previous collaborator Jah Wobble would approve give “Ginza District +” greater depth, while “Red Line 12am +” now evokes images of a pristine technology laboratory rather than an abandoned industrial complex. Extras: None.
Gemini Suite (reissue, 1971) EArMUSIC
nue Au Soleil (Complètement) LES dISQUES dU CrEPUSCULE
8/10 Looking for Linder? Morrissey faves’ best and more The collage mistress of the Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict” sleeve, the “Wonderful Woman” of Smiths legend and the designer of Factory Records’ unmade menstrual egg-timer (catalogue
oUr dAUGHTEr’S WEddInG Moving Windows (reissue, 1982) FUTUrISMo
Keyboard wizard: Jon Lord in 1970
number: FAC 8), Linder starred in her own giddy sideshow from 1978-84. Anthologised here, her output as Ludus fed punky Yoko Ono through a free-jazz mangle to fierce but playful effect. New Hormones singles “My Cherry Is In Sherry” and “Mother’s Hour” take Essential Logic to their logical conclusion, while the Rainy City high life of “The Escape Artist” and gender-blur “Breaking The Rules” document a pleasing later stab at funky loft-conversion sophistication. A small but thrilling adventure. Extras: 8/10. An unreleased 1978 demo, “I Don’t Want To Go”, catches Ludus in their larval state, before the arrival of Linder’s key collaborator, Ian Devine. A second disc digs up a Soft Machine-ish 1982 Peel Session, while a live show documents the night Linder treated the Haçienda’s cool-cats to her approximation of Bucks Fizz’s whipping-off-the-skirt trick, slipping aside her much-imitated raw meat dress to reveal a black dildo. “I remember the audience going back about three feet,” she remembers fondly in the sleevenotes. JIM WIRTH
MArConI UnIon ToKYo + JUST MUSIC
7/10 Downbeat electronica maestros reissue and rework fourth album First released in only limited quantities by German label Bine in 2009, Tokyo was a more minimal excursion than the Manc duo’s previous work, and indeed what would follow. Inspired by images of a Japanese capital they’d never visited, it was suggestive of an eerie, desolate city lit only in neon. This was especially – predictably – true of “Lost In Neon”, which offered little more than sprinkles of rhythmic static and the kind of muted washes of synth favoured by Brian Eno, whose ambient catalogue for All Saints Records they’d remastered. This reissue’s appeal is more dependent on its bonus EP, featuring four tracks they’ve revisited in their current quartet formation. Employing parts of original recordings, but instead recorded live, “Temperature
Lost missive from synth-pop wars Electronic underdogs Our Daughter’s Wedding emerged out of New York’s early ’80s club scene, but were clearly no strangers to the prevailing trends of industrial Sheffield and Düsseldorf. Their remastered debut seasons modishly chilly Euro synth-pop with the rainbow flavours of disco, funk and new wave, delivering hooky tunes with an arch, arty aesthetic. Live synths and Keith Silva’s emotive vocals lend a punky punch to these enjoyable culture clashes. The staccato “Elevate Her” sounds like Kraftwerk meeting 1999 Prince; “Love Machine” could be Human League playing something from the first Madonna album, while “Paris” is a half-magnificent, half-hilarious nod to the vogue for cinematic mood pieces about European capitals. There’s a hint of downtown sleaze on “My Daddy’s Slave”, while “Always Be True” is a gleaming pop nugget. There’s little here to suggest that ODW’s place as a footnote in the pop annals is any great cause for complaint, but Moving Windows deserves the 15 minutes of exposure it seemed to miss first time around. Extras: 6/10. Five bonus tracks, originally on the “Digital Cowboy” EP, including minor UK hit “Lawnchairs”. GRAEME THOMSON
Ludus in 1981: Linder, second from right
Linder Sterling (née Linda Mulvey) “I have no desire to be nico…”
HAVe no desire to be Nico,” Linder said in a conversation with old pal/ No 1 fan Morrissey for Interview magazine back in 2010, the most striking female presence on Manchester’s punk fringe determined to be nobody’s muse – despite being the subject of Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get?” and a good few Smiths songs besides. With Ludus, originally formed in 1978, one-time Manchester Polytechnic art student Linda
Mulvey cut loose. The clutch of records she recorded before the band’s demise in 1983 are not as famous as the sleeves she made for the Buzzcocks’ “orgasm Addict” or Real Life by Magazine (fronted by her one-time boyfriend Howard Devoto), but much weirder and wilder. Key features: trebly guitars, death-defying time changes, and Linder’s array of coos, gurgles and banshee howls. In a piece reproduced in a
Ludus newsletter in the early 1980s, the young Morrissey wrote of their free-ranging oeuvre: “Boy never meets girl and therefore boy never gets girl – mainly because boy is unacquainted with Florentine Art and free jazz. Hmmm, what’s it all in aid of?” “We were as interested in Albert Ayler as we were in Wilhelm Reich,” Linder later explained. “It was all collage.” JIM WIRTH
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Kickstarting the late rock virtuouso’s reissue campaign Were one inclined to be reductive about these things, it could be said that Jon Lord invented orchestral rock. As composer and the driving force behind Concerto For Group And Orchestra, Deep Purple’s ambitious 1969 mash-up with the Royal Philharmonic, he ushered in a new age of increasingly elaborate and (whisper it) progressive endeavours by longhairs looking for something beyond a sturdy backbeat. Naturally, he was interested in more pieces of the pie he helped bake, hence this highfalutin, vaguely conceptual offering. Six distinct movements lead off with a booming theme that recalls the film music of Elmer Bernstein, albeit with the added twang of Albert Lee’s reverb guitar, followed by Lord himself at the piano for a burst of busybody baroque. Purple pals Roger Glover and Ian Paice also have passages of their own, although the latter’s drum histrionics seem incongruous held up to what precedes and follows. Quite what it’s all meant to represent remains murky, the vocal section sparring of Yvonne Elliman and Tony Ashton failing to shed much light on events, Lord’s oblique lyrics proffering such couplets as “Rhyme and reason must prevail/I need a glass of ale.” Extras: None. TERRY STAUNTON
TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
The Complete Studio Albums Vol. 1 (1976-1991) UME
The Complete Studio Albums Vol. 2 (1994-2014) REPRISE
Shiny Happy people: (l-r) Anthony Moore, Dagmar Krause and Peter Blegvad
SLAPP HAPPY Sort Of Acnalbasac Noom TAPETE
Krautrock cabaret, avant-pop or pre-post-punk? your choice A highlight of Slapp Happy’s 1972 debut, Sort Of, “Blue Flower” cobbles together bits and pieces of “Femme Fatale” and “I’m Waiting For The Man” in a manner that could have seemed contrived. Yet this cock-eyed impression of The Velvet Underground and Nico – complete with a German chanteuse, though Dagmar Krause was a far less chilly sort – bears the same air of happenstance that informed the trio’s highly disordered five-decade career. Like so much of Slapp Happy’s first recordings – now reissued to mark the latest resumption of activities by founding members Krause, Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad – the song seems both crafty and utterly spontaneous. The latter quality is not surprising given Slapp Happy’s associations with Faust, the most anarchic of Krautrock’s original heavyweights, and Henry Cow, arguably the most politically and musically radical British act of the ’70s. Though Slapp Happy and Henry Cow would both enjoy the patronage of Virgin’s Richard Branson, Sort Of and Acnalbasac Noom were made time under the wing of another music-biz maverick: Uwe Nettelbeck, the journalist turned producer who somehow convinced Polydor Germany that Faust would be bigger than The Beatles. Nettelbeck had also gotten the label to release two experimental albums by Moore, an English expat in Hamburg. When Polydor rejected his third, the producer encouraged him to try a more commercial direction, so Moore formed a new band with Blegvad, an American songwriter and boarding-school pal, and Krause, Moore’s
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pregnant girlfriend and the former singer in Germany’s first folk-rock group. Recorded at Nettelbeck’s studio in Wümme with Faust as the backing band, Sort Of may have been nominally more commercial, but any resemblance to the popular music of the day seems accidental or – in the case of the Stonesy blooze of “Mono Plane” – possibly parodic. Blegvad’s absurd and acerbic lyrics lend further verve to musical settings that lurch leftwards from psychedelia to Tin Pan Alley to Weill-style cabaret to the Canterbury sounds of “I’m All Alone”, another showcase for Krause’s arresting alto. Perhaps sensing he’d soon exhaust Polydor’s munificence, Nettelbeck reconvened his charges in Wümme a few weeks after Sort Of’s release to create an even more idiosyncratic effort with the working title of ‘Casablanca Moon’. With their jangly yet jagged take on ’60s girl-group pop, “The Secret” and “Half-Way There” anticipate the post-punk of the Au Pairs and The Raincoats. After Polydor passed on it, Slapp Happy recorded the songs again in London for Virgin with British musicians and new arrangements that sanded off the rough edges. Retitled with the letters in reverse, the original sessions surfaced in 1982 and the playfully scrappy aesthetic – or “naïve spontaneity”, as Krause puts it – of this set is far more of a piece with its predecessor. Retaining the bonus tracks from earlier editions by Blueprint and Recommended, Tapete appends Sort Of with “Jumping Jonah”, a rubbery 1972 B-side, and Acnalbasac Noom with four tracks including “Everybody’s Slimmin’”, a hilarious, half-rapped spoof of the fitness craze that dates from Slapp Happy’s first reunion in 1982. Now in the midst of their first spate of concerts in 16 years, Slapp Happy exude the same irrepressible sense of delight. JASON ANDERSON
The oeuvre of a great American rock’n’roll band in quintessential form Tom Petty and the great band he fronts are now accorded the same degree of respect as the legends who inspired them, starting with the Byrds, Dylan and the Stones. Thus, the 40th anniversary of the group’s self-titled debut album has inspired a rare spirit of cooperation between rivals Universal and Warners. Working in tandem, the two companies’ catalogue divisions have created mirror-image boxsets containing the 13 studio albums released by TP&HBs and the three Petty solo LPs, with five of the seven Reprise albums doubles in vinyl form. Mastering engineer Chris Bellman, who works out of Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, specialises in archival restoration (Neil Young, Elton John, Van Halen), and it’s apparent that he took extreme care. With these reissues, everything that was recorded to tape has been remastered from the original reels – and these are all good-sounding tapes indeed, recorded by Noah Shark & Max (the first two LPs), Shelly Yakus, Don Smith, Richard Dodd and Jim Scott, aces all. The remastering engineer’s job is to present the original mix as transparently as possible, and Bellman has retained all the nuances of the first-gen vinyl masters– 1994’s Wildflowers, Petty’s first Reprise release, is especially sublime. These handsome, sturdy boxsets justify the three-figure price tags for Petty-loving audiophiles. Extras: None. BUD SCOPPA
The Circle Game (reissue, 1968) MAN IN THE MOON
8/10 Overlooked 1968 folk classic that helped to launch the troubadour era Something of a forgotten man of the American folk revival, Rush was one of a raft of American troubadours signed in Dylan’s wake by Elektra in the mid-1960s that also included Tom Paxton, David Blue and Phil Ochs. He was a more than competent, if not prolific, songwriter – the most memorable performance on The Circle Game is his “No Regrets”, later covered by the Walker Brothers and Emmylou Harris, among others. But like labelmate Judy Collins, his most significant contribution to musical history was an ability to sniff out future folk standards by unrecorded or little-known writers. Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor all got early exposure via Rush’s sympathetic baritone renditions of their songs here, while his cover of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Glory Of Love” gave John Martyn the
ARchiVe how to buy...
From the Village to the Symphony Hall
Wrong End Of The Rainbow COLUMBIA, 1970
under the direction of Neil young’s producer David briggs, rush makes the seamless transition from Greenwich Village folkie to country-rock pioneer on a collection that mixes deepvoiced originals with empathetic covers of what were at the time littleknown
idea of recording it five years later on Inside Out. Despite the preponderance of covers, Rush sequenced the songs to track the arc of a relationship from beginning to end, an innovative concept that went little noticed at the time. Extras: None, although the release launches a series on a new label dedicated to reissuing rare and longsince unavailable albums from the Elektra/Warners vaults. NIGEL WILLIAMSON
Dread Operator From The On U Sound Archives HOT MILK
8/10 Four On U dub gems, unearthed Once, when discussing his favourite records, On U Sound operator Adrian Sherwood noted his fondness for King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub, an album that “sounded like a sound system in my front room” – the very aesthetic Sherwood was going for when he started producing. You can hear that loud and clear in On U’s pioneering early ’80s dub productions. Dread Operator pulls together four from the Cherry Red catalogue: Singers & Players’ 1984 gem, Leaps & Bounds, Creation Rebel & New Age Steppers’ Threat To Creation (1981), Creation Rebel’s Lows & Highs (1981), and the freestyling compilation, Wild Paarty Sounds Volume One (1981). There are some great voices on Leaps & Bounds – Bim Sherman, Mikey Dread, Congo Ashanti Roy – but everything lifts to another plane when Prince Far I booms into earshot on “Alla La Dreadlocks Soldier” and “Dog Park”. Both Creation Rebel albums are made of sterner stuff still, with Threat To Creation a claustrophobic closed circle of an album, clotted and dark. Wild Paarty Sounds is almost as bizarre – an
songs by the likes of James Taylor and Jesse Winchester. 8/10
revisitation of his classic song, “No regrets”. 7/10
Ladies Love Outlaws
Tom Rush Celebrates 50 Years Of Music
a full band sound with Steely Dan’s Jeff “Skunk” baxter on guitar and James Taylor and Carly Simon on backing vocals. The characteristic rush blend of self-compositions and revelatory covers of songs by Guy Clark and bruce Cockburn includes a thrilling wall-of-sound
recorded at boston Symphony Hall in 2012 to mark his halfcentury as a performer and featuring warm versions of his standards, including “urge For Going”, “Driving Wheel” and, of course, “No regrets”, performed as a medley with the instrumental “rockport Sunday”. Comes with a bonus DVD of the concert. 7/10 NIGEL WILLIAMSON
unpredictable compilation of warped dub experiments, featuring off-kilter appearances by Eno collaborator Judy Nylon, and a young Jeb Loy Nichols. Extras: None. JON DALE
Uneasy-listening curio, revisited in full First released in 1983 by an Austrian label on cassette only, this album (a debut for both bands and Zos Kia’s only recording) is as revealing in regard to the connections between industrial music’s UK pioneers as it is obscure. There have been various iterations of Transparent down the years, but here it’s reissued in its remastered, original and unedited glory, less a relic of the genre’s genesis than a blast of invigoratingly foul air, striking in its contemporaneity. Included are five tracks from ZK – comprising Johns Gosling (Psychic TV, 23 Skidoo) and Balance (Coil), plus guest Peter Christopherson (Coil, Throbbing Gristle) – and six from ZK with Coil. Heavily treated guitar, subterranean drone, moaned/
New Orleans Funk Volume 4 SOUL JAZZ
9/10 “Down the road…”: yet another all-killer-no-filler cratedigging comp from Soul Jazz Thanks to the Crescent City’s preposterous embarrassment of musical riches, there’s no drop in quality as this exceptional anthology series hits Volume 4. As is the way with Soul Jazz, the tracklisting is a nuanced mix of hits and obscurities, with a standby like Dave Bartholomew’s loping “The Monkey Speaks His Mind” (1957) sitting alongside rarer sides like Gus ‘The Groove’ Lewis’ kinetic take on JBs funk, “Let The Groove Move You” (1967). The subtitle this time is “Voodoo Fire In New Orleans”, which seems pretty arbitrary: rather, Volume 4 strives to show the sheer range of what constitutes the city’s sound. Hence there’s room for James Waynes’ first, high-stepping 1951 version of the foundational “Junco Partner” (covered by James Booker, The Clash, and all points in between), as well as squelching 1975 electro-funk from Chocolate Milk, the octet who replaced The Meters as Allen Toussaint’s house band. Pushed for a highlight, though, it might just be Clifton Chenier & His Red Hot Louisiana Band’s “Party Down” (1977), as the accordionist takes his zydeco sound uptown; the sax break is a thing of wonder, all by itself. It is Gus Lewis who provides a suitable mission statement for the whole magnificent compilation: “Can you dig my band, baby?” Extras: 5/10. Erudite, photo-packed booklet. JOHN MULVEY
Transparent (reissue, 1983) COLD SPRING
coming next month... ebruary offers Prisoner, Ryan Adams’ first for almost three years. Elbow bring their seventh LP, Little Fictions, and Tinariwen are back with the Kurt Vilefeaturing Elwan, with stranger fare incoming from The Necks and Six Organs Of Admittance. In the world of archive releases, Cream’s debut gets the ‘super deluxe’ treatment, and The Lift To Experience’s seminal The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads is reissued, while Vangelis unveils a 13CD boxset, Delectus, personally remastered by evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou himself.
screamed vocals of a primal intensity and synths that buzz like fluorescent tubes on the blink characterise ZK’s contributions, of which “Poisons” is a (frankly terrifying) standout. The collaborative tracks are more diverse: they range over extreme bass-weighted dirges, Krautdisco with a giallo edge, illbient interludes and (with the killer “Silence And Secrecy”) microtonal minisymphonies with foundry aesthetics, but malevolence and deep dread are the unifying moods. Three decades on, Transparent remains a tower of inspirationally unsettling power. Extras: 6/10. Two previously unreleased tracks by Ake, a pre-Zos Kia trio featuring John Gosling. SHARON O’CONNELL
SUBSCRIBE today FRoM JUSt £16.99 Subscribe online at www.uncutsubs.co.uk/11UJ Or call 0330 333 1113, quoting code 11UJ For more information, visit page 99 FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 51
“If you want a partner, take my hand…”
Tom Hill/Wireimage/geTTy images
The enduring consolations of Leonard Cohen: Uncut marks the departure of rock’s pre-eminent poet. David Cavanagh examines the life and work of a dapper master of his craft, while Cohen’s closest collaborators share their intimate memories: “When I awoke, there was Leonard, crouching at the foot of my bed, looking directly into my face with the utmost compassion.”
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Question time: Leonard Cohen at Stouffer’s Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia, November 4, 1975 FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 53
jaMes Burke/The liFe PiCTure ColleCTion/GeTTY iMaGes
HERE’s a scene towards the end of Leonard Cohen’s first novel, The Favourite Game, where he describes a jukebox. His Dedaluslike hero, Lawrence Breavman, haunted by the mental illness of his mother and the death of a young boy in his care, ducks into a restaurant on Saint Catherine Street, a crowded meeting place in 1950s Montreal. He orders a drink and feeds the Wurlitzer with the last of his loose change: The jukebox wailed. He believed he understood the longing of the cheap tunes better than anyone there. The Wurlitzer was a great beast, blinking in pain. It was everybody’s neon wound. A suffering ventriloquist. It was the kind of pet people wanted. An eternal bear for baiting, with electric blood. Breavman had a quarter to spare. It was fat, it loved its chains, it gobbled and was ready to fester all night. Published in 1963 when Cohen was 29, The Favourite Game sold a couple of thousand copies but was hard to find in his native Canada. Did the beatniks and intellectuals who read it nod their heads in recognition of the “suffering ventriloquist” that played cheap tunes? Did they, like Breavman, take a curdled view of jukeboxes and the patrons who fed them? Funnily enough, Cohen didn’t. Despite his alter-ego’s disdain for the jukebox in the Montreal restaurant, Cohen evidently never forgot it. “They
Cohen, Marianne and friends, Hydra, Greece, 1960 54 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
had good country songs on it,” he reminisced to the Irish radio presenter BP Fallon almost 30 years later. “‘Unchained Melody’ was a song that I used to listen to a lot on that.” What would have struck Cohen as utterly preposterous in 1963 was that he would end up on jukeboxes himself, serenading the patrons of the future with his meticulously composed songs of romance and tragedy, albeit in versions recorded by Judy Collins, Roberta Flack, Jennifer Warnes, Concrete Blonde and Jeff Buckley. Cohen’s songs won him a devoted army of followers for whom he was nothing short of a prophet, a Virgil guiding them through the underworld, a wit, a philosopher, a saviour and a scholar. Between the ages of 33 and 82 – arriving late to the party, but staying as late as he could – Cohen released 14 studio albums of sophisticated, verbally dazzling songs that addressed the grandest themes of poetry and literature while examining the ambiguity of modern relationships, the voluptuousness of pain and pleasure and the timeless delights of peoplewatching. He sang in a voice that started out in the ’60s as a grave baritone before deepening, somewhere around the mid-’80s, to a subwoofer pitch. It was a voice that spoke of long experience and even longer time. Women found it irresistible. Entire countries – Canada, Greece, Norway – fell under its spell. Listening to that voice was like sitting agog at the feet of a master. “He’s not rock’n’roll by any stretch of the imagination,” Lou Reed said of Cohen in 2012,
Cohen’s voice spoke of long experience… Entire countries fell under its spell
Live with John Lissauer, back in the ’70s
“Leonard delivered her pizza” John Lissauer Producer/co-writer: New Skin For The Old Ceremony, Various Positions
hen leonard first came to visit me in new York in 1973, i lived in a loft building – three or four of us up there. he was downstairs, and i threw him down the door key. at the same time, a neighbour was getting a pizza delivery. leonard being leonard paid for the pizza, came upstairs and knocked on my neighbour’s door. she was the biggest leonard Cohen fan who’d ever lived and started screaming, because here’s leonard Cohen delivering her pizza. he could be incredibly spontaneous and humble and generous and there was no big deal about. he touched people one way or another in that unexpected way. i met him in Montreal. i had put together a band for one of leonard’s disciples, lewis Furey. We were playing at a local hotel. Midway through the second night, this guy in a black suit comes over and stands next to the piano. During a break he says, “hey, man. i’m leonard Cohen. i’d like to talk to you about working together.” so he came to my loft, sat on my couch and played me “Chelsea hotel”, “lover lover lover” and a couple of others. They were fresh, he’d just written them. he had a fistful of songs he wanted to record. he was pretty well organised. he never recorded demos that i heard. his songs were good to go. in 1977, he and i co-wrote seven songs together for an album called ‘songs For rebecca’. Then one day, he disappeared. To Greece. i heard Marty [Machat], his manager, also represented Phil spector and had made a deal with Warner Bros for all these spector albums. Phil never did any. so Marty says, “To hell with
john [lennon]. i’m going to get Phil to do a leonard album.’ so they did Death Of A Ladies’ Man and ‘songs For rebecca’ was put on hold and never revisited. Then the phone rang in ’84. it was leonard. he said, “let’s do an album,” as if i’d seen him the week before. When he played me “hallelujah”, there was what there was. i’ve since heard of him throwing out verses and banging his head on the floor, but i never saw any of it. i will tell you that the song was a spanish 6/8 in style; it wasn’t the way it turned into this gospely anthem. We worked on some chord changes to try and make these verses lift up. he was playing nylon string ‘chung chigga chigga chung chigga chigga chung’, which was one of his default ways to write songs. But when he came to me, the songs were almost carved in stone. For Various Positions, we knew we were making a great album. Then Walter Yetnikoff, the new head of Columbia, said, “This is terrible, we’re not releasing it.” The world came crashing down. i didn’t hear from him for a long time until he called me in the mid-’90s. “hey john. how are you doing? My son, adam, is in town. Would you do me a favour and go listen to him and tell me what you think? i think he really needs a producer and you’d be the perfect guy.” Then he calls up and says, “let’s do a record with anjani.” it was always like nothing had ever changed. We’d get together and it was exactly the same – maybe because he wouldn’t let the past enter in. We were exactly the same guys we were seven years before, five years, whatever. MICHAEL BONNER
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four years after inducting him into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, “but what a great lyricist. My God! Continuously wonderful. He always seems wise.” On his early albums – Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1967), Songs From A Room (1969) and Songs Of Love And Hate (1971) – Cohen accompanied himself on a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, which he played with an earnest flamenco flourish, creating an undulating but resolute effect like Rudolph Valentino galloping on horseback through a blizzard. In the ’80s came an unexpected passion for synthesisers, lending some of Cohen’s later albums a texture and atmosphere not unlike Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack. The new era dawned with Various Positions (1984), which contained the much-praised “Hallelujah”, a song that gave murmured thanks for music, for the beauty of Delilah and for all the aspirations and shortcomings of a man’s life on Earth. It was, some said, a sort of biblically informed reimaging of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Covered by John Cale in 1991, “Hallelujah” began ever so slightly to slip from Cohen’s benign ownership when Jeff Buckley sang it spectacularly on his 1994 album, Grace. Cohen had pared down the original lyric to four succinct verses from a reported 80, but Buckley’s interpretation was so ecstatic that it seemed to last for hours. The song in Cohen’s hands was spellbinding, but in Buckley’s hands it was one of the performances of the century. His record company opted not to release it as a single, but that would not be the last the world heard of Buckley’s “Hallelujah”. It’s sobering to think that if The Favourite Game, with its brooding shades of Montreal and its reflections on jukeboxes, had sold 200,000 copies rather than 2,000, Cale and Buckley would likely never have heard Cohen’s songs at all. He wasn’t a failed novelist, merely a brave one who didn’t have any luck. His second novel, Beautiful Losers (1966), fuelled by a cocktail of amphetamine, Ray Charles and Tantric sex, was written while Cohen lived an intense domestic life with his lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, on the Greek island of Hydra. He had high hopes for Beautiful Losers, but the book sold so poorly that he decided a drastic change of career was called for. He was going to try his hand at songwriting. “A lot had to do with poverty,” he told Rolling Stone in a much-quoted remark some years later. “I was writing books – two novels and four volumes of poetry – and they were being very well-received and that sort of thing, but I found it was very difficult to pay my grocery bill. I said, ‘Like, it’s really happening – I’m starving.’” Some of the key moments that followed can be seen as Cohen’s stoical reactions to the shattering of his dreams. As the publishing world closed its doors to him, he headed for Nashville in 1966 to break into the country-music business, and it might have been fascinating if he’d got there. Instead he stopped off in New York City, where he met The Velvet Underground and found himself fêted by the Greenwich Village folk scene. Judy Collins was enchanted by him, recording two of his songs (“Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag”) on her 1966 album, In My Life. Though Cohen was now 32 and his appeal to teenagers was potentially non-existent, the Columbia Records producer and talent scout John Hammond signed him as a singersongwriter, just as he’d done with Bob Dylan in 1961. In Britain, where Cohen was almost instantly
Cohen in Amsterdam, April 1972
popular, Songs Of Leonard Cohen reached the Top 20. The unusually stark follow-up, Songs From A Room, climbed to no 2 behind The Best Of The Seekers. His harrowing third album, Songs Of Love And Hate, steeped in visions of insanity and suicide, somehow made it to no 4. However, his profoundly cheerless voice was forever anathema to Top 40 radio stations and there were times when Columbia was uncertain what to do with him. In 1984, the label rejected Various Positions (“Hallelujah” notwithstanding), forcing Cohen to release it in the US on an independent label. Endlessly self-critical and clinically depressed for most of his life, he nevertheless had a peculiar resilience that bordered at times on mania. He may have been the most positive pessimist of them all. “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans,” wrote the journalist and cartoonist Allen Saunders in 1957 – a year when Cohen, then 23, had returned to Montreal from new York after studying literature at Columbia University – and sure enough, throughout his career, Cohen was alert to the treachery of best-laid plans. Writing a song, let alone a full album, was for him an arduous process involving months’ and years’ worth of painful revisions, soul-destroying edits and full-scale rewrites. He filled notebooks with dozens of verses that he would later discard. Some of them he remembered verbatim years later. 56 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
“My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam,” he told the author and songwriter Paul Zollo in a memorable 1992 interview. “My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the dMV [Department Of Motor Vehicles]. Or, as I put it in a quatrain, ‘The voices in my head/They don’t care what I do/They just want to argue/ The matter through and through.’ So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interest. Otherwise I just nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.” When he fell ill with cancer and was confined to his armchair with compression fractures of his spine, he somehow found the fortitude to record his 14th album, You Want It Darker, while seated in his living room with his son, Adam, as co-producer. “I intend to live forever,” Cohen, holding a bottle of water in one hand and a cane in the other, announced to laughter at a press conference last October, which followed a media preview of the new album. You could tell he was pleased with it. Pleased enough to take a handful of questions, as it happened. Asked about the importance of religion at this critical stage of his life, he said slowly while clutching the water and cane: “I’ve never thought of myself as a religious person. I don’t have any spiritual strategy. I kind of limp along, like so many of us do. Occasionally I’ve felt the grace of another presence in my life, but I can’t build any kind of spiritual structure on that.” Paul Zollo, who happened to be in the audience, asked him if the songs on You Want It Darker had come quickly, or if they’d taken as long to write as some of their predecessors. “The fact that my songs take a long time to
“To find that urgent song takes a lot of versions, a lot of work and a lot of sweat”
With Sharon Robinson live at the Fox Theater, Atlanta, Georgia, March 22, 2013
“I think he played rugby” Sharon Robinson Co-writer: I’m Your Man, Ten
New Songs, Dear Heather. Musician: Old Ideas Backing singer: 1979, 1980; 2008–2013
