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Eager to get your hands on the latest copy of Bearded as it rolls off the prints? Fancy checking to see if we are up to our usual incredible standards before fighting the crowds to source a copy? Missed a copy or canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t find one at your local indie? The Bearded website can solve all these problems whilst providing you with exclusive downloads, the latest news, reviews and previews and more articles that donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t find themselves in the magazine. You can view the latest issue of the magazine, order back copies and get a subscription so that the latest issue drops through your letterbox before it even gets to the shops. To join in the fun, Visit www.beardedmagazine.co.uk.
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THIS IS MAKE BELIEVE
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06 08 09
Live Reviews Faster Than the Speed of Sound Lullabies for the Taken Grumpy Funny Times
Writers Vicky Addinall, Theunis Bates, William Brett, Kat Brown, Jason Draper, Pete Guest, James Labous, Sam Lusardi, Gareth Main, Jonathan Pearson, Andy Price, David Winstanley, Ben Wood.
The Bearded Sluice Box
14 18 20 22 26
Go Bananas for Untitled Musical Project Crying Over Spillers Records Throwing Snow at the Past Full of Volcanicity Alt. Country
28 30 32
Feeling the Squeeze De-robed but not De-throned University Challenge
Album Reviews Track Reviews
46 47 48
Coming Soon Diary Dates Foals Simon Says... My Festival’s Better Than Yours
End of the Road Festival
From the Euphotic Depths
Supersonic Festival Kimya Dawson Misty’s Big Adventure
Untitled Musical Project Spillers Records Throwing Snow Matt Berry London’s Alternative Country Scene Freshly Squeezed Music Polyphonic Spree Oxford’s Music Scene
Illustrators Craig Atkinson, Mr Bingo, David Callow, Paul Davis, Bob London (Cover), Samuel Sparrow, Jay Taylor, Zeroten. Photographers Ian Brodie, Mei Lewis, Tom Medwell, Katja Ogrin, Miles Walkden, Esyllt Williams. Publisher Fleeing from Pigeons Design & Art Direction Kevin Summers www.thisismakebelieve.co.uk Website Design Stuart Main Contact Bearded Magazine 18 Woodbridge Road Moseley Birmingham B13 8EJ Telephone 0121 449 8546 0773 822 6580 Editorial firstname.lastname@example.org Art email@example.com Advertising firstname.lastname@example.org Website www.beardedmagazine.co.uk
Bearded is printed on 100% recycled paper, produced using 100% post consumer, de-inked waste. Please help limit the impact of climate change, get Bearded.
Roll of Honour All our contributors – especially Kevin Summers, Tom Medwell and Stuart Main without whose expertise and kind help a half idea would never have got this far, all the labels and artists featured, Nick Hollywood, Kaplan Kaye, Tony Wilson (RIP) Lisa at Capsule, Andy Graham, John Peel (RIP), Lara Baker and Sam Shemtob at AIM, Chris Stone at Stone Immaculate, Richard Noel at S&G, Simon and Sofia at End of the Road, Geoff Baker, Will and Lisa at In House Press, Simon Harper, Paul Bradshaw, Pete Wilby, Hayley Longdin and last, but certainly not least, the fabulous Steph Wood and the Main, and extensions thereof, clans for words of encouragement, help, quizzical looks / emails.
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Illustration Paul Davis www.copyrightdavis.com
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EDITORIAL Welcome to the first issue of Bearded. It has been a strange old six months since the idea of Bearded was spawned somewhere in northern Wales, the festival season has had its fill with Glastonbury returning and Reading and V continuing in an ever more expensive fashion than before. Glastonbury returning was meant to be a triumph. It was somewhat disappointing. Not because of the predictable wash-out, the smelly toilets and the appalling line-up but because it underlined the horrendous lull that music today seems to be in. Flicking through any general music magazine, whether it be free or on the shelves in WH Smith, bands like Hard-Fi, Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs and any Libertines shoot-off (or shoot up) pepper the pages. “Well some people like those bands” I hear you say. True, but they’re not very new or exciting are they? The same bands were dominating column inches two years ago and the fact that Glastonbury has apparently chosen most of the line-up for next year already indicates that people in the business of promoting artists in print or in a Somerset field are, to a certain extent, living behind the times. But to talk about the downsides of the modern music industry would be a poor way to start what is, for us, a joyous occasion. There is much that is good in the independent scene today. After all, we did see Euros Childs make a field full of Pete Doherty fans bop along to unrecorded track ‘Be Be High’ at Glastonbury, we did go to Supersonic Festival (review: page 6) and we are terribly excited about watching the aforementioned Welshman alongside the likes of Jeffrey Lewis, Lambchop, Sunny Day Sets Fire and the rest of the brilliant line-up that End of the Road Festival has on offer in September (preview: page 48). Because what festivals such as End of the Road do signify is the delightful ember of the music industry. Quality acts in quality venues, people not being herded around like cattle like they were in the preposterously over-crowded Glastonbury fields, good vibes, good times. Similarly Bearded wants to represent the acts below the radar in the music industry. Bands such as Untitled Music Project (feature: page 14) and Throwing Snow (feature: page 20), small independent record labels like Freshly Squeezed Music (feature: page 28) and artists who are not even known for their music, albeit brilliant, like Matt Berry (feature: page 22). All the people featured in our pages are doing things differently to the mainstream, as we are. If you are reading this online you will have noticed that you can read it online free of charge. If you are reading this in print you will have noticed that the quality of paper we use – 100% recycled – is much superior to that of any other music magazine you may or may not have to pay for. Independent artists and independent record labels have a struggle to do what they love, struggling to make ends meet and working every hour to put out a 7” of a band they love that no one will hear because they have no money left to push it. For them is the reason for Bearded to exist, for the artists who simply love their craft and put out records that aren’t manipulated by going through layers of major conglomerates, for the fans that love to hear this music and want to read more about the people behind it. That is us, and hopefully you, we hope together we can be Bearded. I do hope you enjoy the read. Gareth Main, Fleeing from Pigeons
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FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF SOUND SUPERSONIC FESTIVAL BIRMINGHAM CUSTARD FACTORY. 14 JULY 2007 It is mid July in the centre of the country and the bad jokes are ringing around the emails sent to everyone in your office, all their family and all their friends. It is quite possible to have collected the email addresses of everyone in the British Isles in the weeks after the start of summer by just glancing at one with the subject line FW: Missing. “Missing: Yellow ball that lives in the sky, goes by the name of Sun. Let it know that it’s July.” Hilarious I think you’ll agree. Saturday 14 July in Birmingham is the one day that the sun appears. Situated between days of thunderstorms, it is fabulous to feel it burning the neck once more in perhaps the most miserable summer on record. But there is probably a more rational explanation for the sun’s miraculous appearance. Above the unique venue of Birmingham’s Custard Factory, complete with huge wooden men and dragons scaling the walls, the “yellow ball that lives in the sky” is shining upon perhaps the best concentrated alternative festival line-up all year. It is Supersonic – the time when you have just about brushed the Glastonbury mud off your ‘brilliant’ wacky festival trousers and you are still murmuring profanities about spending 20 hours a day traversing a terrain equivalent to crossing the Pennines with a pair trifles strapped to your feet. Sunny, dry with flat, firm ground underfoot and a one end to the other festival time of five minutes – there are plenty of obvious benefits to Supersonic than more esteemed festivals. One of those is the line-up. Glastonbury may have one of the most eclectic festival line-ups in the world but Supersonic condenses that into a perfect alternative festival concentrate. This is clear as the most interesting and intriguing band of the day Shit and Shine (Riot Season) take to the main stage to a background of swirling ghostliness. As six members sit down and imminently start banging varying numbers and types of drums in an assortment of positions looking away from the assembled crowd, it could be forgiven that this is some sort of extended sound check. The pounding is consistent but strangely alluring as a further two members come in on bass and proceed to turn their back to the audience, only turning to scream in a highly distorted manner. Slowly but surely it begins to gather speed, a small woman pops her head up at the back of the bizarre orchestra and starts mumbling gibberish which may or may not be Spanish. Even though we fail to make it out, we know it is something profound or profoundly nonsense, she probably doesn’t even know Spanish – we fail to be fussed. Twenty minutes of the same beat and things suddenly change, it speeds up dramatically but remains at the same thumping intensity as before. We assume it is the same song, they don’t look like they are in the mood to stop and it is doubtful they would be able to given the robotic consistency of beat thus far. The woman has disappeared like an aborigine although she may be responsible for that whizzing noise going around somewhere – both or neither may be a figment of the imagination. But what we are sure isn’t a figment of the imagination is the one drummer who has stopped miraculously and is now staring intently at a tin of Quality Street. He may be doing something wonderful we cannot figure out or he may just have obsessive-compulsive disorder it is also unclear. Either way we are sure it adds something.
Around thirty-eight minutes in and they are still going, it is getting faster and some members of the audience seem to be losing control of their necks – with heads nodding and swinging in time with the hypnotic rhythm. It is all a bit of a shame when it comes to a disappointing ending – with a flop out and cymbal rather than a sumptuous crashing of drums, screaming and Spanish poetry. We are left a bit empty but rapturous – and this is the first band of the day. Luckily though the Capsule ladies organising have Voice of the Seven Woods (Twisted Nerve) lined up in the Medicine Bar. Having recruited a drummer and bassist since his last trip to Birmingham, Rick Tomlinson’s unique brand of Eastern-tinged psychedelia now has a fantastic new edge to take into the live arena. But the problem of having more bodies and more equipment is the increased chance of something going wrong. Inevitably, the bass amp goes midway through the set but, like a heroic driver behind the wheel a wayward car, Tomlinson and his drummer, who drives the band throughout, manage to keep it on the road before going back to the point of the crash and continuing on seamlessly when bass player is back on track. Tomlinson is obviously a little miffed by events and abruptly ends the set after half an hour. Sauntering past the large queue for burgers and kebabs at the barbeque en route to the Arches stage in a local warehouse, Migrant (Monium) can be heard rattling the sides of the metal hut from a distance. Once entering, it seems like nothing much is going on. Three people sat behind laptops in a warehouse with unsuitably strong industrial lighting it is not the most ideal setting for enjoying ambient electronica. Something dark and disturbing lies in the sound coupled with the rattling of the industrial doors though, it almost sounds like the Danny Elfman score to a Tim Burton directed version of Ghostbusters, despite how much the director may wish to destroy another childhood favourite. A comfy seat found in the seven inch cinema is made much more comfy by “not a film” harpist Serafina Steer (Static Caravan). It is easy to draw comparisons to harp wielding contemporary Joanna Newsom but, lazy journalism aside, Steer’s firm, mellow, cockney vocal strikes a vast difference to Newsom’s favourite topic of Greek mythology, the Londoner focussing on very British subject matter – the scurge or buy-to-let and Tesco on the country’s (once) green and (once) pleasant land. Her spoton cultural commentary charms as much as it viciously strikes a nerve. That vicious striking out is, in the biggest understatement of the day, matched by Bee Stung Lips (Capsule) back in the Medicine Bar. There is a reason why the local band is the most anticipated non-headline band at the festival. With a reputation for abrasive live shows and an attitude to match, we know the four-piece are big softies at heart, but they come out at their four metre spitting, beer can lobbing best. Blasting through tracks in as many yelped octaves as is humanly possible, they leave the packed bar something of a sweaty mess – that bad moustache isn’t going to soak it up though.
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From a hardcore punk showing laced with a certain degree of irony, it is a relief to see more visible irony in the shape of Modified Toy Orchestra (Warm Circuit) who, dressed irrevocably like Kraftwerk, manipulate innocent toy and child instruments in a way that would make Herman Fisher shudder. They get the crowd moving though, creating something rather remarkable with minimal tools with which to do it. A cover of Kraftwek’s ‘Pocket Calculator’ proves the highlight. If you had to imagine an Englishman trying to not sound German while feigning a fauxGerman accent that is about right, they leave us utterly uplifted. Apparently Om (Holy Mountain) can be louder when they have their own equipment I am dutifully told by one of the many fans the Californians have in the Arches. Not sure the plague of tinnitus is a fair punishment but with the twosome managing to rattle fringes and ribcages with their down-tempo not-quitedrone music, they leave the warehouse teetering on the edge of collapse as they deafen those dedicated or mad enough to stay within a hundred yards. Which is why it was probably a safe bet having Sunn O))) (Southern Lord) headlining. Trying the patience of the most sedated at two in the morning, there is something of a post-apocalyptic show going on onstage as they spend the first twenty-five minutes of the set filling the whole of south-west Birmingham with smoke. When they do finally emerge in their cloaks they look like the last monks alive after the four horsemen have wreaked their havoc. With a sound that seems to be them slowly dying in front of you, like a dying pigeon you feel compelled to put the poor sod out of its misery but you just cannot help being horribly intrigued by what is going on. We are glued to the floor as the barely visible trio do their thing. Their thing of course being playing very slowly. Suspicions that they were simply playing a cover of Lulu’s ‘Shout’ at a millionth of the speed are unfounded. Suspiciously brilliant like the festival which will be back next year – more eclectic and clearly more fantastic than ever. Hurrah!
Writer Gareth Main Photography Katja Ogrin
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LULLABIES FOR THE TAKEN KIMYA DAWSON / ANGELO SPENCER / ROXANNE: THE EARLY YEARS THE CUBE MICROPLEX, BRISTOL. 20 JUNE 2007 The arrival of a certain family saw The Cube Microplex fit to bursting as, for a UK tour that was only confirmed a few weeks prior, what some might see as the travelling circus of Kimya Dawson, her other half Angelo Spencer and 11-month-old Panda Delilah still managed to draw the people of Bristol. In their first trip to the UK since the release of Dawson’s 2006 full length, Remember That I Love You, the Cube Microplex’s single cinema screen room was already warm and stuffy as first support, Roxanne: The Early Years graced the stage. The female fronted act, with a supporting cast of percussionists tamely warmed the crowd up before one-man band Spencer awoke from his nap on the Cube’s benched seating area to take his place behind a sparse drum kit. Donning a semi-electric guitar with mild distortion, a flu-ravaged Spencer then preceded to wail out a repertoire of uneventful songs. His ethos is a nice idea, but there is only so much one man can do and the constant bom-crash-bom-crash-bom-crash beat scratches away at the inside of the cranium like a wayward gerbil. Despite the flu’s abundance on the tour, Kimya Dawson played through her ailment remarkably well, putting Mister Dawson’s man-flu to shame. Her raspy voice peaked over the crowd’s respectful silence that prevailed throughout – a familiar characteristic with the Dawson live show. Alongside a large chunk of her set coming from her aforementioned fourth record, Dawson managed to squeeze out a hefty amount from her recent Alphabutt e.pee. As cringe-worthy as the title is, the eight songs performed showed the same playful humour personified by a lot of her previous material. With baby Dawson and daddy Dawson appearing for a handful of songs, the show seemed to go off into a more twee direction. After dispersing with the childrens’ songs and on the request of the audience was a sprinkling of a few favourites. Dawson claiming that she didn’t remember the words to all of them proceeded to play songs such as ‘The Beer’ with perfection. An excitingly dark song going back to Dawson’s more rebellious and wild Moldy Peaches days played with an honesty and intensity unrivalled by the majority of today’s singer / songwriters. But it was the inclusion of ‘Henry Kelly’ – the story of childhood naivety to danger and the worry of parents that really shined. Written for Dawson’s Antsy Pants side project, the song was a surprising and welcome inclusion. It was these perceived treats which were ironically the downside to the show. The extensive playing of new material from Remember That I Love You often felt forced and the set really shined with the performance of older, darker material. Songs like ‘Viva La Persistance’ and ‘I’d Rather Go with Friends than Go Alone’ were played with passion and it could be felt in the audience as the crowd strained to soak up every note. The signs of an incredibly dedicated fan base never wavered as they were politely hushed throughout. It helps that her simple and direct style is easily reproduced for the live arena and, despite the introduction of new material, the expected intimacy never materialised. Though the set was satisfying long and content, after one final wail from Panda, and the announcement that it was “boob o’ clock” the show was finished, somewhat half-heartedly. AP
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Misty’s Big Adventure
GRUMPY FUNNY TIMES MISTY’S BIG ADVENTURE / BETTY & THE ID JUG OF ALE, BIRMINGHAM. 7 JULY 2007 There has always been something off-canter about Misty’s Big Adventure, not least their live extravaganza. From the stages of Lithuania (probably) to the toilet venues of a city near you (most definitely), Misty’s were certainly back in their realm in the pubs of South Birmingham. Of course they have been on their travels over the summer. With the odd homeland show and the bizarre, British Council-funded trip to Lithuania to talk alongside big label bigwigs and Eastern European industry people, Misty’s have kept themselves relatively quiet in the first half of the year – simply setting up their own record label and making Lithuanians laugh at their indifference to fame or fortune. Normality though is something not associated with the Misty’s live show and, in keeping with this peculiarity, Betty & the Id saunter onstage for their support set. A few mystified looks shoot around amongst the members of the audience unfamiliar with the local band as they set up their gear. The wrong side of everything: age, looks, hairline, waistline, and with one member of the troupe looking like local Pete Doherty stalker Max Carlish they rip into an unprecedented brilliant post-punk performance that makes the members of the little upstairs room bounce like merry troubadours. Not that middle-aged ingenuity can upstage the local heroes, and they are soon forgotten when the significantly more youthful Misty’s make their appearance. Flicking through tracks primarily from Black Hole and forthcoming self-release Funny Times, the energy created on stage and, in particular, the contrasting emotions of dancing Nathan-Barley-with-the-rage-virus Erotic Volvo and the downbeat demeanour of front man Grandmaster Gareth, the set takes the crowd on a journey of cultural damnation entwined with an aggressively buoyant back line. That is where the dancing begins – and no cynical lyrical view on life can stop the locals from turning the tiny room into a thumping sweatbox. Wrapped around an incredible backing line, and spurred on by the equally terrifying and comical Volvo, ‘Smart Guys Wear Ties’ is the catalyst, with Volvo and his running blue face paint the inspiration and the consistently hunched Gareth the conductor for the hugely talented Misty’s members. But it is not just the man of many blue hands and MBA’s inspirational leader who run this gig into a party atmosphere. The choreography of the eight-piece, most prominently during ‘Never Stops, Never Rests, Never Sleeps’ where the stage seems empty behind the audience as the group crouch down, adds to the sweaty-pop-hands infusion and resurrects those who believed that upbeat music with brass was killed off sometime in the mid-90s by the rush of appallingly naff US ska bands. But a ska band Misty’s are not and they would probably scoff at the suggestion of such a constrained label. For what is before you when seeing Misty’s is not a band with three guitar chords and someone who can blow a saxophone or trumpet, rather you see a highly intelligent, musically-led, comic troupe, led by a frontman who is at worst a downplayed funnyman and at best the most underappreciated music writer the UK has had for a long time. Gareth engages his audience with comical comments and short a-cappella pieces (‘Crumpled up Guy’) whilst his band entertain with sing-alongs (‘Monkeys and Donkeys’), apparently off-the-cuff renditions of the back catalogue (‘Night time better than the Daytime’), and highly energised set closers (‘Hey Guy!’). Misty’s are undoubtedly a national treasure and, with their leader dismissing profit margins in a world where the conglomerates of the industry find their slice of the pie tasting less sweet, Grandmaster Gareth – gearing up for the release of another solo record – may just have the musical world at his feet. GM
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Photography Courtesy of respective record label
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ROUGH TRADE CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE DAY
NEW BLACK DAWNING
Legendary label Rough Trade has come back into the independent family after the Beggars Group bought up the 49% stake in the label owned by Universal for £800,000. The struggling label was deemed surplus to requirements after its major label owners snapped up the Sanctuary Group in a £44.5million takeover deal in July. The Beggars Group includes a large proportion of quality independent labels, including 4AD, the home to Scott Walker’s last record and XL Recordings, home of the White Stripes. Rough Trade will bring acclaimed artists such as Brakes, Jarvis Cocker, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire to the group. Beggars Group founder Martin Mills says, “In our early days, I used to drive our new records over to the Rough Trade shop in Notting Hill. They’ve clearly been a crucial part of the UK independent scene since then, from the days of the Cartel and The Smiths, to The Strokes and Sufjan Stevens. “It was impossible to resist the appeal of combining their amazing musical heritage with ours. Adding them to everything that’s going on here for our existing group of record labels is a very exciting proposition.” In a statement, Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis added, “It has been a long and fitful journey from the time we were selling Lurkers singles in the Rough Trade shop on Kensington Park Road to this brand new partnership with Martin Mills and his Beggars Group. “It has been a road littered with bumps and crashes but nevertheless we have had many world class artists gracing our label. Jeannette Lee and myself feel that history has bought us full circle and we know that this liaison will finally give the label the kind of stability, dynamism and expertise that will allow us to grow on a worldwide basis. We share a culture that is about our artists and their work. “To continue to be a wholly Independent label, with the support of the Beggars Group, is the best of all possible worlds to our way of thinking. We are genuinely excited about the future and the opportunity to bring new records and new artists to the world’s attention.”