eonard was always trying to put people at ease. the last time i visited him at his house, his hospitality and his general bravery in the face of his poor health was inspiring. he was becoming very frail but he was still jovial, still cracking jokes, still offering you something to eat every few minutes. he was thrilled about having finished his new record and it was wonderful to see the same old Leonard, under the circumstances. he refused to be brought down by his health. it was a way of taking care of you, like he has always done. i first met Leonard when i auditioned with Jennifer Warnes for his 1979 tour. Jennifer brought me over to Fir, where they were rehearsing. i immediately noticed his cordiality. he was very warm and welcoming and friendly. it felt very good, just to be around him. on the Field Commander Cohen tour, i think he was still struggling with stage fright. he’d have a drink before the show. it was a different level of touring. the budget was lower at the time, so it was a little bit less comfortable than the later tours. But he was always looking after you on the road, making sure you were comfortable. in the studio, Leonard liked to keep distractions at bay. When we were working, he wasn’t really doing anything else. that was part of his genius – he was really good at compartmentalising part of his life. it would start with Leonard presenting me with a pretty well fleshed-out lyric – or a few verses, a portion of a lyric, but the intent and the message were fully
formed. then i would flesh it out, make a rough recording of my idea and usually i would try to come back to him with more than one idea. sometimes we discussed in advance, “how are you hearing this? What do you think this is? is it blues, is it uptempo? is it moody? is it upbeat?” We would try and narrow down the infinite possibilities in advance. then when i had a couple of ideas roughly recorded, i would come back over. For “alexandra Leaving”, Leonard had reinterpreted a CP Cavafy poem. But Leonard didn’t feel that it fit the record. then towards the end of making Ten New Songs, we listened to it again and he realised that he really liked it and that it should be on the record. he referred to it many times over the years. “you know, we almost didn’t put that song on the album. i can’t believe that!” But unless it felt right to him, he wasn’t going to lower his bar, put out anything he wasn’t completely happy with. the recent tours, from 2008 onwards, were definitely more rehearsed. Leonard more lately didn’t want any surprises. he and i used to walk sometimes. i didn’t know this for a long time, but i think he was an athlete when he was younger. i think he played rugby. he had a strong constitution. the camaraderie on those tours was great. We spent so much time together. We still feel like a family together. everyone i’ve spoken to has said it changed their life. Leonard was a very special person, one of a kind. We all were affected positively by being in his sphere. MICHAEL BONNER
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Chris MCKay/WireiMage/getty iMages
write is no guarantee of their excellence,” Cohen deadpanned. “It comes in dribbles and drops. Some people are graced with a flow. Some people are graced with something less than a flow.” Self-mocking witticisms, questions about religion and possible allusions to a problem with his bladder. It was a Leonard Cohen press conference all right. What’s interesting, though, is why Cohen felt he needed to be there. With the advance word on You Want It Darker already exceeding expectations (many reviews would hail it as his best album since the ’60s), the visibly frail Cohen certainly had no obligation to face the media. Perhaps he agreed to sit through the Q&A because he wanted to publicly stand behind You Want It Darker even with his health failing. Or perhaps he felt that his presence might help spread greater awareness of the album, which might help it to sell more copies and downloads, which might, who knows, benefit Adam and Cohen’s daughter, Lorca, financially at some point in the long term. We’re probably only talking about a few thousand units in theory, but how symbolic it would be if the 82-year-old Cohen, even as the end of his life approached, was still troubled by thoughts of paying the grocery bill and putting food on the table. He died 25 days later. nd so, with You Want It Darker, he joined the pantheon of artists who created their final work in the knowledge that they were dying. Like david Bowie, whose death had cast a giant shadow over January, Cohen left us a powerful finale: an album that confronted his mortality – it could hardly have ignored it – in a poignant metaphor of a gambler with no cards left to play. “I don’t need a pardon/There’s no-one left to blame/I’m leaving the table/I’m out of the game.” His death was announced in America and Canada on november 10. The clocks in Europe, however, had by then ticked over into november 11 – Armistice day – as though someone somewhere were requesting a ceasefire of hostilities. The rioting in Oregon that had followed the previous night’s election of donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States was just one violent manifestation of the shock and disbelief being felt around the world. Every breaking news story that day suddenly had a political context it couldn’t avoid. The sleepy brain waking up to the news of Cohen’s death, and seeing it trend on Twitter beneath the words “11 novembre” (the French spelling), at once thought of “The Partisan”, Cohen’s cover of a World War II ballad about the French resistance on Songs From A Room. “There were three of us this morning… I’m the only one this evening.” The army of shadows was in danger of being fatally depleted. Meanwhile, in Canada the national Assembly of Quebec, a province with a history of resistance and a predominantly French-speaking population, announced it would lower its flag and hold a commemoration ceremony in Cohen’s honour. It was hard to escape the reactions to Trump’s victory on social media. Many posts linked the president-elect to Cohen, lamenting the two events as an irrecoverable double blow. But then they got a lot more specific. As the state of the world in november 2016 was increasingly compared to the rise of Fascism in the 1930s, people in obvious despair tweeted couplets from “Everybody Knows”, a song on Cohen’s 1988 album, I’m Your Man. The lyrics are renowned for
Patrick Leonard working with Cohen on “Nevermind” from Popular Problems
“He’d make scrambled eggs” Patrick Leonard Producer, co-writer: Old Ideas, Popular Problems, You Want It Darker
day at Leonard’s always started the same way. he would greet you at the door and he would say, “have you eaten?” at first i’d say, “yeah, i just ate.” then i realised that wasn’t the answer. the answer was, “no, i haven’t.” We would sit in the kitchen and he would make scrambled eggs or chop some salad or put a mozzerella ball in some chicken soup. We’d break bread before we worked, just to give us the chance to talk or to listen to what we’d done the day before. it was always really special to have Leonard cook something really simple and sit and eat. i met Leonard almost eight years ago. i had produced a record for his son, adam, Like A Man. Leonard liked it and initially i was asked for a string arrangement for a song. We met for lunch and, after a few days, Leonard gave me a lyric to write to, and that’s how it started. he had a studio in the back of his house and we worked in that room for four or five years. i had my station and he had his station. some old chairs and a keyboard. Very simple. if you listen closely to some of the records, you can hear leaf-blowers and dogs barking. i’d arrive to start working at 11 and Leonard would be in the front of the house with his notebooks. then we’d work. sometimes at 3am i’d get a revision of a lyric, then at 4.30, then 6.30. there’s not even, “here’s the lyrics.” they just show up! Very early on, it was apparent there was not a lot of concern for either one of us about hurt feelings. if i did something he liked, he’d write back and say, “great.” if he didn’t, he’d write back and say, “nope.” We’d discuss it
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and i’d go back to the drawing board. some things took many iterations and some were right away. he worked all the time. he did not stop until he’d achieved what he wanted. When it was time to sing, sometimes there’d be 15, 20 takes to find the thing. We’d do a lot of inventory work. there was a board with cards on it in categories going from, “there’s no song for this yet,” to, “We need to do vocals.” sometimes you’d get all the way to almost finishing it, then it’d be, “no, this isn’t quite it.” another thing Leonard realised in the last six months, when we were working on things we’d worked on for years and suddenly they were finished, he said, “all these things you were doing version after version, the music was all fine. i just had problems with some of the lines.” With “treaty” for example, the version on You Want It Darker is five years old. but the lyrics aren’t. there was a lyric update but since then i’d done no fewer than 10 or 15 versions, trying to figure out why it wasn’t working. everything from country hoedown to changing the chords. We’d refer to “treaty” as “the boxset”. there could be a three-season hbo series on it. “treaty” was the model for the string record we were working on. i’d already cut half of it and we were going to start putting voice on it. he liked the demos i’d sent him for the other half. We were pumped about re-recording a bunch of his old songs. there’s a likelihood i will at some point finish those string quartets and release them, so people can listen, even without him on it. it’s cool to hear “Chelsea hotel” played by a string quartet. MICHAEL BONNER
their bitterly pessimistic view of the political landscape at the time (“Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich”), but were now receiving more and more credence as chilling prophecies of a Trump-led America. A journalist on The New Statesman’s website wondered if it was disrespectful to Cohen’s memory to politicise his songs like that – and then remembered that “Dance Me To The End Of Love” (Various Positions) was inspired by an article that Cohen read about a string quartet being ordered by the guards in a Nazi concentration camp to play classical music as their fellow prisoners were being led to their slaughter. Cohen, it transpired, had died on November 7 – two days before the election. He had died in the way that frail old people with walking sticks sometimes do: in a fall during the night. Death was “sudden, unexpected and peaceful”, his manager, Robert Kory, would announce in due course. The flow of comments on Facebook about Cohen expiring in disgust at the thought of a Trump presidency abruptly stopped. Had he lived to see the victory speech from his armchair, the cynic in him might have vied with the humanitarian. Either one of them could have come up with a quote to remember. But some of us found ourselves thinking back to the early ’90s, when journalists probed him about his song “Democracy” (on the apocalyptic 1992 album, The Future) and didn’t quite see the answer coming. Cohen noted with distaste that the song, which he’d written in a mood of deep scepticism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, had been “co-opted” by the Democratic Party in the run-up to the 1992 presidential election. He didn’t think they fully understood its nuances. “These are the final days,” he declared in no uncertain terms to journalists when he hit the interview trail to promote The Future. “This is the darkness, this is the flood. What is the appropriate behaviour in a catastrophe, in a flood? You know, while you’re cleaning out your orange crate in the torrent and you pass somebody else hanging on to a spar of wood. What do you declare yourself? Left-wing, right-wing, pro-abortion, against abortion? All these things are luxuries which you can no longer afford. What is the proper behaviour in a flood?” He was a man staring into the teeth of the apocalypse. Years later he confessed that his depression had been especially severe that year. As the hot takes and think-pieces mounted up after his death, many of them wondering rhetorically which wise songwriter was going to comfort us now that Cohen had left the game, it was as well to
The absence of platitude and cliché in Cohen’s writing was a constant relief
remember that Cohen hadn’t always Warming up in New York offered comfort in the past. He always City in the offered experience and perspective, mid-’80s along with a voracious intellect and some of the most righteous indignation to be found anywhere in music; but he didn’t wave a flag, underestimate human venality or issue trigger warnings. A universal message of peace and hope, to Cohen’s mind, was too reminiscent of the hippy pipedreams he claimed to have been sold by “the flabby liars of the Aquarian age”. He protested in 1993 that the liberation of Eastern Europe was no liberation at all. “I’ve always been deeply resentful of these paradise ideas that ignore our myth, our central myth of expulsion from Paradise,” he said. Not the kind of statement you’d get from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. No, it was never going to be a question of Cohen leading us out of hell and back to the garden. Of all the ways to comment on his songs in the aftermath of his death, the view of him as a sympathetic, worldly wise Pied Piper was by far the most sentimental. “You listened to [his] songs to think, to reflect, to shine a light in the darkness,” suggested a columnist on the Toronto Star. Er, did we? It takes one listen to Songs Of Love And Hate to confirm Cohen had no qualms about dragging his audience into the darkness with him and to hell with anything as frivolous as light. Actually, come to think of it, a lot of us listened to him not because we needed a torch, but because Cohen stood out in a field of one as a master of his craft. When it came to assembling words and pictures, rhymes and verses, he was The Man. The absence of platitude and cliché in his writing (in his final interview with The New Yorker, he referred to this as “discarding the slogans”) was a constant relief after periods of intense exposure to other songwriters. Think of the flaws in their structures – the slightly jarring noun, the feeble adjective, the messy rhyme, the line they kept meaning to go back and change but never got around to – and then stand back and marvel at the architecture of Cohen, where not a word was ill-chosen and every rhyme slotted into position with exquisite inevitability. It was true, as The Sun observed in a surprising moment of deference, that Cohen’s songs “moved people in a way that very few musicians have been able to”. An intimate singer even by the standards of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, he could communicate on a direct level in songs where the meaning was obfuscated by dense imagery or layers of metaphor. He could seduce and wax rhapsodic. He could descend into moods of the utmost melancholia. He could invoke scenes and characters from the Bible so poetically yet concisely drawn that a song
became a psalm. There were turbulent love affairs, erotic goddesses, promiscuous-but-doomed ships in the night and a pair of snowbound hitchhikers (“Sisters Of Mercy”) whom Cohen ushered into his hotel room and gallantly allowed to sleep. But there were also songs of sadism, destructive trinities and terrible isolation. The oft-heard criticism from Cohen sceptics was that he was “depressing”, or that the only people who liked him were the ones who were suicidal. His verdict on his own depression, which slowed his progress in the ’80s and could have killed him in the ’70s, was that it had framed his life in “anguish and anxiety”, giving him a perpetual sense that things were going awry and that happiness was simply not available. At his most afflicted, in “Dress Rehearsal Rag” (Songs Of Love And Hate), he stood before a shaving mirror and dared himself to slit his wrists with a razor blade. In verse after verse of the song he taunted himself, dismantled his ego and piled on the humiliation and revulsion until it scarcely mattered whether he survived or died. The incident may have been a real-life narrow escape, or it may not, but the self-loathing was horribly authentic. FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 59
Oliver MOrris/Getty iMaGes
LEONARD COHEN The audience that listened to Cohen despair and agonise couldn’t have been broader in reach or more difficult to define as a demographic. At the news of his death, tributes came in from Bianca Jagger, Nick Cave, Justin Timberlake, Q-Tip, the actor Toby Stephens, the footballer Xabi Alonso and the bondage bestseller EL James. Dylan rated him as highly as Peter Hitchens did (who, channelling Brideshead Revisited on his Mail Online blog, recalled “an autumn evening in Magdalen Bridge” when he fell in love with Songs Of Leonard Cohen as an undergraduate in 1968). From every walk of life they came, an international army of shadows coaxed into the open to arrange themselves in a mournful procession. What a life, they agreed. What a body of work. What a man. F all the chapters in Cohen’s well-lived 82 years – novelist, father, Scientologist, lover of Janis Joplin, friend of Israeli troops in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, client of Phil Spector with a gun pointed at his throat (Death Of A Ladies’ Man, 1977) – the most intriguing chapter of all, mainly because it took place in seclusion, is the five-year period he spent at the Mt Baldy Zen Centre in Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains. It was a period that Cohen credited with curing his depression, even if some of his fans were dismayed to think of him turning his back on music. Jikan (translation: ‘original silence’), the name he was given after being ordained as a Zen monk, lived an ascetic life that consisted of meditating, cleaning, shovelling snow and cooking meals for the
© cAmerA Press/AGence VU
monastery’s Japanese head abbot, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, whom Cohen knew as Roshi. Roshi had been his spiritual teacher for years. Cohen wryly compared the monastery’s regime to “boot camp”, but he lived there contentedly enough. As a career move, it had no precedent in music that anyone could think of. It’s ironic, then, that it coincided with a series of highly promising developments in his career. While he took his monastic sabbatical, interest in his catalogue of classic songs grew. From his 1967 debut to the dire premonitions of 1992’s The Future, there was a subliminal but pandemic feeling of reverence that seemed to sweep three or four generations of musicians from many diverse genres. A 1991 tribute LP, I’m Your Fan, had shown a slew of UK and US post-punk groups to be admirers of Cohen’s songwriting, from James to the Pixies, from REM to the House Of Love. But in 1995 a second all-star tribute album, Tower Of Song, made it clear that Cohen’s influence went further, deeper and higher. These weren’t indie bands covering him; these were mainstream superstars like Elton John, Bono and Sting. It looked as if Cohen’s time in the spotlight had come. A 1997 comp, More Best Of Leonard Cohen, was issued as a belated sequel to his much-loved 1975 Best Of (also known as Greatest Hits). A biography by Ira B Nadel, Various Positions, was written with Cohen’s co-operation. But in spite of all the new product that bore his name, he still remained on the mountain. He still swept snow, cleaned and cooked. By early 1999, he had been on Mt Baldy for almost five years. Those years helped him, he later said, to come to terms with his gloomy psyche in ways that would not have been possible in a city. There were days when literally all he had Taking time to think about was what to eat out at Mt Baldy Zen Centre, and when to sleep. “When you California, 1995 stop thinking about yourself all the time,” he explained, “a certain sense of repose overtakes you. It happened to me by imperceptible degrees and I could not really believe it.” He learned that he could see prettiness in a ray of sunlight, rather than noticing only a greyish sky like the lonely boy in Anthony Browne’s Voices In The Park. Then again, a journalist for The Times Of India has recalled meeting Cohen on a low-key visit to Mumbai in 1999, supposedly after his recovery at the monastery, where he’d gone in a dreadful state to seek the guidance of an 81-year-old guru to help him through an acute bout of depression. It seems to have been in India, not on Mt Baldy, that Cohen’s lifelong illness finally abated. “I read somewhere that as you grow older, certain brain cells die that are associated with anxiety,” he told The Guardian in 2001, “so it doesn’t really matter how much you apply yourself to the disciplines. You’re going to start feeling a lot better or a lot worse, depending on the condition of your neurons.”
The coolest person in rock was an old Buddhist monk in a Fedora
60 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
met Leonard in spring, 1979. I got a call from Henry Lewy, producer of Recent Songs, who was a fan of the band I was a member of, Passenger. He was looking for a bass player to work with Leonard. I left for Wally Heider recording studio expecting I’d be working with a group of studio musicians, to find only Leonard, Henry and a second engineer present in the control room. Leonard pulled his nylon-string guitar out of its case and showed me a song called “the smokey Life”. the session was successful, and Leonard suggested we get together again. “He has a whole band you know…” Henry offered. “Well then, next time bring them all,” said Leonard. At the end of recording, Passenger was invited, over margaritas, to go on Leonard’s autumn european tour. camaraderie formed quickly between the five members of Passenger, Jennifer Warnes, sharon robinson, John bilezikjian and raffi Hakopian. rehearsals at sIr were all business, but there was a lot of goofing in spare moments; I have photos of Leonard in oversized spectacles, or straddling road cases as if riding shotgun on a stagecoach… the reviews tended to view Leonard as “the Grocer of Despair” but we got to know someone else entirely. the music was rehearsed meticulously, soundchecks were often “poisonous”, but the spirit on the tour bus was much lighter. We pulled out harmonicas and guitars, and harmonised while
“He would anoint our wrists with essential oils” ROSCOE BECK Musician: Recent Songs
Co-producer: I’m Your Man Tours: 1979, 1989; Musical Director: 2008–2012 storming down the Autobahn, or taking in the French countryside. the 1979 tour changed everyone’s lives: romances formed, divorces were filed, engagements were broken, babies were born… Another product of the ’79 tour was Jennifer’s Famous Blue Raincoat album. Jennifer began writing “song of bernadette” and asked Leonard for advice on the lyrics. Jennifer was signed to Arista records and we began to talk, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” After the tour, Jennifer proposed the idea to Arista and was quickly dropped. After scoring a success with “Up Where We belong”, Jennifer landed a new contract with mcA. At the first meeting with the label she again proposed the “Leonard cohen album” concept and was again summarily dropped. Leonard seemed to be A&r poison. Finally in 1986 we convinced a start-up label to take a chance and Famous Blue Raincoat (or “Jenny sings Lenny”), with Leonard’s blessing, became a reality.
Leonard was pleased enough with the outcome that he asked me to come on board as his co-producer on I’m Your Man. Was I surprised to get the call for the 2008 tour? Yes and no. When I met him in LA, september 2007, Leonard told me he “only” wanted “the best band on the road this year”. We were both unsure of what the reception would be, indeed Leonard expressed uncertainty as to who his audience was now, and neither of us had an inkling of what lay ahead. He had an agreement that after six weeks, if he wasn’t satisfied, he could pull the plug on the whole thing. Leonard had a few routines during the tour. After preparing his daily ginger and protein drink, he would spend an hour onstage alone, doing his personal soundcheck and rehearsing numbers he performed solo or perhaps he would run through a new song he was working on. soundcheck for the band was usually at 4.30, and after that Leonard retired to his dressing
room to rest, choosing not to take dinner. We would meet in the green room 30 minutes before the show and there he would anoint our wrists with fragrant essential oils. When it was time to head towards the stage, Leonard would turn to me, “rossie…”, for a tuning note (eb) and from that we would begin a melodious chant as we all walked together: Pauper sum ego (I am poor); Nihil habeo (I have nothing); Et nihil dabo (and nothing can I give). the initial show of the 2012 tour was in Ghent, belgium. We’d been rehearsing in Ghent for several days, but on the morning of that show I became violently ill with food poisoning. I had to be helped back to my room where, for a short time, I lapsed into unconsciousness. When I awoke, there was Leonard, crouching at the foot of my bed, and looking directly into my face with intense concentration mixed with the utmost compassion. I didn’t know how long I’d been there, or how long he had, but I had the feeling he’d been watching over me the whole time I was out. opening my eyes and seeing his eyes so intently looking into mine is an experience I’ll never forget. management was talking about cancelling the show and everyone was in panic mode – that is, everyone but Leonard. He spoke to me lightly, “Hey rossie…” the moment was so emotionally poignant, I could only laugh, and then I said, “I’ll be there, Leonard,” “I never doubted it,” he said. MICHAEL BONNER
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On tour in Europe, 1979, with Jennifer Warnes, writing “Song Of Bernadette”
LEONARD COHEN With his depression now lifted, Cohen settled into a pleasant, semi-retired existence at home in LA, writing poetry as always, but turning his attention to music only intermittently. He hadn’t toured since 1993 and had no apparent plans to do so again. Ten New Songs (2001), a collaboration with singer and co-writer Sharon Robinson, was his first album in nine years. Dear Heather (2004) gathered up poems and outtakes dating back as far as 1985 and 1979. But the key event in Cohen’s life in 2004 occurred when his daughter, Lorca, becoming concerned about the state of her father’s financial affairs, urged him to investigate. He was horrified by what he found. His longtime manager and friend, Kelley Lynch, had embezzled money from his bank accounts and misappropriated more than $5m from Cohen’s retirement fund, leaving him almost broke. Chronically road-rusty but needing to alleviate the urgent crisis in his finances, the 73-year-old Cohen was faced with no choice but to go out and work for a living. The ‘third act’, as his fans call it, was about to begin. The unfolding drama of Cohen’s return to the live arena appeared to give him a new lease of life. As his tour of 2008 got under way in Canada, he initially worried that after such a long absence he might be performing in half-empty venues. On the contrary, the tour was a roaring success, and Cohen was welcomed back like a messiah. The tour itinerary graduated from halls to sports arenas. After only six weeks, Cohen and his band made a triumphant appearance at Glastonbury, where he sang “Hallelujah” to a huge ovation as the sun set slowly over the fields. The song’s fame had grown significantly since Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover version had first started turning heads. Awarded the status of a timeless classic, Buckley’s “Hallelujah” could be heard in a number of movie soundtracks and TV dramas, his performance lent an extra patina of sorrow by his tragic drowning in the Mississippi in 1997. Cohen couldn’t sing “Hallelujah” like Buckley, but he could sing it like Cohen, and it was remarkable how warmly his gravelly Lee Marvin voice was
embraced by audiences as the tour moved from city to city. The coolest person in rock, if you had to judge such an invidious contest in 2008, was a 73-year-old Buddhist monk in a Fedora who had no hit single and no new album in the shops. To rectify the latter omission, two live albums would be released in 2009 and 2010. To rectify the former, a girl from Islington, Alexandra Burke – winner of The X Factor and runaway favourite to secure the Christmas charttopping single – stepped forward. She didn’t like “Hallelujah” much, she admitted, but she sang it the way a winner of The X Factor would sing it and she broke all known British and European sales records. “Hallelujah” – “Rather a joyous song,” Cohen once called it – achieved the impressive feat of occupying the No 1 and 2 positions with Burke’s and Buckley’s versions respectively. Between them they sold around 1m copies in seven days, making “Hallelujah” one of the most emphatic hits of the 21st century. It has now been sung by an estimated 300 artists. In the end, so rapturously received were the world tours that Cohen undertook from 2008 to 2013, that the despised Kelley Lynch was even thanked online by some fans for indirectly laying the groundwork. Cohen would often take the stage with a jog or a skip, like a comedian entering in mid-joke. He had better ones up his sleeve. “We began this tour three years ago,” he told a cheering audience at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre in December 2010. “I was 73, just a kid with a crazy dream.” It was a far cry from the neurotic Cohen of the early ’70s, nicknamed Captain Mandrax by his backing band because of the drugs he needed to ward off his stage fright. And although he was a man who guarded his privacy, stories of brief encounters with Cohen have done the rounds. The ‘third act’ – those late-career tours and the albums Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems (2014) – gave him and his fans ample opportunity to meet unexpectedly in hotels and coffee shops. In many of these tales, the take-away image is of Cohen doffing the Fedora as he politely declines an invitation to breakfast or listens patiently to a fan explaining how much his songs mean to her. “Thank 2016 - taken for you, friend,” he says with a bow. There’s something the cover of You Want It Darker about the style of him. His cultured witticisms and impeccable suits. Most celebrities were a petulant disgrace in comparison to this dapper maestro. Perhaps, if we’re looking at who’s left, only Charlie Watts is as beloved a figure, and Charlie, God bless him, has never been much good at composing ineffable verse in which carnality is juxtaposed with scripture and psychological ruination. “The term ‘poet’ is a very exalted term and should be applied to a man at the end of his work,” Cohen once told a Canadian TV presenter. “When he looks back over the body of his work and he’s written poetry, then let the verdict be that he is a poet.” The verdict would be a great deal more exalted than that, you would have to say. Thank you for your poetry and farewell, Field Commander.
Most stars were a petulant disgrace in comparison to this dapper maestro
Coming soon: the Ultimate Music Guide to Leonard Cohen. Classic interviews, unseen for decades. In-depth new reviews of every album. The essential Cohen memorial. On sale January 12 62 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING LIVE AT BRIXTON
HOWE GELB FUTURE STANDARDS
CZARFACE A FISTFUL OF PERIL
MF DOOM OPERATION: DOOMSDAY
Double LP/CD live album + DVD of PSB’s sold-out performance at Brixton Academy from ‘The Race For Space’ tour, featuring a 13-piece choir, 5-piece string section, expanded brass section, dancers, pyrotechnics and more as the London-based band wow a hometown crowd with a very special performance.
For those celebrated guys who hit on the standards – Monk, Cohen, Bacharach, even Merle Haggard, Howe’s creating new tunes, cathartic one-liners & malleable melodies taking his offbeat worldview & making it his own.
CZARFACE (Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck & 7L & Esoteric) is back! Fresh off the heels of their collaboration with Marvel Comics the trio continues to combine music and art with their latest release.
Ridiculously dope, in a bizarro Ol’ Dirty Bastard kind of way. In today’s bland commercial Rap universe, Operation: Doomsday’s left-of-center beats and rhymes are the perfect remedy.
THE CAVEMEN BORN TO HATE
GZA/GENIUS DARK MATTER
PETE ROCK & SMOKE DZA DON’T SMOKE ROCK
ARBORIST HOME BURIAL
Kiwi garage punks taking Europe by storm release second album: Cramps meet Mummies via Eddie Cochran on speed.
Highly-anticipated album from renowned Wu-Tang Clan lyricist GZA. GZA’s seminal album Liquid Swords is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time. GZA is unveiling his most dynamic album to date, Dark Matter.
Don’t Smoke Rock is the new album by Smoke DZA & Pete Rock featuring Mac Miller, Rick Ross, Dave East, Jadakiss, Big K.R.I.T. & more.
Ranging from bleak Americana to melodic indie rock, the debut album from Belfast’s ARBORIST deals intimately with death, ageing & family. Includes the single Twisted Arrow featuring harmonies from KIM DEAL.
PAUL & THE TALL TREES OUR LOVE IN THE LIGHT
JACK LEE BIGGER THAN LIFE
MIKAEL TARIVERDIEV THE IRONY OF FATE (ORIGINAL SCORE)
VARIOUS ARTISTS THE REVERB CONSPIRACY VOLUME 4
Features 23 memorable songs, by the legendary Jack Lee (The Nerves) that showcase the incredible songwriting craft of this reclusive pop genius who has been covered by a multitude of artists (Blondie, Suzy Quatro, Cat Power, Paul Young) .
Following the award-nominated “Film Music” collection of last year, comes this 1975 album of hauntingly evocative orchestrations from the man the Guardian called the ‘surf rock Shostakovich’.
The Reverb Conspiracy series brings together some of the best names from the psychedelic spectrum and captures the essence of the European psych scene.
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Paul Schalda is one part of a talented musical family, his music seems to embody the unexpected overlap of The Band’s Americana, Ian MacKaye’s unhinged emotion, Otis Redding’s raw, warm soul, & the doo-wop melodies his father’s band The Montereys.