XL Records’ pioneering folk genius Devendra Banhart has announced his new album will be called Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon and will be released on September 24th.
Cooking Vinyl’s favourite Pixie Frank Black has become the first artist signed to an Independent record label to record an exclusive live session for iTunes. Black and his band recorded the session on 6 July 2007 at the Rockhal Studios in Luxembourg. The five song session, which features two of Black’s own songs, alongside three cover versions comprises of the following tracks:
The first record released under the new partnership was Open Field by Victoria Bergsman’s solo project Taken by Trees.
The tracklisting is: 01. Cristobal 02. So Long Old Bean 03. Samba Vexillographica 04. Seahorse 05. Bad Girl 06. Seaside 07. Shabop Shalom 08. Tonada Yanomaminista 09. Rosa 10. Saved 11. Lover 12. Carmencita 13. The Other Woman 14. Freely 15. I Remember 16. My Dearest Friend
01. Re-Make/Re-Model (Roxy Music cover) 02. Massif Central 03. Manitoba 04. History Song (Blur cover) 05. The Black Rider (Tom Waits cover) Frank Black’s alter ago, Black Francis, will be releasing a new album, Bluefinger on Monday 3rd September. The album features 11 songs which directly and indirectly reference the Dutch painter / musician Herman Brood, turn to the reviews section for Bearded’s take on the record.
EMBEDDED IN CAPSULE
Birmingham-based innovative art and music promoters and the hearts and minds behind the superb Supersonic festival Capsule have announced their programme of gigs for the back end of the year including a show at Birmingham’s reopening town hall. A mix of the weird, the wonderful and the whimsical, the full line-up is: 1st Sept High on Fire + Russian Circles, Barfly 15th Oct Pram + Modified Toy Orchestra + Shady Bard, Town Hall 17th Oct Unsane + Bee Stung Lips, The Factory Club 21st Oct Kling Klang + Mike in Mono, Hare & Hounds 27th Oct Boredoms, Barfly 9th Nov Acid Mothers Temple + Einstellung, Hare & Hounds 22nd Nov Efterklang, Hare & Hounds Capsule have also opened a new online store selling Supersonic and Capsule merchandise at http://capsule.bigcartel.com
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The Bearded Sluice Box
THE BEARDED SLUICE BOX ARTISTS ROCKING OUR WORLD WHO SHOULD BE ROCKING YOURS TOO – READ ABOUT THEM, LISTEN TO THEM, LOVE THEM AND REMEMBER TO COME BACK AND THANK US.
MIT (HALF MACHINE)
BEE STUNG LIPS (CAPSULE)
Probably the best thing electronic to come out of Germany since Kraftwerk – and even better – Cologne’s MIT have been causing waves in their homeland and have started to gouge a way into hearts on this side of the Channel. A ferocious, rhythmic blast hinting at Death from Above 1979 and !!! but sounding better than the sum of those parts, MIT have in their possession a very modern and very future sound of electronica at their disposal.
Made up of Birmingham scenesters, bad moustaches and phlegm problems, Capsule’s first signings Bee Stung Lips have been causing a satisfactory level of racket and mayhem around their home city for the best part of a year. With a bucketful of irony-laced attitude and a hardcore racket that probably owes more to castrated testicles and bad braces than quoted references of Scott Walker and The Birthday Party, Bee Stung Lips will be defecating a toilet venue near you soon.
Arsenal Deine Eltern EP Goodbook 7”
Arsenal Songs to and from an Iron Gut EP
Links www.mitmitmit.net www.myspace.com/mitmitmit GM
Links www.myspace.com/beestunglips1 GM
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The Bearded Sluice Box
Photography Future of the Left: Mei Lewis Radio Luxembourg: Esyllt Williams Bee Stung Lips: Katja Ogrin All other photography Courtesy of respective record label
RADIO LUXEMBOURG (PESKI)
THE VOODOO TROMBONE QUARTET (FRESHLY SQUEEZED MUSIC)
FUTURE OF THE LEFT (TOO PURE)
With summer struggling to emerge, it is nonetheless exciting to welcome Radio Luxembourg into your wet ears to bring some ray of sunshine in. Hailing from Aberystwyth, they follow the path paved by fellow Welsh singers Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs by unashamedly singing irresistible, almost commercial pop songs in their native language – with ex-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Childs’ production on their debut EP Diwrnod efo’r Anifeiliaid (A day with the animals) ensuring four tracks of pop perfection. With an short film score and a debut album in the pipeline, summer 2008 will be the hottest yet.
One of the most exciting acts on sizzling hot label Freshly Squeezed Music, the Voodoo Trombone Quartet have been enjoying air time on Radio 1 and, more bizarrely, as the soundtrack to perpetually pregnant Davina McCall’s pre and postnatal DVD. Stylish and fun, Paul Thorpe’s oneman-band (that grows to an eight-strong entourage live) aims to create a sound of ska / reggae come breakbeat / latin with nods to Lee Scratch Perry, Booker T and the MGs and big band music. Their recent The Phantom EP has been on repeat in the Bearded office since its release in May.
When mclusky unspectacularly imploded in January 2005, after huge amounts of critical acclaim and little else, a huge gap was left in the alternative rock landscape. Until now, the remnants of the mclusky ashes have only been visible in Jon Chapple’s unspectacular post-mclusky project Shooting at Unarmed Men. Thankfully with Future of the Left, the further two-thirds of mclusky – Andy Falkous and Jack Egglestone, along with ex-Jarcrew bassist Kelson Mathias, have put together something much more palatable.
Arsenal Diwrnod efo’r Anifeiliaid EP Links www.radiolux.org.uk www.myspace.com/radiolux GM
Arsenal The Voodoo Trombone Quartet LP The Phantom EP Links www.voodootrombonequartet.com www.myspace.com/ voodootrombonequartet JL
Arsenal Fingers Become Thumbs / The Lord Hates A Coward CDS Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood 7” Curses LP (released 24 September) Links www.futureoftheleft.com www.myspace.com/futureoftheleft GM
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Untitled Musical Project
GO BANANAS FOR UNTITLED MUSICAL PROJECT THERE IS A LESS THAN SIMPLE TRUTH ABOUT THE MOST EXCITING BAND IN THE MIDLANDS RIGHT NOW. MEET UNTITLED MUSICAL PROJECT – THEY LIKE THROWING AWAY SUGGESTIVE FRUIT, MAKING LITTLE GIRLS CRY AND WANT TO MAKE A CAREER OUT OF CAPTURING CHILDREN AND INVOICING THE PARENTS. IT’S ALL FINE – JUST DON’T MENTION PAUL MCCARTNEY…
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Untitled Musical Project
It is a quiet Friday night in the centre of Birmingham as sixteen people shuffle into the small downstairs room of the Sunflower Lounge, a not-particularly hidden gem in and amongst the drunken fisticuffs and leering gents that occupy the bars across the road in the Chinese Quarter of the city. Around the corner was where splendid heavy rock club Edwards No.8 burnt down little over six months ago and now this is all remains of the alternative city centre scene. It is almost anything goes in the shape of musical forms. Tonight, in the main bar upstairs psychedelic sounds can be heard swirling around the heads of peculiarly coiffured indiekids who are just having a weak lager before heading off to appalling sex cattle market Snobs – where the sounds of Radio One’s awful guitar music playlist will keep the youngsters drooling over whichever poor soul they have pounced upon. Fortunately, back in the small downstairs room where sixteen people can make the place seem suitably busy, a few aging mediocre guitar bands with upwards of five members are about to be blown away by a young three-piece with an ear for a tune and a voice to shatter the subtle silence. Hailing from across the north of England (Cumbria, Stafford and Leeds) but brought to Birmingham by some strange fate, Untitled Musical Project have been stirring up interest across the city for the past two years, resulting in support slots with Art Brut, Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster and We are Physics along the way. They have a ravenously loud but strangely melodic sound that gives a nod and a wink to departed Welsh three piece mclusky and can whip up frenzy with a small devoted crowd or turn heads of the curiously interested 3000 on a support tour, something the band see as not particularly daunting: “The weirdest thing about it is that, when you go on tour with a band, everyone is there to see that band,” says bassist and vocalist Andrew Barry Graham. “You get up and play and you get a generally subdued reaction. But there are a few people in the crowd really liking it. I’ve been to see bands and seen really good support bands and I’ll clap but I’ve never been like [loud untranscribable cheer]. With support gigs there will always be people that like it and people that don’t. I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad reaction.” It is only after considerable chatting and consultation that the band come to the decision that they have actually had a bad reaction from an audience. “At Tin Pan Alley last year there were children in the front row crying,” says guitarist and lead vocalist Kieran Duffy. “He threw a banana at a small child once,” retorts drummer James Peacock. “You threw a banana at a small child?” an astonished and slightly amused Andrew gasps. “It wasn’t a small child,” is the defence. Indeed, this is the dynamics that make a three-piece so fun to chat with. Four-piece bands seem to have their own cliques and more than four is just silly territory but, within a threepiece group, the playful ganging up on one member sends the interview spiralling into less of a PR exercise and more of a series of comical anecdotes. It continues: Andrew Barry Graham: Was she crying after the banana hit her or after the gig? Kieran Duffy: I think it was just the banana. It was so long ago I’d like to categorically state that I’ve never hit anyone with a banana. I found it on the floor so I just went [implies lobbing action] weeep! Let’s not talk about bananas. ABG: I don’t even like bananas. James Peacock: I can’t even touch them. The taste of a banana in my mouth just makes me feel sick.
KD: I’d eaten too many bananas, I couldn’t look at another one so I just had to throw it away. JP: You do like your bananas though… KD: I go through short waves of inconsistency. It was bananas that day. I binged too far. ABG: Do you think you could live on just eating bananas? You think they would make you big and strong? JP: I think you’d die. KD: You mean like Bananaman? JP: You can’t just eat one vegetable, you can’t get all the nutrients you need from one product. ABG: What if you ate nothing but aubergine? JP: I think you should try it. ABG: I’m not going to eat anything but aubergine for a month and see what happens. But banana throwing aside, touring the country has been a successful experience for the band. With AAA single Facsimile Machine / Beards & Drugs / Why Isn’t Paul McCartney Dead Already? released through Whiteheat Records last year and the third ‘A’ track proving something of a conversation starter. “We’ve played Liverpool twice and played ‘Why Isn’t Paul McCartney Dead Already?’ twice and it’s gone down really well both times,” gleams Kieran, “I don’t hate him as such, he just aggravates me slightly. I don’t think I hate anyone – well I hate Hitler – but I’m sure he hates me somewhat – although he probably hasn’t heard of me. I just think he is pretty pointless nowadays. He’s pretty average.” The band’s opinions fail to perk up when the conversation turns to the modern state of the music industry: “[Everything’s] jingly-jangly and ‘new-rave’. Some of it’s alright but the vast majority is just rubbish. Absolute dogshit. I’m never convinced by a new band unless they have one album that is amazing but I don’t think any of us are convinced until they’ve had a few albums,” says Andy. But what about the Birmingham scene at the moment? “There are a lot of good bands in Birmingham at the moment actually,” continues Andy, “We’re not part of any scene really. We know all the bands and some are doing pretty well – The Gravity Crisis, Johnny Foreigner – they’re not doing as well as The Twang obviously.” “Oh we mustn’t forget The Twang,” interrupts James. “I don’t even class them as a Birmingham band now because they’ve had all this success,” Andy continues in his northern drawl, “Obviously they are from Birmingham but, when you say ‘Birmingham bands’, you think of small bands in Birmingham rather than bands that are…” James: “ …a one hit wonder.” Avoiding the dross that the mainstream music industry seems to handpick out of a badly done to Birmingham music scene segues nicely into talk of the band’s mini-album. After a lukewarm bidding war that will see Tigertrap getting the nod to release it, the band are more concerned on getting the right producer in to record rather than how the record is going to force itself on the public’s concern: “We have Dan Swift producing who did our demos and he has done stuff for Help She Can’t Swim,” says Andy. “He did a really good job of our demos and we weren’t that happy with the production on the single which we did with someone else.
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Untitled Musical Project
“[The single was] just a bit hit and miss. If you’re a big band and you’ve got loads of money then you can spend ages on it but we have to do everything on the cheap. Dan did it for free as a favour when he did our demos and it sounded really good. The guy who did our single did it all for free and, although he’s a really good producer, he didn’t quite hit the nail on the head as much as Dan did, he captured the essence of our live sound.” Inevitably though, the topic descends into bizarreness and bananas: KD: It had that slickness didn’t it? ABG: It sounds raw but recorded – I like that. Raw but contained – calculated rawness. JP: Calculated rawness – I like that. Dan Swift’s recording session went really smoothly but when we were recording the single which we had to get through in a day, Andy’s amp blew just as we had got it sounding perfect. Then we had to start finding another amp, we had to borrow an amp from another band. KD: Well we didn’t really borrow it did we? ABG: We stole another amp. JP: We didn’t have any time so we just saw it in another room and dragged it out of there and then we were using this Marshall amp and it started smoking and we were thinking ‘oh Christ’. It all just sort of went a bit crazy. We just need to sort out finances – who is going to pay for it and where we are going to do it and stuff. ABG: But Dan Swift is producing again this time around. He’s just had a kid though so he’s gone a bit underground. JP: I didn’t even know he’d had a kid. ABG: Well he hasn’t, his missus has. JP: Is it a boy or a girl? ABG: It’s a baby. KD: We’re not going to talk about bananas or small children again. ABG: We don’t like bananas or children. JP: Well we like children. KD: Bananas are a good, healthy snack. Better than a baby. ABG: And you can throw bananas. JP: I think bananas are better than babies. You can put bananas in a bag. ABG: But bananas can go off. JP: Bananas are a perishable item but it requires a lot less stress than a baby does. ABG: If a banana rots and disappears you can buy a new banana, if a baby has rotted you can’t do much and you’re going to get in a lot of trouble. Trying to rescue the interview is almost pointless, the band are in the industry to have a fun time. It isn’t about money or big record deals or selling out arenas or being The Twang. One of their songs say that, “being on the dole isn’t rock n roll.” Indeed that is true and a glimpse at aging punks in the streets around South Birmingham are a testament to a bygone age that has long since gone with the onslaught of a strong economy and realistic employment prospects, times have changed, but what is the point of making music if you don’t care about the money? ABG: If someone is willing to give us enough money to get by and do the band then I think that would be the ideal situation really. KD: We don’t want to become massive. ABG: When that happens, if that happens, then I dunno – we don’t plan to be honest, it’s probably the best way. Whatever happens happens.
JP: If we carry on doing just what we’re doing now and get by while doing it then that’ll be it. ABG: We know it’s not in our hands, it’s in the hands of the record companies, the media, the press – the demigods – the people at the top of big blocks in London snorting two grams of coke a day. They sign the bands and put the money forward so if you don’t have them you can’t really do it. I mean, if someone wants to sign us then fair enough… [long pause]… thank you. B: But how does it start in the first place? ABG: Well me and James were in a band before when we were at the University of Stafford. Our singer left so we just formed by accident really. Kieran was just a pisshead we knew from the pub and me and him just started jamming and it was pretty shit. Then James came in and instantly it all got pretty good. From there we just formed and it wasn’t intended as a band initially, just a bit of fun for a local battle of the bands in which we did surprisingly well – but we didn’t win. JP: We came second. ABG: Yeah, second seems to be setting the position we hold. Always second place! B: Is it still just a bit of a laugh? JP: No, well, it has just progressed further now hasn’t it? ABG: Yeah, it got quite big early on. JP: Initially it did start off like that but then we started playing on stage and we thought, ‘bloody hell people actually like this stuff,’ so then we started taking it seriously and then we started getting more involved and got a manager. B: Were you going out and getting that or was it just people coming to you? ABG: We didn’t go and try to find anyone, they just came to us. Our manager found us on myspace and asked us to send him a demo. He then asked us to go play in London with all these other bands… JP: And it was a disaster. ABG: Well it wasn’t that bad. He actually offered to manage us before we played, perhaps he shouldn’t, but he had that faith in us. JP: Faith or stupidity. ABG: I’ll go for faith because he’ll probably read this. And there is where it ends. Talk of a tour to support the release of the mini-album towards the end of the year descends into a conversation about buying a touring van, kidnapping children and taking them ‘for a good time’ before returning them with an invoice to their parents. A quick word with the Bearded lawyers means that this section of the interview cannot be repeated due in part that Untitled Musical Project are a family-orientated band who want to keep their wholesome reputation for being ‘down with the kids’ – just don’t give them any bananas.
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Writer Gareth Main Photography Stone Immaculate
Untitled Musical Project
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CRYING OVER SPILLERS RECORDS JASON DRAPER TAKES A LOOK AT A TRUE LANDMARK IN INDEPENDENT RECORD STORES, AND HOW THESE SHOPS FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL TODAY.