FIRE RECORDS LP / CD
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IHIP HOP CD
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50 GREAT MODERN SONGS OF RAGE, REVOLT AND INSPIRATION
n recent years, it has been common practice to lament an absence of modern protest songs. “Where are the new Bob Dylans?” rail the newspaper columnists and online commenters, after a cursory, disappointed search for politically engaged musicians of the 21st century. Our evidence suggests, however, that these people haven’t been looking very hard. to usher in 2017, Uncut’s team of writers have picked 50 critical protest songs of the past decade or so (presented here in near chronological order): a formidable catalogue of dissent that confronts police
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brutality, pointless wars, misogyny, racism, gun fetishism, financial iniquities, environmental calamities and much more. there are songs that brought down governments, and others authored by friends of Donald trump. contributions by pop megastars, emergent voices and veteran naysayers. Folk songs, rap anthems, and all points inbetween. Despair and positivity. “It’s war, you bastards,” asserts Jason Williamson of sleaford Mods, while Janelle Monáe observes how, “silence is our enemy. sound is our weapon.” If you’re looking for a musical revolution, then, it all starts here…
FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 65
xxxxxx alice o’malley; pieter m van hattem; iBl/rex/ShutterStock
1 JarVIS COCKer
Cunts are Still running The World rOuGH TraDe, 2006
Perhaps the broadest of all modern protest songs, Jarvis Cocker’s debut single has – unfortunately – remained utterly timeless since its release a decade ago. For every problem that Cocker rails against in this piano-led stomper, whether it’s upper-class elitism, fear of The Other, the hegemony of the free market or the powerlessness of protest movements, he convincingly lays the blame at the feet of the “cunts” in charge. “I remember thinking, ‘Where does engaging with these politicians and businessmen really get you?’” Cocker wrote of the song’s inspiration, 2005’s Live 8. “Maybe the problem is something more… fundamental.” This anger, then, which could have been heavyhanded coming from a less intelligent writer, is suffused with Cocker’s wry, dark humour. The finest lines are ones that could sum up our entire absurd era: “Ah, it stinks! It sucks!/It’s anthropologically unjust!/Oh, but the takings are up by a third…” H ON THe PrOTeST NOW CD H Put them up against the wall: Jarvis Cocker
2 brIGHT eyeS
When The President Talks To God SaDDLe CreeK, 2005
This ragged acoustic blues, forged in anger and sung with quivering contempt, packs the punch of one of Dylan’s pre-electric broadsides. Originally releasing the song in 2005 as a free download, Conor Oberst makes sardonic comment on George W Bush’s direct line to a deity who apparently gives the nod to all the president’s policy decisions, from cutting up rough with Iraq (“They pick which countries to invade”) to the divisive racism of US domestic policy. “They’re lazy George… Just give ’em more liquor stores and dirty coke,” is God’s choice advice. Oberst played it to death for a year, then presumably felt it had served its purpose. H ON THe PrOTeST NOW CD H
In remembrance: Jason Isbell
3 rICHarD THOMPSON Dad’s Gonna Kill Me PrOPer, 2007
That’s ‘Dad’ as in ‘Baghdad’. In this taut, tightly wound strut, Thompson utilises the non-PC lexicon of desert warfare – “Old Ali Baba”; “muzzle monkeys” – to convey the daily horror of being the boots on the ground, stalked day and night by “old death a-walking”. Though not shy of political digs – “At least we’re winning on the Fox evening news”; “Nobody’s dying if you speak doublespeak” – this is more anti-war anthem than polemic. “It’s a clarification for the audience,” Thompson explained in 2007. “It’s saying: ‘This is what politicians say about the war, and this is what the war is really about.’ It’s clearly two different things. The most devastating consequence of the war is that someone you know has died. Good and bad is irrelevant.” H ON THe PrOTeST NOW CD H
4 JaSON ISbeLL Dress blues
NeW WeST, 2007
In a similar spirit, Jason Isbell wrote this heartbreaking lament for Sirens Of The Ditch, his first solo album after leaving Drive-By Truckers. It was
inspired by the death of a former high-school colleague, 21-year old Marine Corporal Matthew Conley, whose Humvee was blown up by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2006, weeks before shipping home to Alabama, where his wife was expecting their child. The song is painfully awash with the small details of tragedy, switching delicately between Conley’s hometown funeral and imagined scenes of a family reunion in which he is returned from the war alive rather than in bits in a box draped with a flag. H ON THe PrOTeST NOW CD H
5 THe NaTIONaL fake empire
beGGarS baNQueT, 2007
Originally written as an anxious dispatch from Bush’s America, “Fake Empire” became a key part of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Of course, Obama won, and Matt Berninger’s escapist fantasy came to represent actual escape from a dark era of American history to a more tolerant one, while the song’s polyrhythmic piano, scruffy guitar and carefree romance distilled that newfound sense of relief. Now in the light of a Trump presidency that promises to make Bush look benevolent, Berninger’s visions of “diamond slippers”, “gay ballet on ice” and “bluebirds on our shoulders” are restored to images of fragility after eight years as fantasy.
WarNer brOS NaSHVILLe, 2009
“Shuttin’ Detroit Down” might seem like an unusual entry in the list, as John Rich is best known as a US Celebrity Apprentice winner and a friend of the new president-elect: the very person so many artists are currently protesting. But this angry workingman’s blues demonstrates how certain issues reach across the aisle and unite unlikely parties. Inspired by the 2008 government bailout, which gave billions of tax dollars to the same banks that cratered the economy, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” traces the trickle-down effect of corporate greed and bureaucratic spinelessness. The one per cent get billions, the 99 per cent only shuttered factories and lost jobs. Ironically, the same sentiment motivated the Occupy movement in the early 2010s, a deeply progressive uprising decried by conservatives seeking the same ends.
7 bOb DyLaN
It’s all Good
singer have made of “It’s All Good”, the caustic closing track of 2009’s Together Through Life? The notion that Dylan was ever politically disengaged invites only ridicule, of course, as if his only subsequent songs were variations on “Country Pie”. As recently as 2006 he’d released Modern Times, a deeply political album that mixed endtime premonitions with a profound empathy for the world’s dispossessed, most notably on “Workingman’s Blues # 2”, which foretold nothing but darkness ahead. Even so, who would not have been surprised by “It’s All Good” – “A cliché turned into an indictment,” as Dylan biographer Ian Bell put it, and effectively the most straightforward protest song Dylan had written since at least “George Jackson” or “Hurricane”? A laconic John Lee Hooker boogie, over which Dylan delivered a litany of woe, “It’s All Good” was mocking, defiant, full of contempt for a world gone wrong, the singer rubbing America’s face in its own chronic hostilities, much as he had always done.
8 THe DuKe & THe KING Shaky
What would the anguished folkie nitwits who gloomily predicted that going electric in 1965 was the end of Bob Dylan as a protest
The Duke & The King’s “Shaky”, from their second album, Long Live The Duke & The King, is the protest song as funky fever-dream. The group’s swarming harmonies described a young American soldier in a Baghdad firefight thinking about dancing to the Jackson 5 with
The Gaslight anthem: speaking noble truths
The Duke & The King: shake your ass, not your gun
his girl back home, a moment of nostalgic euphoria that gives him something to live for in the general carnage of Iraq. “It breaks my heart that I live in a land that sent its boys to fight for a rich oil man’s greed,” the band’s Simone Felice told Uncut when the album came out. “Friends of mine came back as cold-blooded murderers. Others I know had their heads or their legs or their arms blown off. So that song, it’s a ‘Why don’t you shake your ass instead of shaking a gun’ kind of song about how wild the world out there is.”
9 THe GaSLIGHT aNTHeM american Slang SIDeONeDuMMy, 2010
“Look what you started, I seem to be coming out of my skin,” Brian Fallon roars on the title track of The Gaslight Anthem’s third LP, which it opened with the declamatory knell of a cranked-up “London Calling”. At a time of deepening political and racial division, US slang for Fallon was the nation’s real voice that spoke noble truths, unsullied by manipulative spin. It was the language of people
let down by the American Dream and the hot air of the politicians peddling it, combining with the diverse colloquialism of US music and its myriad vernaculars to speak to the disenfranchised and lift embattled spirits. Like many of the songs on the album, it was also about standing your ground, being true to yourself, an example of where self-belief can take you, Fallon offering himself as an inspiration to others, as Bruce Springsteen and Joe Strummer were to him.
10 fLeeT fOXeS
Helplessness blues beLLa uNION, 2011
“The idea of music as a force for social change is awesome,” Robin Pecknold told Uncut, talking about “Helplessness Blues” in March 2011. “But music doesn’t change the world. People change the world. What music can do is reflect the views of those people, their ideals, their frustrations, whatever.” And so the title track of Fleet Foxes’ second album was an anthem of sorts to the Occupy generation’s rejection of narcissistic entitlement and pampered gratification in favour of communal endeavour, a sense of utopian togetherness. It harked back, in a way, to a halcyon ’60s idealism of shared values, a better world, simple, caring, joyous, the song’s initial questioning uncertainties resolved in a glorious third movement that soared with the redemptive vocal and melodic purity of something by Simon & Garfunkel. february 2017 • uNCuT • 67
6 JOHN rICH
Shuttin’ Detroit Down
PJ Harvey: black angel’s death song
11 PJ HARVEY The Words That Maketh Murder ISLAND, 2011
Told through the horrified eyes of a soldier in Afghanistan, “The Words That Maketh Murder” is all the more unsettling for the contrast between the hopeless brutality of its lyrics and the almost breezy tone of Harvey’s autoharp and delivery. “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget,” she sings, “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat/Blown and shot out beyond belief/Arms and legs were in the trees.” Even diplomacy has failed to save her protagonist, a political point rammed home by the coda, in which she and John Parish bastardise a line from Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”: “What if I take my problem to the United Nations?”
12 THE DECEMBERISTS
elaborate prog-folk largely unheard since the codpieced heyday of Jethro Tull. In stark contrast, 2011 follow-up, The King Is Dead, ditched the tricky time changes and fanciful narratives for punchy country rock, much influenced by REM and Neil Young. Colin Meloy’s songs were similarly more direct and socially engaged – especially “This Is Why We Fight”, a rousing call to arms that made you want to storm the nearest barricade, possibly carrying a flag.
13 TOM WAITS Hell Broke Luce
This Is Why We Fight
ROUGH TRADE, 2011
Protest song as makeshift weapon, this nightmarish howl depicted America’s desert wars as an X-rated carnival of psychological horror. The aftershocks suffered by
The Decemberists’ previous release was 2009’s The Hazards Of Love, a full-blown concept album, stuffed with songs about damsels, daemons, faeries, forest queens, debauched rakes and other chimerical characters, the whole phantasmagoria set to the kind of 68 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
the sad cast of combatants – variously deaf, blind, drunk, drugged or worse – are as horrific as the exploding heads and severed thumbs on the battle ground. Featuring Waits at his most belligerent and blunt, political anger vies with gallows humour; surrealism with moments of furious lucidity: “How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess/ Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk?” And all the while the noise churns on, the terrible cacophony not only of war, but of ceaseless mental torment.
14 RY COODER
injustice, a loathing of rapacious international conglomerates, reactionary legislations, a warmongering military and ruinous political humbug that became even more overt on Pull Up Some Dust, on which he often sounded like a latterday Woody Guthrie. “Humpty Dumpty World” – Cooder’s own choice for inclusion on Protest Now! – is a song about God’s dour view of a world ruined by greed, hate, corruption and war, droll but fiercely angry. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
15 TUNE-YARDS My Country
Humpty Dumpty World
Taking the venerable anthem of patriotic obedience, “My Country, ’Tis Of Thee”, as his starting point, Merrill Garbus chose a deliriously funky, playfully off-kilter medium with which to survey an America of Salvation Army shelters, historic shame and ingrained inequality. “We cannot all have it/Well, what I am I supposed to say to those other guys/So sorry, but you only stood half a chance/ Now it’s over and they’re walkin’ all over you.” “That’s the whole idea of the American dream, that we can all have it as long we work hard,” explained Garbus. “And
“These times call for a very different kind of protest song. ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ We’re way down the road from that,” Ry Cooder said around the release of 2011’s Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down. Never a prolific songwriter in his ’70s heyday, Cooder took an 18-year break from solo projects, but on the so-called “Southern California Trilogy” of albums he recorded between 2005 and 2008, he emerged as a master storyteller on songs that were increasingly shaped by radical disaffection, a profound sense of
16 LEE RANALDO Shouts
When Occupy set up camp in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in September 2011, Lee Ranaldo would regularly visit from his home a few blocks away. While also sharing their indignation at the one per cent, the Sonic Youth guitarist primarily found himself deeply inspired by the movement’s idealism and sense of optimism. “The rise of this sort of leftist movement is… very Utopian or very ambitious in its ideals, in a way that I haven’t really seen since I was a young person in the ’60s and ’70s,” Ranaldo enthused to Gothamist in 2012. “Shouts”, then, inspired both by Occupy and by Rich Lam’s photo of a couple embracing on the ground in the middle of a Vancouver riot, was a stately, chiming highlight on Ranaldo’s debut album of songs. Just five years on, however, it seems like a snapshot of a simpler, more hopeful time, before Brexit, Trump and the rise of the right in the West.
17 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN Death To My Hometown COLUMBIA, 2012
Springsteen’s postMillennial output has been his most explicitly political, encompassing 9/11, traditional campfire anthems, Civil Rights
The Boss laid into “robber barons” on 2012’s Wrecking Ball
struggles and trigger-happy cops. None were quite as furious as “Death To My Hometown”, his righteous, Celtic-punk indictment from 2012’s Wrecking Ball that brought into sharp local focus the devastation wreaked by the “robber barons” and “greedy thieves”, whose financial avarice destroyed the lives of so many of Springsteen’s heartland constituents. “No powder flash blinded the eye/No deathly thunder sounded/But just as sure as the hand of God/They brought death to my hometown…/Destroyed our families, factories/And they took our homes.” Performed on last year’s River tour while those “whose crimes have gone unpunished… walk the streets as free men”, it felt more powerful and pertinent than ever.
Genocidal thoughts: Julian Cope
18 CASS McCOMBS Bradley Manning DOMINO, 2012
Diverging from the songwriter’s usual cryptic narratives, this standalone single tells the story of Chelsea Manning’s life, from her return to the US from Wales to her 2010 arrest for leaking classified material. “Sometimes politics needs to be shoved in people’s faces,” McCombs told Uncut last year, “other times it’s not so subtle. I wanted to get away from a political song that was preaching to the people. I just wanted to tell a story,
in a biographical song. Is she a hero to me? Yeah, definitely, as much as someone could be a hero.” Though its narrative is starkly delivered for much of its four minutes, McCombs lets his feelings loose on the final line with a touching message for this very modern folk hero: “Bradley, know you have friends, though you’re locked in there.”
19 KANYE WEST New Slaves
ROC-A-FELLA/DEF JAM, 2013
Whether or not “New Slaves” contains “the best rap verse of all time”, as its creator claimed, it is a bracing indictment of the segregation and profiteering from black labour that continues decades after Jim Crow laws were supposedly destroyed. Critics are quick to whip out their tiny violins whenever Kanye West decries the fashion industry for not letting him in, but in
“New Slaves” – where its imperious synth backbone shifts from operatic to corroded tones – he sharply illuminates the intersection of exploitation and discrimination at the hands of designers, the press and the US prison industrial complex.
20 JULIAN COPE
The Armenian Genocide HEAD HERITAGE, 2013
Ordinarily more interested in megalithic history, Tamworth’s chief eccentric here examines the Ottoman Empire’s murder of one and a half million Armenians in 1915. Across 16 minutes and a relentless fourchord chug, Cope sings from the standpoint of a foreign traveller witnessing the horrific death marches into the desert, repeatedly intoning, “They were mainly children/They were mainly women/ They were mainly old folks/They were mainly people…” As fuzz guitars, synths and Mellotrons join the fray, the final word is repeated endlessly in an attempt to humanise the victims of these inhumane acts. As this “animal hatred” of The Other resurfaces today, it’s a mantra surely worth reiterating. FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 69
that is untrue. There are so many ways in our country where we are not giving the same opportunities to everybody.”
to the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. The decision allowed the song to speak more clearly and loudly about the illusion of progress in America. “All we wanted was a chance to talk,” he sings on the chorus. “’Stead, we only got outlined in chalk.” Penned jointly by Kendra Foster of P-Funk and Questlove of the Roots, it’s a sobering song, stark yet powerful, and somehow doesn’t sound pessimistic or bitter. D’Angelo maintains a kernel of hope, although he knows it would take a national effort to realise it.
Apocalypse nigh? Roy Harper
Drone, Not Drones YOUTUBE (LIVE AT ROCK THE GARDEN, MINNEAPOLIS), 2013
It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between Low’s politically apocalyptic songs and their biblically apocalyptic ones, given Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s habit of finding dire imprecations of global disaster in the tenets of their Mormon faith. At a home-state concert in summer 2013, however, the Duluth trio found a novel way of making a protest song out of noise and a pun. Their entire performance at the Rock The Garden festival consisted of one song, a take on 1996’s “Do You Know How To Waltz” that soon enough transmuted into a lowering throb, sustained for 27 minutes. As an uncompromising artistic act in a mainstream public space, it was certainly audacious. As an aesthetically pointed response to the American use of remote killing machines, it was at once subtly stated and brutally impactful – at least when Sparhawk concluded the performance by articulating its message: “Drone, not drones.”
22 ROY HARPER Cloud Cuckooland george Scott; tom Spray
BELLA UNION, 2013
“Roll on Armageddon, so the world can live again. Or not, as the case may be,” Roy Harper 70 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
menacingly intoned, barely audible, at the end of this highlight from Man & Myth, which in 2013 was his first album in 13 years. At 72, Harper continued to see the world in terms of enduring conflict, good against bad, basically. So there was anger aplenty on the record, even if the accusatory fulminations of his ’70s songs was more muted here. The exception was the railing “Cloud Cuckooland”, which took aim at a multiplicity of modern horrors – a pacifying media, corrupt financial institutions, the international arms trade. In Harper’s opinion the song shared sentiments with The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and so appropriately featured insurrectionary lead guitar from Pete Townshend. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
streaming live minutes after Furman had written it and recorded the song straight to his iPhone. Ezra was going to re-record it for Protest Now!, but in the end correctly preferred the raw, sensational fury of the original. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
24 D’ANGELO & THE VANGUARD The Charade RCA, 2014
D’Angelo decided to forgo the usual promotional cycle and release his long-awaited comeback album a few months early, the better to respond
23 EZRA FURMAN Ferguson’s Burning SOUNDCLOUD, 2014
On August 9 2014, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. A week of increasingly violent protests followed. By August 18, a state of emergency already declared, the National Guard were deployed to take back the streets. Ezra Furman watched the TV news footage of the troops marching in and did what Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs or Neil Young might have done before him. He grabbed a guitar and wrote a song about it. It took Neil a couple of weeks to get “Ohio” in the shops – slick work for the time. But “Ferguson’s Burning” was
Run The Jewels: (l-r) Killer Mike and El-P
25 HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF The Body Electric ATO, 2014
Alynda Lee Segarra rewrites more than a century of murder ballads on this defiant song from Hurray For The Riff Raff’s 2014 album Small Town Heroes. “Delia’s gone, but I’m settling the score,” she sings/ promises, in reference to the folk tune famously covered by Dylan, Cash, and others as if it’s no big deal to sing about shooting a woman. It’s a fascinating strategy, one that reveals the deep and twisted roots of
misogyny and gun culture in America before posing a blunt question: “Tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand gonna do for a world that’s so sick and sad?” It’s not rhetorical, either. Trayvon Martin and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss and the congregation of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and so many others deserve an answer. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
26 RUN THE JEWELS FEAT ZACH DE LA ROCHA
27 LEONARD COHEN
Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)
Woe betide hypocrites, stylists and oppression profiteers: Run The Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” is a spray of bullets delivered by two guys who are no longer interested in doling out the benefit of the doubt. With their typically unsparing wit, Killer Mike and El-P eviscerate style bloggers, paedophile priests, “liars and politicians”, and the prison industrial complex above all. “We killin’ them for freedom cos they tortured us for boredom,” Mike declares nonchalantly. But counter to the duo’s indomitable scorn is an agitated beat that never stops bouncing, betraying the energy it takes to stay afloat in a system hellbent on your destruction. ON THE PROTEST NOW CD Against Me!: Laura Jane Grace, second right
For Cohen, the political always seemed to be deeply enmeshed with the personal, as on this highlight from his penultimate album, Popular Problems. Over a humid groove of piano, percussion and synth pads, the songwriter contrasts the suffering of some with the inaction and detachment of those more fortunate: “I saw some people starving/There was murder, there was rape… I couldn’t meet their glances/I was staring at my shoes…” Such is his wrathful judgment that even Cohen himself can’t escape: “There’s torture and there’s killing/ There’s all my bad reviews…” It all ends with a final verse as ambiguous and disturbing as the terrors and dislocation Cohen has just chronicled: “It’s almost like salvation/It’s almost like the blues.”
28 AGAINST ME! Transgender Dysphoria Blues
TOTAL TREBLE MUSIC, 2014
Rebel yell: Sleafords’ Jason Williamson
In 2012, Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender via a Rolling Stone interview in which she talked about the lifelong depression that had let to this moment. Two years later came Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the Florida band’s sixth album, and Grace’s punk opus on the realities of transitioning. In a scene where musicians’ politics are policed for purity, she was now also being scrutinised for her gender identity. “You want them to see you like they see every other girl,” she railed over burnished, charging guitar on “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”. “They just see a faggot.”
29 SLEAFORD MODS Cunt Make It Up
HARBINGER SOUND, 2015
We could have picked a song at random from their back catalogue and come up with something that deserved its place on this list. Sleaford Mods’ toxic repertoire is not short, after all, of songs protesting the daily brutalities of life in Austerity Britain, the horrors of a collapsing welfare system, unemployment, racism, duplicitous politicians, shallow celebrity, hipster
pretensions – all manner, really, of multiple ills and annoyances. “Cunt Make It Up”, from 2015’s Key Markets, took scabrous aim, however, at most of these typical targets in one conveniently angry, scathing howl of a song, at once laugh-out-loud funny and full of adversarial rage. “It’s war, you bastards,” Jason Williamson declared. It wasn’t exactly the quiet dignity of a Pop Staples, but it made its point, brilliantly.
30 SLEATER-KINNEY Price Tag
SUB POP, 2015
Old punks often die hard, but the opening track from SleaterKinney’s first album in a decade saw the Portland trio update their fight for post-millennial America’s squeezed middle. “Price Tag” is a sharp parable about the perils of globalisation, humanised within the story of a harried mum who’s struggling to feed her kids on tight budgets, and fighting to survive within a dehumanised workplace. Fittingly, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s guitars clang like cold warehouse machinery, powered by their incandescent rage. “I was lured by the fear that all we had was lost,” Brownstein roars, evoking George W Bush’s suggestion of shopping as salve post-9/11. FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 71
Valerio Berdini/reX/ShutterStock; jaSon thraSher
MASS APPEAL, 2014
Almost Like The Blues
Le President, Ma Moto Et Moi OUT HERE, 2015
If the objective of a protest song is to bring about change, few can have been more effective than this militant but hilarious rap, which became the soundtrack to the popular uprising that in 2014 overthrew Blaise Compaoré, the dictator of Burkina Faso. The song imagines taking le president on a motorcycle tour of the city slums over which he rules so uncaringly. The threadbare infrastructure means there’s a power cut, the traffic lights fail and the dictator is horribly injured in the ensuing pileup. He’s taken to the city’s hospital – named after himself, naturally – but the facilities are too poor to treat him. The president’s men responded by bombing Smockey’s studio, but dictatorship could not survive such savage mockery. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
32 PUSSY RIOT I Can’t Breathe
Though the collective fractured following the two-year imprisonment of Maria
“Alright” now: Kendrick Lamar
Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in 2012 for staging anti-Putin protests in a Moscow cathedral, in 2015 Pussy Riot teamed up with two other Russian bands to protest the death of Eric Garner, killed after an NYPD officer placed him in a chokehold. “I Can’t Breathe” were Garner’s last words, repeated 11 times as he died; during the song’s dramatic climax they’re recited by Richard Hell. A haunting piece of electro-pop dedicated to “all those who suffer from state terror”, the final line hopes “some fairness might be found/From ashes of his death.”
33 RHIANNON GIDDENS Cry No More Steve Earle: flagging up the issue
Complementing her pointed new cover of the Staples Singers’ “Freedom Highway” on our Protest Now CD, Giddens’ response to the racist slaughter of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, derives much of its power from its extraordinary austerity, comprising only the stark tattoo of a hand drum, her impassioned voice, and the cries of a community choir. Describing the atrocity as “just the latest in a string of racially charged events that have broken my heart,” Giddens places Emanuel in a lineage of historical injustice – “First they stole our body, then they stole our sons/ Then they stole our gods and gave us new ones” – and calls not for tears, but direct action. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
34 STEVE EARLE Mississippi It’s Time FANTASY, 2015
Steve Earle’s catalogue is peppered with political invective, from antiwar songs such as “Johnny Come Lately”, to death penalty opposition on “Ellis Unit One”, to 2004’s The Revolution Starts Now, an entire LP dedicated to the cause for change. His most recent protest song, released at the height of the Confederate flag debate that 72 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
followed the Charleston church shooting, urged Mississippi to remove the battle emblem from its state flag. “I know that I’m not the only Southerner who never believed for one second that the Confederate battle flag is symbolic of anything but racism in anything like a modern context,” said Earle. “This is about giving those Southerners a voice.”
35 KENDRICK LAMAR Alright
TOP DAWG ENTERTAINMENT, 2015
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly might have been lauded, justifiably, as a millennial successor to key AfricanAmerican protest records such as What’s Goin’ On. Still, its multitextured complexity, and the sense that Lamar is engaged in a tough internal debate about his role as a spokesperson, means that the album does not always lend itself to a punchy manifesto. “Alright”,
36 PRINCE Baltimore NPG, 2015
“The system is broken,” declared Prince at the end of the video that accompanied “Baltimore”, featuring singer Eryn Allen Kane. “It’s going to take the young people to fix it this time. We need new
Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty
ideas, new life.” Profoundly moved by the plight of black 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after receiving spinal cord injuries while in police custody, leading to major protests in downtown Baltimore, Prince debuted the song at his Rally 4 Peace concert shortly after. Its message was unequivocal: “Peace is more than the absence of war…We’re tired of the cryin’ and people dyin’/ Let’s take all the guns away.”
37 JANELLE MONÁE Hell You Talmbout WONDALAND, 2015
The day after marching in Philadelphia to protest police brutality, Janelle Monáe issued an extended version of “Hell You Talmbout”, supplanting the warm R&B of the original with a hard gospel chant that featured members of her Wondaland arts collective. The song pledges allegiance to Black Lives Matter and lists the names of those killed by US law enforcement in recent times, among them Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Miriam Carey and Freddie Gray. “We recorded it to channel the pain, fear and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters,” said Monáe. “We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon.”
Paul Simon: no stranger to protest music
38 FATHER JOHN MISTY Bored In The USA BELLA UNION, 2015
Humour is a rare trait for protest music, and Josh Tillman’s humour is almost pungently wry as he examines the workaday life of modern America. This is by no means a new subject nor even a new approach, but he nevertheless wrings tart irony from the melodrama of the Manilow arrangement and the mundane crisis of waking up in the same old body to face the same old routines. “Oh, they gave me a useless education,” he sings, and only gets canned laughter in response. “And a subprime loan…” More chuckles. “…on a craftsman home.” More snickers. Our most personal struggles are rendered as reality-TV entertainment, a defence mechanism that allows us to avoid direct eye contact with the rest of our lives. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
39 JENNY HVAL That Battle Is Over SACRED BONES, 2015
“Can you be a feminist and…” is the self-defeating question of the age, mistaking individual consumer choices for liberation. On “That Battle Is Over”, Jenny Hval poses her own dilemmas to mock the delusion that the freedom to “consume what I want now” is the definitive ‘proof’ and crowning triumph of gender parity. “Are we
loving ourselves now? Are we mothering ourselves?” the Norwegian avant-garde artist asks with wry charm. As an organ drone shifts keys with her exaggerated agonies and ecstasies, she contemplates her fate in a rigged system that’s done discussing equality. But Hval, a master of the gaps in between, finds freedom in the lack of answers and assurances. H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
40 PAUL SIMON Wristband
A standout track from last year’s Stranger To Stranger, “Wristband” goes from anecdote to apocalypse in just over three minutes. Unlike other recent Simon songs of similar social and global concern like “Wartime Prayers”, “How Can You Live In The Northeast” and “Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean” on Surprise, his undervalued 2006 collaboration with Brian Eno, or “Getting Ready For Christmas Day” on 2011’s So Beautiful Or So What, the syncopated hustle of “Wristband” sounds initially whimsical, a bit of a shaggy dog story about a musician getting locked out of his own show and not being allowed back in because he doesn’t have the right pass. By its last verse, however, the song has become a bitter allegory about wealth and exclusivity, an ominous anticipation of insurrection in the American heartlands (“The riots started slowly with the homeless and the lowly”) and the conflict to follow. FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 73
emma tillman; myrna suarez
though, has emerged as a rallying cry: a gesture of defiance in the face of discrimination and police brutality that begins with Lamar paraphrasing from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: “Alls my life, I had to fight.” In July 2015, during a Black Lives Matter conference in Cleveland, delegates confronted policemen who were arresting a 14-year-old boy. The situation escalated, and the crowd were pepper-sprayed. But when the news filtered through that the boy had been released from custody, they began chanting Lamar and Pharrell Williams’ refrain, “We gon’ be alright!”, cementing its place as a core anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bullshitfree zone: Sturgill Simpson
41 ANOHNI 4 Degrees
ROUGH TRADE, 2016
Named after the projected rise in global temperature by 2100, “4 Degrees” offers a confrontational vision of ecological apocalypse. Released to coincide with the Paris climate summit in December 2015, Anohni sings as earth’s assassin, her glorious voice sweeping over a kind of warrior music, dominated by thundering drums and Hudson Mohawke’s massed ranks of horns: “I want to hear the dogs crying for water/I want to see the fish go belly up in the sea/And all those lemurs and all those tiny creatures/I want to see them burn.” There is no comfort in her brutal exposure of collective complicity. Our acts of avoidance are acts of murder.