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When the oldest independent music shop in Britain is in danger of closing down, you know independent stores are in the shit. But that’s exactly what seemed to be happening in December 2006 when Spillers Records, a Cardiff-based record shop founded in 1894, and acknowledged as the oldest surviving record store in the world by Guinness World Records, was threatened with rent hikes at its location in The Hayes area of Cardiff’s city centre. Property developers Helical Bar had suggested that Nick Todd, Spillers owner of over 20 years, could face rent hikes of up to 100 percent unless the shop moved to one of the nearby arcades in the city centre. Two brand new developments are being built in The Hayes, and Helical Bar’s Investment Director, Michael Brown, insists that Spillers will not fit in with their vision of how Cardiff’s city centre should be: “If you walk down Oxford Street you do not see niche record stores among the chains,” Brown said. “We warned Mr Todd that he is standing in the way of progress. The rent in their present location will at some point be unaffordable.” Ignoring the stereotyped moustache-twiddling villain way in which Brown made his threat, he seemed to be overlooking the fact that Oxford Street is a godawful hellhole to try and shop in where the only shops that aren’t massive chain stores commonplace on any generic high street are either tiny touristgeared outlets selling hilarious ‘my brother went to London and all he got me was this stupid T-shirt’ T-shirts, or massive chain restaurants (sic) such as McDonald’s, Subways or Starbucks. Ask most Londoners and they long for a bit of independent variety and character along Europe’s busiest street. Thankfully, half of the Welsh Assembly have backed Spillers, not the moneybags redevelopers that (presumably) the council have allowed in, and Shadow Culture Minister, Owen John Thomas AM, has sponsored a petition to keep Spillers open. “If you get rid of the individual stores like this one and replace them with the chains you produce a clone city,” he’s said. He is right, clearly, so then it shouldn’t be a case of asking whether Spillers is good for Cardiff, as Michael Brown seems to be doing, but whether Helical Bar is good for one of Britain’s cleanest, nicest and most idiosyncratic city centres. In a world where independent record stores are shutting up shop at an alarming rate, we shouldn’t be looking to push out the ones that can survive. Spillers’ situation has gone public because it’s the oldest of these stores and provides a great media hook. The most famous is surely Beanos in Croydon, which was on the brink of complete meltdown in August 2006, after more than 30 years in the business. Beanos was known worldwide for having the most diverse collection of vinyl 7”s, 12”s, LPs and second hand CDs that could be found under one roof. Last year, however, founder David Lashmar declared the business unprofitable. Sellers were no longer taking their records to Beanos to shift on, choosing instead to make whatever they could out of the worldwide collectors’ market on eBay. Likewise, buyers weren’t travelling from all over the world to visit Beanos anymore, when they could just purchase from the internet. The music industry’s rampant repackaging and reissuing didn’t help much, either “If you want to buy obscure Trojan reggae singles, you can get them on a very good triple CD box set for a tenner,” Lashmar said in December 2006, “whereas one of those Trojan singles could cost you 200 quid. So that’s where the market went for those… that’s taken the collectability out of that vinyl.”
Illustration Craig Atkinson www.craigatkinson.co.uk
Elsewhere, as recently as June this year on London’s Berwick Street, once the hotbed for independent shops of all types (it’s also the street on the cover of Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?), shops were still shutting down. Mister CD is the most recent to have given up the fight, following in the footsteps of Reckless Records across the road, CD City, and Steve’s Sounds in Newport Court, just a three minute walk away. The obvious thing to say is: support your independent stores otherwise they’ll all become coffee shops but all is not lost. What seems to be happening is that, whilst bottom-end, second hand CDs become easier to find brand new and for cheap in the supermarkets and chain stores, all the good stuff – ie, the rare vinyl, the really collectable records worth hundreds of pounds – is still going up in value. At the end of 2005, Beanos’ David Lashmar had simply cut all of his prices in the hopes to shift his entire stock before pulling the shutters down for good. After overwhelming support from regular customers, Lashmar decided that he could possibly salvage something from the wreckage. With the rarest vinyl not becoming any less desirable to punters, record collecting seems to be going the way of highbrow art collecting: well-informed independent sellers who really know their stuff will survive on the strength of their very best stock, while everyone else will be left to survive on selling bulk knock-offs – ie, the CD equivalent of thousands of copies of prints of the Mona Lisa. “The very rare records will always continue to sell and there’s a huge demand now worldwide for those,” Lashmar says. “The top end will continue to go up in price and be very desirable. The average condition, average price stuff will disappear” And that is Lashmar’s plan. Instead of occupying the three floors of their Middle Street, Croydon premises, Beanos proper has slimmed down to selling just the real collectors’ rarities on the bottom floor. The first and second floors of the building are being turned into Beanos marketplace, where “traders who have a product complimentary to Beanos” will be able to rent space on a seven-day-a-week basis. So all is not doom and gloom for the independent record stores. David Lashmar has found a way in which to adapt Beanos to the changing market, and it’s not inconceivable for shops on Berwick Street to club together to keep themselves alive one way or another (for instance, when Berwick Street’s Selectadisc closed down in September 2005, nearby Sister Ray took over to stop a coffee shop from moving in). To go back to the beginning, the point remains: When you have a place like Spillers in Cardiff – one that can survive in today’s market, and for which has actually been booming, not shrinking, in the advent of downloads and online marketplaces – we should be doing everything we can to keep it afloat. Not many other places will stock Cymande LPs next to Meic Stevens, we’ll tell you that. Add your name to the 6,500-plus names on the online petition to save Spillers Records here: www.ipetitions.com/petition/spillersrecords Find out more about Beanos Marketplace here: www.beanosmarketplace.co.uk
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THROWING SNOW AT THE PAST There is something fundamentally irritating about the term ‘folktronica’. It bears all the hallmarks of the mainstream music press and its infatuation with pigeon-holing, and it reeks of journalistic laziness. But Ross Tones, aka Throwing Snow, is happy with the tag when applied to his brand of melodious electronic downbeat – not least because Four Tet, commonly regarded as the father of folktronica, is a major influence. Ross, who grew up on a farm in County Durham “breeding sheep and chickens”, is in London now, working at Ninja Tunes and promoting his debut EP Footnotes pt 1 – an accomplished and at times mesmerising collection of electronic instrumentals. When I meet Ross for drinks, he’s keen to highlight the folk roots of his music. Growing up “in the middle of nowhere” left its mark, he says, and subsequent years spent travelling in India, Thailand and South America have combined to produce a rural strain in his music. But this is offset by an urbane sophistication, shown through his use of advanced electronic techniques. “I’m a proper country boy. People don’t understand that about me because I’m kind of urban now I suppose. Still, a lot of my roots are from the country. You can probably here it in some of the folk rhythms that I use.” In fact, the folktronica tag is absolutely fitting for Throwing Snow. “I’ve always liked natural instruments and traditional folk music, but crossed over with cutting edge electronica.” Ross samples from a wide range of instruments, including a violin played by a man he met in Rajasthan, and the relatively modern hang drum, or “an upside-down wok” as he calls it, a melodious drum played with the fingers. These samples, as well as more traditional 60s and 70s funk breakbeats, are combined with his own live acoustic bass and filtered through hi-tech software to create the sound of Throwing Snow. Folktronica just about sums it up. Footnotes part 1 is released on Ross’s own label, A Future Without, which brings together a collection of musicians that couldn’t be more varied in terms of genre and geography. These include Voodooetnies from Seville, a friend of Foreign Beggars and purveyor of a very Spanish kind of trip-hop. Then there’s Head and Neck Sessions, a downbeat, soulful electronic act from Shrewsbury that has received support from Gilles Peterson. But there are also guitar-based singer-songwriters like Smith and Paperplain, who both sound like they’ve never been anywhere near a laptop.
Writer William Brett Illustration Zeroten www.zeroten.net
So what is it that brings these artists together? What’s the unifying idea behind A Future Without? “It’s a Bristol sound. All the artists, no matter where they’re from, should have been from Bristol, and they all want to be there. I don’t know what it is. I suppose it’s to do with breaks, bass and interesting vocals.” Ross went to university in Bristol, and the city’s rich musical heritage has clearly left its mark. He namechecks Portishead, Massive Attack and Lamb as clear influences on him and his label. But he goes further, suggesting that the city itself is responsible for what A Future Without is like. “Bristol opened up my horizons. Everyone seems to be musicians, so it’s this melting pot of different styles. And everyone seems to know each other. I worked in a sandwich shop, and the girl working with me was having a baby with Adrian from Portishead. It is that kind of tight community that makes people who are into rock, punk, hip-hop, or whatever, all get along and make interesting, crossover music.” Making a living out of electronica is a tough ask, but Ross is giving it a go. Footnotes pt 1 has a fighting chance of making some kind of sales impact on iTunes. But Ross is under no illusions about how difficult it is to succeed in this business. “If you try to make the music that you want, it’s so hard without bending it to some commercial purpose,” he tells me. And on the subject of major labels, he comes close to losing his otherwise ubiquitous cool. “They take control of people’s tastes. If you play the same tune 1,000 times you’re going to have to like it eventually, so long as it has a catchy hook.” But there are other ways now to get a piece of the pie without being part of the major label scene. “Without myspace I wouldn’t even have considered setting up a label,” he says. A music consultant for Adidas found A Future Without by chance on myspace, and is using several of the label’s artists, including Throwing Snow, for adverts. And Ross is convinced that the majors haven’t cottoned on to the rise of the MP3 fast enough – he wants to release all of A Future Without’s output on MP3s, “because it’s environmentally friendly and, well, it’s the future”. But he acknowledges that sales are unlikely to keep an electronic artist on a minor label afloat, and is looking at ways to develop Throwing Snow as a live act. “A lot of electronic artists hide behind their computer, and I’ve been doing that when I play live. People watching must think I’m just pressing play on iTunes.” To spice things up, he has constructed a loop pedal out of a Playstation controller, and is looking at developing the Nintendo Wii technology to make his live act more of a visible, physical performance. “Anything that can take us out of this stagnated state of pressing buttons on a computer has to be good. It can be so boring otherwise. Live electronic music has been pretty boring for the last 10 years, but I think we’re getting past that stage now.” Judging by the quality of music and variety of ideas coming from Throwing Snow and A Future Without, I think he might be right.
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FULL OF VOLCANICITY! AN AMALGAMATION OF A CUDDLY BEAR, A CLAY-BASED, WATER PRODUCING VOLCANO, A DOCTOR, A HANGMAN AND A TALENT FOR THE POPULARLY STRANGE, BELT UP AND DELVE INTO THE WORLD OF MATT BERRY – TELEVISION’S GREATEST MUSICIAN.
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From a domineering moustache in the Mighty Boosh to the smooth, clean shaven look in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace to the bearded persona he has adapted prior to our meeting, Matt Berry is a man of many faces. Ruggedly handsome with a bizarrely sexuality-bending rough tenderness, he is not someone you would necessarily rather hear than see but, from his music to his acting to the recent Volvic adverts that have become a popular culture hit over the summer, it is his voice that is driving his strong cult following on towards a new mainstream audience. “I don’t give a shit to be honest” is his firm but slightly arduous response when I quiz him on the demand on him for his voice rather than his acting abilities. A slight pause for thought and a tumulus removed from his voice he continues, “people in advertising love it sure and for me that work is really easy because all I have to do is go in and do it.” But his voice has brought a much richer use than his reprising role as George the volcano in the irresistible Volvic adverts. Opium, Matt’s second album after 1995’s Jackpot, has been garnering something of a cult popularity after it was released through his agent and eBay back in 2005. Over the past year, with his first live shows placing him in front of adoring Darkplace fans and some quizzical looks, the record has had much more dealing around amongst the middle ground, becoming an offbeat hit, not least due to the clear relationship with his surreal comic masterwork 2006 BBC3 series Snuff Box. The highly musical show, a collaboration with fellow Mighty Boosh star Rich Fulcher for which Matt wrote and recorded all the music, covers similar themes tackled on Opium, those of sex, drink, drugs and sexuality and, like Opium, is an insatiable experience, getting better with every consumption – intriguing, enlightening, enjoyable and absolutely unique. When I meet him in a dark corner of a West End bar, his distinguishable smooth baritone, which is oft-rumoured to be put on, is still there, and, to the distaste perhaps of his drunken, whiskey-loving namesake character in Snuff Box, he calmly orders a Diet Coke. Something of a quietly hushed character in person, but with the same intelligent coolness that can effortlessly reference Faust in a heavily spoken-word concept album not in a way which his agent might describe as “concept bullshit”, he oozes through talk of actor’s albums, spoken-word and his work with motown legend Geno Washington as well as chatty women, former-Hollyoaks actress Elize du Toit (with who he is starring in forthcoming horror film The Devil’s Chair) and ideological views of himself. But it is the talk of his musical proficiency and his perceived movement from the cult status toward the mainstream that bring out the most animated responses. With two sides of this conversation coming into the interview – one the earnest, young interviewer who, from watching the barely-viewed airings of Darkplace and Snuff Box has been watching more and more people heralding the not-as-young, much more suave actor and musician since the DVD release of the former, holding the belief that, given the surprising (to all camps) popularity of his debut live shows and the rapid booking of more shows for the back end of the year, not to mention a lead role in the second series of Channel 4’s internationally broadcast and BAFTA-nominated Friday night comedy The IT Crowd, that the actor is taking his first steps towards the acting mainstream recently entered by contemporaries the Mighty Boosh – especially Noel Fielding who seems to have settled for a life with mediocre celebrities and bad comedians. On the other side of the conversation is the actor and musician in question who seems to have the belief that the mainstream and popular culture would never want him, or understand him, a point probably true in a writing or musicianship role where his subject matter is probably too dark, too twisted and too intelligent for the primetime masses. As a comedy actor it is a different matter. His ability and, inevitably, his uniqueness provide the audience with an alluring platter on which to feast – and live studio audiences have been chomping on Matt’s performances for the primetime Channel 4 show. His music though is unlikely to reach the radio playlists anytime soon. The twisted, wonky-pop that certainly peppered Snuff Box and is also evident on Opium is hard to define its desired audience, being past the pallet of taste for the mainstream whilst also being quite tame for the electro-alterno-boffins who desire something less poppy to fill their speakers.
But it is its dark innocence that drives the record. Concept albums are generally hard to master, and even harder to keep on track with a certain narrative that combines some rather complex themes. Opium does not tackle the modern day concept album complaints of war and politics, instead opting to the classic concept theme adopted by The Who in Tommy – one of a story of mental adversity covering the personal story of the subject. Through loss, rejection, drug abuse, death and sex in which he contemplates suicide, finds an answer in opiates, contemplates suicide once more then brilliantly tries to perform reggae, Berry’s record is at worst a wonderful story with some fantastic sing-a-long tracks and, at best, a modern day masterpiece, far removed from anything else that has been recorded in this country in the past decade. It also marks a wild swing from Berry’s last musical outing – 2004’s BBC3 rock opera AD/BC – which, written with Darkplace and IT Crowd compatriot Richard Ayoade, fused comedy and music in the telling of the nativity. With Matt as the Innkeeper who gives Mary and Joseph a place in the stable, the show was filmed and recorded within a week and, despite the small payday, clearly holds a great place in his heart. It also holds a special place in recent cult comedy circles as it boasts many stars of British comedy including Mighty Boosh duo Noel Fielding and the delightful Julian Barrett (in small shorts), Matt Lucas, Julia Davis, Rich Fulcher, Karl Theobald and Sophie Winkleman. From the parts on television in barely-watched cult favourites Darkplace and the Mighty Boosh, Matt’s stock has unquestionably risen since the two shows saw unprecedented DVD sales and are now semi-popular culture successes. Now he is likely to carry on the upward trend with his role in The IT Crowd. This, coupled with the probable DVD release of Snuff Box and definite release of AD/BC before Christmas, will begin to open more doors for him as a primetime actor, but is the mainstream somewhere he wants to be?
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Matt Berry: I don’t think anyone would actually want me in anything mainstream. I don’t see The IT Crowd as particularly mainstream even though it looks quite broad because it is filmed in front of a live studio audience but the actual subject matter is much like Father Ted and it has that sort of feel to me. If I wasn’t doing this I would still like it. Bearded: But is being on primetime television an interest to you? I only ever do what I want to do. I only take the projects that I like. It isn’t a career ladder and there is no big plan to reach the mainstream and become famous. I do things that I find funny, things that I like. Take My Family for instance, not that they would ever offer me a part, but I wouldn’t enjoy doing something like that because it is not my type of humour and I don’t think I would be any good at it. It has never been about getting up onto BBC1. It is just a matter of doing what I want, what I like and, if people are going to pay me to do it then even better. Like AD/BC? Exactly, AD/BC was something I came up with and actually offered to the BBC. It just so happened that they had a fifty-piece band to do the BBC3 Christmas special but, because it was such a small amount of money they were offering, everybody else basically turned them flat down saying “we can’t do it for this, we can’t even pay for two actors” but because I wanted to do something and the chance was there I said yes. And you did it in the budget clearly? Oh it cost nothing, no one made any money and not many people saw it [laughs in trademark style]. Was it a case then of simply getting all your mates in to do it? Of course. Because there was no cash I couldn’t get actors in that I didn’t know because they would want paying. Would you say that was a part of a comedy clique that seems to pass around roles in shows at the moment? I hope not, I really hope not. I don’t like any kind of clique. I think it is more a case of contacts and budgets. When the [Mighty] Boosh came out it did nothing, when Darkplace came out it did absolutely nothing so as far as the group goes we were just people who made shows which basically nobody watched. For me it never feels like a group who are doing a certain thing, it just feels the same as it ever did, albeit with a little more money. So how was it that you all met then? Well I studied fine art and that was completely removed from the other people. It was when Noel Fielding was performing at the Hen and Chickens [in Islington] a long time ago when no one was coming to see the Boosh. I had written a few songs which weren’t very good but they were okay just on an acoustic and it kind of went from there. Matt [Holness] and Rich [Ayoade] were there as well and we all did little bits, little 10-minute slots, and that is where I met them all because I wasn’t at Cambridge [where Holness and Ayoade both studied]. So what inspired you to move away from the comical musical aspects of AD/BC and turn to the more serious aspects of Opium? None of it is serious. I mean there is serious intent but I’m not that serious. I don’t feel that most of the songs on AD/BC would be out of place on Opium. But Opium tackles some serious issues? It has a lot of links to Snuff Box but confronts them quite differently. You’re right, it was quite a subconscious thing the links between Opium and Snuff Box. You make a good point because I didn’t even realise [the thematic links between Opium and Snuff Box] until fairly recently. I guess I could visualise all the ideas that were on that album because they are all the kind of things that I like. We were quite lucky with Snuff Box because the BBC didn’t interfere with it at all even though they really should’ve done in some ways. As they didn’t interfere, everything that I wanted to do I did. After that are they willing to give you another show to do? Maybe but it will be very, very closely watched. Depending on the DVD sales? Well they say they are going to put one out at some point. How far would you say the debauchery of Snuff Box and Opium is a true representation of you? [Have a few moments of laughing from himself and, more prominently, his agent] Any kind of artwork, well the best artwork I guess is the stuff which is true to the person that is doing it. Is that a ‘no comment’? No, no, no, no, no [more background giggles]. That is the answer. You can only do what you know, the things you like. I was given a blank canvas so I just did what I wanted and ran with it.