42 DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS What It Means © 2014 BloomBerg Finance lP/getty images
Call it the duality of the American thing: on their bold election-year album, the best Southern rock band of the millennium expanded their scope well beyond the Mason-Dixon, because racism and prejudice, sadly, aren’t exclusive to any one 74 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
region of the country – or any one country for that matter. Patterson Hood’s song about Black Lives Matter is a standout as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does: rather than whitesplain racial issues or assert some asinine platitude, he admits he doesn’t have any answer to the violence that black Americans face every day or the cold rationalisations that so many white Americans perpetuate. The band know right from wrong, truth from spin, but the Truckers still aren’t sure what all this ugliness says about a country they love.
43 STURGILL SIMPSON Call To Arms
child into a seriously fucked-up world, full of advice for his newborn son and reminiscences about his own stint in the Navy, and this aptly titled call to arms closes the album with the country-rock equivalent of a nuclear explosion, complete with honkytonk piano solo and daggerlike horn blasts courtesy of the Dap-Kings. This veteran’s attack on military adventurism eventually curdles into an indictment of, well, everything: clickbait journalism and social media, drones and iPhones, pretty much anything that we allow to distract us from all the bullshit in the world. And, as Sturgill exclaims, “Bullshit’s got to go!”
44 NEIL YOUNG
Fatherhood radicalised Sturgill Simpson. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is a potent song cycle about bringing an innocent
On the Peace Trail: Neil Young and friends
From Living With War and “Let’s Impeach The President” in 2006, latterday Neil Young has
approached the art of writing protest songs as a spontaneous emotional gesture – whatever bugs him, he heads into the barn with some trusted guys and bashes out a broadly unmediated response. Often, his outrage has been targeted towards environmental crimes and their potential solutions: cleanenergy car fetishism on Fork In The Road (2009); the anthemically selfexplanatory “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?” and save the earth (2014); The Monsanto Years’ album-long jeremiad against agri-business and corporate exploitation (2015). Most recently, last December’s Peace Trail featured “Indian Givers”, a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline’s projected routing through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The singer spent his 71st birthday in November performing for protesters on the reservation. Given that Donald Trump owns stock in the company building the oil pipeline, one suspects Young may have a busy 2017 ahead of him.
Your Best American Girl DEAD OCEANS, 2016
By the time Mitski Miyawaki went to college in New York, she’d lived in 13 different countries and belonged in none of them. But on “Your Best American Girl”, the Japanese-American artist ends a relationship with an “allAmerican boy” with a sparkling future to reconcile with her own heritage. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me,” she roars. “But I do, I finally do.” Her guitar shifts from slowcore creep to incandescent noise, the
following the police killing of Eric Garner. “I have seen,” Morby rues, looking heavenwards, “but I can’t see him no more.” But losing hope needn’t mean giving up. “Destroy the destroyer,” he implores as a female chorus line lends his words weight. “And do it fast.” H ON THE PROTEST NOW CD H
48 BEYONCÉ Freedom
Kevin Morby, losing hope
climbing notes inverting the stately pride familiar to national anthems. In the process, Miyawaki forges a new one for those who exist outside apple pie normativity. ON THE PROTEST NOW CD
46 RADIOHEAD The Numbers
a lie.” While strings reminiscent of Jean-Claude Vannier’s Serge Gainsbourg arrangements swoop and dive, Yorke challenges those who might reduce lives to figures on a spreadsheet: “We’ll take back what is ours/One day at a time.”
47 KEVIN MORBY
I Have Been To The Mountain
Though Thom Yorke is often tagged as some kind of miserabilist, moaning about the neocon agenda and global warming on songs such as “Idioteque”, this folkrock highlight from Radiohead’s 2016 LP is supremely optimistic, a hymn to the power of democracy in opposing the dehumanising effects of economics. “People have this power,” Yorke murmurs. “The numbers don’t decide/Your system is
DEAD OCEANS, 2016
The Quest is over: (l-r) Q-Tip and Jarobi
At a time when the efficacy and legitimacy of the white male protest singer has been challenged, Kevin Morby’s “I Have Been To The Mountain” offers a graceful example of how such artists can engage on issues affecting marginalised groups without being self-aggrandising. “I Have Been To The Mountain” is a song about losing hope, specifically
Beyoncé’s liberation suite started in December 2013 with “Flawless”. Over spiralling synths, she demanded respect for her achievements, backed by a sample of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on the importance of unstinted female ambition. Agency reclaimed, Beyoncé called for black women to organise with 2016’s New Orleans bounce-inspired “Formation”, and laid out their appeal for reparations – for a lack of sovereignty, deep love, and artistic respect – on “Freedom”. “I need freedom too,” she belted, establishing herself as the fearless equal to Kendrick Lamar, whose guest verse decried the white critics who had labelled his activism counterproductive.
Don’t Touch My Hair RCA, 2016
The 2016 album by Beyoncé’s sister, A Seat At The Table traced black women’s self-empowerment in response to the ravages of police
brutality – as well as historic oppression and enslavement. “They don’t understand what it means to me,” she trills in “Don’t Touch My Hair” of her crowning glory, channelling Aaliyah’s soulful minimalism. When natural black hair is often a magnet for unwanted attention and repression from white people, Solange reaffirmed her afro as the source of her identity, creativity and power.
50 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST The Space Program EPIC, 2016
On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States. Three days later, the cherishable rap veterans A Tribe Called Quest released their first album in 18 years, one that would also – due to the death of core member Phife Dawg – be their swansong. Constructed in the foment of personal loss and political chaos, the timing of We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your service was apposite, mapping out a landscape of injustice, but also channelling the band’s positivity to embolden a heartbroken constituency. “The Donald” reclaimed Trump’s nickname for Phife Dawg, while “We The People” mocked his racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic rhetoric. Nothing was more potent, though, than the opening “Space Program”, in which Phife, Q-Tip and Jarobi rage against gentrification, global warming and the persistent disenfranchisement of AfricanAmericans, before uniting in a call to arms: everyone, even “nonconformists” need to “get it together”. “It’s time to go left and not right…” they direct. “Let’s make something happen!” Written by: Stephen Deusner, Rob Hughes, Allan Jones, John Mulvey, Tom Pinnock, Laura Snapes, Graeme Thomson, Nigel Williamson FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 75
2 017 albums
Roger Waters at the Perfect Earth Project Second Biannual Family Picnic And Concert, East Hampton, New York, August 30, 2014
One album contains “Jimi Hendrix electric fiddle”. Another features Robert Wyatt on trumpet. A third promises “heavy noise pummel” while a fourth is an “empowering battle cry for the people who are being pushed out”. Welcome, then, to Uncut’s extensive survey of 2017’s most anticipated releases. paul Weller, hurray For The riff raff, The Jesus and mary chain, The Waterboys, ray Davies, laura marling, Gregg allman, real estate, Kevin morby, Thurston moore, Grandaddy, Depeche mode and others reveal all…
Title To be confirmed Label To be confirmed Release date May
“It’s a song cycle…” hen Uncut met Roger Waters in a chilly hotel ballroom in Knightsbridge during november
2015, he outlined his plans for his new album. “I wrote a long, rambling piece about an Irishman sitting drinking Bushmills in a council house in Belfast,” he revealed. “It starts off with this speech. ‘It is the year of our fuckerish Lord 2013. The geese has gotten fat and been slaughtered more times that any of us can or care to remember. Our children and our grandchildren bend ceaseless over their i-This and i-FuckingThat. Time
keeps slipping away.’ It turns out, he’s babysitting. The child wakes up. It’s having a nightmare. What’s the nightmare? ‘Grandpa, they’re killing the children.’ no they’re not, they haven’t been killing the children since the Troubles, 30 years ago. ‘not here, grandpa. Over there.’ So the grandfather puts him back to sleep and says, ‘We’ll go and find out.’ The rest of the story is sort of a magic carpet journey all over the world to find the answer to that
simple question: why are they – or why are we – killing the children?” By this point, Waters had already debuted three new songs live – “Crystal Clear Brooks”, “Safe And Sound” and “Lay Down Jerusalem (If I had Been God)”. The last of the three, Waters explained, “begins, ‘If I had been God I would have rearranged the veins in the face to make them more resistant to alcohol and less prone to ageing. If I had been God with my staff and rod, if I had
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been given the nod, I believe I could have done a better job.’ That’s a good way to start. ‘If I were a drone patrolling foreign skies with my electronic eyes for guidance and the element of surprise I’d be afraid to find someone at home, maybe a woman at a stove baking bread, making rice or just boiling down some bones, if I were a drone, lay down Jerusalem.’ “There’s a lot of different songs,” Waters continued. “A bit of narrative
and then a song. It’s a song cycle.” As Uncut parted company with Waters, he confirmed his next step was “to figure out how to make this idea into an arena show so I can go back on the road once more.” Since then, Waters has evidently been busy. Working in London and Los Angeles with nigel Godrich – they met when the Radiohead producer mixed the sound on the Roger Waters: The Wall concert film – the pair settled into a studio in LA
in november, 2016 to finish work on the record. Astonishingly, it will be Waters’ first new rock album since 1992’s Amused To Death. never one to go back on his word, Waters has also devised a new stage show, billed as Roger Waters: Us + Them. “It’ll be stuff from my long career, stuff from my years with Pink Floyd, some new things,” he explained, as he announced the tour. “Probably 75 per cent of it will be old material and 25 per cent will be new, but it
will be all connected by a general theme. It will be a cool show, I promise you. It’ll be spectacular like all my shows have been.” It’ll be a typically formidable undertaking, running for at least six months across north America, with presumably more dates to follow. Waters’ management confirmed to Uncut that this new album is scheduled for an early May release in advance of Waters’ first tour date in Kansas City on May 26.
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Andy Bell of Ride: aggressive ambience
RIDE Title To be confirmed Label To be confirmed Release date Summer
Oxford shoegazers return with first new album in over 20 years
Robin Pecknold: living his truth
Title To be confirmed Label To be confirmed Release date To be confirmed
Pecknold and co prepare to follow Helplessness Blues
PieTer M van HaTTeM
n november, 2016, Fleet Foxes updated their Facebook profile picture. A small thing, perhaps, but in a post on the comments thread, Robin Pecknold confirmed rumours that the band’s follow-up to 2011’s Helplessness Blues was, at last, “Alllllmost done.” In a subsequent Instagram post, Pecknold breathlessly described the Fleet Foxes record as “kind of crazy/vast so working on ‘putting babies to sleep/living my truth’ palliative solo album on off days.” In his latest missive, he revealed the album will contain 11 tracks and be “55ish minutes” long. When a fan commented that it “sounds like there’s gonna be some folk-soul songs”, Pecknold responded, “Yeah it wasn’t really the plan, but it’s sort of turning out that way.” That’s not to say he’s squandered the past five years. After enrolling at Columbia University, he took time off from his studies in 2013 to pen
the score for a documentary, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives. In november, 2015, he shared a cover of The Five Keys’ 1956 single “Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind”, while in April, 2016, he shared a new song, “Swimming”, shortly after supporting Joanna newsom on European tour dates. A few months later, Pecknold revealed recording on a new Fleet Foxes album was under way with bandmate Skyler Skjelset, appearing to confirm that at that point the album was titled ‘CrackUp’. Answering fans’ questions in a Reddit AMA, Pecknold spoke about the band’s five-year hiatus – “I have a lot more perspective now” – and how “‘Swimming’ not quite the vibe of LP3. Just thinking a lot in terms of contrast and slide shows.” He also explained how reluctant he had been to release music during “the climate of Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers” when “it would have been culturally exhausting to release a ‘folk’-sounding album”. In December, Pecknold announced a smattering of dates in America, Europe and Australia – kicking off at the BBK Live festival in Bilbao, Spain, in early July. He subsequently confirmed, “We’ll be doing a full world tour in 2017–2018.”
anDY bell: “We made it out in the country. We recorded it in 17 days, in a studio called The Vale. We went to hang out there when we announced the reunion, in 2014. We hadn’t picked up instruments together for 20 years so our way of celebrating the fact that we were going to get back together was to go down to this studio miles from anywhere, plug in and see if it works. “Erol Alkan has produced it. He’s got endless enthusiasm and patience and the right mentality to get the right stuff out of us. We’ve all written for it, and brought in songs or ideas or half-songs, and we’ve co-operated to a big extent. We had a few jams we recorded at soundchecks on tour. One of the things on the album came from a recording on an iPhone of a jam we had in Honolulu – though there’s not a Hawaiian theme. There’s a couple where one person has
brought in the entire thing, but there are far more where we’ve jammed out something and one of us has taken the initiative to do the melody and words, or some other permutation of it all. At times, it’s quite trashy and poppy and other times it’s quite ambient and psychedelic. It’s equal parts Motörhead and William Basinski. Aggressive ambience!”
GRANDADDY Title Last Place Label 30th Century Records Release date March 3
First album in 10 years from indie rock doyens JasOn lYTle: “I moved from my hometown, Modesto, to Montana, where I had access to this dramatic and awesome terrain. I would have these epic adventures by day, then that night I’d be eating dinner watching Frasier, sunburnt and on the verge of hypothermia with gnaw marks from a grizzly bear on my ankles. Then I moved to Portland and now I’m back in Modesto. This was a heavy album to make. I was hanging on for dear life, for personal
Inner workings: Jason Lytle of Grandaddy
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Gregg Allman with Rich Hall, Don Was and others, outside FAME, 2016
that made it one of the best recording experiences of my career. We went down to FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, and it was something else. FAME is a special place to me, because that’s where my brother first made his mark as a session player. Why the Brothers never recorded there is beyond me, because the vibe is amazing at FAME. Rick Hall is still there, all these years later, and it was great just to hang with him again. It took us about two weeks in March and April to record it, and I’d go back to FAME in a heartbeat. I can tell you Southern Blood has some serious
kick-ass music on it! We’ve got some real old blues numbers, nice ballads and a few songs that’ll make you wanna shake your booty! Don Was produced it, and everything just clicked, man. We’d know what songs we were going to track on a given day, and when we got into the studio, it was all about communication – that was the key. Me and my band have been playing together for so long now that we can basically read each other’s minds, and Don just tapped into that. He never tried to complicate things, and that’s what made him the perfect guy to produce the album.”
Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode: taking less time
GREGG ALLMAN Title Southern Blood Label Rounder Release date To be confirmed
The Brother finds FAME, at last GreGG allman: “For the first time in about 30 years, I brought my road band into the studio and, man,
DEPECHE MODE Title Spirit Label To be confirmed Release date March
Basildon’s finest tackle issues on timely 14th studio album Dave Gahan: “We’ve just been out in LA for a few days working on a video with Anton Corbijn for a song called ‘Revolution’ – which is very apt at this point in time. Martin [Gore] is very affected by what’s going on around him in the world. There are titles like ‘Backwards’, ‘Poisoned Heart’, ‘Scum’. We wrote for most of last year – Martin tucked away in his studio, me in my place in new York. Sonically it’s got a fatter sound than Delta Machine. We were lucky to get James Ford to produce. He made us work a lot faster. We’d got a bit self-indulgent over the years with time in the studio. Sometimes it can work against you. You have too much time to think about it. There are 12 songs on the album. There could have been a lot more. Between us, there were at least 20 songs that were all good enough to be on the album. But James was very keen on making an album that was much more concise.”
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reasons and relationship reasons, and I needed to have this focus. But some of the songs date back four or five years. There’s one called ‘Evermore’ that I remember thinking, ‘If I ever decide to do another Grandaddy record, this is in my back pocket.’ I have a lot of different music that I work on for different reasons, and I file it away; but this song shows I was definitely thinking about Grandaddy that long ago. I had a lot of little moments making this record where it almost became this exercise in, ‘There’s all these different directions I can go, but I’m just gonna steer it back in the direction of, let’s try to make it sound like Grandaddy.’ I try to expand my horizons, but it ends up sounding like the same fucking thing that I do all the time anyway.”
The Modfather: prolific as ever
Damage and joy from the Mary Chain’s Jim and William Reid
RAY DAVIES Title Americana Label To be confirmed Release date Spring
The Kink’s massive Americana project looms. Plus, the latest on Dave…
Title A Kind Revolution Label Parlophone Release date Spring
Steve Gullick; keNZO tRiBOuillARD/AFP/Getty imAGeS
Contains “a song of hope”, one “funky blues tune”; Robert Wyatt and Boy George guest. “I’ve been very creative this year,” he tells us paul weller: “The album title is from a song called ‘The Cranes Are Back’. It’s a gospel piano tune. Yeah, it’s a reaction to how the world is. In some cultures, when cranes – the birds – are back, it’s a sign of good fortune. But I was also thinking about the mechanical cranes, when you see them back in the city, it normally means industry and business is starting up again. It’s a song of hope, really. There were a few things left over from Saturns Pattern time. But the rest of it’s come together really quickly this year. I suppose like a lot of records, it seems like you’re just scratching the surface, then all of a sudden you’ve turned a corner and you’ve got an album there. So most of it was done this year.
“Robert Wyatt’s on a song called ‘She Moves With The Fair’. It’s got a bit of a JBs vibe to it. There’s a mad middle-eight part, then Robert sings. He plays a really nice trumpet solo that makes me think of Donald Byrd. Boy George is on a track called ‘One Tear’. It’s quite housey. George sings the first verse and then he comes in on the chorus. Our voices sound really good together. There’s a funky blues tune called ‘The Satellite Kids’ with Josh McClory from The Strypes playing lead guitar. He’s on two or three tracks, actually. “Ben Gordelier and Andy Crofts are the mainstays. Steve Cradock was working quite a lot last year but he did bits and pieces on it. What else? The opening track is called ‘Woo Se Mama’ and it’s got Madeline Bell and PP Arnold on backing vocals. It’s a New Orleans funky track. “I’ve been very creative this year. I worked with a soul band called Stone Foundation, and I also helped Steve Ellis, an old mate, finish his record. I did the soundtrack to a film, Jawbone, which is finally coming out in February, March. I’ve been writing quite a lot as well, towards the next record.”
raY Davies: “The first record is finished. It’s going to be in two parts. There’s 15 pieces of music on this one, and I’m very pleased with it. It’s based on the book, Americana, which is about coming to terms with America after being banned for four years, working our way back, starting again from nothing. It starts with the ban, which was instigated by right-wing elements in America. I thought that was a bit too out of date, but recent events have made it really spot on. It’s having an impact on the second phase of the record, which I’m about to start next month. “Did the show last year with Dave [at Islington Town Hall] have any bearing on this? No, not at all. He invited me, I went along at the last minute. I saw his act, he’s got a really good band. He invited me on to do a song. I didn’t have my harmonica with me, so I sang the vocal on ‘You Really Got Me’. There are no further plans. Dave and I have never had a plan about anything! There’s a synergy that comes between being related and quite a psychic – or psychotic – family. That’s the way it goes. I think he’s made a record. I’m happy for him. He bought a round of drinks the last time I saw him, so that’s an improvement.”
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN Title Damage & Joy Label ADA Release date March 24
First album since 1998! Jim reiD: “The title is schadenfreude. My brother came up with the idea. Damage and joy seems to sum up The Jesus And Mary Chain pretty nicely, I think. We recorded last summer. We went to Spain to do some tracks with Youth and also at his place in Wandsworth. Youth plays bass throughout and our drummer, Brian Young, played on some of the tracks. “There’s 14 tracks on the album. Some of the songs have been knocking around for a few years, but we wanted to give them the Mary Chain treatment. It starts off with ‘Amputation’, which is a re-recording of a song that I did a few years ago called ‘Dead End Kids’. Phil King plays guitar on a track called ‘Black And Blues’. I sing ‘Song For A Secret’ and ‘The Two Of Us’ with Isobel Campbell, Sky Ferreira is on ‘Black And Blues’ and I sing ‘Always Sad’ with William’s girlfriend, Bernadette. “How were things in the studio with William? The last time me and William tried getting in a studio, it got quite ugly and brutal, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go down. As it turned out, we seem to have mellowed. We weren’t really trying to kill each other for a change. We were actually making each other cups of tea. Well, I put some powdered glass in his tea, but he still seems to be alive.”
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leads. He goes more towards texture and adding interesting counterpoint to what is already there.”
PETER PERRETT Title To be confirmed Label To be confirmed Release date Summer
The Only One returns!
The Waterboys: funk and hip-hop!
THE WATERBOYS Title To be confirmed Label BMG Release date September
Includes “Jimi Hendrix electric fiddle” MIKE SCOTT: “It’s 20-plus new songs. It’s influenced by funk, soul and hip-hop. Even the rock’n’roll tracks are more like early rhythm and blues. Having David Hood in the band has been an influence. The groove for one song, ‘Hammerhead Bar’, is based on a 1967 Etta James record, ‘Watchdog’. David Hood played the original. I copped the groove from it and I played it to him and I said, ‘Can you play like you did on “Watchdog”?’ And he did! “I play a lot of the shit myself. Bass, keyboards, guitar, funky rhythm guitar – which is something I’ve never done much on record. Steve Wickham plays electric fiddle on seven or eight tracks – Jimi Hendrix electric fiddle! Ralph, our usual drummer, plays on some tracks but most are done using hip-hop loops.
Our keyboard player is Paul Brown, from Memphis. Spacebomb’s Trey Pollard has done arrangements for five songs. Absolutely beautiful work. There’s a choir on some songs, maybe 10 singers – a soul choir. My wife is Japanese so several songs are set in Japan, or feature Japanese names and characters. Three quarters of the album is love songs and the other quarter is mostly about musicians. ‘Hammerhead Bar’ is about famous musicians’ private bar, and there’s one called ‘Mr Charisma’ that is about a famous musician. When you hear the song, it’ll be clear who it is.”
started learning the songs that I was writing. We brought in an old friend of ours, Julian Lynch. I played music with him in many different bands when I was younger. He was the perfect guy; otherwise we would have ended up making the record as a four-piece and hiring someone to play the parts. I didn’t want to make another record that sounded like Atlas, which sounded pretty similar to Days. I didn’t want to keep the same formula going. Julian’s sound is very different from Matt’s guitar playing. He incorporates a lot more weird sounds, there’s distortion in there. His guitar is a little dirty. He’s not as much into hyper-melodic
T has only been 20 years since Peter Perrett last released new music. “Throughout my life, I failed to develop what most people refer to as a ‘work ethic’,” he tells Uncut via email. “Writing, singing and playing music was always FUN, never a career. As I got older, other avenues of fun grew in importance, to the eventual exclusion of music. Now, due to the ravages of time, I no longer have the desire to travel down the darker alleys of experience. Luckily, I am in the very privileged position of rediscovering my first love – music – to give me purpose in life. I have waited an extra few years, to get my voice back in shape.” Perrett has been recording, on and off, since November 2015 at Eastcote Studios and Konk in North London. The result is a 10-track album of new material. “Four of these are ‘love songs’, three and a half of which are about [his wife] Zena. I’ve only ever released one or two songs about her before. This shows a progression, maybe even a sign of maturity, that I am looking closer to home for inspiration. The rest of the songs are primarily existential, a couple with spiritual overtones. One song alludes to the state of the world. Any blatantly political songs have been left off.”
REAL ESTATE Title To be confirmed Label Domino Release date Spring
The jangling romantics get “a little dirty” on their fourth MARTIN COURTNEY: “I moved from Brooklyn to a small town called Beacon, in the Hudson Valley about an hour and a half outside New York City. I started writing songs up here. Matt Mondanile stopped being in the band earlier last year. By that time, I had already written half the songs for this record. Then in March, 2016, we all got together in Beacon. The remaining members of the band got Airbnb a couple of blocks from the house. We rented a studio space in this old converted high school and
Peter Perrett: love songs from the sofa
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Alynda Lee Segarra: challenging herself
HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF Title The Navigator Label ATO Records Release date March
eric ryAn Anderson
Bold, politically charged concept album from Alynda Lee Segarra and friends ALYNDA LEE SEGARRA: “I wrote a gospel song about three years ago called ‘The Navigator’. It came to me quickly, but I didn’t understand it. I started meditating on this idea of what a navigator represents in our crazy world and our political climate – it’s navigating identity and culture and gender and where do I fit in as I travel through the world. I was late for the game, but I finally started listening to Ziggy Stardust and I was inspired by the idea of having a storyline and an album that told the tale of a character. So this LP is about a girl, Navita, navigating through time and identity; as the album moves forward, you feel that everything’s changing and she’s starting to understand her role and her place
in history. She is trying to bring her people back to a sense of themselves and their history as they’re getting kicked out of where they live, the South Bronx. It does have a lot to do with the idea that those in power are separating themselves from the poor people and people of colour and dehumanising them. It’s definitely supposed to be an empowering battle cry for the people who are being pushed out. “I started working on it a year ago. Getting a lot of stuff together and demoing a lot. It wasn’t until April that we went into the studio and really tracked everything. Sadly, a lot of the songs I wrote at the time seemed dystopian ideas. ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Now it’s pretty much the worst you’ve ever seen – so it feels timely to put out. It took a while just to believe in it, that it made any sense. But it was really fun. It took a lot of play, a lot of imagination. I was listening to a lot of Puerto Rican music, a lot of music that came out of New York in the ’70s, like the beginning of salsa, and listening also to a lot of Tropicália, playing around with the idea of rhythm. It was a challenge to come up with something new.”
THE NATIONAL Title To be confirmed Label To be confirmed Release date To be confirmed
Matt Berninger and co reconvene for seventh
AST year, Aaron Dessner spoke to Uncut about Day Of The Dead, the mammoth Grateful Dead cover project he curated. Asked how this work might impact on a new National album, Dessner mused, “It’s affecting it in a positive way. A lot of the Day Of The Dead recordings were made with everyone playing in the room. That sort of spontaneity, capturing the chemistry of how we play together, might factor itself into the next National record.” By this point, the band had conducted preliminary work on the follow-up to 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, with frontman Matt Berninger revealing they had a long list of 30 songs. They are recording in Aaron Dessner’s new studio at his house in upstate New York, which he built specifically to fit the band’s needs (Dessner has reportedly been temporarily naming tracks after nearby towns). The band have intermittently previewed work-inprogress songs during shows in 2016, among them the grandly
named “Checking Out Of A Collapsing Space (Roman Candle)”, “Find A Way”, “The Lights” and “Prom Song 13th Century (Frankie And Johnny)”.
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS Title 50 Song Memoir Label Nonesuch Release date March 3
Stephin Merritt chronicles his 50 years alive with one song per year STEPHIN MERRITT: “The president of Nonesuch took me to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and said, ‘I think you should do an album commemorating your 50th birthday.’ I said, ‘You mean a 50-song album, one song per year?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You mean, 50 instruments and 50 genres?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ So it’s not clear to me how much of the idea was his and how much was mine. But I credit him with the whole idea. “We recorded it around my 50th birthday – February 9, 2015. I started recording at my 50th birthday party, although I forgot to put that recording into the album so in terms of the listener, I began recording the next day. I recorded mostly at home,
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is a No Wave rock’n’roll song. At the end, James Sedwards unleashes one of his most insane guitar leads on the record. There’s a little bit of an explosion.”