For both Snuff Box and Opium, language plays an important part. A striking difference between the two is the level of swearing in Snuff Box and the lack of it in Opium, was the in-joke the ‘effing and a-jeffing’ opening scene to Snuff Box? In a sense. “The girls don’t like the ‘effing and a-jeffing” is an interesting point but it actually wasn’t a conscious decision. I wanted to keep things vaguely to how me and Rich talk and that is how Rich talks. I guess we both do. For me it is not really gratuitous – all the swears that are in it are thought out. You have a gentleman’s club and you have an American saying ‘fuck’ in an English gentleman’s club. Right there that is going to cause a stir – that is a joke in itself. It isn’t just someone saying ‘fuck’ for no reason. It is not like in a British gangster film where everyone just says ‘fuck’ for no reason, you have a guy in a gentleman’s club with old men – posh old men – and he is saying ‘fuck’ and they are going to say [adopts posh English accent] “oh what the hell is this?” There was a point to it. Then when it came to Opium was that visual comic aspect of a ‘fuck’ removed? Well the way I see audio stuff isn’t the same as I see visual stuff because, if you have lots of bad language on a record, it is kind of difficult to listen to it time and time again. If you don’t swear it is much easier so that was the thought behind that. So where did the concept for Opium come from? It was just something I wanted to do. I have always liked the actors’ albums. By that I mean Peter Wyngarde’s album, not so much William Shatner, but when you have an actor who does spoken word over rock music. I have always loved those and really wanted to do something like that. Shatner’s is more ridiculous, I like to go towards Peter Wyngarde more. Are you planning a step in a different direction for the new record? Opium was an album about the horrors and the degradation of the city and the next one is hopefully going to be about the horrors and the degradation of the countryside. I want it to be something special. We want it to be out this year and we are going to get Jonas 3 in to play most of the music. What about the inspiration from working with Geno Washington? The Geno stuff is quite surreal. I did a gig at the Bloomsbury and Geno came on for the encore and he has now recorded a version of the Snuff Box theme – and it is brilliant. We are going to try and finish his new record and then I would really like to write more songs for him. That would be really cool. Is that something you would like to go into? Writing for other artists? I don’t really think about it but I would like to do it for him because he is really good. He is playing the Snuff Box theme as part of his set at the moment and that is really cool. Really cool for me anyway. He plays live most of the year and that is now part of his set which is absolutely mental – he has his motown stuff which he has done for years and then he has that – it is crazy, the weirdest thing. So we shouldn’t expect an unadulterated pop single coming anytime soon? I don’t think I’d ever have any success in any sort of pop charts. They wouldn’t know what to make of it. I’m probably too old anyway! So the future. New album for the end of the year hopefully, is AD/BC going to get a release as well? It is, yes. We have plenty of ideas for it. We are hoping to have a gatefold album with a lengthened audio version of AD/BC plus the DVD. It should be in the shops October / November time. And what about the TV? Are there any other projects in the pipeline? I’m doing some more writing with Rich [Fulcher] again and I’m also doing some bits for Peter Serafinowicz’s new sketch show. He does amazing impersonations so that is going to be really good. So we leave with Matt preparing for his BBC2 comedy with Peter Serafinowicz (known primarily for his own unique voice used as Duane Benzie in Spaced and as the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace) safe in the knowledge that we will be seeing, and hearing, plenty of him in the foreseeable future with the release of The Devil’s Chair, a bit part in Steve Coogan’s BBC comedy Saxondale (for which he writes and performs the music), and of course his new album, and an adjoining tour, ready for the end of the year. With The IT Crowd hitting screens nationwide in September, next time we meet his stock could be even higher. Whiskeeey!
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Writer Gareth Main Photography Tom Medwell Illustration Bob London www.boblondon.co.uk
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Writer Pete Guest Illustration David Callow www.davidcallow.co.uk
Londonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Alternative Country Scene
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London’s Alternative Country Scene
ALT. COUNTRY Despite its image as the barroom entertainment of the American deep south, Americana’s roots can be found closer to home. Now London-based bands are reclaiming this poetic and narrative musical scene and taking it to the uk. It’s Alt. Country night at the Half Moon in Herne Hill, and on stage violinist Francis Vaux has that fearful innocent look of a sweet Mormon girl who’s slipped out the window of her daddy’s lodge for the evening. The Southern Tenant Folk Union is perhaps the nearest thing to a supergroup in the growing UK Americana scene with singer Oliver Talkes an accomplished solo performer in his own right and co-vocalist and guitarist Pete Gow having plied his trade with Case Hardin. But in amongst the stars it is the group’s founder, Pat McGarvey, whose CV really stands out. The Belfast-born banjo player has gigged with some of Americana’s great and good, including a long stint writing and playing for the Coal Porters, ex-Long Ryder Sid Griffin’s Bluegrass band. But despite making a name for himself in this ostensibly American form, and regardless of the unmistakable Deep South legacy in the band’s name (named from a 1930’s collective of sharecroppers and tenant farmers from Arkansas) McGarvey is a firm Irishman with his own family heritage lying in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. McGarvey has no trouble reconciling the apparent incongruity between the South London setting for this gig, indeed for pretty much all of the UK branch of the movement, and the American imagery that pervades – some would say defines – the style. Americana, or alternative country, and its roots in the cultural mélange of the nascent United States, has strong connections to Celtic folk music and AfricanAmerican gospel, sharing instruments and techniques with both. “You have to remember of course that all of this ‘country’ styled music is half British in origin anyway – exported over there with immigrants mixed up in that melting pot then coming back to us Brits – so why not change it again and send it back?” McGarvey says. In the multiethnic environs of South London, the UK Americana scene could barely have found a better place to seed. Even so, the STFU is not averse to picking up on classic gothic-American images – old timber buildings and long-distance lovers – and McGarvey says that he pulls them mainly from his own experience. He talks of his songs in terms of stories, and the surviving narrative element of the Americana form is again evidence of its ancestry in the musical storytelling of the Celtic and African – now American – traditions. “[STFU single] ‘The First & Last’ is about the old wooden church on the hill, but it’s not in Alabama or Tennessee but in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland where my family is from and the song is about my grandfather and his contrasting roles as a member of that congregation and his occupation as landlord and publican of a local public house called ‘The First & Last’. “Of course I do agree that we sometimes tastefully nick some part of the imagery from those Americana songs, perhaps even the odd phrase or expression,” he adds. “But as long as we strive to sing in our own voices and avoid the hokey white face hillbilly impressions that some indulge in then I’ve no problem with being allied with that style.” Just returned from Glastonbury, another London-based alt. country band, The Cedars, is making similar, if slightly more modern, noises. The band hits that darker, melancholic musical ground with musical craftsmanship and buckets of slide guitar. Jason Moffat, lead guitarist and founding member of the four-piece, takes a similar line to McGarvey on the musical origin of their music. “I don’t think we’re stealing history, certainly not on a conscious level,” he says. “Most of the history we’re talking about is shared by the British too, prospecting, discovery, gambling, revenge and murder – well the last three are pretty current too. On the whole I think the stories are quite universal… There are a few songs which use American imagery but they tend to be fused with our own upbringing and sensibilities, there are a few which use images of the Scottish Highlands which is where [lead singer and co-writer] Chantal [Hill] comes from and where a fair amount of what we call Americana originates.” The Cedars play hefty tunes that they themselves describe as ‘Americana throwback.’ The first song that Hill and Moffat penned together after she answered an advert for a singer back in 2004 was ‘The Colour’ – with English spelling – a song by a woman left behind by her gold prospecting lover. Others take similar themes of love and loss, while some, like ‘Annie’ and ‘Extrication Row’, are anti-moral fables that play with the redemption and glee of being the jilter, rather than the jilted. These are, again, backward glances at the gothic American tradition, arguably started, or at least wellverbalised, by US poets like Edgar Allen Poe. “For us there is a bit of a low down primal element to us too, which I suppose is more of a modern thing, but also almost certainly has it’s roots somewhere else, you could link just about any music or art form with an earlier influence or origin, I don’t think anything is purely original, it’s all a big mix,” Moffat says.
Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working. Glastonbury this year followed the Reading Festival in 2006, and The Cedars are rarely short of work. “Yeah, it’s pretty exciting at the moment,” Moffat concedes. “Plenty of festivals coming up and there have been a few people who have been very good to us and got us playing in some fine venues. There does seem to be some sort of surge of Americana in the media, but I’m not sure it’s so sudden in reality. The Coen Brothers have got a lot to answer for I think, with their film O Brother Where Art Thou? which brought Gillian Welch, Allison Krause, Ralph Stanley, Jim Lauderdale and so many others to the UK mainstream for a brief moment, which seems to have stuck with many people. Since then though I think it’s been a case of people just playing and playing until someone takes notice.” With all the expectations piled on a UK Americana band to supply that Hollywoodised ideal of Bluegrass, the temptation, or the danger, may be there to sacrifice the richness of the form’s cultural heritage for quick and accessible parody, just as the almost-glam-rockers of the Kaiser Chiefs’ ilk did for British punk. “I think there are certainly some bands out there that take on the whole American look and go for it that way, which is fine, I’m sure some of them do take it a bit too far for some people’s tastes,” Moffat says. “For us, we’re about writing songs we identify with and that we like ourselves first, which ultimately makes us want to share it with an audience. How we dress and act on-stage is pretty individual to us I think. We’re pretty down to earth and perhaps a bit mouthy, which is how we are off-stage pretty much. We certainly don’t put on American accents, wear cowboy hats and try to pretend we’re from Nashville.” McGarvey is a bit more concerned by the possibility. “Some bands certainly have done that and I can’t help but think it may even have the potential to render the entire Alt Country scene in the UK a laughing stock, even if it’s only one or two bands actually responsible,” he says. “I would hope that the serious music fan with breadth of eclectic taste and knowledge knows what’s what and how to differentiate – others will surely see it in a way that confirms whatever prejudice they may hold against folk music in general and Country / Americana in particular…and there’s not much, beyond trying our best to write and perform soulful, interesting and thoughtful music, that we can do about it.”
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Freshly Squeezed Music
FEELING THE SQUEEZE BRIGHTON, THE HOME OF MODS VS ROCKERS, FREE SEXUALITY AND DANGEROUS BEACH PARTIES. IT IS ALSO THE HOME OF NICK HOLLYWOOD, THE MAN BEHIND LEMON AND THE LEGENDARY CLUB MONTEPULCIANO. HE IS ALSO THE MAN BEHIND FRESHLY SQUEEZED MUSIC, WHOSE NEW ECLECTRIK COMPILATION GRINDS LIKE A CULT ELECTRO MONSTER. HOLLYWOOD HAS A UNRIVALLED PASSION FOR VINYL AND THE INDEPENDENT LIFESTYLE – MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES AND ALL. In the noughties, revival has once again become the buzz word with bands taking huge influence from eighties indie. Whatever your opinion of the current state of the music scene, it seems that retro is cool, and so being picked up at Brighton Train Station in a VW Camper and then being driven around the city’s distinctive streets was a nice start to the day. I had come to meet with Nick “Hollywood” Perring, a DJ, “all round music mogul” and the man behind Freshly Squeezed Music, a label that is rapidly gaining cult status. As one of the men behind the legendary Club Montepulciano which ran from the early nineties until 2004, the club was inspired by the nightclubs of old, with their swinging tunes and influenced by classic icons like Bond and Playboy with clubbers donning their togs for the varying themes. From nightclub to camper van, Hollywood is a man of cult cultivation, “I thought that seeing as its your first trip to Brighton, you’ve definitely got to see the seafront and also what us locals like to call the lanes,” he says as he changes gear. Guiding the van through narrow streets, the colourful street art of the buildings and shops are evidence of a hotspot for alternative culture, the blue van blending as part of the urban furniture. He explains a little about Brighton with clear enthusiasm for his city, also home to Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds, “all the music that comes out of Brighton is very different, I do feel kind of proud of it, there is a uniquish attitude, a vibe which is good… it doesn’t produce one style but there is a creative energy.” The Freshly Squeezed artist roster includes names such as Lemon, The Voodoo Trombone Quartet, Dodo, Foxgluv, Lodekka, The Pinker Tones, Stereo de Luxe and Product01 which don’t sit steadily in the average muso’s vocab but a quick glance at the telly may ignite a check of familiarity and an advert for Kellogg’s, Walls or Walmart, or if you’ve ever had to watch Dirty Dancing 2 with your sister, is the answer to your curiosity. This acute aptitude of the music for television also happens to be conveniently lucrative. But it was a desire to create something new and refreshing that prompted Hollywood to start Club Multipulciano. “It started off because we wanted somewhere for the band to play, but actually the club became more important than the band… there was the rave scene going on and there was nothing in the middle, it was boring… it used to get to me that you can go and see three bands in a night who have no connection to each other, no theme, no consistency, why can’t a poet or a cabaret act support a band? Why does a band have to play all their set in one go?” The night developed from what Hollywood describes as “like a chaotic 60s art happening” to an increasingly better organised event which became an eclectic, all inclusive club happening. Starting soberly, it featured bands earlier on, and then DJs and dancing followed − this formula proving extremely popular, “we were selling out tickets months in advance, it got silly really… to be honest we got a bit bored.” The popularity was not an attraction for Hollywood, and as expectations increased he lost the impetus to be creative. “Everyone starts taking your ideas, everyone starts to do cabaret and burlesque and the whole retro thing comes in, and there’s a style and a fashion and all that. There was a very hip crowd at one time,” he says with a wry chuckle, “but it became hugely mainstream… other people have taken it on and injected new life.” It was time for Nick to do something different, “the idea of Freshly Squeezed was just to kind of turn over a new leaf, but it very much evolved out of Club Montepulciano.” The freedom that an Independent label offers is ideal for Hollywood, he enjoys “wearing different hats” as he puts it, where he has a closet of DJ, producer and artist headwear. Lemon, his musical alter-ego, which can boast several tracks on Hollywood movie soundtracks, is his single artist identity. From there he has his multitude of Djing identities. “I might get invited out as Freshly Squeezed, in which case I’ll play all the stuff that’s on the label and some more edgy stuff, whereas if I get invited out as Nick Hollywood, I’ll just do the old stuff on 45s. “It is easy to differentiate between those things and I know which things belong in which boxes; it helps because otherwise I’d just feel a little bit stale.”
It is this danger of becoming stuck in a box as an artist and catering to the expectations of an already established audience that Nick tries to avoid, he applies the philosophy to his record label. “A lot of small labels are about becoming a brand that identifies a particular sound. I can see the sense of that from a marketing point of view, but I’m coming to run a record label having been an artist. As an artist you don’t want to be part of a label brand, but you want to develop in your own way, to have the scope to evolve. I think the label should really be only something like a seal of quality.” As the title of the new Freshly Squeezed compilation suggests, the artists on Hollywood’s label are pretty eclectic, but quality remains constant. Lodekka is ambient electronica, while The Pinker Tones new record is currently the best selling Latin album in America. It is record labels from the past that Hollywood admires the most, “there is an old label called Stiff Records which I particularly like because they have a range of completely mad slogans like “if it’s not stiff, it isn’t worth a fuck,” they signed Ian Dury and Madness. Personally I find a lot of inspiration in old things, I love collecting old records… but I’m not a purist at all although I know people who really are. What excites me about (things from the past) is that our perspective of them changes.” ‘Batman Twist’ from the Eclectrik compilation is Hollywood’s interpretation of the Batman theme tune, “it’s got an electro thing going as well, which it what makes it work for me,” he explains, “it’s the way in which those things pull against each other that I find personally interesting. Eclecticism and cultural context.”
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Freshly Squeezed Music
Writer James Labous Photography Clubbers: Ian Brodie Other photography Courtesy of Freshly Squeezed Music
Freshly Squeezed operates from Nick’s airy, high ceiling Georgian house where he lives with his wife and two small children, “(my office) is very portable” as he puts it, “I like the idea of integrating work with my life, music isn’t a serious job,” he chuckles again. “Basically, there’s me and that’s the constant thread, most small record labels and even some of the big ones are very honed down. I use different companies or freelancers to do different things like design. It’s that modern thing of not everyone working in one office, but coming together for specific projects.” Hollywood relishes the personal nature of it all, “one of the things that’s great about an independent is that its still very hands on, especially vinyl, a vinyl is still that physical medium that you touch and that you scratch and you put it on and you turn over and its got a cover… (an independent label) can be as small as a guy who produces the record in his room and puts in the back of his car to take round to the record shops.” The philosophy is a far flung from depersonalised modern corporations but ironically it is these types of organisations, including the ultimate symbol of global capitalism itself; Coca Cola, that have proved a major source of income for Freshly Squeezed. Does this compromise the integrity of his label or the artists in any way? “When I was growing up in the punk days integrity was everything and you would never, never get in to bed with any business,” Hollywood replies after some thought, his business sense evidently hardened by the reality of the modern scene. He feels that, with the growth of downloading, artists have to make their money somehow: “Bands are going to have to look to other ways of making money from their music. And that’s going to be through licensing for adverts, films... there is much less stigma attached to this now. I think it’s very unfair to point the finger at an artist and say ‘well you sold out.’” And he likes the fact that bands like New Young Pony Club have found a success as a result of advertising: “there is actually some good music that gets played in supermarkets now.” But does this new necessity to find income elsewhere mean that the term ‘sold out’ has changed? “The Voodoo Trombone Quartet is never going to be totally mainstream because it’s not fronted by Britney Spears, and it’s only got the odd vocal in it,” points out Hollywood, “A Robbie Williams album is never going to be a Robbie Williams album unless its got him on the front cover… something else that’s about the music doesn’t have people on the front.” And this is the philosophy behind Freshly Squeezed, unless the Voodoo Trombone Quartet is fronted by the monkey adorning the cover of The Phantom EP. The Eclectrik cover features the covers of all the records of the bands on the compilation, and, as a showcase of two years of Freshly Squeezed Music, these are exciting times for Hollywood: “The main thing for me is that the album is coming out… I think that it is a very interesting statement for now… the freedom of an independent is great, being able to integrate running the label into my lifestyle. I have to wear different hats, I have to spend time doing boring things like contracts, but there’s still lots of time spent listening to music or doing artwork or working on ideas, all of which is great.” We journeyed back towards the North Lanes, the Camper chugged honestly away as we talked of what might inspire bands to make music. “That’s why I put Keroac on the Lemon myspace,” says Hollywood, “You go to loads of band pages and they just list other bands as influences but it’s so much wider than that, even totally unrelated things, it all goes in.” Music is not a style, it’s an attitude, the van chug chugged in agreement. I hope you agree too.
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Photography Courtesy of Dave Clarke
DE-ROBED, BUT NOT DE-THRONED AFTER THREE YEARS, THOSE SOLDIER GIRLS AND BOYS ARE BACK AGAIN WITH A NEW ALBUM AND A NEW LOOK. SPREE MAINMAN TIM DELAUGHTER TELLS JASON DRAPER WHAT HAPPENED. “We go through so much bullshit to try to do what we’re doing at this point that, when we get a chance to play live, it’s a victory for us,” Tim deLaughter says. ‘Laughter’ might make part of his surname (which is, in fact, pronounced to rhyme with ‘daughter’… or… ‘slaughter’), but it’s not in his voice right now: “There’s 27 of us on one bus [going] around here in the States, the thing’s broken down twice. We’ve had to switch to coaches that have upright seats where you sit up for 20 hours and drive from one place to another. We don’t get a shower every day, we don’t make much money – we charge the same price for a ticket that a five-piece charges. Believe me, it’s not all sunshine and happiness for this group…”
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Christ, and here we were thinking that the robes of three years back and joyous dancing meant that The Polyphonic Spree lived in a perpetual Neverland. But deLaughter’s got a right to be narked. He’s spending less than a day in one city at the moment (at the time of speaking to him he was sitting in San Francisco, in the middle of a Seattle-San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego-Denver run), travelling in the aforesaid testing conditions with 26 other bandmates, and is working against deadline to score and record his second soundtrack on a mobile studio, while trying to promote the Spree’s new album, The Fragile Army, in his homeland. All this before coming over to the UK, where the album will be released by Gut Records, to do the same in late August / early September. Those who remember the Spree’s 2004 album, Together We’re Heavy, may well say that Tim needs to be in 2,000 places at once. No wonder the white robes have been replaced with black army fatigues. Ask him about The Fragile Army, however, and he’s right back with it. In the UK, Gut Records, one of the country’s bestrespected independent labels, are putting the album out, which will hopefully avoid the “financial debacle” of Together We’re Heavy’s promotion. “I kinda put [Together…] out myself with another label – kind of a distribution label – and that went over like a lead balloon,” Tim says. “We weren’t financially prepared to work that record in a way it properly needed to be worked. I didn’t have the money for tour support. The record’s great, it’s just the fact that I need a machine behind these records to help me get them out there.” So why approach a smaller indie machine, instead of a major? “Actually, [Gut] contacted us, which is awesome. Majors are fine with me… I had a great experience with 679, I liked those guys a lot at Warner Bros. But with some of them it’s a bit difficult, you know?” This is music to Bearded’s ears… “My attraction to independents is that you have to go through less bureaucracy and red tape to get things done. You’ve got one guy who’s going, ‘OK, let’s do this,’ and he pushes the button and makes it happen. With majors you’ve got to go through a bunch of people to get things happening.” One listen to The Fragile Army and it’s clear that this is a record that demands things happen now, with no red tape. Gone are the borderline prog soundscapes of Together We’re Heavy, here instead is a more guitar-based Spree. Though it features some of the group’s more ambitious vocal arrangements, it’s clear that this record, more then either Together We’re Heavy, or 2003’s The Beginning Stages Of… has a direct sense of purpose. “This is a much more urgent, linear record,” Tim agrees. “I wanted to make shorter sonic blasts of our sound, rather than taking 14 minutes to tell the story. I wanted to do it in three minutes, just because I knew we could.” The sound reflects the reason, then, as much of the album needs to be direct. Those familiar with the Spree’s live shows will also know how Tim has often addressed the political state of his nation from the stage, but The Fragile Army sees the first time such things go down on record, as it were. “I would always talk about things that are going on in my country, and my political feelings abroad, but this record is a definite attempt at a cause and effect about how we’ve been affected as Americans,” Tim says. As the army fatigues show, the effect is that even the Spree have been dragged into war thanks to the Bush regime, and songs such as the title track (“definitely an ode to Bush song”) and ‘Get Up And Go’ reveal some of deLaughter’s immediate concerns. “You have to have your head in a ditch not to have some form of the political climate in your songs,” he says. “As a songwriter it couldn’t help but infiltrate its way into the record… Whoever comes in as President of this country has got such a horrible legacy to deal with at this point, because [Bush] has left it in such disarray.”
So there’s not chance he’ll be holding on for a third term, then? “He’s gone. He’s basically outta here at this point. We have a Democratic Speaker of the House, the majority of our house is Democratic at this point, and they’re all trying their best to pull our people out of Iraq. They’ve had six different votes on trying to get them out, and Bush keeps overriding them. It’s been a nightmare, but the point is that his overall approval rate here in America is 29 percent, and that’s the lowest in American history. It’s going to make it more difficult for him to keep going with this war, when the majority of our country – and the world – is resonating oppositely.” Thank God all of America hasn’t gone entirely mad, then. But we remember how Dixie Chicks were hung out to dry for speaking out about Bush while on stage. Is there the worry that the same might happen to the Spree while promoting the album that’s not meant to go over like a lead balloon? “I don’t give a shit if that happens. I’m not as big as The Dixie Chicks. No one’s affected by what I say except the people in the audience. Good for them, you know, that they ruffled some feathers like that. It also shone the true light on some of the people here in America that thinks all this stuff is normal.” Now there’s an interesting point. If part of The Fragile Army sits in with the long lineage of protest works (see ‘We Shall Overcome’, Neil Young’s Living With War), shining a true light on people is it’s other concern. With songs such as ‘We Crawl’ and ‘Overblow Your Nest’, deLaughter’s light is fixed on those of us content to fake it through life, simply pretending things are fine when they’re not. “All of us do it on a daily basis,” he says. “I’m guilty of it; I think a lot of people are guilty of it… Lyrically speaking I’ve always tried to aspire for more of what’s going on at that particular time. I’m finding out that’s what I’ve always needed – just having manic depressive episodes every now and then.” So is being in The Polyphonic Spree in 2007 a struggle? “That’s my thing. It is a struggle through life. I sing these songs to try to convince myself to keep going because I deal with the highs and lows of life. A lot of people misconstrue my lyrics and think this thing is always happy-clappy and it’s not. It’s a direct response to being miserable at times… but when we get to play our music, that’s the victory. That’s the golden time.” It’s funny, really. Over the years, Tim and the Spree have largely been looked upon as a curio in modern music: twentyplus people, unafraid of bombast without being a guitar-based band like Muse, speaking openly about love and dressing in robes, they’ve often been accused of being nothing more than members of a cult. The evidence proves quite the contrary, however, as deLaughter’s clearly imbued with the spirit of someone who just has to make music to get it out there (“I’ve got horns recording right now!” he admits part way through our conversation). It becomes clear that the Spree have a new album out after three years because Tim deLaughter has to keep on going. Not content with having the one record and the tour to contend with, however, he’s driven to extra curricular activities. “We just started a tour on this record. We have a lot of work to do bringing a fantastic show to people and doing what we do best, which is play live. I have this film [soundtrack] I’m working on, there’s a television series that I’m getting ready to work into, and then that’s probably about it,” he says nonchalantly. “I’ve got my plate full for probably the next year-and-a-half.” Perhaps the Spree should be on a major label – putting all that work in and making money for the fat cats. Thankfully for us they’re not, and they are getting things done in their own time instead. And as long as Tim can avoid the red tape, we can take them in any colour they come in, white, black, or multi-coloured (which, funnily enough, they did come in for Together We’re Heavy).
Bearded FFP. A
Oxford’s Music Scene
UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE OXFORD, HOME OF THE OLDEST UNIVERSITY IN THE ENGLISHSPEAKING WORLD, RADIOHEAD AND SUPERGRASS, IT IS ALSO HOME TO A BUBBLING UNDERCURRENT OF A VIBRANT INDEPENDENT SCENE. JAMES LABOUS TAKES US ROUND HIS TOWN. It’s 9pm on a Thursday night in Oxford. The high street is milling with the usual evening pub goers and buskers are setting out their caps. Mustafa plays his acoustic guitar with lightning speed, the sound reverberating between the mix of modern and picturesque old buildings which house shops and colleges alike. But it’s neither the pubs nor the buskers that the crowd at the Cellar have come to see tonight. As I descend underground into Oxford’s premier venue for new bands (now that the Zodiac has closed for refurbishment), the sound of Radiohead’s Amnesiac is a reminder of the musical legacy which is owed to this unique city. This venue is low and dark, and tonight, only a few people have arrived in anticipation of the three billed bands, with beers in hand we duck under arches to find a seat and wait. A single blonde girl somehow manages to dance to ‘Like Spinning Plates’, like a spectre in the corner in which she will remain all evening. The crowd is young and hip – the influence of students and young people upon the city and its music is undeniable. Listen to most local BBC radio stations and you’ll get Genesis along with boring drivel about opticians and curators of museums. Turn on BBC Oxford on a Saturday night and there is an entire hour devoted to Oxford’s local band scene. It’s called Download and it’s great – if you hear a band you like, you can probably go along that very next week to see them, without even the use of public transport, and for a pittance. In this city no dominating ‘scene’ prevails, just a certain sense of eclecticism and intellectualism. “Oxford bands are a little more experimental” agrees aspiring promoter Christina Riveiros, “many bands like Foals are setting new trends.” Reggae and electronica acts frequent as many bills as indie bands, and a scholarly approach to lyric writing sets these apart – but they’re still cool!
Bearded FFP. A
Oxford’s Music Scene
This sentiment is echoed throughout the city, from museum curators to sandwich shops with posters of cult films on the ceiling, the merge of popular culture with everything else is right up the students’ street. In Oxford, English Scholars armed with Shakespearean intent read comic books and wear Led Zeppelin T-shirts to cocktail bars. The Catweazle Club is Oxford’s legendary performing arts club. It is “an intimate and magical space for musicians, singers, poets, storytellers and performance artists of every imaginable hue, who grace the stage every Thursday night”. Musicians here are more influenced by the overall effect of art and music than the latest emo scene, it’s never dumb though occasionally pretentious. There is a huge interest in what these musicians have to offer, the students and interesting locals are clued in. At the recent Charlebury Riverside Festival it was mostly a family affair, demonstrating the impact of local music on Oxford’s population. “Oxford is different to London,” says Christina, “everyone knows everyone so it’s hard to get into but once you’re involved then it’s great.” “The Oxford music scene has been going for years now and the standard set is very high,” relates Jimmy ‘Evil’ the notorious sound man and promoter of The Cellar, “if you want to succeed in a band in Oxford you have to be good.” First up tonight are unsigned locals, Von Braun. They cite Philip K Dick and Jules Verne as having as equal an influence upon their music as Fugazi and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Von Braun are one of the 812 independent bands in Oxford according to www.oxfordbands.com, a site dedicated to promoting music independently in the city. There are some real gems to be discovered, The Young Knives, Fell City Boy (who have now split) and The Foals are three names that you may have already heard while The Mules are now successfully promoting their unique sound of punk fused with country in London. Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies and The Keyboard Choir represent an example of eclecticism that is present, the former possessing a post punk / rock sound and the latter being electronica performed live by five musicians, while Richard Walters, signed to Big Scary Monsters has enjoyed recent attention with his song writing and fantastic voice. Unsigned acts to watch out for include A Silent Film, Foxes!, Borderville who are retro folk rock “woven into a big concept narrative” and Stornaway, more highly intelligent folk. What they lack in decent band name creativity they make up with great tunes. If you take that a step further and like poetry over music, try Ape Has Killed Ape! The Rock of Travolta who, despite never having been signed are a quite notorious in these parts, even supporting Radiohead in South Park in 2001, they’re pretty rock and roll, mostly cultivating their already established Oxford fanbase. Reggaesuarus have been a favourite at live venues in the past year, with their unique fusion of reggae and dub with Arabic vocals, an example of Oxford’s cultural diversity. Some great DJ sets can be heard too, check out the Skylarkin’ Soundtrack nights! A unique and enviable feature of the Oxford music scene has been the independent nature of everything. From the Zodiac Music Venue and Truck Festival to Nightshift Magazine and all the websites and labels, promoters and smaller venues, to the studios, everything has been started from scratch by determined and enthusiastic music fans. Even Radiohead and Supergrass’ early success was down to an entrepreneurial local manager, Chris Hufford, rather than a major label scout. Tonight, a gig was cancelled at the Jericho Tavern, the venue where On A Friday, featuring Thom Yorke and some friends, first played. Oxford’s uniqueness is born from it’s independency. Of course, as with everywhere you get your chain stores and global brands but from film to food, the people of Oxford are offered an alternative. There is the Phoenix Picture House and Ultimate Picture Palace, the delectable G and D’s Ice Cream Parlour, along with a host of alternative food shops along the multicultural Cowley Road. This is not to mention the atmospheric covered market and film buffs can find cult films at Videosynchratic. And the terms ‘Oxford’ and ‘Independent’ were, until two months ago, applicable to the Zodiac, which for twenty years has been considered the hub of the local music scene. It was the pinnacle for an up and coming local band and featured new and interesting touring acts from everywhere, though mainstream was never a descriptive feature. It has recently been bought by AMG which is the company behind all the Carling academies. Cowley Road will soon be host to its very own ‘Oxford Academy’, for better or for worse. On the upside, AMG is all about promoting live music; it’s not a pub chain with a sideline in music but many are still worried that there will be no place for local bands. “The scene here has always been independent, the Cellar is not owned by any brewery although other pub venues are now” says Jimmy Evil “the word is that the Zodiac will continue to use the same promoters and therefore keep the local bands coming to the Zodiac”. Not all bad then…
The buying up of most of the pubs by different breweries has obviously had its effect nationwide on some pub venues. However, as Jimmy Evil points out, “many pub managers realise that the gigs are an indispensable part of their business,” and as a result many have remained including, The Port Mahon and The Market Tavern where the upstairs room is allocated for this purpose. They are great places to go if you want to enjoy live music accompanied by good ale or a nice pub meal, there are some old taverns in Oxford and most of them feature live music, even if these are just acoustic sets. The Jericho Tavern, haunt of both Supergrass and Radiohead, is amongst the best of these acoustically and for space. Both bands’ images stare down at you from the wall, as does John Peel. The second band on tonight at the Cellar is six piece Witches. It is poetic, original and strongly recommended, trumpet and all. Then come the eagerly anticipated Mimas, shipped in fresh from Denmark and playing a quite excellent brand of Scandinavian Rock which undoubtedly hints at Sigor Ros but has other elements. As midnight nears and as Mimas reach a brilliant crescendo, Students with shirts begin filing in preparation for the club night to come. You can really stumble across some brilliant live music here quite inadvertently. The electro club scene isn’t bad either. After the set by Mimas we headed off, leaving the Oxford scene to boogie on.
Photography Miles Walkden
Bearded FFP. A
EUROS CHILDS MIRACLE INN (WICHITA) NO ‘MIRACLE’… BUT VERY NICE NEVERTHELESS Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci split last year thanks to widespread public indifference. But those charmed by the youthful Welsh collective’s joyously melodic mix of psychedelia, folk and lilting summery pop didn’t have long to wait for another helping. February 2006’s Chops saw former Gorky’s frontman Euros Childs triumphantly revisit the eclecticism and silliness of early Gorky’s; and this March 2007’s all-Welsh Bore Da was another impressive offering, based increasingly round Child’s distinctive piano and vocals. The Miracle Inn completes Childs’s solo hat-trick, and is released just 161 days after his last. It features many of the musicians from Bore Da, including ex-Gorky’s bassist Richard James, who also plays guitar on a few tracks. While not as immediate as Chops, The Miracle Inn is another decent set which sees Childs continue to ring the variations on some wellworn musical themes and lyrical styles. Maybe for budgetary reasons, his solo albums have had a more DIY feeling than the sometimes lusher sound of latter-day Gorky’s. While his gift for melody is ever-present, his solo albums sound more stripped-back, sometimes featuring just voice, lowkey drums and piano / organ, with electric guitars and backing vocals making an appearance on occasions. Lyrically, Childs is open-hearted, emotional and continues to explore the dichotomy of happy / sad. The Miracle Inn is a very rural-sounding record, first-person tales of hanging out in his local village, enjoying the simple life; and occasionally falling in love with lovely but unobtainable girls who either choose someone else, or disappear at the end of the summer. In Childs’ world, the glass always seems to be half-full. That changes slightly on this record as there is also a feeling of nostalgia and the end of an era swirling around. This occasionally turns into darker emotional territory, suggesting that a moodier, more downbeat Childs album might pay dividends. Opener ‘Over You’ is a characteristically breezy, harmonyladen paean to love and nature: ‘I see diamonds and trees / and sunshine for you and me’ while recent single ‘Horse Riding’, a hormonally-charged hymn to a girl who arrives in the village and gets him all flustered (‘I couldn’t help but notice / she had a real good figure’) also features other Childs’ trademarks: an updated 50s rock ’n’ roll vibe and queasy, cheap-sounding keyboards, as well as the classic line ‘call me degenerate but I don’t mind’! The album is strongest as it traverses into the middle section: tracks four to six see Childs drop the tempo and enter hushed, incantatory mode. ‘Think I’ll Runaway’ is a lovely lilting ballad. This song by 60s US act The Turtles (of ‘Happy Together’ fame) is an escapist’s manifesto: ‘high on some green hill we’ll be / laughing at reality / and glad we ran away’. ‘Outside My Window’ is a hushed folky number, accompanied by minimal drums and a churchy organ reminiscent of his former Gorky’s partner Richard James’ solo persuasion, the track has been a live staple for a good 18 months. Childs allows himself the album’s one moment of bitterness: with the couplet ‘Write a song and send it off / sign a contract and get ripped off’. But typically, he can’t stray down for long as ‘the sun come shining through’ at the end.
‘Hard Times Wondering’ reminds of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon with its sinister, minimal acoustic groove: This hypnotic sound is an interesting departure from the formula, and it comes off well with a mood-ridden, understated vocal – an idea well worth repeating. The experimentation continues as the title track, a nostalgic multi-section track that lasts for 16 minutes (almost half the album) without sounding remotely proggy, evokes the rituals of a local Saturday night: at the titular local bar where ‘the cider starts flowing’, boys meet girls and ‘if you’re 15 or 50 you’ll have a good time anyway’. Louder, celebratory sections alternate with reflective, pianobased parts. Appropriately for the album’s autumnal feel, it ends with the recognition that ‘You can’t go back’. ‘Summer’s almost gone’ Childs admits, before the track ends with a spirited bout of ‘lalalalalala’s. But for all its running time, it feels slightly underwhelming. The album then concludes with the sweet, strumalong ‘Go Back Soon’, a tender incantation that ends the album on a melancholy note. It finds comparisons with the record’s overall familiarity – sonically and emotionally – which is both its curse and its strength: The Miracle Inn doesn’t sound like the work of a man twice as old as the one who wrote Patio. It would be great to hear him step out of his comfort zone and produce something that took a few more risks. He tries and succeeds in places but it would be enthralling to see him push his self-imposed boundaries. But maybe that’s somewhat churlish: after all this time toiling away for little reward, Childs appears amazingly un-bitter. And he can still write great melodies in his sleep. Maybe it’s the lifegiving properties of all that country air… BW
Bearded FFP. A
KULA SHAKER STRANGEFOLK (STRANGEFOLK)
NANCY ELIZABETH BATTLE AND VICTORY (LEAF)
In the aftermath of Britpop, it was down to Kula Shaker to bare the brunt of the ‘what were we thinking?’ malaise. Slightly unfair as they were something of an anomaly in the UK scene at the time but, looking over Strangefolk, it may be a well-chanelled critique. In the eight years since Kula Shaker’s limping out of the spotlight with second record Peasants, Pigs, And Astronauts, Crispin Mills concentrated for a time on The Jeevas, focussing his musical scribings to generic pop-rock and bad jokes and this is what Strangefolk has become. Mills has failed to regain the sweet Indian influences that stole our hearts on the likes of ‘Tabla’ and ‘Govinda’ and has continued the bad form which saw him at his lowest with ‘How Much Do You Suck (to lose a popularity contest to Saddam Hussein)?’ with lines like ‘how much does it suck’. The equivalent dick-joke on Strangefolk comes in ‘Great Dictator (Of The Free World)’ with the appalling line ‘I’m a dic, I’m a dic’. Quite frankly Crispin, we couldn’t care less.