KEVIN MORBY Title To be confirmed Label Dead Oceans Release date June
Laura Marling: casting a protective incantation
Fourth outing from the Woods’ former bassist
Thurston Moore: raising consciousness
recording other musicians in New York, San Francisco and Boston. “I thought that I might get into the swing of writing autobiographically and being confessional. But it hasn’t made me want to open up to people. I also thought when I was going over my childhood, I would remember things that I hadn’t remembered before. But, if anything, my childhood memories have become solidified now I have used them in songs. It should serve as a warning to everyone not to do confessional songwriting.”
THE THURSTON MOORE GROUP Title Rock’n’Roll
Consciousness Label New Pleasure Release date April
Written on a sofa in Stoke Newington, we can exclusively reveal THURSTON MOORE: “The title came to me while I was teaching at the Jack Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics, a summer writing workshop at Naropa University. It got me in tune with ideas of art as basic positive activism in the face of oppression. So a lot of talk about the raising of consciousness, and I started thinking of what I really love about rock’n’roll and making noise. “The songs were written mostly around the later period of 2015. We went into the Church in Crouch End, London, with Paul Epworth. We worked there for four or five days. I had nine songs. The first is called ‘Exalted’, about goddess belief. It’s almost 10 minutes long. It slowly unfolds and then it goes into some kind of heavy noise pummel. There’s another song called ‘Cusp’. Thinking about having Deb Goodge in the band, I wanted to write a song that sounded like if My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth really did write a song together. ‘Smoke Of Dreams’ is probably the mellowest song on the record. It has a very Buffalo Springfield quality to it. I was thinking about my early 20s, living in New York City. ‘Aphrodite’
KEVIN MORBY: “I began the album
in October, 2015, at Panoramic Studios in Stinson Beach, California. It was blissful. You could see the tides roll in from the studio, deer ran through the front yard, and there was an outdoor shower. Then almost a year later I took all the basic tracking up to Richard Swift’s studio in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and finished it with just him. “The first song, ‘Come To Me Now’, is the only song on the record without any guitars. It is organ, synths, drums and some other auxiliary instruments. I play an old pump organ from the 1800s. If you listen closely you can hear the pump button squeak a few times as I’m pushing it. “The title track, which ends Side A, is special to me. It came together at a bunch of different practices with Meg Duffy and Justin Sullivan. It’s all about the guitar. I had that riff sitting around for a few years, was waiting for the right time to use it and glad it finally came together. “The last song on the album is my other favourite, and maybe my favourite over all. I wanted to create a certain vibe, and usually when you aspire to create something very specific in the studio it comes out feeling different; it can still be good, but it’s just different from what you initially set out looking for. But this one feels exactly how I wanted it to feel.”
Title Semper Femina Label Kobalt Label Services Release date March 10
Follow-up to Short Movie contains “a protective incantation” LAURA MARLING: “We recorded it in a studio in Burbank, a place called NRG, at the end of September last year. I wrote it while we were touring Short Movie. I pretty much only write on tour. It’s the only circumstance in my life in which I’m very social, but I think the urge to have solitary output is more when I’m on tour. After the tour, we went straight to LA for a month, rehearsed and then recorded this one. It’s Matt Ingram on drums, Nick Pini on bass, Pete Randall on guitar and Blake Mills on guitar, and he also produced it. ‘Soothing’ is my first and only co-write. Blake wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics. The idea behind it was to cast a protective incantation over the rest of the record, a mantra. “The album is about women looking at women in an empathetic way, in a loving way. Not solely – I don’t ever write a whole album with one thing in mind. But especially a song like ‘The Valley’, which is about a woman struck dumb for some reason – she is living her sadness out and someone is witnessing it and trying to reach out to them.”
Stephin Merritt: no technophobe
Readers! So those are some of the records we’re looking forward to this year - but what new LPs are you hoping will arrive in 2017? Write to us at uncut_feedback@ timeinc.com!
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Interviews by Michael Bonner
A Song For You LEON RUSSELL | 1942-2016
A celebration of one of rock’s most storied careers. Uncut remembers Leon Russell with a previously unpublished interview in which he looks back at his extraordinary life with Phil Spector, The Byrds, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Frank Sinatra. “My songs are tributes, a lot of the time, to things that are important in my life.”
Tom Copi/miChael oChs arChives/GeTTy imaGes
Words by ANDY GILL
eon Russell leant back in his chair, fondling the head of his walking cane, and cast his mind back to the sessions he played for Phil Spector. “There wasn’t much reading,” he recalled, “but there was a lot of hanging around. They could go on for 12-14 hours, the same song over and over again.” He smiled wryly at the memory. “Very tedious. Union sessions were three hours, so that would be 11 hours of overtime. A strenuous deal. But it paid good.” We were chatting sometime in the late ’90s, with Leon – who died on november 13, 2016, aged 74 – ensconced in an anonymous hotel suite in Knightsbridge. Although it had been some time since he was heard on the radio, he still struck an imposing figure: with a huge mane of silver-white hair matched by a long, bushy beard, and mirror sunglasses beneath a curvy white Stetson, his presence seemed to shrink the room, as if it was too small to house his charisma. But then, Leon always was a showman, certainly back in the early ’70s when, top-hatted and saturnine of countenance, he rubbed shoulders with the rock’n’roll elite, with Beatles and Stones queuing up to play on his debut album, and his own showcase
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slot at the Concert For Bangladesh, where he also joined George and Ringo as Dylan’s pick-up band. That degree of rock royalty access isn’t easily earned, but Leon was already a legend by then, having played on many of the greatest records ever made [see panel page 91], initially as a member of the Wrecking Crew, then as a composer and arranger in his own right. A pianist since the age of four, Russell began working professionally at 14, playing clubs in oklahoma, where his band The Starlighters would back up visiting rock legends. “There was a period, right after Jerry Lee Lewis got run out of england for marrying his cousin, that he wasn’t carrying a band, so when he played Tulsa he hired my band to back him up,” recalls Leon. “I had studied his rhythm section, so my band played all his stuff exactly the way his band had played on all of those songs. He was impressed.” Along with his friends JJ Cale, David Gates and elvin Bishop, Russell was instrumental in creating “the Tulsa Sound”, a light but potent blend of blues, funk and country, before he left town to become a session player in LA. There, he studied guitar with James Burton, and played piano in the house band for the pop show Shindig!, where he found a musical affinity for blue-eyed soul with guitarist Delaney Bramlett, with whom he would play in Delaney & Bonnie And Friends. And with the Wrecking Crew, he played on countless hits by Phil Spector, The Beach
Gettin’ down on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, Wadena, Minnesota, 1970
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ray avery/Michael Ochs archive/Getty iMaGes
With the Wrecking Crew in gold star studios, lA, 1965 : (l-r) don Randi, leon Russell, Al delory
Boys, The Byrds and many others. But unlike most session players, Leon was also an accomplished composer and arranger, although his greatest successes were in a very different style from the gospel-rock R&B rave-ups he favoured in his own shows. He proved equally adept at writing and producing for Gary Lewis & The Playboys, cranking out lounge-muzak albums, and pursuing whimsical psych ideas with fellow sessioner Marc Benno as The Asylum Choir. As a composer, his song “This Masquerade” resuscitated George Benson’s career, and his “Superstar” glowed under The Carpenters’ tender ministrations, while his signature tune “A Song For You”, a core standard of late 20th-century balladry, has been covered by hundreds of performers. His organisational skills helped Leon mastermind Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in the early months of 1970, drawing together a huge band and choir for some of the most thrilling shows ever played. This was the period of Peak Leon, as he became a featured contributor to stars’ records, and attracted heavy friends to play on his own debut album, while also co-founding with producer Denny Cordell his own record label, Shelter, on which appeared the earliest efforts by the likes of JJ Cale, Tom Petty and The Gap Band. Leon’s eponymous debut was quickly followed by the equally impressive Leon Russell & The Shelter People and oddball solo effort Carney. He then took a sharp turn towards country music with an enjoyable covers collection, Hank Wilson’s Back, presaging a future hook-up with Willie Nelson for the Willie & Leon albums. After that, however, Leon’s star faded from the mainstream, though he never stopped touring and releasing albums in a bewildering variety of styles, his prolific muse given even freer rein with digital recording. It seemed as if he had slipped into terminal obscurity until a few years ago, when Elton John’s partner, David Furnish, played one of his records on holiday, and Elton, touched by this sonic madeleine, burst into tears: always a huge fan, he had long considered recording with Leon, and this provided the impetus to finally make this pipe dream a reality. Their collaboration on The Union was a joyous alliance of likeminded spirits, as potent a record as either had made in years, and a suitably impressive valediction for one of rock’s most fertile talents. 88 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
“I’ve always been a student of the religious industrialist preachers”
When did you become part of the Wrecking Crew? I never heard that name until Hal Blaine’s The Wrecking Crew book came out; it was just manufactured at that time. I went to LA when I was 17, taking Leon Russell as my stage name when I did sessions – my ID card that I borrowed to play when I was underage was from a Cajun man, Lionel Debreaux; but people called me Russell, ’cos my real name is Russell Bridges, and I wanted to make it look like that was part of my name.
I believe you found being a brick in Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound rather tedious? It was tedious not from a standpoint of instrumentation, but due to his style – he liked to take a long time, unnecessarily in my view. He routinely used three pianos and five guitars, sometimes two drums, four or five horns, percussion… Sonny Bono used to play bells and shakers. The first sessions, the band sounded great on run-throughs – it was a large band in a small room – but Jack Nitzsche wrote the arrangements, and Phil never used the arrangements as far as I knew, he just started again. Later on it got so Jack never wrote anything out, he just put down the chords, knowing Phil was going to do whatever he wanted.
What other sessions did you enjoy more? I was fortunate enough to get to play on some Sam Cooke records that Don Costa made, and some Johnny Mathis stuff, and some of Aretha Franklin’s records for Columbia, before she had her hits. What happens in those situations is that you have certain conductors, and you end up doing all of their stuff. So I played on all of Jack Nitzsche’s stuff, and all of HB Barnum’s, Gene Page’s, Jimmy Bowen’s – I was doing all of his work at that time, so I got to play with Sinatra.
I was surprised to learn that you played on The Byrds’ “Mr Tambourine Man”. I played electric piano on it. At that time, it was common for bands not to make their own records, which is why it’s off to see people like Milli Vanilli having such a quandary about not playing on their records. It was the same on Phil’s stuff – Darlene Love sang many of The Crystals’ records and some Bob E Soxx records. But The Byrds, when they started out, were deemed inappropriate to play on their own records, so Roger McGuinn was the only one to play on the record; the rest was all studio guys. They sang on it, of course. Around that time, you started doing arrangements, notably the unusual ones for Harpers Bizarre… They were a Lenny Waronker group, and I had a partnership with Snuff Garrett, who worked for Liberty, the record company founded by Lenny’s dad, Si Waronker, so he called me up to help him make those records. On a record like “Feelin’ Groovy”, I used a sort of reed ensemble that had clarinets, bass clarinets, bassoon, flutes and so on. How did you learn to arrange charts? I read Mr [Henry] Mancini’s book. I got a chance to meet him at a fund-raiser in Jamaica before he died, and told him that I’d done 60 or 70 arrangements, all with his book by my side! I said, “You know, Maestro, I’m not a good enough reader to play on your records,” and he said, “Me neither!” You were also part of the Shindig! house band, alongside Delaney Bramlett, with whom you played in Delaney & Bonnie And Friends. Delaney Bramlett had a band called The Shindogs – I wasn’t actually in that band. I didn’t like the name, so I turned it down! I was on the show, in the house band, though. It was produced by this kinky Englishman called Jack Good, who had some shows in England at the same time, too. I have kind of a limp, and he was always trying to photograph me walking up ramps and stuff – he had a real odd idea about theatre, I thought! Tell me about Denny Cordell, who became your partner in Shelter Records. He was born in Argentina, but he’s an Englishman. He once told me he worked for the concessions agency that handled The Beatles, and after The Beatles happened, they decided, why don’t we just find a group and do the same sort of thingthey did? So he came up with Procol Harum and The Moody Blues. He had heard my pianoplaying with Delaney & Bonnie, and one time he was in America, he wanted to know if I could come over and play. I played him some songs he might want to do with Joe Cocker, and I ended up helping him produce the record, and after that we formed the label together. The most notable of those songs, I suppose, would be “Delta Lady”. That was one of the songs I played for him: there was “Delta Lady”, “Hello Little Friend” and “Out In The Woods”. I think I wrote that for Joe, from a line Dylan gave me. He used to come see me at the Fillmore in New York, after he’d that neck injury and wasn’t working for a while – he said, “I’ve been out in the woods for a long time, but I’m back now, getting ready to start playing again.”
Shelter’s biggest success was JJ Cale. Was that a surprise? He was a friend of mine from Tulsa,
gospel-swamp-funk gumbo: the many styles of leon Russell
ThE AsYlUm ChoiR look iNsidE
(1968) the first of two albums of americana-inflected psychedelia, leon’s Okie-drawl vocals bizarrely garlanded with kitchen-sink arrangements. 7/10
lEoN RUssEll (1970)
emblematic solo debut whose roster of guest players just kept getting longer, as sundry Beatles, stones and others dropped by Olympic studios to hang with leon. a high-octane collection of gospelly r&B raveups, still hugely entertaining. 9/10
lEoN RUssEll ANd ThE shElTER PEoPlE (1971) swamp-funk classic, with leon’s personality holding together several different backing units as they bring the funk to Dylan, cover George harrison on harpsichord and tabla, and pay earnest tributes to little richard, sci-fi speculation and the Native american protest at alcatraz. 9/10
CARNEY (1972) crazily diverse collection swinging wildly from pop to afro-rock, MOr to avant-garde and cajun, each handled with a deft grasp of its essentials and the wit to put them across. includes his biggest single, the cheery stagefright anthem “tightrope”. 8/10
lookiNg BACk (1973)
slipped out by another label to cash in on the success of “tightrope”, this featured mid-’60s lounge-muzak harpsichord
instrumentals of folk songs such as “Greenback Dollar” and “if i had a hammer”. Bizarre don’t come close. 6/10
lEoN livE (1973) a gargantuan live triple album of leon’s band in full flow – effectively a masterclass of rock’n’roll history, which he later regretted releasing, as it defused the shock impact of his show. 7/10
hANk WilsoN’s BACk (1973) surprisingly enjoyable, sprightly country-pop covers of c&W classics such as “roll in My sweet Baby’s arms” and “lost highway”, recorded at Bradley’s Barn in Nashville. 7/10
WilliE & lEoN
oNE FoR ThE RoAd (1979)
laidback southern accents in excelsis, as a duo of drawls ease their way unhurriedly through a set of standards, cosseted by leon’s orchestrations. 7/10
ElToN JohN & lEoN RUssEll ThE UNioN (2010)
Belated alliance of ivory-ticklers sprouts classic sounds in all directions, evoking variously the Band, the stones, swamp-funk and countryrock – in other words, all their shared influences. 7/10
liFE JoURNEY (2014)
valedictory album featuring songs significant in leon’s development, from a countrypolitan glide through “that lucky Old sun” to a gospel-swamp-funk take on “come On in My Kitchen”. 7/10
Russell at the offices of liberty Records, lA, circa 1968
and he, like me, was a pretty hard sell. That first record, “Crazy Mama”, we worked on that for six months before we got a response. Then later on, Eric Clapton picked up on his stuff and he developed a cult following. It surprised me, that style of music he was making, ’cos when I first saw John, he was playing guitar with an Elvis imitator in Tulsa, so he’s playing all the Scotty Moore stuff, he’d step out in front, take solos – all very showbiz. It seemed like when he started making his own records, he gravitated towards the rear of the stage and played with his back to the crowd. The price of fame, I guess! You released that wonderful album by Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”. What happened to him? He was a very strange guy, a beautiful singer and guitar-player and writer. I was dECEmBER 2016 • UNCUT • 89
xxx Michael Ochs archives/Getty iMaGes
How did the Mad Dogs & Englishmen project come about? Joe had fired the Grease Band, but he had 50 shows booked in the States and he was gonna cancel them. The Musicians Union told him that if he wasn’t going to play those shows, they weren’t going to let him play in the US again, so he was up against the wall with only four or five days, before the first show. So Denny asked me if I could put something together so he could make those first dates. I called everybody I’d ever played with, to try to get it done rapidly, so we had a lot of people showing up for auditions. I picked the basic band pretty fast, but what usually happens in those kind of deals is word gets round and about 300 people start showing up, so I hired some of them too. We had 45 at the start of that tour – about 20 in the band and 25 dancers, models and photographers, just on the stage.
leon russell xxxxxx
down in Austin playing a show and he came in my motel room, pulled out this beautiful custom Martin guitar, and played these incredible songs. I signed him right on the spot, took him up to my studio in Hollywood, brought Jimmy Keltner and Carl Radle and some others over to play, and he didn’t like that. He said, “You’ve got all these studio musicians messing up my music.” He was a troubled soul, and I think that early in the game he developed a strong aversion to the possibility of being famous. He did that one record, had a huge success, really, but never did another. He comes from money, though: that might have something to do with it. He likes to think of himself as a Woody Guthrie figure, but I think he’s more of a Donald Trump! Your first solo album came with a dedication to a long list of musicians. Was that a way of getting around contractual problems, giving credit without specifying they’d played? Yeah, all those people played on that record. At the time it was difficult, record companies wouldn’t allow people to play on other people’s albums. Glyn Johns was the engineer at Olympic, and he said, “Well, if you’re going to do that, you ought to have Eric to play on it, and we could have George and Ringo play this,” and I said, “OK, let’s have Eric, George and Ringo!” Oddly enough, they all agreed: on one session, George played guitar, Ringo played drums, Stevie Winwood played bass and I played piano; on another, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts played on “Roll Away The Stone”, with Stevie on organ. I remember at one point I said to Bill, I want you to play that thing you do that goes da-da-da-da-dah, and Bill looked over at Stevie and said, “Do you know who we are?”. Eric played on “Prince Of Peace”, and Ringo played on “Pisces Apple Lady”, with Stevie on bass and, I guess, George on guitar. Around the same time, you returned the favour on Eric’s debut solo album. Yes, I wrote a song with him and played on some of the stuff. He was around North Hollywood a lot at the time, with Delaney. I was so used to him making records that I didn’t realise it was his first solo album. Russell in transit on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, 1970
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In another direction entirely, you had huge success through writing “A Song For You” and “This Masquerade”. At a certain period, I tried to write standards. I was fascinated by them. With “A Song For You”, I was trying to write a song that both Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra could sing, a blues song that had qualities that a standard lounge singer could sing. My publisher took the song to Ray Charles before my record came out, and his response was that he didn’t like to do songs by people that sounded like him, because he didn’t want to be accused of stealing! So I was really pleased when he cut it about 23 years later and had a hit with it. But it had been cut 128 times, that I know of, before he cut it, and that was several years ago.
“With ‘A Song For You’, I was trying to write a song both Ray Charles and Sinatra could sing”
Presumably, the track “Stranger In A Strange Land” on your second album was inspired by the Robert Heinlein novel? Yes, that was the first sci-fi book I had read, and I was impressed with that style, that genre. My songs are tributes, a lot of the time, to things that are important in my life. The rap at the end is a tribute to gospel preachers: I’ve always been a student of the religious industrialist preachers – I’ve always been fascinated by that whole way of speaking and crowd interaction. What was it like producing Bob Dylan, on “Watching The River Flow”? Bob Dylan is a singularly fascinating artist to me, as he’s so different from anybody else. I’d heard these stories about him writing the songs on Nashville Skyline as he was recording – how, between takes, he’d go out and write the next song. I put a band together for him consisting of Jesse Ed Davis, Jim Keltner and Carl Radle, took ’em up
I’m your sessIonman 15 tracks graced by leon Russell
BoBBY ‘BoRis’ PiCkETT & ThE CRYPT-kiCkERs
The Monster Mash (1962)
king wizard: Russell in 2014
it was a graveyard smash! No really, it was. the most enduring novelty single of them all.
Da Doo Ron Ron (1963) to New York and made some tracks for him, then he wrote the songs to the tracks, and let me watch him as he wrote “Watching The River Flow” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. That song actually refers to that event: there’s a line in there that goes, “You’ll be right there with me when I paint my masterpiece” – he was referring to me watching him write! He walked round the studio, writing in a pad, and he allowed me to follow him around and look over his shoulder as he wrote the whole thing. I was really grateful for that. It took him about 10 minutes. He really does write like that; he even types like that, most of the time! You also made “George Jackson” with him, too. I played bass on that. We were actually cutting the master as the backing singers were walking into the room, and he motioned them over there, and they started singing along on the choruses. I said, “Do you want another take of this?” and he said, “Well, not really – if I make another take, it’s just gonna be different, and this’ll be great on this one and terrible on that one, and something else would be great on that one, so I think I’ll just keep this one!” He’s very prolific, he writes tons. He told me that when he was singing by himself, he would write four or five songs, sing them that night, and never sing them again. Your third album, Carney, features unusual sounds, such as the tribal African groove that closes “Out In The Woods”. A lot of that stuff is not conscious. I record in the studio every day, but I’m not good enough to decide what I’m doing beforehand. But I’ve always been interested in African percussion – I have an African percussionist named Ambrose Campbell who’s been with me for 20 years, who’s taught me a lot about that stuff.
Possibly the earliest of leon’s Wrecking crew sessions for Phil spector, this is the emblematic sound of pre-Beatles pop.
ThE RoNETTEs Be My Baby
One of the highwater marks of spector’s output, a truly symphonic expression of teenage ardour.
Winter Wonderland (1963)
and indeed, the rest of A Christmas Gift For You, still the most uplifting seasonal album of them all.
ThE BEACh BoYs
help Me, Rhonda (1965) But only the original album version; Brian Wilson himself played piano on the re-recorded single.
Your hook-up with Willie Nelson surprised a lot of people. He’s truly amazing. He has a very laissez-faire attitude – about everything, I think, but especially about the music.
Delta lady (1969)
leon’s anthemic tribute to rita coolidge provided a rollicking vehicle for cocker to rejuvenate his inner ray charles.
After Midnight (1970)
clapton’s first tentative solo steps were eased by leon’s assistance on this cover of his tulsa chum JJ’s sleek signature groove.
Which we never realised even had an electric piano on it…
Watching The River Flow
Mr Tambourine Man (1965)
ThE BEACh BoYs
The track “Carney” itself is a weird-sounding thing, like a calliope… I had one of those machines called the Chamberlin, invented by Harry Chamberlin, who was an engineer at Universal Studios: he invented the laugh-track machine they use on situation comedies, where you press a key and it produces any one of 60 different types of audience laughter. The Chamberlin is the musical version of that: I have one with four manuals, the biggest he made.
a huge hit, literally dashed off at rehearsal: campbell’s called-out instructions to the crew were simply edited out of the track.
California Girls (1965)
the signature West coast anthem, propelled by leon’s coolly cantering piano riff.
ikE & TiNA TURNER
River Deep, Mountain high (1966)
the pinnacle of spector’s Wall Of sound, acclaimed in Britain but crushingly ignored in america.
BoB DYlAN (1971)
leon takes his tulsa sound to New York, and gets Bob to boogie again, even if he don’t have much to say.
Try some, Buy some (1973) Originally written for ronnie spector, George’s version of his Hindu devotional was sung over a new mix of the same backing track (which reunited leon with producer Phil spector).
strangers in The Night (1966) Which the ingrate sinatra hated with a vengeance despite its resurrecting his dormant singing career.
The 59th st. Bridge song (Feelin’ Groovy) (1967) this baroque-pop classic was one of leon’s earliest arrangement successes. david mcclister
You were part of the first big benefit show, the Concert For Bangladesh. How did you get involved? Ravi Shankar had called George Harrison to see if he could help do something about this terrible famine in Bangladesh, so George called me and asked me about it. My idea was to have a non-profit organisation, with Buckminster Fuller at its head, and do several concerts a year – just set up a foundation, keep putting money in it, and use the interest. The gig was great. Bob Dylan was wanting to play with a band at that time, and when he got up on the stage, he started calling us up one by one: he called Ringo up to play tambourine, he called George up to play guitar, he called me up to play bass, which was a shock – who knows what that is?! – but it was one of those times when he was just coming back into the arena. It was a very gallant, honourable effort, which raised several million dollars.
Gentle on My Mind (1967)
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The Making Of...
A New England
by Billy Bragg
DaviD Corio/reDferns; jaCob bliCkenstaff; wiggy
An ideological, lovelorn classic by a one-man Clash, written in 1980 after a night in the pub: “No fucker was writing music I wanted to hear!”
wanted to be a different kind of singer-songwriter,” says Billy Bragg. “I wanted to bring some of the fire of punk to the genre. Spandau Ballet were a huge inspiration. when I saw them on telly singing ‘Chant no 1’ I had an epiphany, which was that no fucker is gonna come along and write music I want to hear, so I’m going to have to do it myself. that gave me the courage to take it on.” after the demise of punk-ish also-rans Riff Raff in 1980, Bragg joined (and swiftly left) the army, before reinventing himself as a one-man Clash. the centrepiece of his 16-minute, seven-song debut mini-album,
1983’s Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy, “a new england” was written in 1980 after a night in the pub. a highlight of Bragg’s live shows, both then and now, it’s emblematic of his unerring ability to fuse lovelorn poetry, sharp ideology, romantic idealism and exuberant melody. “It’s a political song in the sense that it recognises that after the struggle you need a hug from someone,” he says. Kirsty MacColl’s pop cover, which became a top 10 UK single the following year, added an extra dimension to “a new england”, both structurally and commercially. Bragg wrote an additional verse for MacColl, and since her death in
guitar, vocals, songwriting
Publisher, Chappell warner Music
a&r Charisma, manager
Billy Bragg, missing in Acton, West London, January 1984 92 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
2000 always sings her version when he performs it live. “Most people know the song from Kirsty’s recording,” he says. “that’s fine with me.” Over time, “a new england” has become a kind of anthem, honouring both Bragg’s brash youthful spirit, and the unique gifts of the woman who brought the song to wider prominence. not bad for 135 seconds of post-pub “determined thrum”, which shamelessly pilfers its opening lines from a Paul Simon song. GRAEME THOMSON BILLY BRAGG: In 1982, I was mostly doing solo word-of-mouth gigs around London. there was a pub called the tunnel, near the Blackwall tunnel, where I had a residency, opening for all kinds of bands. It allowed me to sharpen my stage patter and play a room that wasn’t really interested in what I was doing. I didn’t want to play folk clubs. If I’d had an acoustic guitar I couldn’t have done those gigs. I wouldn’t have had the sonic ability to cut through. JEFF CHEGWIN: Billy’s early gigs were electrifying. there was an energy. He did every gig he possibly could, and he could really self-promote. BRAGG: I’d written “a new england” towards the end of Riff Raff. the experience of seeing the two satellites and thinking of that metaphor came from walking back from the pub to where [the band] lived in Oundle, a little market town in east northamptonshire. It probably took me 20 or 30 minutes. I picked up on the Simon & Garfunkel line [the first couplet – “I was 21 years when I wrote this song/I’m 22 now, but I won’t be for long” – is identical to the opening lines of “Leaves That Are Green”, on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds Of Silence album] because it’s exactly where I was. It’s a bit of a steal, yeah! when Kirsty had a hit with it, Paul’s publishers got in
touch. I said, ‘Honestly, it’s a tribute.’ as a songwriter, Paul Simon was probably more of an influence on me than anybody. to give Paul his due, he came back and said, ‘that’s fine, just give us a credit on the sleeve.’ that was really big of him. He didn’t tell me off or nothing! CHEGWIN: I always thought “Is it wrong to wish on space hardware” was a really clever lyric. BRAGG: I only started playing it like the Ramones when I got the idea to play solo. I needed something with that determined thrum. “a new england” is all rhythm guitar, all bottom strings. that was my thing. Still is. I was working at a record shop in east Ham. the guy there had a portastudio, and he wanted to try it out on me. I went to his mum’s flat in Poplar and recorded the demos for Life’s A Riot. Melody Maker had a cassette review page, I sent it there, and adam Sweeting gave it a glowing review. He printed my phone number at the end of it, and a guy from Chappell Music Publishing, Jeff Chegwin, rang me up. CHEGWIN: I called the number and Billy picked up the phone. I said, “I work for Chappell Music, I’d like to hear your tape.” within a couple of hours it was at the reception. It was coarse, but I could hear the strength of the songs. “a new england” obviously leapt out. I called him and said, “I’ll help you get a deal if I can sign your publishing.” I must say there was
“Barney Bubbles said, ‘Choose an object for the cover.’ I chose the lamp… to illuminate the situation!” BILLY BRAGG more to Billy than just the songs. I sensed a presence, real character and intelligence. I had a gut instinct that this guy had it. BRAGG: we sent a few tapes out, but hadn’t got any response. I was talking to a mate of mine who painted backdrops for the Clash. I said, “I need a cross between a political mentor and a father figure.” He said, “I know someone like that: Peter Jenner.” I went down to Charisma to try to blag my way in with my tape. I was sitting in reception and getting no response. eventually someone came out and said, “are you the guy who’s come to tune in the video?” I said, “Yes, I am.” I crawled under the table and tuned it in, then I said, “Is Peter Jenner here?” He said, “that’s him over there,” so I laid my tape on him. PETER JENNER: He blagged his way into my office. He was obviously workingclass, so he couldn’t have been an artist – he must have been here to fix the telly. an assumption was made, but Billy responded to opportunities! He was a likeable chap, so I checked out the tape;
a lot of things came in that I didn’t check out. I listened to it on headphones in the garden, and it grabbed my ear. It was the thatcher era, and it seemed to me that a punk Bob dylan might be good. He had a drum machine, which I didn’t like. I encouraged him to get rid of that! BRAGG: Peter came to see me at the tunnel. He got lost, in classic Jenner style, and only saw the last number, but he was amazed at the hold I had on the audience. what he didn’t know was that five minutes before he arrived there had been a fight, tables had been turned, and the reason I was so intensely holding the audience was to stop it kicking off again. He asked a woman at the bar how I was and she said, “He’s incredible!” JENNER: I don’t think I even heard the last song! He was definitely coming offstage when I arrived. I did speak to a girl by the bar, and she said he was great. It was only later I discovered she was his girlfriend… BRAGG: as he left, he said to me, “we must do something, however trivial.” CHEGWIN: Pete said he would press 1,000 records for us if I covered the recording costs. at the time Chappell Music had a little eight-track studio at the back of the building. It was for the successful songwriters, to collaborate and write songs. I just hijacked it! they were all quite furious. they thought it was quite strange, a guy doing an album, electric guitar and voice. Ollie Hitch was the FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 93
Street busker Bragg, complete with Portastack PA system on his back, USA, August 13, 1984
“I only started playing the song like the Ramones when I got the idea to play solo”
DAILy ExPRESS/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTy IMAGES; KERSTIN RODGERS/REDfERNS
BIlly BRAGG resident engineer. He did everything. BRAGG: I’m not sure Oliver even knew he was making a record! I just went in and played my live set, but out of the 12 tracks only seven really worked, which is how the mini-album came about. I did double-figure takes of “A New England”. It took me several goes because it was an important song to me, a song people were responding to, and I wanted to make sure I got a definitive version. Oliver recorded it live to quarter-inch tape. I was playing my old Arbiter Les Paul Jr copy, the only guitar I had, through a little Cube 60 amp. I wanted a lot of reverb on it so it sounded like The Sun Sessions. It wasn’t flat, it was bouncing off something, which might be why it’s managed to keep its energy. JENNER: It was bish bash bosh. He made the LP in two sessions. The songs were short, and it lasted 16 minutes. All I had to do was get it mastered and do a sleeve. It was the same price as a 12-inch single – £2.99 – and the pricing gave me the idea of it being like a Penguin paperback. I got Barney Bubbles to do it. It was consciously sending out signals as to what it was.
fact file Written by: Billy Bragg Personnel: Billy Bragg (guitar, vocals) Produced by: Oliver Hitch Recorded: Chappell Music, Park Street, London Released: May 1983
BRAGG: I was a huge fan of Barney Bubbles’ work with Stiff, particularly Elvis Costello, and he was right on it. He said, “Choose an object to be on the cover.” I chose the lamp. I wanted to illuminate the situation. When I was originally trying to get gigs, I’d tell people that I was Spy Vs Spy. Billy Bragg sounded like a bloke with a guitar; Spy Vs Spy sounded like a concept duo. So I went with that. JENNER: Life’s A Riot came out originally on Charisma. When they went down the tubes shortly after I thought, ‘What am I going to do with it?’ By that point I’d become involved [in Bragg’s management] and I thought I’d get a deal for him, but no one wanted to know. But Andy MacDonald at Go Discs! loved him and I gave in. Andy did an incredible marketing job. He made sure everybody heard Billy’s record. CHEGWIN: Famously, Billy and I were playing football in Hyde Park, and John Peel said on air that he wanted a
mushroom biryani, so we bought one and took it round to the BBC. Lo and behold, Peel came down and we gave him the biryani – and the album. As we got in the car he was talking about it and said he was going to play a track. He championed Billy. From there it gained life. JENNER: He was off and running. “A New England” was obviously a terrific song, but what made everybody else really listen was Kirsty MacColl’s version, which was just fantastic. BRAGG: Kirsty came to see me at the Greyhound. She said, “You should change the gender and write me an extra verse. Come around tomorrow, I’ll cook you an English breakfast, and we’ll knock it out together.” I more or less had it by the time I got there. I had three or four ideas, she chose two and went with it. When she sent me the cassette of what they’d done I thought it was amazing. Unbelievably, some people wrote to NME and complained about it! To me, it just proved I could write great pop songs. Kirsty’s hit made Life’s A Riot into a gold record. It had topped the indie charts, but Kirsty gave it a whole new lease of life. Now, “A New England” is a lovely way to finish shows, and it gives me a chance to recognise Kirsty. It’s a great irony that having started out saying I don’t want to change the world and that I don’t want a new England, I’ve spent most of my career trying to change the world and talking about new ideas for Englishness. I embrace that irony! INTERVIEWS: TOM PINNOCK
time line 1977: Bragg forms Riff Raff. Over the next three years they release a handful of unsuccessful singles 94 • UNCUT • FEBRUARy 2017
1980: Bragg writes “A New England”. Riff Raff split shortly afterwards 2-4 february, 1983: Records “A New England”
for Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy at a London studio Summer 1983: 1,000 copies of Life’s A Riot… released on Charisma
imprint Utility. Then in November, the album is re-issued on Go! Discs January 1984: Life’s A Riot… hits No 30 in the UK
December 1984: Kirsty MacColl releases her version of “A New England”. It peaks at No 7 in the UK charts
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How the prolific garage rocker finds freedom through sonic exploration…
WANT to try everything, for sure,” insists Ty Segall. The Californian, not yet 30, is looking back over the mass of records he has produced in the past decade. “By the time I made [2010’s] Melted, I had solidified my idea of ‘Don’t do anything twice if you don’t have to.’ I’m not saying I’ve totally stuck to that rule, but for me there should always be a different spin on it.” Since rising from the San Francisco underground at the end of the last decade, Segall has found room to explore garage-rock concept albums like Slaughterhouse, hushed acoustic folk, stoner jams with his trio Fuzz, and pouting, acid-glam epics such as Twins and Manipulator. Along the way, he’s collaborated with White Fence’s Tim Presley, and paid tribute to his hero Marc Bolan. His new, self-titled album, meanwhile, is a fine entrance point into his work, expanding his heavy electric and acoustic songs far out into psychedelic improv. “I realised I could just do what I wanted to do on a record,” he explains of his Neil Young-like quest to experiment, “and if no-one liked it, who cares. It’s more about allowing myself to be free.” TOM PINNOCK
TY SEGALL TY SEGALL
CASTLE FACE, 2008
Written while Segall was in The Traditional Fools, this was an aggressive, distorted – and, at 24 minutes, brief – debut, with everything played by Ty himself TY SEGALL: In The Traditional Fools, we were very democratic in the writing process, and eventually I started stockpiling my own songs. I didn’t know what to do with them, because I was really insecure about putting something out under my name. I recorded a tape first, Horn The Unicorn, and that’s a band version of a lot of these songs. I was working at a radio station and I got fired for not showing up for my shift, which is understandable. But I was still friends with the director of the station, and I gave him my tape. He was like, “This is amazing, man, you should do something with this.” So I decided to play some shows. I felt really weird about calling a band my name, though, so I just started doing things as a one-man band. Then I decided to re-record all the songs one-man-band-style, so I could have something to give away at the shows. My buddy Kyle was one of the only guys I knew who had an eight-track, so I went over 96 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
to his basement and did it all in two hours. A little-known fact is that this is a digital record – but I think those things sound great. I gave it to [Thee Oh Sees’] John Dwyer after he saw The Traditional Fools play, asking him if he knew of anyone who might want to put it out. He gave me the addresses for In The Red, Sub Pop, all these labels, and none of them responded. He was like, “Fuck it, I’ll put it out.”
MELTED GONER, 2010
Segall teams up with engineer Eric Bauer for his third album, which adds more obvious hooks to his garage fuzz, and introduces some new collaborators Bauer was a silk-screener and did T-shirts on the side. While we were talking, he mentioned that he did some recording, and I figured
Ty Segall and furry friend, 2011
out that he had helped record some of the Hospitals stuff, some of the Sic Alps stuff and some of the early Oh Sees stuff. I asked him how much he charged, and he was like, “Ah, don’t worry about it, just come in and we’ll play it by ear.” At that time, he had a Tascam 388, two preamps, a Space Echo, a compressor and maybe four or five microphones, and that was it. But it was definitely the most hi-fi stuff I had done up to that point on an actual tape machine, so that was really cool. There’s a lot of people on this one – Tim Hellman, who’s in Thee Oh Sees now, is on bass, Emily [Rose Epstein, drummer] is on “Caesar”, Charles [Moothart] double drums on “Girlfriend”, Mike Donovan from Sic Alps does the vocals on “Mike D’s Coke”. Back then, I was way more loose and I was kind of obsessed with trying to do things differently. So on at least one or two of these songs, the drums
“I put on Electric Warrior and it’s like, ‘Holy fucking shit, no wonder this guy was as big as The Beatles in England!’” TY SEGALL
were laid down after the guitar, because I liked how fucked up it sounded. Nowadays I would rather just have me and Charles go in and lay down drums and guitar, you know? But doing it the other way, it’s like Skip Spence’s Oar or Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, you can tell the drums are laid down afterwards, and it’s pretty cool. It was cool around this time to be able to tour, and start to realise, ‘OK, I think maybe we could be a working band…’
TY SEGALL TY REX GONER, 2011
A low-key set of Bolan covers results in one of Segall’s most relaxed recordings. First an EP, it was expanded into an LP in 2015 Goner were like, “Hey, we’re gonna do something for Record Store Day, do you wanna do a limited-release LP?” In all honesty, I was like, “I’m not doing 10 songs that are limited to 1000 copies.” You work hard on a song, man, you want it to be in print, you know? But I came around to the idea that I
should do something that you’re not supposed to do, cover one of the greats or whatever. So I thought, well, you’re totally not supposed to do a T.Rex cover record, it’s pretty ballsy and kind of stupid. They gave me a couple hundred bucks and I went and recorded it. It’s just straight-up a stupid and fun thing to do, with nothing but the utmost respect for Bolan. It should not be taken super-seriously. I didn’t wanna do all the massive hits – I’m a truly deep fan, I love everything, and I wanted to do some of the weirder ones, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex ones, because a lot of people don’t know those records. I love Electric Warrior, but in my opinion, Unicorn or T.Rex are the mindblowers for me. But of course, now I put on Electric Warrior and it’s like, ‘Holy fucking shit, no wonder this guy was as big as The Beatles in England!’ I want to do another record where I’m just covering all of my friends’ songs.
TY SEGALL & WHITE FENCE HAIR
DRAG CITY, 2012
Segall teams up with Tim Presley for a collaborative album embracing twisted acoustic
ballads, schizophrenic pop and motorik jams I knew Tim’s brother, Sean Paul – he had a band called Nodzzz, and Traditional Fools would play with Nodzzz all the time. But strangely I never got to meet Tim in that era, but I’d heard about him and his band, Darker My Love. Fast forward to 2010, and I flipped out about the first White Fence album – I thought it was the best thing anyone had done in years – so I became an obsessed fan and started going to any White Fence show I could. A couple of my friends actually joined White Fence, and I got to know Tim. It was like asking somebody out on a date, like, “Hey man, can we write some music together?” We originally talked about just doing a split 12-inch where we would each do four songs on a side, and then we decided, “Fuck it, let’s just write some songs.” The day before we went into the studio, we met up for two hours to try and write a song or two. We wrote “Time” together with two acoustic guitars on the fly. It ended up that we each contributed two songs each, and then the rest
was written together. Everything was recorded in four days at Bauer’s, pretty wild, pretty wham-bam style. Tim is such an insane musician, his lyrical workflow is unparalleled. Lyrics are the hardest part for me, so it was cool, we worked really well together. I think there’s a time and a place for a long record and a short record, but I like that this one’s short – technically, Drag City said it’s the shortest LP they’ve released – they wanted to call it an EP, and I was like, “Hell no, this is not an EP.” Tim and I are actually talking about a follow-up at the moment.
TY SEGALL BAND
SLAUGHTERHOUSE IN THE RED, 2012
Writing and recording with his live band, Segall crafts a brutal concept album, also featuring a freeform hymn to his effects pedal of choice, Death By Audio’s Fuzz War I started to understand that there’s two kinds of records, an overdub record and a band record. I had never done the band record, and I’m looking round at my band and I’m like, “Everyone in it is
insanely talented, we’ve gotta do a band record.” I had the beginnings of maybe four of these songs, so I brought them to the guys and we wrote everything else together. Originally we were just gonna do a six-song EP, but we ended up recording 12 songs. I’m very happy it’s an LP. I had “Death” and “Slaughterhouse” written, and I had “I Bought My Eyes” a little bit, but not finished. Then lyrically it all started to shift, and by the time we’d finished the fifth song I was like, “Guys, this is a total concept record, let’s tweak it to go there.” It was cool to have that naturally happen instead of having it so mapped out. It’s about a war, so I thought, ‘We need to end this with a battle, an auditory battle! So let’s make a noise track called “Fuzz War”.’ I’ve talked to a lot of people who say, “That record’s great, but that ‘Fuzz War’ song – not cool!” And I’m always like, “Thanks for your opinion, man, but that’s kinda why I put it on there, so people like you wouldn’t like it.” I think this band is done – we all kind of agreed. Everything’s cool, but we just didn’t wanna tour that band into the ground and make it not fun anymore, so we decided to just throw up a peace sign and move on. FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 97
The touring band, Tufnell Park, London, August 2012: (l-r) Mikal Cronin, Ty Segall, Charles Moothart and Emily Rose Epstein
Album by album TY SEGALL
MANIPULATOR DRAG CITY, 2014
TY SEGALL TWINS
DRAG CITY, 2012
On his fifth solo LP, Segall doses 12 infectious songs with the acidic psych of glam, processed through the ever-present Fuzz War pedal I was back in a basement for this one, but it was cool because Bauer had all this crazy new gear, so we were like kids in a candy shop. It’s crazy, he only got $500 to make Melted with me, as that’s all we had. But by that point, we had a bunch more money to throw around, so it was cool. We got to do everything at Bauer’s, then mix it at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, where CCR recorded. We did almost the whole thing, and then Bauer got a new snare mic and we did the last song, and it sounded so much better that we were like, “Fuck man, we gotta re-record the whole record!” So we did. It’s a step up in fidelity, that one, for Bauer. It was totally worth starting over. If Slaughterhouse was the sketchy, almost punk record, then this was the super-fucked up pop version of that. When I was 15, it was like rock’n’roll was not cool with the punks or the weirdos – when dance-punk was going on, and the end of screamo and noise-rock. By the time I was in San Francisco, rock’n’roll still wasn’t cool, but you could do garage rock stuff. But at that time, to do a glammy thing was not cool, that’s why I was excited about it. I’m happy rock’n’roll is OK, nowadays, to try again! I used to be a total garage rock purist when I was 20. I’m so much more musically open-minded now. Also, I wasn’t so insecure about singing or production. You know, it’s kind of a truth in garage rock that people hide behind echo and distortion, and I started to get into the idea of not hiding in certain ways, like I used to. [2011’s] Goodbye Bread was my anti-garage rock record. It’s crazy, ’cos listen to it now and it’s not shiny, it sounds like it’s on tape, but at that time I was like, “This is so clean and frightening and vulnerable…” Many of my albums have ideas that predated the recording – with Twins, it was “I wanna do a pop record where every guitar is a Fuzz War guitar.” 98 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
Segall’s most ambitious record, the effervescent Manipulator takes a tour from rock to folk to Krautrock over 17 epic tracks With [2013’s] Sleeper, I needed to see if I could write songs that held out on their own. If I can’t write a good song on acoustic guitar, something’s up with me. I wrote Sleeper really quickly, and cut it at home on my [Tascam] 388, and I was like, ‘This is genuine and real.’ After that, it was interesting for me to write from other perspectives, even if they were made-up characters. That’s how Manipulator came about, it was an exercise in trying out different lyrical stylings. A lot of my records have a loose concept. This one’s kind of a media blitz thing. “The Crawler” is an evil rock star! I spent a month recording this with Chris Woodhouse, which is the longest by far that I’ve ever taken. There are merits to it, but you start to lose perspective. The Dock studio is cool, it’s right next to a banana factory. Usually I’m very quick with the basic tracks, ’cos I like shit being fucked up in a weird way, but that was the one thing Chris and I agreed on – he was like, “I’m gonna be strict with you on drums and singing.” There’s a definite difference in my singing after Manipulator – I learned a lot about recording vocals. We did like 50 takes for some songs, to get them absolutely right. Same with drums, he’d be like, “Ah, you sped up in the middle, I don’t think it’s gonna be good.” That was great.
IN THE RED, 2015
The second album by Segall’s power trio – also featuring regular collaborator Charles Moothart – is an epic journey through Sabbathstyle stoner-rock, with Ty on drums Oh dude, playing in Fuzz rules! It’s so much fun. I love playing drums, especially in that kind of a band. Charles is the craziest guitar
Segall in 2016: “I wanna do the shiniest glam rock record”
player I know, he’s insane, so it’s cool ’cos I feel like there’s a relationship that everyone has in that band that’s pushing each other to try things they’ve not done before. A lot of the drumming I wouldn’t have felt comfortable trying until we became a band and we pushed ourselves to go there. It was exciting being in Sunset Sound – we were all like, “How the fuck did this happen?” We had six days there. I had bought the tape machine and board that Bauer had for Goodbye Bread and Twins, ’cos he’d upgraded to a crazy MCI board and a two-inch 24-track Studer. So I was like, “Dude, if you ever want to sell the other 16-track…” We took those to Sunset Sound, did all the live tracks there, then brought the machine back to my house and finished it there. It was a total trialand-error situation, a little sketchy, but super fun. Everything was written before we went in, but we had to spend a day at Sunset Sound fleshing out and deciding some parts on a few songs, like “Silent Sits The Dustbowl”. For [closing, 14-minute jam] “II”, we had jammed that out at practice to the point where we had a beginning and end, and the middle was different every time. Every day in the studio we did a version of that one, and the best version we kept. Fuzz is super-rewarding for me. I’m thankful Charles wanted to do it, as his guitar-playing and songwriting is amazing. Fuzz is, I’d say, two-thirds Charles’ writing and a third mine. The cool thing about Fuzz is it seems like we do something every three years. We’ll probably start thinking about the next album when everyone slows down with their own bands.
“In garage rock, people hide behind echo and distortion, and I got into the idea of not hiding” TY SEGALL
TY SEGALL TY SEGALL DRAG CITY, 2017
Cut live with a group, Segall’s ninth solo album veers from crunching grunge (“Break A Guitar”) and Dead-style explorations (“Warm Hands”) to tender acoustic pieces (“Orange Color Queen”) It felt good to do another selftitled album as a refresher moment, especially after [2016’s] Emotional Mugger. This record doesn’t have a spin – Mugger was a super-sketchy concept record thing, Manipulator was like “I wanna do the cleanest, shiniest glam rock record”… They all have a thing, and the thing for this record was that I recorded it live with a band. There’s a couple of overdubs, but that’s a band playing. It’s the same idea as Slaughterhouse, but with my songs. Emmett Kelly’s on guitar, we got [Mikal] Cronin on bass, Charles is on the drums now, and my friend Ben Boye is playing piano and Wurlitzer, and I’m on guitar and singing. That’s gonna be the band for the indefinite future, as well. “Warm Hands” is a story, it’s a total concept song, so I was like, well, we need to have a reprise. Originally, “Warm Hands” and the song before it, “Freedom”, was all supposed to be one song, but I decided it was too long, and that it would be more interesting because of the reprise moment to have it be its own song. I forget what record I was listening to, where they just brought back a chorus from the A-side on the second-to-last song, and I thought it was just the coolest move. As for the jam on “Warm Hands”, I love the Grateful Dead. I know a lot of people don’t like them, but everyone in the band now is a heavy Deadheads. Ty Segall’s new eponymous album is released in the UK on January 27 through Drag City
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WILCo/WILLIAM TYLER Albert Hall, Manchester, November 18, 2016 A shot in the arm! Jeff Tweedy and co administer a strong dose of hope in dark times
T’s been just over a week since the Us decided on its next president, and feelings are still raw in the Wilco camp. Within days of Trump’s victory, Jeff Tweedy made an impassioned plea on Facebook, urging Us citizens to forgo the rhetoric and actively begin helping those left most vulnerable by the fallout. A defiantly hopeful message, this call for decency also suggested “a new era of civic responsibility”. It was a rare public pronouncement from Tweedy. since Wilco started their European tour in October, he’s been
100 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
avoiding the press for the most part. This isn’t a particularly unusual tactic, given his routine dislike of the interview process, particularly its tendency to make him feel overly self-conscious and, as he’s put it, “a little embarrassed for myself”. He prefers instead to save his counsel for lyricwriting, viewing Wilco’s ultimate goal as the continuation of a deep-seated bond with their audience. There’s certainly a sizeable one here tonight, packed into a sold-out Albert Hall. It’s a curiously ornate venue, a refurbished Wesleyan chapel with columns, horseshoe gallery and stained-glass windows.
Behind the scenes, the quickest route from one side to another is to crouch through the darkness beneath the stage. This is the route that William Tyler and I take, navigating our way to a tiny brick vault that serves as a green room. Tyler has been supporting Wilco since opening night in Brussels. “It’s been interesting to share the space and stage with these guys,” he says, sipping from a bottle of water. “We’re all still in shock about the election. On a general level, it tore a scab off the way a lot of liberal people were feeling. As Jeff said on Facebook, let’s not shrink from the moment, because this is a challenge.” Half an hour earlier, Tyler had supplied a scintillating solo set. He’s astonishing to witness up close, an instrumental guitarist in the foraging tradition of Robbie Basho and Glenn Jones, occupying a space where avant-folk, blues, raga-rock and psychedelia are free to intermingle. Great flurries of notes drive the acoustic “Missionary Ridge”, for instance, at variance with the circular drone that gives
L i VE I’m the man who loves you: Jeff Tweedy sings Manchester’s praises
Wilco are a formidable live unit, each man locked into the flow of these wavering grooves the fully plugged “We Can’t Go Home Again” its electric charge. Onstage, he dedicates “Highway Anxiety”, one of the standouts from latest LP, Modern Country, to local legend Vini Reilly. The Durutti Column, he reveals, are a huge influence on Tyler’s progressive guitar style, with its meditative rhythms and shifting fluctuations. Indeed, this part of the world exerts a peculiar pull for both visiting parties. Tyler tells me that he and the Wilco guys spent the previous night in a Manchester curry house, marvelling at
problems,” he continues, still the sheer proliferation of talent WILCO SETLIST in jovial mode. “Then we get to emerge from the north-west 1 normal to the UK and what happens? of England. Tweedy spent much american kids Thanks, Brexit!” of the day singing old Fall tunes, 2 if i ever was This mock outrage turns while guitarist Nels Cline has a child out to be the only vaguely been caning the Bunnymen’s 3 cry all Day political comment of the Heaven Up Here on the tour bus. 4 i am Trying night. Wilco have, it seems, “They’re all quite a bit older To Break Your Heart more sensory matters to than me and most of them are 5 art Of almost attend to. Their command of married with kids,” says Tyler 6 Pickled Ginger the whole loud/quiet thing of his touring companions. 7 Misunderstood is brilliantly illustrated on “Everybody has fun, but it’s 8 Someone “Via Chicago”, followed by a all very professional. There’s To Lose bolshy version of “Bull Black nothing going on with this tour 9 Pot kettle Black Nova” that ends with Tweedy that you can’t tell your parents 10 Via chicago 11 Bull Black nova feeding back his guitar into about. Wilco feels like an old12 reservations the monitor. And the highlight school band with their own 13 impossible of “Impossible Germany” crew, like a family. And Jeff is a Germany is a Cline showcase that’s very warm presence. The music 14 we aren’t frankly staggering, his whole is searching for the truth – it’s The world body shaking with the jarring trying to connect with people (Safety Girl) 15 Box Full intensity of his elongated solo. – so it also has that energy Of Letters The song is proof positive, if it surrounding it.” 16 Heavy Metal were ever in doubt, that Wilco Almost on cue, Wilco appear Drummer are a remarkable jam band. below us at the bottom of the 17 i’m The Man The appearance soon after of stairwell, talking softly in a who Loves You “Box Full Of Letters”, a fairly pre-gig huddle. The fervour that 18 Hummingbird 19 The Late Greats generic roots exercise from greets their arrival on stage, ENCoRE 1 1995 debut, AM, only serves minutes later, is tempered by the 20 random name to demonstrate just how far low-key nature of the opening Generator they’ve travelled over the past three songs. “Normal American 21 Jesus, etc couple of decades. Kids”, “If I Ever Was A Child” 22 Locator There’s a collective sigh and “Cry All Day” are indicative 23 Spiders of nostalgia for the gently of the pastoral tone of Schmilco, (kidsmoke) ENCoRE 2 purring “Jesus, Etc”, part the chill of Tweedy’s forlorn, 24 a Shot in of a four-song encore. It’s sour lyrics offset by the warm The arm utterly dwarfed, however, rasp of his voice and relatively by an immense “spiders subdued musical settings. (Kidsmoke)”, its Neu!-ish The spell is ruptured by a convulsions gradually drowned out sublime “I Am Trying To Break Your by Tweedy and Cline’s clanging power Heart”, the first of five airings from 2002’s chords. Returning for “A shot In The Arm”, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the LP that rescued the last tune of the night feels like a beatific Wilco from the alt.country ghetto and comedown. Tweedy declares this the best repositioned them as experimental Manchester show of Wilco’s life, which art-rockers. The melodic simplicity of might sound like a pat statement had he not Tweedy’s vocal line is slapped aside by appeared so reluctant to vacate the stage a mighty Cline lick, before all is blitzed at all. Wilco remain a prize Us rock’n’roll by white noise and blinking strobes. band. But what really impresses is how Their first truly transcendent moment long they’ve managed to sustain such a arrives with “Art Of Almost”. Glenn level of excellence. When most groups Kotche’s breakbeats snap, bassist John of their vintage have settled for a default stirratt lays down an unyielding throb, Pat sansone and Mikael Jorgensen conjure position of something cosy and familiar, they exhibit no signs of slowing up or synthetic textures that border on the reining in their exploratory tendencies. On symphonic. It’s all crowned by a heaving this form, in fact, it’s wholly feasible that solo from Cline, who steers the song Wilco haven’t yet hit their peak. ROB HUGHES towards its blazing climax. The lineup has remained in situ since 2004 ,and it shows. Wilco are a formidable live unit, each man locked into the flow of these wavering grooves, intuitive enough to cede ground or grasp the mantle when required. Between-tune chatter is at a premium. In fact, it takes a speaker failure, deep into the atonal heart of “Pot Kettle Black”, to elicit anything at all from Tweedy. striding to the lip of the stage, he calls out towards the mixing desk, doing his best to explain that the see-saw sound isn’t deliberate. “some of our arrangements are like that anyway,” he jests, the Tweedy of today far more relaxed in a situation like this than the uptight figure whose early gigs were often characterised by a siege mentality. “We’ve played all over the world this year, with no FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 101
L i VE
hiss golden messenger: mC Taylor, centre – sharing epiphanies
hiss golden messenger Village Underground, london, december 5, 2016 The inspiring gospel of MC Taylor: Say It Like You Mean It!
he ironies of success, even on a small scale, have not often been so pointed. here is MC Taylor, introducing a song about the emotional strain of being a father in a touring band, about the guilt of abandoning the school run for road jaunts across North America and Western europe. The song is called “Cracked Windshield”, from the sixth hiss Golden Messenger album, Heart Like A Levee, and since it was released last October the poignancies have multiplied. If Heart Like A Levee documented Taylor’s fraught attempts to balance domesticity with artistic fulfilment, subsequent acclaim has created more demand, and only made the situation more complex. Nevertheless, Taylor introduces the album’s most conflicted song with an emphatic statement of satisfaction: “Man,” he says, “I would not trade this for anything.” Taylor’s humility, and his air of a man making the most of long-awaited opportunities, is contextualised by the fact that he’s been chasing them for the best part of two decades – from the hardcore squalls of ex-Ignota, through the putative country rock of The Court & Spark, and on into the long, evolving saga of hiss Golden Messenger. At this point, live incarnations of the band suggest a close musical community in constant flux. Previous lineups have included independent talents like William Tyler, Nathan Bowles and, most recently, Tift
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SETLIST 1 as the Crow Flies 2 Biloxi 3 Red Rose nantahala 4 Saturday’s Song 5 Mahogany dread 6 day o day (a Love So Free) 7 Heart Like a Levee 8 tell Her I’m Just dancing 9 Happy day 10 Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer 11 Call Him daylight 12 I’ve Got a name For the newborn Child 13 I’m a Raven (Shake Children) 14 Say It Like You Mean It 15 John the Gun 16 Cracked Windshield 17 Lucia 18 Southern Grammar EncorE 19 Brother, do You Know the Road?