Women and harps – it’s the new scrawny boys with guitars and too many post-punk records don’t you know? The difference between the two is that, while guitar bands either side of the Atlantic Ocean peddle a worn out sound that nobody should be interested in anymore, the ladies and their harps manage something much more wonderful and original. Take Joanna Newsom for example, arguably the leader of this harp explosion. After a unique debut record that was equally loved and hated by the people who heard it, she took the formula of harp plus voice and added another variable – orchestral arrangements arranged by one of the greatest writers of all time Van Dyke Parks – and came up with Ys, critically acclaimed and topping pretty much every end of year list (well, those that mattered anyway). Inevitably, the success of the wonderful Joanna has had a knock-on effect on others wanting to save up the more than modest sum of money for their first harp – it is an expensive route, open only to those who really want to have their music heard, and thankfully for us, their music needs to be heard. Following Newsom’s laying down the flag for the US, the UK has produced Serafina Steer and now Nancy Elizabeth as its harp wielding (err) artists, full of tender melodies and, in the case of Steer, forthright insights into the British way of life. Nancy Elizabeth, who dropped her surname Cunliffe due to pronunciation limitations in the south, lies within the middle of Newsom’s elaborate arrangements and Steer’s stripped down approach, managing to put down the harp and create an astonishing debut record. A wonderfully on the target signing for Leaf – a label that is quickly garnering a reputation for unearthing musical gold – Battle and Victory is so stunning, it is amazing to think something so beautiful could emerge from Wigan. Comparisons to Joanna Newsom are inevitable but unfair, the arrangements across Battle and Victory are much advanced then they were on Newsom’s debut The Milk-Eyed Mender and the childlike innocence of Newsom’s voice is in no way comparable to the suited femininity of Cunliffe. There is also an undoubted Britishness about Battle and Victory, not least in the northern twang that growing up in Lancashire will give you.
Cunliffe doesn’t even keep the harp, which she only picked up two years ago after meeting a harp player in Liverpool, prominent throughout. Playing a range of instruments, the 23-yearold brings out and plays a range of instruments almost as unpronounceable as her name – including a Appalachian dulcimer and bouzouki, which helps drive the record from a tender folk frame into a much more rounded, orchestral sound. But it is the tender folk sound we have come to expect from what would probably be termed the ‘new harp revolution’ by uninventive members of the press that opens the record. ‘I’m like the Paper’ starts with simplistic harp and vocals but slowly builds up with the help of a string section and overdubbed vocals. Almost as if she knows what is expected of a harpist in the modern day, Eastern tinges devoid of any prominent harp section break out as the high points of the record. Preceding single ‘I Used to Try’ skips along quite merrily with Marrakech promise and the use of an accordion in ‘Coriander’ almost gives the record something of a klezmer element. Ironically in this day of countless guitar bands a-penny, it is the tracks with the guitar lead-in that make Battle and Victory quite unique. ‘Hey Son’ stands out as a song worthy of a place on any great record. Its thunderous percussion element give the song an unrelenting feel and Cunliffe’s vocals reminding us that, “it’s a hard life” make the three-minutes fly by. Luckily, Battle and Victory is that great record that we all need to come at least once a year, Joanna Newsom did it in 2006, 2007 looks like it is going to be the year of the harp once more. Brilliant. GM
Bearded FFP. A
GRAVENHURST THE WESTERN LANDS (WARP)
VOICE OF THE SEVEN WOODS VOICE OF THE SEVEN WOODS (TWISTED NERVE)
There’s a moment in ‘The Unforgiven’ when Clint Eastwood’s veteran gunfighter declares that he’s abandoned his bloodshedding ways. “I’m just a fella now,” he murmurs to an old friend, “I ain’t no different than anyone else.” Nick Talbot seems to share that dream of anonymity. Over the past four years, the songwriter has built up – and then tried slowly tried to shake off – a reputation as the modern master of the murder ballad. It’s a well-earned title. Gravenhurst’s first three albums managed to clock up a lyrical body count rivalled only by Nick Cave and NWA. On 2003’s Flashlight Seasons Talbot served up tales of ‘murdering fuckheads’ and corpses buried in backyards. Black Holes In The Sand, released a year later, boasted country maidens burned alive and a cover of Hüsker Dü’s study of schoolgirl slaughter, ‘Diane’. The first signs that Talbot was trying to reform his murderous ways appeared on 2005’s Fires In Distant Buildings. The straight folk and spooky acoustics that had dominated Gravenhurst’s first two albums were gone. In came a slowbuilding, post-rock sound, and a noticeable drop in the deathsper-song ratio. With The Western Lands, Talbot’s rehabilitation is complete. The killing spree is over. But without the slaughter and psychosis, much of the album merges into generic indie mulch. The mandatory relationship breakdown song ‘Trust’ revolves around meandering guitar lines and the vapid observation that “Trust is a hard thing to find these days.” Not, clearly, as hard as a poignant insight into love. ‘Hollow Men’ rages along on a Hüsker Dü-inspired riff, but Talbot’s soft voice is lost among the whirl of distortion. And that’s the key problem with The Western Lands. Talbot wants to sing angst-ridden rock, but he’s lumbered with an ethereal, folky voice. When the distortion is ditched, or pushed further into the background, the album shines. Talbot’s feedbackheavy treatment of Fairport Convention’s ‘Farewell, Farewell’ results in pure shimmering beauty. His dreamy vocals sit above the sea of distortion, transforming Richard Thompson’s travelling song into a lush, psychedelic wash of sound. The beauty of ‘Song Among The Pines,’ meanwhile, lies in its simplicity. In Talbot’s hands, a fingerpicked motif and the steady thump of a bass drum can transport you into the heart of the forest. Talbot has proved that he can create beauty without blood and bile. If he can slay the insipid indie musings, he’ll have a killer comeback.
Nu-folk’s not dead, no, it’s just getting weirder. As the 60s folk revival mutated into folk-rock before being subsumed by a psych strand of the same (the NYC Village scene being superseded for a time by San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury), so this current crop of whisperers may be in danger of displacement. With his debut, Voice of the Seven Woods (otherwise known as Bolton-based Rick Tomlinson) blows away most of the Vashti Bunyan worshippers and sensitive wet leaves still taking their small steps on Pink Moon. Even the most misleading Richard Thompson-like solo runs give way to an Eastern stomp, as on opener ‘Sand & Flames’, while elsewhere (‘Sayat Nova’, ‘The Fire In My head’), backed by Chris Walmsey and Pete Hedley, VOSW lets rip an almighty fuzz that threatens to burst Aladdin’s cave wide open. ‘Second Transition’ even locks into an Eastern-tinged groove that The Stone Roses grazed at their funk-rock peaks. Tomlinson’s is a much more raucous, celebratory noise that would damage the ears of those content to mire themselves in their sorrows. You can take it rough and ready with most of the bedroom-like recorders, but VOSW’s sound is at once rough-hewn, intimate, right up close in the speakers – yet epic without being overblown. It may coincide with the 30th anniversary of The Summer of Love – that time when a sitar drone was de rigueur for freaks and heads – but at just under 35 minutes nothing on Voice of the Seven Woods smacks of artistic self-indulgence. That he has room for his sheer sense of scope is astounding. More than wilful eclecticism, this is second nature.
Bearded FFP. A
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS CHALLENGERS (MATADOR)
VARIOUS ARTISTS ECLECTRIK (FRESHLY SQUEEZED MUSIC)
The rain is falling. Much of the country is flooded. You think your other half might be planning to leave you. Your job is sucking the life out of you. You look out of the steamed-up bus window and you start to listen to Challengers, the new album by The New Pornographers. Then, things start to fall away, and your troubles fade to nothing. This album is good enough to make this happen. Your mood will improve and your mind will be purified. Some years ago, The New Pornographers’ single ‘Mass Romantic’, from their same-named album, was for a long time on constant repeat in my headphones. This album will be the same. Opening with the melancholy Beach Boys inflected ‘My Rights Versus Yours’ it lifts the senses and carries you away from your own thoughts. It breeds optimism and pride, giving you the “truth in one free afternoon.” ‘All the Old Showstoppers’ gives you more to hang your sad frame of mind on, revealing a clear forward view. Clarity is bestowed by the strings and classical tone, and the male and female vocals blend to give a unity of purpose. The melancholy is raised to new depths by the album’s title track ‘Challengers’: a mellow, sad and perversely refreshing mixture of mandolins and deep thumping notes, breathy vocals and lyrics to snag your heart. This song was born to be the closing track in an episode of a glossy US teen drama as the camera cranes up and it all fades to black. The jaunty ‘Myriad Harbour’ is insistent and inquisitive. The Roxy Music flavoured ‘All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth’ picks you up and drags you along with it. The brooding ‘Failsafe’ keeps sounding out the depth; it proves this album is never complacent, with lyrics speaking of complicity and guilt. The downright beautiful ‘Unguided’, in all its halting reticence and modesty, bursts into a chorus that deserves to be sung by ten thousand voices at once. The album’s plaintive tone, matched with a saucy playfulness, is seen again in ‘Entering White Cecilia’, and the truisms of love like “a heart will always stay for one day too long” are opened to the world in the folksy simplicity of ‘Go Places’. “Here’s the mutiny I promised you” the New Pornographers sing in ‘Mutiny’, ‘I Promise You’ and a rebellion against your own malaise is what they deliver with its poppy MOR sweetness. The heartbreaking intimacy of ‘Adventures in Solitude’ speaks of love lost and found again; in this track there is a powerful sense of real love that oozes like molasses into your mind, but it is never overly cloying. The final track, listened to on a miserable journey home, on faceless, sweaty public transport, will make you think of love, war, sex, power and passion. The unimportant and futile will melt away. Listening to this album is a way to transcend reality, for the better. Sad, warm, jolly, mellow, proud, horizon-broadening and view-expanding: this album will distract you from the real world. Then, as the album draws to a close and you start it all over again, you will realise that maybe (just maybe) things will turn out ok after all, and everything will be alright in the end.
Fresh and Squeezed is right for the eclectic, but not always electric, ride of the Brighton label’s current roster compilation. From the ‘dirty club’ of Dodo and The Lovers (where comparisons with Golfrapp are undeniable but favourable), through the amusingly delicious world of The Voodoo Trombone Quartet and label boss Nick Hollywood’s Lemon remix of the Batman theme tune, the eclectic array of talents is dripping throughout. From sexual deviance to down and dirty fun, the first two tracks of the album could be the story of a couple cavorting in a nightclub for all we care. Dodo’s ‘Electric Love’ features an almost obese synth bassline and dreamy vocals while Sheffield duo The Lovers cuddle up in bed the morning after to hold sumptuously suggestive Franglais dialogues about supping from each others’ font. Sexual allusions aside, the real fun starts when Hollywood revs up the Batman theme as the perfect introduction to a double knockout blow from the Voodoo Trombone Quartet’s recent The Phantom EP as the title tracks ghostly brilliance compliments ‘Major Taylor – Bicyclist’. Loddekko’s ‘Yes Mr. B’ sees a Becklike aptitude for combining slinky bass lines with slick samples. It also instigates the evening to the hangover day, the soundtrack for the quiet drink in the downstairs bar, Lemon’s ‘Lets Go! Bikini’ is an evening pool party, though Hollywood’s Reggae heritage remains evident. The night ends with Trevira Modern’s ‘Dakkaragada’ – featured in US drama ‘Las Vegas’, it races sumptuously to the finish. After the rigours of sexual liaisons, having fun on the dancefloor seems to be where it is at. A sound that can become misplaced in the rigours of ordinary life, it is a true escape.
Bearded FFP. A
VOXTROT VOXTROT (PLAYLOUDER)
MENOMENA FRIEND AND FOE (CITY SLANG)
AUTOMATED ACOUSTICS LOVE TO THE DEDICATED LISTENER (ALTERNATIVE BLUEPRINT)
Voxtrot hail from Austin, Texas, bastion of bohemianism and home of the legendary SXSW festival. After three EPs and some decent internet buzz, this is their first album – and it’s a grower. The five-piece band has been described as ‘New Order meets Belle & Sebastian’. Their singer Ramesh (a transplanted Glasgow indie kid) can sound uncannily like Barney, and the band sometimes reminds me of the Mancunian legends’ rockier recent incarnation. Anglophile to the core, this thoughtful, introspective album is definitely music for moping round college bedrooms to. Well-crafted and tuneful, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel but does what it does well. With a couple of exceptions (the perky 70s AM piano-pop of ‘Steven’, the mellower country-tinged ‘The Future’), Voxtrot sticks to a pretty familiar template. Impressionistic, difficult-to-pin-down lyrics sketch various psychological crises brought on by the onset of adulthood. Meanwhile, the polished, widescreen production ensures it will appeal to both the mainstream and indie kids. This ambition is clear from the off as ‘Kid Gloves’ makes a bid for the popular with its big chorus and the obligatory low self-esteem (“Cheer me up, cheer me up I’m a miserable fuck / Cheer me up, cheer me up, I’m a tireless bore”). Other early highlight includes strange Steely Dan / Franz Ferdinand hybrid ‘Steven’, with its neurotic / smart, 70s AM radio vibe and ‘Brother in Conflict’ sounds urgent, Ramesh repeating “I have to lose my idols to find my voice” like a mantra. Don’t tell Mr Sumner… But overall, Voxtrot is flawed. It sometimes tends towards well-crafted anonymity, the lyrics are often vague and clumsy… and the band name sucks (as do most of the song titles!) On the other hand, compared to some of their oversold and overstyled peers, Voxtrot’s unforced naturalness and lack of ‘angle’ is quite appealing. Does the world really need another dull, competent corporate indie band? ‘Indie’ should stand for independence of thought. For Voxtrot, like so many, it is merely a straitjacket.
Here at Bearded, we like things different and this is why we like Menomena. Sure, there is little different about guitars, bass, drums, keyboards but there is something swirlingly surreal about Menomena that flicks a switch and it is probably something to do about this specialist recording process the band are so keen to talk about. It basically involves a computer that loops sounds over and over again – not interesting you say? Wrong. For there is a twisted poetry in this way of music making – an over the top wall of sound smashes you in the face frequently throughout Friend and Foe – the band’s third record – which, entwined with melodic guitar parts, likens them to fellow Oregon band Flaming Lips whilst giving nods to the American indie sound that has been developed delightfully through bands such as The Mountain Goats. A perfect starter for ten on the record is ‘Wet and Rusting’, it dabbles delightfully in some electronics whilst overlaying that with the clear guitar melodies characteristic of their countrymens’ college indie scene. The three-piece then continue it through; ‘Running’ is a fabulous ride along whilst ‘Boyscout’n’ is the undoubted highlight – joyful whistling throughout the opening whilst it builds to a ‘shut up and listen to what we have to say’, it fumbles along steadily in an epic orchestral bundle that gives a wink to the Polyphonic Spree, but with only a tenth of the members. Friend and Foe is a truly great indie rock record, it takes the simple truths of the genre and twists it into something beautifully incomprehensible whilst retaining that purity of an American guitar band record. A superb breath of fresh air.
Automated Acoustics is multiinstrumentalist, Lawrence Gill showcasing his ability to tackle amongst others, the cello, drums, guitars, synths, double bass and an organ. This music, although not unfamiliar in sound – we have heard it in the likes of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin many a time before – has a different twist to it in its elements to make Love to the Dedicated Listener different. Firstly, Gill’s blues influenced vocals have a slight rasp – pushing brashly through the jazz-style beat that surrounds the record. Secondly, Gill himself plays all the instruments and performs all vocals on this accomplished piece of music. The listener would be forgiven for believing that Love... was a sample-heavy piece. But it is Gill’s manic sound that adds the magical element to the record. The pushing beats set the pace throughout and rarely refrain. The songs tie together in such a natural way it feels like a room full of musicians playing live into a mixing desk in a particularly vigorous practice jam. This is Gill’s sound, playing on the same vein as previous effort, the Ejector Seat Blues EP. It is easy to see why his label, Alternative Blueprint describe Automated Acoustics as “uneasy listening”, the record centres around an array of instrumental pieces that chop and change before breaking down and being illustrated by Gill’s bluesy vocal shown early on in the album by the upbeat ‘Angels Come Back’. There are clear elements of Tom Waits in his voice, but there is also an occasional desperation in songs like ‘All I See Is You’, reminiscent of the early solo music of John Frusciante. Both the label and Automated Acoustics hail from Taunton in the South West – but neither sound nor voice indicate a specific location giving the album a sense of limbo in which instruments occasionally wander and beats become tedious. Nonetheless, this is an enormously impressive debut.
Bearded FFP. A
THE GO! TEAM PROOF OF YOUTH (MEMPHIS INDUSTRIES)
ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI PLACES LIKE THESE (POLYVINYL)
It has been a long time coming – three years to be exact – but Proof of Youth is finally ready to hit the streets with its party beats and chant-laden funk. The Go! Team, hailing from Brighton, first made serious waves in 2004 after band leader Ian Parton recorded Thunder, Lightening, Strike – a sample heavy mash up of big guitars and big beats that led to a number of tracks being used in the global media, including ‘Panther Dash’ becoming the BBC’s theme for 2004 Olympics. First things first, let’s make it clear: this is a great album. Now that is out of the way – let’s look at this 11-track record with a little more detail. Proof of Youth in many ways is similar to Thunder, Lightening, Strike, but then again, it is the same band. But what was lacking from the previous effort was the ability to bring the music back down, from distinguishable horn sounds, highly reminiscent of car chases in cop shows of the 70’s race through the album through tracks like ‘Titanic Vandalism’, The Go! Team can now rein that energy in again whereas, on Thunder, Lightening, Strike, it was in danger of blowing out of control. And it is to that point that this record is ever so slightly more diverse, the importance of which is illustrated early in the album. After the pounding sounds of lead single ‘Grip Like a Vice’ and follow up record ‘Doing it Right’, instrumental track ‘My World’ produces a serene space-folk respite before picking up again. Production wise this album is very similar in sound to Thunder, Lightening, Strike. The vocals are buried deep in the mix – part of the integral double Dutch chant style that is characteristic of The Go! Team. The use of duelling drums shines through again producing breakdowns that will inspire you to get the fuck up. Unfortunately the very high quality of about 80% of this album makes it a tad more disappointing when it appears to run out of steam with weaker tracks that can’t quite reach the dizzy heights as some of its surrounding tracks. ‘Universal Speech’ is a mess, and the record suffers from its inclusion. But these holes shouldn’t be picked too deep because any lull in this record is picked back up again ten-fold – Shown most prominently in ‘Flashlight Fight’. Picture this: the album is wearing on – coming to an end and a strange feeling possibly relating to slight boredom starts to dawn. Suddenly sirens are blaring and you start to think that you might be under attack. Don’t worry – it’s only the highlight of the album – and as you slowly crawl out from under your desk, Public Enemy’s Chuck D rips onto the album out of nowhere. His supreme rap vocal will blow away any feeling of misgivings. This track is nothing short of an onslaught, and at less than 3 minutes it is over before it fully sinks in and the album is playing out in the upbeat and floating arms of ‘Patricia’s Moving Picture’. The most admirable element to Proof of Youth is its multi faceted qualities. As both an album for new listeners and a more than worthy follow up to Thunder, Lightening, Strike, it is easy to see how so many tracks from the previous album were picked for television adverts and soundtracks. You may need to dig a little deeper with this record, but the rewards are just as golden – if not more so.