Merritt, while the current touring roster includes three other musicians who’ve released fine solo records in the past 18 months: keys and slide maestro Phil Cook; bassist Scott hirsch; and guitar/banjo player Ryan Gustafson (as The Dead Tongues). So many autonomously creative artists under one banner sounds like a recipe for friction and ego, but that would underestimate the fraternal empathies nurtured by Taylor. hiss shows, whatever the configuration, have grown into loose, unostentatious celebrations of virtuosity, and tonight is no exception. Initially, it seems as if a bunch of Taylor’s questing engagements with American tradition have been reconfigured to showcase the needlepoint wonder of Gustafson’s electric lead lines. Their cover of “Brown eyed Women” is omitted, but Gustafson’s agile channelling of Jerry Garcia sends
It’s HGM’s insistent pursuit of a groove that’s most striking
the likes of “Saturday’s Song” beyond its roots in Ronnie Lane vernacular and away towards something more cosmic. When he switches to banjo, and Cook steps out from behind his keyboard to take lead, it’s as if Garcia’s been subbed out in favour of Ry Cooder: a huddled boogie at the death of “I’ve Got A Name For The Newborn Child” is almost ridiculously intricate and, at the same time, apparently effortless. Plenty separates hGM’s work from most other artists tentatively sorted into the Americana category: Taylor’s nuanced honesty and disdain for selfmythologising, for a start. But it’s their insistent pursuit of a groove that’s most striking, so that “Like A Mirror Loves A hammer” has a kind of supple intensity that echoes the stripped-back funk of Curtis/Live!. “Tell her I’m Just Dancing”, meanwhile, is propelled by downstroke skanks that make Taylor’s love of reggae, as a votive dance music, more explicit than before. It’s a combination of air and heat that pervades even the climactic processional of “Brother, Do You Know The Road?” Taylor’s understanding of how music can be a healing ritual – one where ordinary life embraces the transcendent, and which unites both players and audience in a shared series of epiphanies – becomes stronger and more profound as his following grows. he invokes crowd singalongs, on a rousing “heart Like A Levee” and an outstandingly soulful “Day O Day”, as a means to confound cynicism, no matter how dark it gets. By the end of “Brother…”, Taylor’s in the crowd without his mic, hollering the refrain, at once anguished and triumphal. The road through autumn and early winter is almost done: soon enough, it’ll be time to go home. JOHN MULVEY
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PERFORMING SONGS FROM THESE PEOPLE, HIS SOLO ALBUMS AND THE VERVE TUE 18 APRIL 2017
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An S.J.M. Concerts presentation by arrangement with United Talent Agency
NEW ALBUM ‘THESE PEOPLE’ OUT NOW INCLUDES THE SINGLES ‘OUT OF MY BODY’, ‘THEY DON’T OWN ME’, ‘THIS IS HOW IT FEELS’ & ‘HOLD ON’
SJM Concerts presents
BEAUTY IN THE EAST PERFORMING SONGS FROM THEIR TWO RECENT TOP 5 ALBUMS PLUS CLASSIC TRACKS FROM THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH AND THE HOUSEMARTINS
PLUS SPECIAL GUESTS
SATURDAY 3RD JUNE 2017
HULL KC LIGHTSTREAM STADIUM (HOME OF HULL KR)
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THE SKELETAL FAMILY · PAULINE MURRAY
HEAVYO FIRE OTOUR O 2017
WITH GUN AND THE AMORETTES
T H U R S D AY
M A R C H
TRAMSHED, CARDIFF F R I D AY
M A R C H
WILLIAM ASTON HALL, WREXHAM S A T U R D AY
M A R C H
M A R C H
M A R C H
S U N D A Y
limelight, belfast T U E S D A Y
IRONWORKS, INVERNESS WITH BACKYARD BABIES & GUN
W E D N E S D A Y M A R C H T H U R S D A Y M A R C H
O2 ABC, GLASGOW C O - H E A D L I N E R
W I T H
G U N
GUN CLOSE THE SHOW ON MARCH 8 BSR CLOSE THE SHOW ON MARCH 9
F R I D AY M A R C H 1 0 O2 ACADEMY, NEWCASTLE S A T U R D A Y
M A R C H
O 2 academy, leeds S U N D A Y M A R C H 2 T U E S D A Y M A R C H
O RITZ, MANCHESTER 1 4
ROCK CITY, NOTTINGHAM
WEDNESDAY MARCH 15
U E A , N O RW IC H T H U R S D AY
M A R C H
O2 ACADEMY BRISTOL F R I D A Y
M A R C H
WEDNESDAY 17TH MAY BOURNEMOUTH O2 ACADEMY
SATURDAY 20TH MAY NEWCASTLE O2 ACADEMY
THURSDAY 18TH MAY OXFORD O2 ACADEMY
FRIDAY 26TH MAY SHEFFIELD O2 ACADEMY
FRIDAY 19TH MAY LIVERPOOL O2 ACADEMY
SATURDAY 27TH MAY LEICESTER O2 ACADEMY
O2 FORUM KENTISH TOWN, LONDON S A T U R D A Y
M A R C H
O2 INSTITUTE, BIRMINGHAM S U N D AY
M A R C H
ANOTHER FALL FROM GRACE TOUR 2017
O2 ACADEMY, BOURNEMOUTH
For ticket info go to www.blackstarriders.com
New ALbum ‘ Heavy Fire ’ in store s earLy 2 017
AN ANGER MANAGEMENT & ACADEMY EVENTS PRESENTATION BY ARRANGEMENT WITH PRIMARY TALENT INTERNATIONAL
PRESENTED BY ACADEMY EVENTS, MJR GROUP, VMS LIVE, MCD, RNW MUSIC, REGULAR MUSIC, TRIPLE G & DHP FAMILY BY ARRANGEMENT WITH APA & SIREN ARTIST MANAGEMENT TOGETHER WITH PLANET ROCK
ACADEMY EVENTS, DHP & COLSTON HALL by arrangement with ITB presents
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STRANGEWAYS, HERE WE COME TOUR 2017 IMAGINING THE TOUR THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN 1987... PLUS THE HITS & THE BEST OF THEIR BACK CATALOGUE
FRI 24th FEBRUARY MANCHESTER O2 Ritz SAT 25th MARCH LIVERPOOL O2 Academy2 FRI 21st APRIL SHEFFIELD O2 Academy2 FRI 19th MAY NEWCASTLE O2 Academy SAT 3rd JUNE BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy2 FRI 9th JUNE GLASGOW O2 ABC2 FRI 22nd SEPTEMBER BRISTOL O2 Academy FRI 6th OCTOBER BOURNEMOUTH Old Fire Station SAT 7th OCTOBER OXFORD O2 Academy2 SAT 21st OCTOBER LEICESTER The Scholar @ O2 Academy
Celebrating The Twentieth Anniversary of Urban Hymns
THE WEDDING PRESENT
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PERFORMING THE ALBUM
IN ITS ENTIRETY
NATIONAL TOUR 2017
MARCH SAT 25 SHEFFIELD O2 ACADEMY2 APRIL SAT 08 LIVERPOOL O2 ACADEMY2 SAT 22 LONDON O2 ACADEMY ISLINGTON
MAY SAT 06 BIRMINGHAM O2 ACADEMY3 FRI 12 GLASGOW O2 ABC2 SAT 13 NEWCASTLE O2 ACADEMY2 SAT 20 OXFORD O2 ACADEMY2
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FRIDAY 3rd FEBRUARY BIRMINGHAM O2 ACADEMY3
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FEBRUARY 2017 FRI 24 NEWCASTLE O2 ACADEMY2 SAT 25 LEEDS O2 ACADEMY MARCH 2017 FRI 03 OXFORD O2 ACADEMY2 SAT 04 LONDON O2 ACADEMY2 ISLINGTON FRI 10 SHEFFIELD O2 ACADEMY2 SAT 11 BIRMINGHAM O2 ACADEMY3
AN EVENING WITH
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THE AMY WINEHOUSE EXPERIENCE BACK ...A.K.A
JUNE 2017 WEDNESDAY 7th NEWCASTLE O2 ACADEMY THURSDAY 8th BIRMINGHAM O2 ACADEMY THURSDAY 15th BRISTOL O2 ACADEMY
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PERFORMING THE ALBUMS
â€˜SUBSTANCEâ€™ BY JOY DIVISION & NEW ORDER
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PAYINâ€™ RESPECT TO THE MAN IN BLACK
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T H E
H O M E
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eter Ames Carlin’s
Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon is one of
curiously few books about the songwriter. Hundreds, probably more, have meanwhile been written about his great ’60s rival, Bob Dylan. If he gave it any thought at all, is this the kind of discrepancy that might rankle, peeve or otherwise irk Simon? You bet. According to Carlin, the 75-yearold Simon is in many ways unchanged from the tubby Jewish kid from Queens, growing up sick with the knowledge he was never going to be elvis. In other words, he’s still a mess of anxieties, insecurities and self-doubt unrelieved by years of therapy, awards, hit records, critical acclaim and largely pampered celebrity. In Carlin’s meticulously assembled portrait, Simon’s neediness is matched only by his self-importance, a pumpedup sense of himself and his apparently unmatchable talent, tyrannical in most respects, everyone in his orbit there only to do his bidding, lackeys attending his demanding whims. For all the expansive generosity of his music, he can also be petty, malicious, prone to spite and envy, especially of his oldest friend and musical partner, Art Garfunkel, who he seems to have equally loved and resented, mainly because of the unwanted knowledge that he would always be more popular as part of Simon & Garfunkel than he was even at his most successful as Paul Simon. And don’t get Carlin started on Simon’s bullish intransigence, the mule-headed belief that his opinion is the only one that 112 • UnCUt • febrUAry 2017
reviewed THiS monTH
Homeward Bound: THe Life of PauL Simon Peter Ames Carlin ConstAble
LoneLy Boy: TaLeS from a Sex PiSToL steve Jones DA CAPo
the light-fingered steve Jones in the eMI Press office, December 2,1976
Jones’ endless succession of quick fucks are recalled in grimy detail matters, his inability to compromise, back down or negotiate, and a stubborn unwillingness to heed wiser council. His friend, Harry Belafonte, for instance, was still negotiating on his behalf with the African National Congress for clearance for him to record in South Africa when Simon, typically headstrong, turned up for the first sessions. With a little more patience, the whole sanctions-busting hoo-hah that subsequently pursued Graceland could have been avoided. even a belated apology for not waiting for ANC approval – which they were happy to give – would have put paid to the controversy. Simon refused to issue one and the row rumbled on. Simon is ruthless, too, and sometimes duplicitous. When he and Garfunkel signed their first recording contract as a duo, he simultaneously negotiated a solo deal for himself without mentioning it to an eventually furious Art. Years later, aspiring songwriter Heidi Berg gave him a cassette of the African township music she wanted
to incorporate into the songs she’d written for the LP Simon had promised to produce for her, which became instead the sound of his own Graceland, the record that put him back on top after a few fallow commercial years. He has also been cavalier about songwriting credits, paying generous session rates, but retaining all publishing rights, which has incensed some collaborators, notably Los Lobos, who suggest their contribution to Graceland was based on a song they’d already written that Simon claimed as his own. Homeward Bound is the result of copious research, with hundreds of new interviews, as fair-minded as Carlin’s Bruce, the best of the available Springsteen biographies. And whatever Carlin’s misgivings about aspects of Simon’s personality, he has no reservations at all about his music, which he largely loves and writes brilliantly about. If the book has a fault, it’s that it’s too front-loaded, Simon’s later career and great records like Surprise, So Beautiful Or So What and last year’s Stranger To Stranger covered in just a few pages. For a book that’s sometimes raucously funny, the first half of Steve Jones’ Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol is a pretty grim account of a largely blighted childhood. Jones was the illegitimate son of a Shepherd’s Bush teddy Boy and a local girl soon left on her own to bring up the unwanted child. He was sexually abused by his stepfather and a neighbourhood paedophile, uninvited attentions to which he later attributed his sex addiction – recalled in grimy detail as an endless succession of knee-tremblers in alleyways, sheds, railway sidings, quick fucks under bridges, in the backs of cars and, in the case of Chrissie Hynde, over a bathtub, at a party – and an utter indifference to meaningful relationships. the young Steve was also an enthusiastic Peeping tom, getting his kicks masturbating in bushes as he spied on sundry shagging couples. He was addicted to stealing and by his early teens was nicking anything not nailed down, which led to terms in youth remand centres, which he largely preferred to what passed for home. Subsequent addictions to alcohol and drugs are also blamed on these molestations. An unhappy future loomed, from whose desperate clutch he was rescued by Malcolm McLaren, an unlikely saviour, vilified in John Lydon’s memoirs but remembered here with mostly great affection. McLaren took him in, became the father Jones had never known, encouraged his interest in music and then put the Sex Pistols together around him. these were the happiest time for Jones, the early days of the Pistols, before they were engulfed by notoriety, and Glen Matlock was replaced by Sid Vicious. “I hadn’t minded being second fiddle to John, but now I was playing third fiddle to this fucking idiot; maybe even fourth if you went along with Malcolm’s increasingly delusional certainty that we were all his puppets.” allan jones
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f i lms This month: a strictly post-modern musical; Warren Beatty plays Howard Hughes; Casey Affleck becomes a father
A LA LAND There’s a scene in Damien Chazelle’s razzledazzle musical La La Land where Mia, an aspiring actress, reads her onewoman play to her boyfriend, Sebastian, a jazz pianist. “It feels really nostalgic to me,” she says. “Are people going to like it?” Flippantly, he replies, “Fuck ’em.” As with much of Chazelle’s wellupholstered genre renovation, it’s a knowing exchange. La La Land is a blissful love letter to a golden age of Hollywood movies, full of big emotions and unselfconsciously joyous romantic ideals. Characters burst into song during dance numbers that wouldn’t look out of place in an RKO musical. There are mobile phones and drum machines but, although no-one quite swings off a lamppost in the rain, to all intents and purposes this is 1952. In La La Land, old fleapits are preferable venues for dates – where better to watch a classic movie, after all? – while Sebastian has to choose between pursuing his dream of opening a modest jazz venue (good) versus making a ton of cash with an old pal’s popular fusion band (bad). There is a scene set inside the Griffith Observatory high atop the hills of LA, where Sebastian and Mia kiss, dance and fly. As his leads, Chazelle casts Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It is easy to see why this is their third collaboration: they zing like a Hawks double act. Gosling strikes a good balance between rueful and wise-cracking; Stone brims with wit. An early scene, in which Mia bumps into Sebastian at a pool party where – humiliatingly – he is making ends meet playing keytar in a crass ’80s covers band, is heroically funny. Chazelle follows the short, sharp shock of Whiplash with something fizzier, but by no means is La La Land throwaway. For all its bounce, Chazelle takes a shrewd view of nostalgia: Sebastian and Mia chat Bringing Up Baby, Casablanca, Notorious and Rebel Without A Cause. At one point, deputising for the filmmaker, Sebastian asks, “Why do you say ‘romantic’ like it’s a dirty word?”
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling channel fred and Ginger in la la land
RULES DON’T APPLY In 1959, Warren Beatty was a struggling young actor with only a handful of minor TV appearances to his name. Perhaps coincidentally, the events of Rules Don’t Apply take place mostly during that same year, when a number of people – starlets, politicians, businessmen and lowly chauffeurs, some real, some imagined – are pulled into Howard Hughes’ orbit. You could be forgiven for thinking that Rules… – Beatty’s first film since 2001 – is really two different movies. Is it a love story with a study of an ageing Hollywood monarch tacked on; or an ageing Hollywood monarch’s satire about another ageing Hollywood monarch with a love story bolted on? Considering the year in which it is set, how much of it is also rooted in Beatty’s own formative years in LA? Either way, Rules Don’t Apply spends its first act detailing the budding – though strictly forbidden – romance between Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), one of the many actresses Hughes kept under contract at RKO, and Frank Forbes
(Alden Ehrenreich), a driver employed by Hughes’ organisation. It’s sprightly stuff, with good comedy from Annette Bening as Marla’s devout mother and Matthew Broderick as Forbes’ wily mentor, Levar. Then Beatty’s Hughes appears, sort of. We see him in shadow for the most part, sitting in hotel bungalows, listening to illicit tape recordings he’s made of conversations with employees, with Marla. Richard Nixon in Mulholland Drive. If Frank, Marla and Levar are all engaged in lightly comedic pursuits, Hughes is night to their day: unpredictable, stubborn, paranoid. Ehrenreich (Disney’s young Han Solo) and Collins are charming, but frankly they’re amuse-bouche for Beatty’s bone-in prime rib. Beatty reminded me a little of Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs Of New York, insofar as Day Lewis was clearly acting in a different film to everyone else. Here is a man who leaves hotels via the kitchens, under a blanket, strapped to a stretcher. There are allusions to Donald Trump – another volatile man
REVIEWED THIS MONTH LA LA LAND
Directed by Damien Chazelle Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone Opens January 13 Cert 12A
RULES DON’T APPLY
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Directed by Warren Beatty Starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening Opens Jan 27 Cert TBC
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams Opens January 13 Cert 15
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky Starring Brontis Jodorowsky, Adan Jodorowsky Opens Jan 6 Cert TBC
Directed by Kirsten Johnson Starring Kirsten Johnson Opens January 27 Cert TBC
114 • UNCUT • fEbRUARY 2017
f i lms
La La Land is a blissful love letter to a golden age of Hollywood movies of wealth and unconventional business practices – but Beatty’s Hughes feels like a continuation of the formidable, singleminded characters he’s always excelled at, from Clyde Barrow to John McCabe, Dick Tracy, Bugsy Siegel or Senator Jay Bulworth. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Casey Affleck has made a long career playing pinched, taciturn characters, men brought down by abject disappointments, humiliations and indignities. There is Jesse James’ assassin, Robert Ford, murderous sheriff Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me, the wronged outlaw in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. In Manchester By The Sea – the latest film from Kenneth Lonergan – we get a chance to see just how he got from there to here. Lonergan’s film finds Affleck’s Lee Chandler working as a janitor in Boston when he learns his elder brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a heart-attack. Returning to his hometown of Manchesterby-the-Sea, Massachusetts, he finds his brother has died and he is legal guardian of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Ben O’Brien). Lee has a past in Manchester – “a horrible mistake” – which casts a long shadow as he struggles to find the best way to raise Patrick. Cutting back and forth between past and present, Lonergan reveals the close sibling ties between Lee and Joe. We see Lee in more carefree days; and understand, perhaps, that the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood are not well-suited to some men. There is a strong performance from Michelle Williams – which takes place largely in flashback – as Lee’s fiery wife. Intriguingly, Matt Damon was originally committed to play Lee and also direct Lonergan’s
ENDLESS POETRY In late 2015, Alejandro Jodorowsky released The Dance Of Reality – his first film in 23 years. On paper, you could describe it as an autobiographical drama about Jodorowsky’s boyhood in the remote Chilean fishing port of Tocopilla during the 1930s, dominated by his tyrannical father. But, this being a Jodoroswky joint, it was dotted with phantasmagorical conceits, including torture, political assassination, a novelty dog show, dentistry without anaesthetic and a female lead who sings her dialogue. “This is not a film,” he announced to his crew. “This is the healing of my soul.” The Dance Of Reality – and its follow-up, Endless Poetry – might not have been made were it not for a typical Jodorowsky cosmic unfolding of events. In 2010, he was reunited after 30 years with Michel Seydoux, the producer on Jodorowsky’s famously ill-fated attempt to film Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel, Dune. Seydoux bankrolled The Dance Of Reality, but Endless Poetry has been partly crowd-funded. In this film, the adolescent Alejandro and his parents leave Tocopilla for Santiago de Chile, where a cousin initiates him in the city’s artistic commune; sex, art and poetry beckon. Those who know Jodorowsky principally as the mastermind behind psychedelic Western El Topo or The Holy Mountain will perhaps be surprised by the warmth and charm of his two most recent films. Certainly, while Endless Poetry is not without his trademark surrealism – melancholic dwarves, intercessions from the real Jodorowsky and black-clad stage hands moving sets around – its weirdness is reined in, favouring sincerity and possibly even sentimentality. In one scene, Jodorowsky exhorts his manqué son: “Life has no meaning! It’s just meant to be lived! Live!” CAMERAPERSON For over 25 years, Kirsten Johnson has worked as a documentary cinematographer. On her travels she has visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yemen, Rwanda, Darfur, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and many other places where she encounters trouble of one description or another. She follows a midwife in Nigeria who struggles with minimal resources; in Wyoming, she films her own mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. In short, Cameraperson is a remarkable study of grace under pressure, where Johnson records often deeply unsettling scenes with great stoicism and nobility. We discover how a boy lost an eye, witness two brothers play-fighting for ownership of an axe, and watch a newborn baby fight for his life. It is a frequently deeply moving film, and it’s hard not to marvel at Johnson’s ability to retain a documentarian’s detachment when surely the humanitarian instinct is somehow to do something – anything – to alleviate her subjects’ circumstances. michael bonner
ALSO OUT... ASSASSIN’S CREED OPENS JANUARY 1 Computer-game adaptation with Michael Fassbender discovering secret societies, crazy science and more.
A MONSTER CALLS OPENS JANUARY 1 From Patrick Ness’ YA novel, with Liam Neeson’s tree monster helping a young boy fix his unhappy life.
SILENCE OPENS JANUARY 1 Neeson again, as a Portuguese Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese’s 17thcentury epic. Co-stars Adam Driver.
LIVE BY NIGHT OPENS JANUARY 13 Bootlegging drama set in the 1920s, starring and directed by Ben Affleck from Dennis Lehane’s novel.
xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE OPENS JANUARY 19 He’s back! Vin Diesel’s extreme sports dude turned spy comes back from the dead to blow more stuff up.
GOODFELLAS OPENS JANUARY 19 Spearheading the Martin Scorsese retrospective at the BFI from January 1 to February 28; also showing nationally.
JACKIE OPENS JANUARY 19 Biographical drama following Natalie Portman’s Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination.
DENIAL OPENS JANUARY 27 Legal drama with Rachel Weisz sued by David Irving (Timothy Spall), declared a Holocaust denier.
HACKSAW RIDGE OPENS JANUARY 27 Mel Gibson returns, directing this WWII drama about an American pacifist combat medic. Stars Andrew Garfield.
SING OPENS JANUARY 27 Animated gear from Garth Jennings, with Matthew McConaughey’s koala bear overseeing a TV talent contest. fEbRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 115
©WARNER BRoS. ENT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
screenplay. Damon would have brought different beats to the role, but Affleck offers a strong, committed performance. Lonergan’s film has the same qualities as an early Springsteen song – a narrative filled with a haunting, pervasive sadness, brimming with guilt and loss.
DANNY SAYS MAGNOLIA PICTURES
7/10 Beguiling portrait of the man behind the scenes, from The Doors to the Ramones. By Damien Love If Danny fields didn’t exist, it’s doubtful anyone would invent him – unless it was some hipster Woody Allen making a wild new musical version of Zelig, about an unlikely figure who somehow happened to just be there for 90 per cent of the most interesting moments in US rock’n’roll between 1965-’77. Unlike a Zelig, though, fields wasn’t just simply there, blending in. Variously journalist, scout, PR man, manager, fixer and “underground mayor”, to quote Alice Cooper, he helped shape the scene. He’s hardly a household name, but his ears are responsible for a lot of the music played in all the coolest households over the past 50 years. If you’re glad The Doors broke through, be thankful fields, as their self-appointed publicist, was around to suggest “the song about fire” should be a single. If you ever shook to The Stooges or MC5, you owe him 116 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
a drink – he got Elektra to sign both bands with a single phone call to label boss Jac Holzman who, by that point, had made fields “company freak” – hired, essentially, to stay up later than everyone else. Ramones fans should know him as the man who discovered the band in 1975 and became their first manager. They parted in the early 1980s, but not before da bruddas wrote one of their most glorious songs in his honour, “Danny Says”. Scholars of American pop’s ripped underbelly might recognise fields’ name from the footnotes through his associations with these bands, not to mention The Velvet Underground. But seeing it all laid out up front in director Brendan Toller’s documentary – that this one guy had his antenna up in a way that put him right in the middle of it time and again – is remarkable. More startling yet are the other flashpoints the film uncovers. You know those giddy photographs of Bob Dylan meeting Patti Smith for the first time backstage in Greenwich Village in 1975? fields was behind the camera. Before that, he was the one who first invited Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, two wide-eyed kids persistently hanging around, to join the backroom gang at Max’s Kansas City. Before that, in the same fabled NY hangout, he introduced Bowie to Iggy Pop. If that’s not enough, how about this: in 1966, as an editor on teen fan mag Datebook, he was the one who sensed a quote John Lennon had given months earlier without fuss to the London
Evening Standard was maybe worth highlighting. Thus the world got the “more popular than Jesus” furore that saw The Beatles’ US tour met with death threats, and fuelled their decision to stop playing live. This all makes such a fantastic surface, you can forgive Toller’s film for not going far beneath. We get a taste of fields’ persona – dry, catty, sharp, simultaneously unimpressed yet in love with it all – but no idea of what might tick inside. In this respect, the opening is most poignant. Illustrated with glowing home movies, we glimpse a straight early life as a Jewish boy in suburban Brooklyn, where fields was born Daniel feinberg in 1939. Already, though, there are kinks: his doctor father left a bowl of amphetamines on the sideboard, like sweets, and Danny and his mother would help themselves. Openly gay, fields studied law, but was more interested in “hanging out with a bunch of dissolute faggots”. Dropping out, he met his destiny when he fell in with Warhol’s factory crowd, forming close friendships with Edie Sedgwick, Nico (he was later responsible for bringing her and John Cale to Da fifth brudda: Elektra for the magisterial Marble Index) and Danny Fields, Lou Reed. Shortly before his death, Warhol honorary told fields he’d like to film his story. fulfilling Ramone, mid-’70s the prophecy, Toller’s documentary is likely very different to anything Andy might have made, but he’s indebted to Warhol for lessons he taught fields, who developed the habit of documenting his life, down to regularly tape-recording conversations. Toller interviewed fields over several years, and brings in Iggy, Alice, Jac Holzman and many others. But the gems come from fields’ own archive, best of all his C-120 tape of Reed’s uncharacteristically enthusiastic reaction the night fields first played him the Ramones: “That is, without doubt, the most fantastic thing you’ve ever played me!” It’s telling that the documentary ends on the Ramones adventure: there’s nothing about what fields has done since. You sense he could say things about the past three decades, too. But, then, maybe those stories just aren’t as good. Extras: 7/10. Great 1969 promo for Nico’s “Evening Of Light” featuring Iggy; fields Q&A; more 1975 audio of fields and Lou; interviews; trailer.
Elektra made Fields “company freak” – hired, essentially, to stay up later than everyone else
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA ARROW FILMS
9/10 UK Blu-ray debut for Sam Peckinpah’s most demented movie In Peckinpah’s foul 1974 masterpiece, the incomparable Warren Oates plays Bennie, a washed-up drifter in Mexico who sets off on a quest to hack a head from a corpse for cash, losing what’s left of his bruised humanity along the way. Extras: 10/10. Alongside a new restoration, this 2-disc set includes fine documentary Sam Peckinpah: Man Of Iron; archive audio of Peckinpah’s NfT appearance; interviews with Kris Kristofferson and Monte Hellman; commentaries by Sam scholars; and an extensive booklet. DAMIEN LOVE
Bob Dylan by the Aust ferry ticket office en route to Cardiff, 1966
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
7/10 Classy Kiwi coming-of-age comedy Next up for NZ director Taika Waititi will be Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, but this knowing teen comedy shows what he can do with that oldest of old-school technology – a fine script and a decent cast. Deconstructed, it’s an odd-couple-on-the-run movie, as serial delinquent Ricky (Julian Dennison) is relocated to new foster parents in the bush. His bond with gruff “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill) brings the adventure, and bone-dry Kiwi humour. Smart, impish and funny. Extras: 7/10. Blooper reel, featurette, director’s commentary, Making Of.
Journey Of Dreams WIENERWORLD
Fine salute to Boston’s ‘low-rock’ trio The tour diaries of saxophonist Dana Colley provide the narrative thread of Mark Shuman’s thoroughly absorbing documentary. Drummers Billy Conway and Jerome Dupree are at hand, too, along with various associates, but the story’s dominant presence, inevitably, is charismatic leader Mark Sandman (who died of a heart-attack onstage in 1999). Interwoven with live footage, it’s a rich, insightful, moving tribute to one of the ’90s’ more underrated bands. Extras: 6/10. Extended interviews, plus fans Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer and Steve Berlin.
THE COMING WAR ON CHINA DARTMOUTH FILMS
PETER, PAUL & MARY 50 Years With Peter Paul And Mary MVD
Happy 2017! Pilger predicts global Armageddon John Pilger’s 60th film – and first since 2013 – is as brutal a polemic as you are ever likely to see. Using archive footage, cut’n’paste interviews and lugubrious voiceovers, Pilger builds the evidence for that clickbaity title. Trump’s an irrelevance. In Pilger’s view, the US has never stopped building its defence capability against “the yellow peril”, and is actively, assiduously preparing for new conflict. It’s oneeyed, but compelling – the section on American atomic testing in the Marshall Islands is particularly chilling. Extras: To be confirmed.
Empathetic portrait of seminal folk trio The naffest manifestation of the folk revival, singing “Puff The Magic Dragon”, or pioneering popularisers who set Dylan on his way by taking “Blowin’ In The Wind” to the top of the charts? Jim Brown’s 80-minute doc reflects both sides of the trio, with archive footage from Greenwich Village, the Newport folk festival and Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights marches intercut with contemporary interviews and moving scenes from Mary Travers’ memorial on her death in 2009. Extras: None.
No Direction Home: Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition CAPITOL
10/10 Scorsese’s Nobel-worthy doc upgraded: is there more to come? By Damien Love RUNNING three-and-a-half hours and still only reaching the electrifying climax of 1966, Martin Scorsese’s magnificent Dylan documentary, pieced together around interviews conducted by Dylan’s own office, is a five-star piece of work, of course. The question for fans who already own the two-disc DVD released in 2005, however, is whether this deluxe edition adds anything essential... Extras: 7/10. The answer depends on how much of a Dylan completist you are. While also available as a new DVD, the biggest draw is the film’s Blu-ray debut. The visual upgrade isn’t revelatory when it comes to the interview segments, largely shot on video. But the archive film, culled from Festival, Murray Lerner’s documentary on the Newport folk festivals of 1963, ’64 and ’65, and from reels DA Pennebaker shot for both Dont Look Back, his chronicle of the 1965 UK tour, and Eat The Document, Dylan’s own subsequent, aborted film on tour 1966, is grainily eye-popping. In terms of new material, the anniversary edition offers the full unedited versions of two of the original film’s most memorable interviews: a roaring 30 minutes in the pub with the force of nature that was Liam Clancy; and a 40-minute audience with Dave Van Ronk. Both are wonderful. Equally delightful is a (slightly) extended (two minutes) version of the “Apothecary scene” shot in the UK in 1966, as a speedy Dylan improvises Beat cut-up nonsense poetry from words on a shop sign (“I wanna dog that’s gonna collect and clean my bath…”). Also exclusive to this release is a 20-minute interview with Scorsese, discussing how he came to make the film, and his design and intentions for it. That’s it as far as new material, though. The other extras – mostly (excellent) performance clips drawn from 1963-’66 – were previously included on the 2005 double DVD. This is slightly frustrating, given the mouthwatering cache of relevant footage Dylan’s archivists are surely sitting on. The deluxe No Direction Home is being released simultaneously with The 1966 Live Recordings, the incredible 36CD box chronicling the ’66 tour, but there’s nothing included here that’s half as significant as the 12-minute film Sony posted online to advertise that set, utilising previously unseen and meticulously restored footage shot during that fabled “Judas!” jaunt. (Search YouTube for “1966 Live Recordings: The Untold Story” if you haven’t seen it.) But if it’s disappointing not to have more of that gold dust included here, we can draw comfort from the obvious conclusion: plans for a full 1966 concert film must surely be under way. Surely? FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 117
Not Fade Away Fondly remembered this month…
dAvid mANCuSo Legendary NY party-starter (1944-2016) David Mancuso’s invite-only parties were the stuff of legend in downtown new York City, where his apartment at 647 Broadway played host to weekly all-nighters, centred on his catholic musical tastes, top-line sound system and eclectic clientele. Beginning in 1970, these gatherings (at what became known as The Loft), provided the template for a spate of private club nights that followed, including the Paradise Garage, The Gallery, 12 West and, taken to its most extreme level, Studio 54. By 1975, Mancuso had also established the new York record Pool as a means to distribute rare promos among local DJs.
pAuliNe oliveroS Sound innovator (1932-2016) In her pioneering role at the San Francisco Tape Music Centre in the 1960s, Pauline oliveros conducted tape experiments in sound, designed the expanded Instrument System (an electronic signal processing set-up) and collaborated with Terry riley on his first ever performance of In C. The accordionist, whose followers included John Cage, later developed the concept of “deep listening” as an aesthetic response to changes in our sensory environment. In 1988, she duly formed the Deep Listening Band, alongside fellow composers Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis. “I feel that listening is the basis of creativity and culture,” she declared in 2003.
Late-blossoming soul queen (1956-2016)
haron Jones’ belated entry into the music business was testament to both her talent and resilience. She was employed as an armoured car guard for Wells Fargo when, in 1996, she answered a call from Daptone label head Gabriel roth to sing back-up vocals on a new York session for The Soul Providers. Then aged 40, Jones had spent most of the previous 20 years performing funk and gospel music in church, entering talent shows, playing weddings and trying to catch a break. however, despite her powerhouse voice and commanding presence, she was overlooked by a plethora of record labels. one executive, as Jones painfully recalled in this year’s absorbing documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, dismissed her as “too fat, too black, too short and too old”. Jones had worked a number of jobs, including a stint as a corrections officer at rikers Island prison, prior to hooking up with roth. Suitably impressed by her fervent approach, he began using her as a backing singer, before he and other members of The Soul Providers, The Mighty Imperials and Sugarman 3 coalesced into The Dap-Kings. 118 • UNCUT • FEBRUARY 2017
Giving people what they want: Sharon Jones in 2009
released on roth’s newly minted Daptone label, 2002’s Dap Dippin’ With Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings was Jones’ debut album. She swiftly gained a reputation as a scintillating live act, leading The DapKings through a horn-soaked repertoire of old-school funk and soul, driven by her redoubtable energy and infectious personality. a succession of albums followed as Jones and the band steadily outgrew the club circuit and graduated to sizeable theatres and international festivals over the next decade or so, culminating in a Grammy nomination for 2014’s Give The People What They Want. Prince declared himself a fan, as did Lou reed, who asked her to back him on his 2007 Berlin tour (Jones reluctantly turned him down, due to her film commitments on The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington). She went on to guest with Phish, Michael Bublé and, in 2010, David Byrne, appearing on the last-named’s Fatboy Slim collaboration, Here Lies Love. In 2013, just prior to the proposed release of Give The People What They Want, Jones was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The LP was shelved for a year while she underwent liver surgery and chemotherapy. Miss Sharon Jones! was a stoic account of her illness and subsequent stage comeback, typified by new Dap-Kings song “I’m Still here”, though Jones announced soon after that her cancer had returned.
Joe eSpoSito Elvis Presley’s go-to guy (1938-2016) as friend, confidant and road manager, Joe esposito was at elvis Presley’s side for nearly two decades. The pair first met at a US army base in West Germany in the late ’50s, after which esposito became a central figure in the singer’s so-called ‘Memphis Mafia’ team of associates. he had cameo roles in various elvis movies and was co-best man at his wedding to Priscilla ann Beaulieu in 1967. Post-Presley, he was tour manager for Michael Jackson, The Bee Gees and John Denver, as well as author of several elvis books, among them Good Rockin’ Tonight and Remember Elvis.
moSe AlliSoN Jazz and blues “philosopher” (1927-2016) Mose allison’s mastery of jazz and blues piano, allied to his mordant lyrics and characteristic Southern drawl, gave him a crossover appeal that went far beyond his core associations with the likes of Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and al Cohn. The Who made “Young Man Blues” a regular in their turn-of-the ’70s setlist, while The Yardbirds, The Clash, Leon russell, elvis Costello
ColoNel AbrAmS “Trapped” troubadour (1949-2016) Detroit native Colonel abrams began his career after moving to new York in the late ’60s, playing guitar and keyboards in heavy Impact and Conservative Manor. By 1976 he was frontman of 94 east, featuring lead guitarist Prince, but found his true métier as a solo artist the following decade. 1984’s proto-house anthem “Music Is The answer” was popular in Manhattan clubland, but abrams became an international star the following year with dance hit “Trapped”, which went Top 3 in the UK.
bAp KeNNedy Belfast singer-songwriter (1962-2016) Mark Knopfler remembered Bap Kennedy, who has died from pancreatic cancer, as “an extremely talented and committed songwriter who applied himself to his craft at all times”. The ex-Dire Straits man was one of several Kennedy collaborators (producing his eighth solo album, 2012’s The Sailor’s Revenge), alongside such notables as Van Morrison, Steve earle and Shane MacGowan. Kennedy began in 1987 as singer-songwriter with energy orchard, steering them through five albums before going solo a decade later. his most recent release was 2016’s posthumously released Reckless Heart.
Guitarist/book dealer (1946-2016)
hen Brian Jones was ousted from The rolling Stones in 1969, the band sought out alexis Korner to suggest possible replacements. among the shortlist of names he drew up was that of Martin Stone, guitarist with Mighty Baby. Stone didn’t bother to attend the audition, though he did take up Jones’ offer to join him for sessions on a proposed new project. “It was chaotic… just mindless jamming,” Stone recalled to Flashback magazine. “It didn’t work and it quickly became clear that he wasn’t in great shape.” It’s a story that serves as a dual illustration of Stone’s potential and his somewhat blithe attitude to the promise of fame. he flitted through a number of groups during the latter half of the ’60s, beginning with Junior’s Blues Band and Stone’s Masonry, before moving on to the Savoy Brown Blues Band and The action, playing a key role in the latter’s transition from mod-pop into foraging psychedelia. This stylistic change led to the quintet rebranding themselves Mighty Baby in 1968, upon which they were saddled with a reputation as London’s answer to the Grateful Dead. By 1971, Stone had reunited with fellow Junior’s Blues Band founder Phil Lithman to form Chilli Willi and The red hot Peppers, whose countrified r&B
Stone alone: onstage with the Pink Fairies in London, June 1976
made them one of the biggest draws on the nascent pub-rock scene. he briefly joined the Pink Fairies after the Peppers split in ’75, followed by a stint in Joe Strummer’s 101ers, but he soon gave it up for another passion: book dealing. Stone, who called it “a compulsive occupation, just like playing the guitar”, became known for his ability to ferret out rare books at cheap prices and sell them for their true market value. his reputation was such that Iain Sinclair used him as the basis for nicholas Lane in his 1987 novel, White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings.
Electronic music pioneer
Inspiral Carpets sticksman
Two decades before he helped popularise the Moog synthesiser via a series of 1970s albums, Jean-Jacques Perrey was composing electronic music in France Craig Gill drumming with an ondioline for Inspiral Carpets in Leeds, December keyboard. his vision 2015 for “a new process for generating rhythms with sequences and loops” eventually led him to new York, where he teamed up with Gershon Kingsley for 1966’s The In Sound From Way Out! and Kaleidoscopic Vibrations (’67), both of which were later saluted on recordings by The Beastie Boys, Gang Starr and house of Pain.
Salford-born Craig Gill was just 14 when he was recruited as Inspiral Carpets’ drummer in 1986, helping drive the band to success – spanning hit albums Life, The Beast Inside and Devil Hopping, plus a string of singles – prior to their initial split nine years later. as well as DJ work, he also ran local music-themed excursions and co-wrote The Manchester Musical History Tour with Phill Gatenby. Gill, whose cause of death has yet to be established, rejoined the band in 2003.
Jimmy youNg Radio stalwart and erstwhile crooner (1921-2016) Jimmy Young had already tasted stardom by the time
he began hosting a mid-morning show on BBC’s newly formed radio 1 in 1967. having signed to Decca 15 years earlier as an easy-listening crooner, he scored major hits with “eternally”, “Chain Gang” and “More”, though his popularity peaked in 1955, when a version of “Unchained Melody” gave him a second UK no 1, following on from “The Man From Laramie”. Young moved over to radio 2 in 1973, where he remained until 2002.
billy miller Rock’n’roll archivist (1954-2016) The Cramps’ drummer Miriam Linna first bonded with future husband Billy Miller at a new York record fair in 1977. a year later, the couple founded Kicks, a fanzine devoted to obscure soul and rock’n’roll. This led to them setting up norton records in 1986 as a repository for their shared love of old rockabilly, r&B and garage-punk. The couple, who also played in The a-Bones, went on to release material by hasil adkins, Link Wray, Doug Sahm and many more. ROB HUGHES FEBRUARY 2017 • UNCUT • 119
Erica EchEnbErg/rEdfErns; richard nicholson/Music Pics/rEX/shuttErstock
and Bonnie raitt were among others who covered his songs. Van Morrison, a collaborator on 1996’s Tell Me Something: The Songs Of Mose Allison, hailed him as “a brilliant musician, but he was more than that. he was a philosopher.”
feedBack Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Uncut Feedback, basement 2, blue Fin building, 110 Southwark Street, london SE1 0SU. Or tweet us at twitter.com/uncutmagazine “SOmETHING HAppENED ON THE DAy HE DIED…”
The millions of us who mourn David Bowie will always miss him, but it is cause for exultation to see ★ at the summit of your 2016 albums list [Uncut, January]. It sits there on merit. Cynics may suggest mawkish motivation, and a vote based on sentiment. This ignores the substance of that last remarkable gasp of vital, tragic, frantic, sad and radical noise perpetrated by a master – the master – of his medium, raging against the dying of the light. Of course, the album is replete with lyrical clues to its meaning and intent. They became easy to spot with the almost immediate, shocked hindsight that arrived with news of his passing. I had taken “’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore” literally, but instead it’s directly referable to “Time” on Aladdin Sane, at which point time was still “flexing like a whore”. Now, suddenly, the lad insane had no more time and he knew it. In that realisation, the whore had “punched him like a dude”. It can never be known whether Cohen’s last album, You Want It Darker, would have finished higher than No 4 in your 2016 albums list had the vote been taken after his loss. Carried to the Top 2 on a wave of grief, to tussle it out with Bowie for primacy? It’s better not to know; but it speaks volumes for the impeccable taste of this magazine that Leonard’s final work occupies the lofty perch it does, regardless of his death. David Cavanagh’s article on the departed of 2016 made a fine fist of attempting to bring some order to the helpless, building sense of loss experienced by us during the apparently relentless demise of so many familiar figures since Bowie. Poignantly, it was also written before Leonard had passed. I fervently hope, and I have to believe, that next year can only be better than the one now fading out. The Devil has all the best tunes and appears to have a tightening grip on the world. Did we want it darker? No-one wanted it this dark. Paul McGowan, Glasgow …Having been a reader of Uncut since Take 1, I have established a ritual at the end of the year; to sit down with a coffee and carrot cake and devour your Best Albums Of The Year list [Uncut, January]. I have always been in tandem with your monthly philosophies and choices. However, this year, my coffee was spilt over me 120 • UNCUT • FEbRUARy 2017
Darker times: leonard Cohen’s demise caps a sad year for Uncut readers
when I realised that the Tindersticks’ outstanding album, The Waiting Room, did not even make your Top 75. It is an astonishing recording and should be in the region of No 6 or No 7 of the year – if not album of the year. Not to mention it at all is, for me, a massive fan of Uncut, one of the greatest mistakes you have made in your history. Maybe it is that the January 2016 release seems like a distant memory? That they are a UK band based in Europe? Or the obsession with recently departed Bowie and Cohen releases? Edwin Copeland, Sherborne, Dorset
bETWEEN FRED NEIl AND STING Browsing Norah Jones’ My Life In Music selection in the December issue, it occurred to me that, when choosing the front photo for his recent 57th & 9th CD, did Sting perhaps have in mind the cover of Fred Neil’s Bleecker & MacDougal album released 50 years ago? Both sleeves depict a Manhattan street intersection: Sting’s is in Hell’s Kitchen south-west of Central Park, Neil’s is a four-mile, $12 taxi ride south in Greenwich Village (locations appropriate for each individual, methinks), with the artist and his instrument centre-shot. Both are night views, oriented roughly north with either Bleecker Street or 57th Street running left to right (west-east) across the shot, and with a circular manhole cover frontcentre. Some coincidence, eh? Jonathan Pointer, Cambridgeshire
“mAybE IT’S my ClOTHES mUST bE TO blAmE?” Summer, 1977, working in a small record shop in Syracuse, NY, and some very curious 45s start appearing in the store from your side of the pond. I was into The Who, 10cc, early Genesis and Allmans at the time. Some decidedly odd-looking customers come in and buying 45s like “Get A Grip” by the Stranglers, “Anarchy” by the Pistols, Clash 45s. A vile-looking guy is buying a Damned 45 and I ask, “What is this stuff?” After 30 seconds of “Neat Neat Neat”, I take it off and declare it the worst thing I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t until I tried The Jam’s “In The City” that the lightbulb went on over my head. Fast forward to Washington DC, somewhere between 1979 and ’81, and The Damned [Uncut, December] are going to appear at the Bayou, a local club. In those days, every punk show had an element of danger, but there was always a communal feeling to it. You know, you might get hurt, but everyone would take care of each other. Not this show. It was loaded with long-haired denim biker gangs. Chains, knives. I walked in and kept my distance. What the hell were bikers doing at a Brit punk gig that only hardcore fans were aware of? The moshpit was evil. Fists and boots were flying. Vanian swung onto the stage from a rope. Like all the best punk gigs then, this was a powder keg waiting to go off. Show ends, crowd very restless, beers flying around, violence imminent. Damned return for an encore, and
Captain Sensible is as naked as the day you were born, except for his bass, boots and shades. It’s hysterical. Cap turns around to show us a bullseye drawn onto his bum, with the centre of it… well, exactly you know where. He is bending over, inviting anything to be gobbed or thrown at the centre, and the crowd is taking him up on his offer. I’m not sure if he intended to defuse a really potentially nasty situation or was still egging the crowd on, but he changed the tone of the evening, and no-one got stabbed/cut/maimed. Roger Williams, via email
50 FT QUERy I’d like to point out something regarding your PJ Harvey Ultimate Music Guide, a baffling aspect of the publication that makes me fear something has gone wrong in the research process. Reference is made to the first Automatic Dlamini album, The D Is For Drum, which dated from before they started to work with Polly. The unreleased third album, Here Catch Shouted His Father, is also mentioned. But the album that actually was released, and featured Polly heavily, isn’t referenced (or at least, I can’t find any mention of it). This album is From A Diva To A Diver. I know about this because I released it! My company, Revilo, co-released it along with Big Internation Records. Because we and the band were
CROSSWORD One of three copies ofJapandroids’ Near To The Wild Heart Of Life on CD…
pretty broke, I did the CD, and Big Internation did the vinyl and we co-released it. This was a proper release with distribution, and a couple of thousand copies were sold. Polly Harvey sang on “Yell Hollow”, “Putty”, “Horse” and “Water”, played bass guitar on “Putty”, “Raw” and “What’s Fair”, percussion on “Raw” and “Water” and guitar on “Water” (a different song from the later PJH recording, by the way). Oliver Gray, Winchester
DO yOU OWN JEFF WHAlE’S OlD RECORDS? I’ve been buying Uncut since Take 23 and still have them all saved away. I love the mix of old and new, and you have cost me so much money over the years by tempting me into new purchases. The problem is that whenever you delve into the past, there’s a danger that you’ll remind me of the great folly of my life: selling my collection, in two stages. The first time in the ’60s I needed to buy something trivial – it might have been one of those greatcoats that were really popular – and I just got rid of my collection via some advert in the press. The coat was OK, but the loss of the music was horrible. But time moved on and in the early ’70s I really needed a new stereo system, so this time I thought of a great idea: I’d record everything I sell on cassettes. So off went Fairport Convention, Jefferson Airplane and Family – and Battered Ornaments. Remember them? Since then, I’ve built up a decent sort of collection with Eels, Elbow, Calexico, Grandaddy, Neutral Milk Hotel and so many others, but the regrets of the early years still linger. Now I’m in New Zealand and recently retired, I’ve decided to embark on a mission of great historical importance – I want to find as many of those lost LPs as I can. One help is that I used to write on the inner sleeves in green and orange felt-tip pen, in block letters that I thought were really artistic (don’t laugh). So if you bought anything from Jeff Whale then or recognise that garish lettering, get in touch and I’ll buy them back and arrange shipping. You’ll make an old man very happy. Please send me a mail on email@example.com if you can help. Jeff Whale, Wellington, New Zealand
TAKE 237 | FEbRUARy 2017 8
Editor John Mulvey Associate Editor Michael Bonner Associate Editor John Robinson Art Editor Marc Jones Senior Designer Michael Chapman production Editor Mick Meikleham Acting Album Reviews Editor Tom Pinnock picture Researcher Phil King Editor At large Allan Jones
HOW TO ENTER
1 Kate Bush live. Lights up after the performance (6-3-4) 8 Cream’s parting gift of an album to us (7) 9 (See 34 across) 11 Syd Barrett solo album was a bit hopeless (4) 12 The deathly sound of Death In Vegas (5) 13 (See 20 down) 14 Björk album to be delivered by mail (4) 15 Having the look of an album by Robyn Hitchcock (3) 17 “Roll me in designer sheets, I’ll never get enough,” Blondie (4-2) 18 “To think I might not see those eyes, it makes it so hard not to cry,” 2004 (3) 19 Group that was featured playing in the movie To Sir, With Love (11) 22 Californian coastal location for The Thrills’ “Big ___” (3) 24+33D Where and what Lou Reed was in 2003 (3-3) 26 (See 2 down) 28 (See 7 down) 29 Just a taster of a Lemonheads’ album (4) 31 “You are someone else, I am still right here,” 2003 32 In short, this was by The Arctic Monkeys (2) 34+9A Ian Hunter hands us a new album. On the other hand he’s hoping for a bit of luck with it (7-7) 36 (See 35 down) 37 “Aurora borealis comes in view,” 1982 (1-3)
1 Rockabilly singer who died in plane crash along with Buddy Holly (3-6) 2+26A First record to be played on Radio 1 in 1967 (7-2-3-4) 3+4D “Catch your dreams before they slip away,” 1967 (4-7) 5 Let’s hear it again from Eminem and Tangerine Dream (6) 6 Not Chrissie Hynde going solo, but a new album from The Pretenders (5) 7+28A UK group with US sounding name who backed Jerry Lee Lewis on classic album Live At The Star-Club, Hamburg (9-5) 10 Early Placebo single warmed things up at “36 _______” (7) 16 Finishes with number by rapper Everlast (4) 17 Her first solo hit was a cover of “All I Really Want To Do” (4) 19 REM’s not about to name an album (7) 20+13A Drummer for Garbage and producer for Nirvana (5-3) 21 Vini Reilly’s post-punk band, The _______ Column (7) 23 Record label founded by Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera (5) 25 Kim Wilde getting near to a finish with this album? (5) 27 I get a bit of harmony coming from guitarist with the Smashing Pumpkins (3) 30 More than just a name with Nirvana (4) 33 (See 24 across) 35+36A We haven’t got a way out of listening to this new Marianne Faithfull album (2-4)
1 You Want It Darker, 9 Leader Of The Pack, 12 Scream, 13 Pink Moon, 16+14D Simple Minds, 19 Kin, 20 Art, 22 At Last, 23 ESP, 24 Leeds, 25 On, 26+28A The
Contributors Jason Anderson, Mark Bentley, David Cavanagh, Tom Charity, Leonie Cooper, Jon Dale, Stephen Dalton, Stephen Deusner, Andy Gill, Nick Hasted, Mick Houghton, Rob Hughes, Trevor Hungerford, John Lewis, Damien Love, Alastair McKay, Geoffrey Macnab, Gavin Martin, Piers Martin, Rob Mitchum, Andrew Mueller, Sharon O’Connell, Louis Pattison, Sam Richards, Jonathan Romney, Bud Scoppa, Peter Shapiro, Laura Snapes, Neil Spencer, Terry Staunton, Fiona Sturges, Graeme Thomson, Luke Torn, Stephen Troussé, Jaan Uhelszki, Wyndham Wallace, Peter Watts, Richard Williams, Nigel Williamson, Jim Wirth, Damon Wise, Rob Young Cover photograph: Rob Verhorst/Redferns photographers: Duffy, Jimmy King, Gijsbert Hanekroot, Nettie Peña, Herbe Greene, Tom Hill, James Burke, Oliver Morris, Lucy Hamblin, Pieter M Van Hattem, Steve Gullick, Tom Copi Thanks this Issue: Kevin Grant (sub-editing), Claudia Miguel, Natasha Keary
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“Fat Old Sun” XWORD COmpIlED by:
Trevor Hungerford FEbRUARy 2017 • UNCUT • 121
My life in Music
Tift Merritt The records that shaped an Americana star: “It’s the wheel inside the wheel inside the wheel!” Miles Davis
ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud 1958 I’ve been a fan of Miles since I was a teen and originally found this record. I saw this picture of Miles Davis and Jeanne Moreau; he had a horn up to her ear and they were gorgeous. I was just obsessed with France and I fell in love with the record. Miles Davis cool, Jeanne Moreau cool and old French movie cool were all encapsulated on this one record. “Nuit Sur Les ChampsÉlysées” is one of my favourite songs. It’s a record that I turn to when I want to take a deep breath and feel that kind of Miles Davis cool with the world.
stuck inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues again 1966 This is a really important album to me. My dad gave me a cassette of Blonde On Blonde, and for a year and a half it was the only cassette in my car. I’d listen to it over and over. I chose this song because of all the things that Dylan is for me. He’s such an amazing writer, and most of his music is about the power of words; for me that’s a real touchstone. I come to all of this as a writer first, and I wouldn’t get up onstage if I didn’t feel like I had something worth saying.
Bonnie Raitt Bonnie Raitt 1971
Finding this record back in my twenties was like finding gold – I learnt every song on guitar and loved the whole record. Even the story behind the record, which was that she took the blues guys to a summer camp, and they made this record with such a feel and so much fun in it. Early Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou [Harris] were really my compass. Back at some of my earlier gigs, I covered some of Raitt’s songs. There’s a joyfulness in making music that reminds me of this record.
Ry cooDeR PICTURE: ALEXANDRA VALENTI, INTERVIEw: Tom PINNoCk
Boomer’s story 1972 Boomer’s Story is such a cinematic record, in the feel and in the tones, but with such ease. It feels so loose and fabulous, but so evocative – an all-time favourite of mine. My life in music started on the street, playing a Percy Sledge song that my father used to play to me, and Boomer’s Story was a record that my early band worshipped… and then Paris, Texas is one of my favourite movies. Again it’s the wheel inside the wheel inside the wheel. I never tire of putting this record on.
Rainy night house 1970 I think music, in a very basic way, is a form of communication, and I think Joni Mitchell is such a powerful communicator, not just in her words, but also the chords that she makes on the piano especially; they’re so emotional and colourful. This is a record where you hear someone pour out their heart, emotion, vulnerability and hope. It comes from such a strong woman like Joni, who’s had such an influence on me and my desire to be open and free and to reveal myself.
linDa RonstaDt Keep Me From Blowing away 1974
She blew my mind with her power, and I remember having all of her early records. I just think her voice is so powerful and as a performer she’s so alive. It moves you without you even thinking about it, and “Keep Me From Blowing Away” has a personal resonance with me where I’ve always understood that sentiment. Her music is about hanging on to what really means something – or finding what means something.
the velvet UnDeRgRoUnD i’m set Free 1972
I was obsessed with this whole record, and maybe this track was a door to the Velvets, more so than their noisier stuff. It’s beautiful, it’s edgy and there’s a lot of space, and it pulls you right to where it wants to take you. I feel so much of music is about trying to get free or be set free – in a way that you’re free from your cares, or in a deeper, more spiritual way where you’re truly set free. I love how this is a real rock’n’roll moment that encapsulates all of those kinds of things.
Bone Machine 1992 It’s kind of hard to listen to – but this record blew my mind and I’ve listened to it over and over. I fell in love with [guitarist and Merritt collaborator] Marc Ribot when I heard this record. And yes, there’s a lot that’s in your face, but the writing is so amazing, the performing is so amazing and it’s so unique. The rules are thrown out the window, but by the time I get to that last track, “That Feel”, whenever I hear it, I tear up. You can lose everything, but you cannot lose that feel – if you lose that, you’re truly lost.
Tift Merritt’s Stitch Of The World is released January 27 on Yep Roc. Her UK tour begins four days later at The Lexington in London
in next Month’s UncUt: 122 • UncUt • FeBRUaRy 2017
“I was drinking too much, fucking up gigs and being more than a bit of an arsehole”
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