Australian six-piece Architecture In Helsinki are an eccentric lot likely to prove as divisive as marmite in musical circles. Love them or hate them, one thing is certain, they do possess a curious energy that makes a cursory listen of third album Places Like These a relatively enjoyable affair; this honeymoon period does not last for long. Like a drunken friend whose ‘crazy’ antics are barely amusing at first asking, AIH’s musical endeavors don’t bear much repetition. Opening track ‘Red Turned White’ sets the tone for much of the rest of the album, starting off as an energetic riff-driven funk that sounds like such a hybrid of its influences that it comes off sounding more akin to a parody of them than any kind of tribute. Similarly, ‘Like It or Not’ comes over as the sort of music that a slightly above-average parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs band would trundle out to get the crowd going; if there’s some huge joke here, it seems to be lost. The record is littered with moments that are more than reminiscent of humorous tribute acts. A multi-instrumental line up is a phenomenon that needs to be fiercely kept in check if bands are not to lose sight of some kind of consistency or fluidity; presented with a wealth of options AIH try to pick all of them, sometimes simultaneously, too often oscillating from extremes of musical overkill to stripped back atonality. A selection of oddball and quirky musical twists do not always make for interesting listening nor do they necessarily indicate any sort of innovation. Tracks that begin strongly are often driven wildly off course by misjudged musical or vocal interludes. There’s also a misguided belief in the power that slightly off-key male vocals hollered in conjunction with female wailing in the background or vice versa have to carry a song; the combination is more grating than endearing. An overall feeling of irritation is compounded by the sentiment that the whole affair is rather contrived. It’s sometimes hard not to feel that the spontaneous, melodic chaos that AIH are aiming for has been crow-barred into each track, simply for the sake of it and the effect is rather suffocating. This is not to say that the album doesn’t have its moments. First single ‘Heart It Races’ is one of the record’s highlights, reminiscent of their first two records, it showcases what AIH are capable of when their tendency to drown tracks in random percussion and shouty, electro pop vocal breakdowns is reeled in. The overlapping bass voices push the track forward, with the higher pitched melody complimenting rather than confusing the song’s overall direction. It shows that when AIH get their unexpected twists right, they do add a distinctive flavor to otherwise standard numbers. The interlude in ‘Debbie’, by far one of the most enjoyable moments on the record comes slap bang in the middle of a track that sounds like Kool and the Gang at their least funky and most irritating, managing (just) to haul the track out of the sonic black hole into which it starts to rapidly spiral. The catchy hooks that AIH are obviously capable of pop up from time to time, but are all too quickly absorbed back into the musical slush that characterises the majority of the album, making the listener wonder why, rather than forming a fifteen second segue into another round of random shouting, these hooks do not stand as the backbone of the tracks. Despite the organised chaos and the enormous assortment of things to notice there’s nothing one can take away from listening to this album in particular. In general the abiding memory of Places Like These is one of having taken part in something that ought to have been fun, but for some reason, just wasn’t.
Bearded FFP. A
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE STRAWBERRY JAM (DOMINO)
TEENAGER THIRTEEN (GODLIKE)
New Yorkers Animal Collective’s first outing for Domino is a much more enjoyable experience than I believed it would be. Psychedelic in the truest sense: sense-scrambling misfits somewhere between a backwoods cult and a pagan Arcade Fire on acid, these experimental music-makers have hung out and played music since their teens. Already on album number eight, its stoned-out, avant-garde messiness and distorted noisepop are reminiscent of certain American bands from the late 80s / early 90s. But to categorise Animal Collective is an impossible task. Having supported bands as diverse as múm and Four Tet as well as having collaborated with Vashti Bunyan, previous works have oscillated wildly from noisy freakouts to largely acoustic psych-folk. On this album, the boys have mostly dropped the guitars in favour of more electronic flavours and Strawberry Jam is an appropriate title for the results: it’s sweet, messy and can go all over the place but yet it still feels pretty organic. Despite its fondness for dense, complicated arrangements, it is full of hooks – though not always where you’d expect. As with many psychedelic outfits, the lyrics are complex yet childlike. And while it is occasional possible to hazard a guess as to what they’re gibbering on about (following your feelings, looking back at childhood, uncertainty about how to act), for much of the time the lyrics are chosen for their sound as much as their meaning. The strangely catchy ‘Peacebone’ opens the album and introduces many of its signature sounds: chattering, insectoid synths; high-pitched cooing backing vocals; stomping, lurching rhythms; and a textured background of drones and seemingly random noises. The lyrics are just as determined to confound expectations: a series of non-sequiturs, denials (“A blowout does not mean I will have a good night’) and delighted wordplay (“a jugular vein in a juggler’s girl”). A slacker’s anthem for bards of indecision, ‘Chores’ has a muddy, underwater feel, lurching into gear before introducing phased effects, thudding drums and a cooing chorus. “I only want the time to do one thing that I like / I want to get so stoned and take a walk out in the light drizzle.” It is an unsurprising turn of events for a band where drug influences drip across their recording as avant-garde hoedown’s become anthems (‘For Reverend Green’), wordless vocalising collide with one-man duets (‘Fireworks’), and ferocious percussion and hypnotic piano loops meet distorted animal noises and really good song titles (‘Cuckoo Cuckoo Land’). No matter how many drugs they take or how many influences they seem to combine, Animal Collective are a jewel in the crown of avant-garde folk, sublime, fruity and a rare treat – there is something irrisitable about Strawberry Jam.
Can any Australian rock band that use a song called ‘Mr Booze’ to open their debut record be taken seriously? It doesn’t help when you are referred to as ‘achingly hip’ by some areas of the press because, quite frankly, we couldn’t give a shit if you are ‘hip’, ‘cool’, or hang out with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner who should really go back and get his own band back on form before fiddling with other peoples’ records, we just care about the tunes – man. This is a shame when the aforementioned opening track tries quite heartedly at being different but brings up memories of listening to Space and, more directly, the song on their debut Spiders called ‘Mister Psycho’. It isn’t a particularly great comparison to ignite in reviewers still reeling from some of the crap that populated the Britpop days but there is something beneath that does warrant some curiosity. The comparisons to Black Wire are quite apt and, despite their position as ‘hip’ or whatever, those boys have been known to navigate their way around a guitar quite well. But Thirteen is more the sound of a band trying to be cool rather than writing some stonking tunes. Poor efforts at what could be labelled rocktronica fall flat when you start whispering in that ghostly way the bloke from Space used to do, did anyone actually listen to ‘Disco Dolly’ off Tin Planet? Well Teenager’s frontman Nick Littlemore sounds like that. Apparently Littlemore is the latest cool kid on the block having worked with Sonic Youth, Birthday Party’s Roland S Howard, and Electric Six. Unfortunately, it is only the final contribution that seems to shine through, one listen to ‘Pony’ indicates that the collaboration with the Bloodhound Gang wasn’t ‘cool’ enough to advertise but still provided quite underwhelming fruit.
Bearded FFP. A
KILL CASINO I’VE BEEN TO LONDON TO SEE THE QUEEN (NOTHING STAYS GOLDEN)
SOHO DOLLS RIBBED MUSIC FOR THE NUMB GENERATION (FILTHY PRETTY)
GRETCHEN LIEBERUM SIREN SONGS (NOMADIC)
Remember the sound of 1995? That was when Blur and Oasis did battle over two of the worst singles of a generation and Aphex Twin recorded one of the best albums of a generation. It was also the year that ‘Don’t Speak’ propelled No Doubt out of Californian obscurity and into the worldwide mainstream. Twelve years on what has changed? Oasis still enjoy a fair amount of success despite their at-best sketchy output since ’95 and too many to care for copycat bands have followed their theory on the road to stardom (pub + girls + social inequality = song = success = bad follow up = more success). It is also the release of London trio Kill Casino’s debut album. And therein lies the No Doubt reference. From the first beat the production of Rob Haggett, an assistant engineer for Gwen Stefani, is evident. A copycat sound that makes I’ve been to London… might as well be an early, ignored No Doubt record. Not dark enough to be intriguing, not heavy enough to be rocking and not rhythmic enough to start a-toe-tappin’, it lies somewhere in that irrelevant quagmire they call pop-punk rock – good for the kids until they grow up and grow some hair on their balls.
Every now and then we are granted with a band of whose intriguing sound we simply cannot describe. Soho Dolls are one of these bands. The excitement felt when a band appears from nowhere, mashing together familiar sounds and genres to produce something mind blowing and original is beautiful. Soho Dolls aren’t one of these bands. Ribbed Music for the Numb Generation incorporates a little bit of indie, a little bit of glam rock, some dance beats and some pop harmonies. Unfortunately this doesn’t produce a superbly executed piece of music – it more closely resembles a superbly executed turd. Opening track ‘Stripper’ starts with an almost Marilyn Manson-esque pushing, tom-heavy beat. Coupled with an equally dark and punishing guitar riff the outlook feels good. But after 21 seconds of intrigue, vocalist Maya Von Doll pops up with her boring brand of breathy, slutty talk-vocal. The rest of the record doesn’t get any better – switching between distorted guitars and hybrid dance tracks Ribbed Music... starts to become something of a chore. At times tracks like ‘Trash the Rental’ reveal a smidgeon of talent if not lyrical insight but it is swiftly spoilt two tracks later by a childish and pointless story in ‘Bang Bang Bang Bang’. The recent single ‘Right and Right Again’ sees Von Doll adding a forceful push to her vocal, the result is the sound of a posh hooker – imagine Sophie Ellis Bextor trying electro (again). From then on the appeal of this music falls away at an alarming rate as it meanders towards its appalling Gary Numan influenced climax. The light is the tight production values. Though sometimes a little too mechanical, the drums in particular sound like the result of an intense Fruityloops session – the listener is made painfully aware of this through the robotic handclaps in ‘My Vampire’. In short – the sound of the Soho Dolls screams “throw-away”, sound advice.
Those Americans can never go the whole way can they? We all know the Iraq ‘war’ was all about George W Bush finishing daddy’s work but, whilst simply killing millions of innocent people, including women and children, Dubyah will stop short of pressing that magic button that all mad / stupid right wing maniacs long to push. So it comes as little surprise that Los Angeles based singer Gretchen Lieberum teeters on a knife edge between sweet success and crushing insignificance with her third album Siren Songs. In a world of brilliant female singer-songwriters, it takes a lot to stand out, Lieberum does it – just. But that is not without much urging. Opener ‘Avila’ just has you longing for Hanne Hukkelberg to come and give it a Norwegian weirding out just to make its beauty captivating and her covers of the Flaming Lips’ ‘Do You Realize’ and Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ make you start to wonder if she is just another Pop Idol winner who has slipped through the net of insignificance. That is not to say that it isn’t damn good. You know those people on Pop Idol can actually sing? Some of them have a really good voice as well and Lieberum does something with both covers that removes it from the highly-polished bollocks that Cowell could devise. Stripped down and tender, she lets her voice be the only instrument you need to listen to, with a simple piano to back her up. And that is the album’s charm, stripped-down simplicity that recognises that no matter what is behind her, it is Lieberum’s voice that actually matters, and she uses it incredibly well. The record melts your heart in places but banging your head in others but, by the time ‘Grace’ bounces along to the finish line, she has more than soothed it again. A case of a spoonful of medicine makes the sugar taste sweeter.
Bearded FFP. A
BLUE STATES FIRST STEPS INTO… (MEMPHIS INDUSTRIES)
KID CARPET THE KID’S BACK EP (TIRED & LONESOME)
BLACK FRANCIS BLUEFINGER (COOKING VINYL)
If there is one thing to be said about listening to music all day long, its that the reviews that come at the end of the process are going to reflect something in the reviewers state of mind. An awful record is an awful record, a great record is a great record, but somewhere in the middle lies a record that the verdict is going to hinge on whether the reviewer cannot stand to hear another epic track about something they feel nonchalant about. One man band Andy Dragazis has kept Blue States relatively quiet for the three years since the release of The Soundings, going off to produce the fabulous debut album for former label mates The Pipettes’ recording the debut record for now defunct psychedelic folks The Eighteenth Day of May and stepping into rock side project Zan Pan. With First Steps Into…, Dragazis largely ignores the past three years and steps back further towards debut record Nothing Changes Under the Sun. Now, First Steps Into… drops onto the CD player at the end of the day. It is 10.07pm on a Thursday night and this Bearded correspondent needs his warm milk and crumpets. A little grumpy and a little sore from listening too intently to too much real hardcore (albeit brilliant), another record is really not what my doctor ordered. What he may have ordered is this Blue States record. While ‘Allies’ soothes and calms my pounding head as the opening track and ‘First Steps… Last Stand’ bounces around splendidly to engage my final waking moments, the gentle, downtempo electronica that fizzles across the record takes you on a trip through the clouds. Sure, this fails to be ground breaking stuff and to say that Dragazis has never pushed the boundaries would not be an inaccuracy, what he does with Blue States is produce records with a grace and purity of ambience muddled in with a underbelly of grandeur that soothes and intrigues in equal proportions. It is emphasised in the fact that drifting off to sleep is easy tonight, an eyelid raised as some sort of dramatics come in for excellent sign-off ‘Last of Old England’, we are left with sweet dreams and a contented grin.
Fisher Price connoisseur Kid Carpet returns with another offering of upbeat kiddy-funkpop beauty. Nowadays his kiddy disco punk is more mature, if only slightly, for he still stresses about work or the lack of it in opening track ‘Employee of the Month’, if only the Kaiser Chiefs had not had these worries they might have tried something as unique. This time around the children’s toys aren’t quite as prevalent, but this won’t prove to be a bad move as Kid Carpet’s knack for writing a cheeky hook is abound on this short release. ‘Make It Look Good’s sing-a-long lyrics and female backing bounce around the track with a plethora of cheeky sounds held together by a constant foot tapping beat oozing with funk in this Casio-induced bouncefest. The title track’s weak instrumental lets the side down by announcing over again that the Kid is back, interestingly as a third track we have already embraced him back into our hearts. ‘She’s a Vegan’ rounds off the EP nicely, the female vocals returning, a surprising compliment to the Kid’s lazy but lovable drawl. The kid is back, and he is as snugly as ever.
Ok, so Frank Black has a new solo album out. It should be simple enough to explain and review, but there’s a little more to it than that. The canny among you will have noticed that it’s not a Frank Black album but a Black Francis album. This in itself is quite a big thing, as it is the stage name he adopted during his Pixies heyday. The switch back is complicated but revolves around the inability of the Pixies to record new material, and subsequently Frank hankering after his old pseudonym, and also an acknowledgement of the enjoyment of the reunion shows. So bearing that in mind it’s no surprise the new material is slightly less acoustic driven, and dare I say it, more Pixie-ish, especially with a lady (Violet) on backing vocals. The other important thing to note regarding Bluefinger is that it is inspired (and includes a cover) by Dutch artist and musician Herman Brood. ‘Threshold Apprehension’, for instance references Brood’s suicide, which occurred in December 2000. The album was recorded in a few days, is 11 tracks, 40 minutes long and thrives in the simplistic style in which it is presented. Prominent bass; raw, choppy guitar lines and of course Black’s unique voice, are all showcased to good effect on tracks such as ‘Lolita and Your Mouth Into Mine’. As the album is heavily indebted to Brood it is a relief that the only cover featured is out of the top drawer, ‘You Can’t Break A Heart and Have’ is a good old-fashioned two and a half minute garage thrash, replete with customary Black wails. As a tribute to the memory of the infamous Dutch artist / hellraiser it is a fine one, but more importantly it is a top album in its own right. Although not consistent enough to be classed as excellent, it certainly ranks among the best of Frank’s solo releases, and goes some way to hiding the disappointment of no new Pixies material (which wouldn’t have lived up to expectation anyway).
Bearded FFP. A
MÚM GO GO SMEAR THE POISON IVY (FAT CAT)
MURCOF COSMOS (LEAF)
Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is not a great title for an album but, considering múm are Icelandic, we can forgive them. Firstly because English is not their first language and secondly because we can forgive Icelandic people anything (apart from older fisherman, who are probably still pretty miffed about the whole Cod War thing, and who also probably don’t read Bearded). Múm have been making warm, glitchy half-hinged music from the land of geological wonders since the release of 2000’s mighty fine Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today is OK and still have the charming ability to wrap a catchy melody in pleasing layers of percussion, voice and electronic fuzz. One distinctive voice missing from Go Go… is that of founding member Kristin Valtýsdóttir, who left in late 2006 to live in New York with her husband. Since the release of Yesterday… the band have made increasing use of Kristin’s rather childlike and dreamy vocal style, the absence of which is noticeable on this record, and thus can put to bed any rather lazy comparisons with Bjork that the band have been tagged with in the past. This album is the band’s fourth and marks a slight shift in style once again, upbeat and insistent, with plenty of vocals, and more instrumentation (don’t worry, the electronics are still there too). Opener ‘Blessed Brambles’ sets the pattern to which most of the tracks on the album fall, generally consisting of elongated instrumental passages with some final vocal layers introduced near the end. In the emotional yearning of ‘A Little Bit’, ‘Sometimes’, and ‘Dancing Behind My Eyelids’, which chugs along like a little electronic train-set, the most instantly likeable tracks are found. The latter staying true to the theme of disjointed lyrics and titles, giving us the “See the fog on my horizon, it’s dancing and it smells like a teenager” probably not a motif worth analysing, though something you may well find yourself humming on the bus. Another track, ‘Guilty Rocks’ is less instant but just as good, if not better, with piano-driven melody and jumpy bass lines weaving in and out of the mix, and a plethora of other instruments bubbling below the surface. Considering the departure of a key member for this record, and the pressure that can sometimes bring, the album is consistently excellent and should please both die-hard múm fans, and those finding them for the first time. Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy is a great mix of slightly off-kilter pop with trademark electronic style. For anyone with a slight leaning towards the genre, it’s a must listen.
Cosmos, the third full-length album from Mexican electronic artist Fernando Corona, was originally slated for an EP – expanded to 6 tracks in length after the success of the initial arrangements. Making no bones about it, the record is minimal and the tracks are lengthy and as such will not appeal to those wanting a quick electronic shot in the arm. Those who are prepared to give a little listening effort though will find themselves rewarded with a rich sonic palate of recordings of classical instruments, evocative both of minimal techno, and sparse post-rock. But is it any good? Well, yes it is. On the face of it Cosmos is a fine piece of understated electronica. The record floats you along without ever threatening to reel you in completely, but at the same time presents enough intrigue to warrant further exploration. Opener ‘Cuerpo Celeste’ throbs in and out of musical consciousness, finally waking up with a dramatic organ refrain around the 6-minute mark, a sonic primer of what is to come both temporally and musically. ‘Cielo’ is almost reminiscent of Amon Tobin’s recent work on The Foley Room and gives the first hint of percussive arrangement, with clipped processed beats overlaid with strained voices and distorted instrument samples working their way in the mix. Corona wants the record to make us look up at the stars in wonder, and though I can’t quite see Patrick Moore rushing out to his local indie for some inspiration, ‘Cosmos I’ certainly sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a wide angle shot of a rather large spaceship passing by. The record treads a fine line along the atmospheric and, as with any music of this type, can easily fall into the trap of making things a little too sparse, and the listener losing interest. Nowhere better is this seen than in the contrast with the excellent ‘Cosmos II’, definitely all space and wonderment with the other, more redundant, ‘Oort’ showcasing the classic, ‘too-long, not enough action’ side of the coin. As a piece of atmospheric electronica Cosmos is definitely worth a punt, but will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes, and if the thought of plus 8-minute astral sound effects isn’t enough you even get a picture of an NASA ‘Atmospheric Entry Simulator’ on the cover. Excellent.
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Illustration Mr Bingo www.mr-bingo.co.uk
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RADIO LUXEMBOURG WHERE IS DENNIS? / CARTOON CARIAD (PESKI)
DAVID CRONENBERG’S WIFE I COULDN’T GET OFF (BLANG)
MÚM THEY MADE FROGS SMOKE ‘TIL THEY EXPLODED (FAT CAT)
Radio Luxembourg are far and away one of our favourite bands right now and their third single stands up quite nicely to the Diwnod Efo’r Anifeiliaid EP released on Peski earlier in the year. ‘Where is Dennis?’ dances along in the same bright vein as Welsh contemporary and EP producer Euros Childs, whereas ‘Cartoon Cariad’ sees the band sounding scarily like an offspring of Pete Doherty and any of the Welsh participants on Big Brother. Fortunately it is a hell of a lot better than that might sound, flagrantly bouncing between loud and quiet, slow and fast and probably what Doherty would sound like if he quit the skag and lived on a floating bed of poppies somewhere towards the top of Llanberis.
What is it that women say about men? They think about sex every seven seconds or something? It seems that Tom Mayne, when not thinking about Canadian film directors, thinks about it much more. With ‘I Couldn’t Get Off’ he is inevitably talking about failing in the bedroom, perhaps something to do with having a date with Jenna Bush as he seems to be doing on the flipside. Prize for worst lyric of the year “Jenna right, that’s an interesting name / I mean Jenny, with an ‘a’?” There is something here that could be interesting, but if this is all DCW know, they are going to be as short lived as their bedroom antics.
‘They Made Frogs Smoke Till Their Head Exploded’ is a reference to animal cruelty, and presumably, also therefore an instruction not to force amphibians to inhale. It begins with a distorted loop that could well be a power-up noise from a 90s computer game, and it doesn’t stop there. The whole track consists mainly of bits and pieces from “home 16mm films, east European documentaries and old cartoons”, which goes some way to explaining the rather disjointed nature of the piece. If ‘They Made Frogs…’ is ultimately quite disappointing, especially when looked at in context of the new album as a whole, which has far more interesting and quirky bells and whistles than this lead-off single, which suffers from an overall lack of direction.
THE GO! TEAM DOING IT RIGHT (MEMPHIS INDUSTRIES)
EUROS CHILDS HORSE RIDING (WICHITA)
Who doesn’t love the Go! Team? Live they are brilliant, on record they are better. ‘Doing it Right’ is the sound of a band following up their great debut record in the best possible fashion. Sample heavy sounding like something from a dusty history with a twist that brings it right up to date. Kitsch and superb – doing it right? Oh of course!
As Euros Childs (the first band named after a currency according to one tabloid) continues his rapid output since the disbanding of the criminally undervalued Gorkys Zygotic Mynci last year, he seems to go from strength to strength. ‘Horse Riding’, the first single from The Miracle Inn – Childs’ third record in 18 months, is the song that would populate a thousand British summer compilation tapes if Britain had a summer anymore. Unfortunately we don’t and, well, it won’t.
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DIARY DATES AT A LOOSE END ONE EVENING BECAUSE HEROES ISN’T ON AND YOU’VE REALISED THERE’S NOTHING GOOD TO WATCH ANYMORE? WE SUGGEST YOU MIGHT WANT TO GO OUT AND SEE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING:
HOBBLE ON THE COBBLES / AYLESBURY SHOWCASE SUNDAY 26 AUGUST AYLESBURY MARKET SQUARE
CLEARLAKE SATURDAY 1 SEPTEMBER THE BRUNSWICK, HOVE
The popular free music festival organised by Jam Central Records head honcho Stuart Robb returns this year with an eclectic mix of national and local bands. Former Marillon frontman FISH will be headlining 20 years after the release of the band’s last album armed with his new record Thirteenth Star. Also performing are Loz Jones, Lightbox and Michael Berk, David James Herbert, Micawber, Pause, Leatherat and thirteen-year-old Claudia Mills. Expect a pleasurable Sunday afternoon, and lots of rain (probably).
Domino’s Clearlake return to the live arena after spending most of 2007 on hiatus after the release of Amber in 2006. Frontman Jason Pegg has been playing solo shows locally over the past few months but, with new material to work on, the loveable Brighton indie stalwarts are still worth a quick peek. Expect ears to be caressed lovingly. www.myspace.com/clearlakenoise
FUTURE OF THE LEFT THURSDAY 6 SEPTEMBER CLWB IFOR BACH, CARDIFF
HERMAN DUNE TUESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER UNIVERSITY OF LONDON UNION (ULU)
The ex-mclusky / Jarcrew trio return to the city of their “worst show ever” according to lead singer Andy Falkous. Sneak a glimpse of debut album Curses prior to its release on Too Pure at the end of September. Expect to hear a sound that has been desperately missing in the music scene, cracking tunes and bad heckling.
The not Swedish, not American but actually French three-piece bring their popular folk sound back to Blighty after a highly pleasurable visit back in April in support of their latest record Giant. Expect lots of hair, lots of swinging and much pleasure.
VOXTROT FRIDAY 7 SEPTEMBER KING TUTS, GLASGOW
THE LOCUST THURSDAY 13 SEPTEMBER THEKLA, BRISTOL
American indie pop stars Voxtrot return to the UK in support of their self-titled debut album on Playlouder. Twitchy pop rhythms amalgamate with dancefloor fillers to create something rather wonderful in the live arena. Their whistle-stop six date UK tour will see them visit London twice in a month. Expect sumptuous rhythms and a fun-filled breath of fresh air.
Loud, brash, badly dressed and somewhat offensive, San Diego noisemakers The Locust bring their personal brand of synth-heavy, screaming noise rock to British shores for a short-stop, five date tour. Expect skin-tight, full body nylon suits with bug-like mesh eye and mouth coverings, tasteless merchandising and tinnitus.
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Bearded: Where’ve you gone!? Yannis: We’ve run away to the hipster village Willyburg, New York for five weeks to record our album. Nice! Is it nice? Enlightening, we’re staying in this weird tantric castle owned by two permanently high Argentineans who make us a fruit platter in the mornings. How lovely, does this help the creative juices to flow in the studio? It seems to, no obvious deadweight tracks yet. That’s good news! Yeah it’s going well, long 12 hour days, but we’re getting there. We’ve done all the basic tracking but none of the tribal afropunk action yet. I love tribal afropunk! I also love TV on the Radio! Isn’t the legendary David Sitek producing the album? Yeah we wanted David to produce our debut and couldn’t believe it when he agreed. He’s incredibly intense, his eyes are shut most of the time, but from what we can gather he is a true visionary. What do you think he has envisaged for the album? I think he’ll just allow us to do what we want, that is to make considered artistic music that understands rhythm. What do you want to achieve with this album of considered artistic music that understands rhythm? We want to make a mature record that isn’t constrained to any conventions and scenes but still works within certain pop confines. That takes on a wider influence than just frat boy, white boy, indie-guitar-disco-swing that is so rife in Britain these days. Sounds like a breath of fresh air, talking of which, have you been able to get out of the studio and discover the delights of New York at all? We went to Coney Island the other day which felt like God had abandoned it to hot dogs and neon lights. It was a pretty weird place but it did make us feel like ‘The Warriors’, which was cool. We’ve always wanted to be a gang. You’re having fun then, being in a gang, making music, what four things do you miss about good old Blighty? Girlfriends. Cynicism. Clotted Cream. Rain.
OXFORDIAN-ELECTRO-WHIZ KIDS FOALS HAVE HIT THE BIG APPLE TO RECORD THEIR DEBUT ALBUM. VICKY ADDINALL CATCHES UP WITH LEAD SINGER YANNIS VIA ‘THE BEARDED BALL’ TO SEE HOW IT’S ALL GOING.
Title TBC (Transgressive) Release date early 2008 Single ‘Matheletics’ is due for release August 27th Photography Scruffy Bird
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End of the Road Festival
SIMON SAYS… MY FESTIVAL’S BETTER THAN YOURS! BEARDED LADIES VICKY ADDINALL AND KAT BROWN CAUGHT UP WITH 2006’S BEST FESTIVAL ORGANISER SIMON TAFFE TO SWEET TALK HIM INTO SPILLING WHAT’S IN STORE FOR THE NEXT EDITION.
Illustration Samuel Sparrow www.behindmydoor.com
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End of the Road Festival
Anyone can daydream about what their perfect festival would be like, God knows we have. Not many actually get their arses in gear and do it. Step forward Simon Taffe, the owner of a decorating company who was so determined to get his dream underway that he remortgaged his own house to do it. In a year filled with pretenders to the Glastonbury crown, who’d have put money on a folk fest at the arse-end of the summer winning Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards? Well, us for starters – it was bloody brilliant. The primarily folk and lo-fi festival reeks of style, charm and the Somerset Cider Bus. An idyllic venue (Larmer Tree Gardens near Salisbury) hosts bands chosen with love rather than an eye to hype, quality stuff to eat and drink, excellent recycling, no advertising and a 5000-max crowd that are there for the music rather than a three-day piss-up. Hell, even the security staff are friendly. Sweet. So, it boggles the mind that less than two years ago, EOTR was just a seed of a thought in one crazy man’s head. “I’d thought about putting on a festival before but not really seriously,” Taffe says, puffing on a roll-up. “Going to Green Man and seeing the scale of it made me suddenly realise it was possible. I started trying to work out all the figures in my head whilst drunk, and it went from there.” After sobering up, Taffe’s dream festival took shape and what started as a few agents interested in a one-day event became a three-day party. End of the Road was born, with an impressive line-up for a young ‘un. “That’s the fun bit,” says Taffe with a jammy smile on his face, “I just go through my record collection and put together my wish list.” He also makes weekly visits to Rough Trade to check out new artists, which has helped in shaping the End of the Road record label. So far he’s lured the hotly-tipped Boston multi-piece The Young Republic (currently in the middle of furious bidding attempts from the majors), and put out the new single from M.Ward’s favourite band, California quartet Port O’Brien. Festival co-organiser and long-term friend Sofia Hagberg keeps herself busy as well: she’s the manager of the fabulous Sunny Day Sets Fire and runs a promotions company with EOTR stalwart, Molly Wemyss. “We don’t always get everyone we want, but everyone that plays in the end will have been on the list,” says Taffe. Last year’s line up included the likes of Richard Hawley, Emmy The Great, Josh Ritter and Ryan Adams, who chose End of the Road for his first ever UK festival appearance. How did they manage that then? “Lots and lots of pestering, and then his tour fell into place,” says Taffe, with ‘lucky bastard’ written all over his face. “We still hadn’t got him confirmed in August and we were just praying! He hasn’t done another one since: he cancelled the one in Stonehenge he had planned. He got inspired when he came down to ours and stopped off there on the way! “This year we had some trouble getting a few American artists because the festival falls on the same weekend as City Limits in Austin.” Richard Hawley, who played last year, was reportedly “bummed” when his manager booked him into a conflicting gig, meaning he couldn’t play the festival this time around. And indeed, from the sounds of it, conflicting schedules are the only reason bands turn down the chance to play. “We’re hoping Beck will put a day of the festival together next year. Unfortunately his new baby held him back from doing it this time but he’s really keen to come over.” Having strong artists on side is proof of Taffe, and his co-organiser Sofia, refusing to settle for anyone less. Part of the joy of last year’s weekend was watching bands luxuriating in longer set times, before pottering off to enjoy a festival only a delighted few had discovered. Favourites returning this time round include Brakes, BSP, Charlie Parr and the deliriously insane I’m From Barcelona who kicked up a storm last year. Headline sets come from Yo La Tengo and Midlake on the Friday, Super Furry Animals on Saturday and Lambchop on Sunday. “We got Howe Gelb of Giant Sand to put Friday’s line up together for us, it’s going to be a great start to the festival.” Simon and Sofia had only just confirmed the headline acts when we met but were keen to point out that it isn’t all about the headliners. Last year some of the festival highlights were the unsigned artists playing in the Tipi tent, or James Yorkston’s set turning into a farcical version of Holby City, or poets making our hearts go a bit odd, or Josh Ritter playing improvised sets in the woods. “We don’t want to lose that intimacy and spontaneity that developed last year. There will be lots of opportunities for improvised sets. We like surprises!” And by the sounds of it there will be lots of them in store. “I’m buying 300 pumpkins and getting all my friends to carve out the faces and we’ll put them in the forest. Glastonbury stole our piano idea this year, except it was in a tin shed and nobody knew about it!”
If you can drag yourself away from the roaming peacocks and the music (Bearded recommends My Brightest Diamond for starters) there are plenty of other things to entertain you. Larmer’s pavilion will once again be showing some of Simon and Sofia’s favourite films while a drumming circle gives the more earnest GAP year kids a place to play what they learned in Maoui. Rough Trade’s stall returns, as does the much-loved front room (just in case you needed to put your feet up) and kids circus area and more besides. “There’s loads going on this year: we’ve got a library, a comedy tent, the front room is joining the Rough Trade stall so you can chill out and listen to your potential purchases, we’re also going to have a few ‘in-stores’ there.” One of the hit features of last year’s festival was the piano in the woods that was the site of many late night singalong sessions (Kat would like to thank Nigel and his drunken gang for three particularly glorious hours of self-indulgent jamming) and which will return in stereo this time round. “We’re having two pianos this year actually because we’re going to set up a country and western porch as well, with a piano, banjo and harmonicas, it’s going to be great!” It’s clear that what makes End of the Road work is an absolute dedication to perfection. Nothing is impossible, and creativity is key. You want a piano in the woods? Hell, we’ll have two. You want our favourite festival of last year? (and believe us, we went to a lot.) Check it out for yourself. Quite simply, End of the Road has a timeless fairytale quality that has got the lucky few who ventured out last year sharing the secret with everyone they like. September? Dude, it’s the new June. End of the Road runs from 14 – 16 September. Tickets are available from www.endoftheroadfestival.com Picks My Brightest Diamond, Euros Childs, Johnny Flynn, Monkey Swallows The Universe, The Young Republic… and whoever else you guys fancy!
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FROM THE EUPHOTIC DEPTHS ONE OF BEARDED’S WRITERS PLUNGES DEEP INTO THE DELVES OF INDEPENDENT MUSIC TO DREDGE UP AN ARTIST WHO LURKED BENEATH THE RADAR OF MUSICAL TASTE. THIS ISSUE, GARETH MAIN ATTEMPTS TO RESURRECT THE MEMORY OF COACHWHIPS... John Dwyer was and is one of the great noise-punk-messy-crazed-rock-n-roll-madmen of a generation. From experimental folk musician in the Ohsees (OCS) to a past member of chaos act The Hospitals, Dwyer’s unique alternative edge has seen him capture hearts and break noses. It is Coachwhips – his personal major project – that stands out from the impressive record of licentiousness. Active for three years between 2003 and 2005 Coachwhips’ San Francisco-based debauchery saw Dwyer scream through a telephone receiver on four records, play in and around venue toilets, go through two band line-ups and smash a guitar over a rowdy punter’s head. Depraved garage rock n roll is the loose term the average muso would give to the Coachwhips sound. A more specific description would be an all-out fucking mess with inaudible, brilliant lyrics, scratty guitars and menacing keys. One would not think it from debut album Hands on the Controls and, in fairness, it took a while for Dwyer to turn the band into the bloody state they found themselves in four records and three years down the line with Peanut Butter and Jelly Live At The Ginger Minge – a fierce record personified by opening track ‘Body and Brains’ perhaps their most fluent recording and undoubtedly their best. The keys rip through your skull whilst Dwyer talks of eating your brains – it has a hook and it drags you down with it. This was basically how Dwyer wanted it to sound. Famed for setting up in venues in any place other than the stage (folklore describes a time they played at a bus stop down the road from the advertised venue), the DVD attached to posthumous cut-offs compilation Double Death captures the band at their live frantic best. Smashing guitars over heads, playing in amongst the crowd, sweating, bleeding, making no sense at all, a Coachwhips live show was like nothing on earth. Nowadays the only thing close is a Hospitals show – Adam Stonehouse’s band with who Dwyer has also caused much distress – a particularly chaotic Canadian show of the pair also finds pride of place on Double Death. The early Coachwhips records were quite tame by comparison to what they became. Hands on the Controls could be quite comparable to the early White Stripes records – low-fi, tame garage rock. And, whilst Get Yer Body Next Ta Mine hinted at a darker, more aggressive direction, it was the release of Bangers versus Fuckers that truly unleashed the beast of Coachwhips onto a more than receptive audience. From cracking their fans over the head with guitars, the relatively new bearing saw them squeezing eleven tracks into a relentless eighteen minutes – sticking the fingers up at anyone else. Opener ‘You Gonna Get It’ has a tantalisingly heavy guitar intro and a steadily thumping drum beat that drips with attitude whilst ‘Extinguish Me’ is one of Dwyer’s finest moments on record, it was a record that grabbed garage rock by the scrotum and demanded that it start growing some balls. Forever in the ascendancy, Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ginger Minge was the crowning moment. Entwining the down-and-dirty sound that personified Bangers… on tracks such as ‘Did You Cum?’ and ‘Oops. Uh. Uh.’ with the slower garage from their first records, the band managed a new found twisted tenderness on album closer ‘Your Party Will be a Success’ unheard in previous records. A bizarrely understated exit for a band famous for blasting their way through their active years, the closure that makes you treasure going through the back catalogue once again. Discography Hands On The Controls LP (Black Apple Records, 2002) Get Yer Body Next Ta Mine LP (Show And Tell Recordings, 2002) Bangers versus Fuckers LP (Narnack Records, 2003) Peanut Butter and Jelly Live At The Ginger Minge LP (Narnack Records, 2005) Double Death (Narnack Records, 2006)
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Illustration Jay Taylor www.scribblejay.co.uk