V I B R AT I ON S M A GA ZI N E L E E D S A N D W E ST Y OR K SH I R E D E CE M B E R 2010 FREE
INSECT G U I D E TH E FIG H T BEFO R E C HRIST M A S SOUL C I R C U S HU MANFLY
R EVIEWS ONE FO R THE ROAD PAS SPORT CO NTROL S ECOND H EA RING
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Editorial Under the Influence The Fight Before Christmas Sam Saundersâ€™ December Column Humanfly This Is Why We Do it - Kate Wellham Passport Control From Stage to Page Soul Circus Insect Guide Second Hearing Reviews Live Reviews One for the Road The Search Vibrations is looking for... Advertisers - 2000 magazines seen by music lovers across Leeds. email@example.com Classifieds - Band mates wanted? Equipment to sell? Rooms to rent? firstname.lastname@example.org Writers, Photographers, Artists and Sub editors Come be a part of it. email@example.com Demos - Send them in to: Steve Walsh, Reviews Editor Vibrations Magazine PO BOX 476 Leeds LS7 9BT
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Vibrations is: Editor Rob Wright firstname.lastname@example.org Design Workshop www.thisisworkshop.co.uk email@example.com Picture Editor Tom Martin firstname.lastname@example.org Reviews Editor Steve Walsh email@example.com Founded and Published by Tony Wilby firstname.lastname@example.org Jack Simpson email@example.com Advertising Department Tony Wilby firstname.lastname@example.org Web Team Simon Hollingworth www.vibrations.org.uk Charlotte Watkins www.myspace.com/vibrationsmagazine Contributors Rob Wright, Tim Hearson, Rob Paul Chapman, Spencer Bayles, Steve Walsh, Sam Saunders, Kate Wellham, Justin Myers, Tom Bailey, Stacey Dove, Jess Wallace, Mike Price, Daisy Taplin, John Devlin. Cover Photograph The Insect Guide by Emily Clare Smith
As I sit with my laptop perched upon my knees to help warm up my frozen legs (toast legs!), it seems to me that, if this editorial is to act as a snapshot on November 2010 and by extension 2010 itself, there are a few subjects that remain unavoidable. So who am I to fight it? First off, Labour went out... something came in. No-one is still too sure about what it is, but it has two heads, goes under the name of Cleggeron and eats children...’s benefits. And infuriates students. Good to see people demonstrating again. Then we lost that mainstay of Channel 4’s schedule, Big Brother. I realise many of you will already be saying ‘what? Who?’ because our taste for disposable celebrity has risen to a hysterical craving allowing such ‘pundits’ as Cheryl Cole to say, straight faced and without irony, that a stalker-like clone of herself is both original and ‘something we have never seen before on X Factor.’ Obviously no mirrors at Cole mansions. Then Wikileaks helped us as an island breed to understand that our special relationship with America is akin to that special relationship that medieval villages had with their village idiots – entertaining to a point but impossible to take seriously and ultimately disposable. Cinema saw everything in three dimensions... to little effect, because the big one at the end of the year, the one that would seal the deal for 3D cinema, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, remained strictly two dimensional – and I don’t want to get into the whole ‘dividing the reviewers’ 4
thing because I haven’t seen it yet. No really, seeing the ‘3D’ symbol beneath every movie poster (including the new Angelina Jolie drama set in Afghanistan... I kid, but only just) fills me with a sense of ‘oh no, not again.’ Recession. Recession. Recession. Oh, it’s not as bad as we thought... and hey, there’s a Royal Wedding on the way. No, don’t look at the invoice... I SAID DON’T LOOK... And the snow, of course, the bloody snow, that seems to have iced both ends of the year and thrown everyone into a state of panic – look, it’s a bit of frozen water, not the sky falling in on you. We get on with things, or at least we used to in a fabled past that we are all so proud of. Right, cynical mode off. Actually, despite my blackened soul, I have been made very proud of a number of things this year – and not just my two sons who are turning out very fine regardless of all this doom and gloom. Firstly, the quality and variety of the musical releases this year in Leeds; The Fight Before Christmas was a real revelation - and I’m the bloody editor! Secondly, the quality of the new writers and photographers at Vibrations Towers – this lot have risen to the challenge and by god have they been found up to it – and the continued sterling work of our regulars. I love you all. Thirdly, that if this last supposedly difficult year is anything to go by with regards to creativity and determination, the future looks very bright indeed. Pass me the shades.
But this is a time for contemplation and considering what and more specifically who we have lost – I’d like to dedicate the end of my editorial to Rob Lee. Drummer for the SSSSS and constant of the Leeds music scene for the last 30 years, Rob sadly passed away on the night of 29th November, 2010. His death has come as a real shock to everyone who knew him – a musician, a rock and roller and a true Leeds legend.
REST IN PEA CE, RO B... O R NO ISE, WHICH I T HINK HE WO ULD PREFER.
Rob Wright RIP - Rob Lee Photo thanks to Matt Baxter
U NDER T H E I N F L UE N CE JUF FA G E Jeffrey T. ‘Juffage’ Smith is fast becoming an institution on the Leeds scene. Known for his frenetic live performances and manic looping occasionally bordering on Dadaism, he proves time and again there’s life left in the lonely world of the one man band. Tim Hearson sat him down before Low’s gig at the Brudenell Social Club to find out where the magic comes from. Photo By Bart Pettman What would be your chosen song? It’s kind of a hard question to narrow down but I guess I’d have to say something like ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong. Where can we find it... if you assume we haven’t been out for a bit? More or less any Louis Armstrong compilation, it shouldn’t be a hard task these days. Why is it so influential? I like songs that have timeless melodies; It’s harder for new bands to make timeless melodies because they don’t care or they don’t try or all the good melodies are taken by now, but it is possible to create things that, in a year or so, aren’t going to sound dated. ‘What A Wonderful World’ came to mind because it’s one that I’ve covered and you can take it, make it completely different but it’s still essentially the same song.
about 15 tracks and say, ‘oh this stuff sucks’. The aim is always to make something I guess that I’d like to listen to. Is there anyone in particular who influences your live set? There are really good loop guys like El Ten Eleven with some really great loops; one guy plays a double neck bass and guitar while the other drums. Dosh at Brainwash were one of the tightest I’ve seen. Those 2 people, I think they’re really good: It’s not the music I’m trying to make, but it’s really admirable to see them pull it off.
How has it influenced your songwriting? Probably because it’s lasted so long, it’s pushed me to try to write things that aren’t going to fade quickly. You can be really technically good, have crazy ideas and be really innovative but if you have bad song writing it’s not going to matter. How do you put your songs together? I write some in that more traditional way, but I guess more and more lately I might have my stuff set up, some loops going etc., and think like, ‘oh, this is how I want this part to go, now it’s time for a bridge’. Half the time I just start recording and see what comes out and I’ll end up with 100 tracks of stuff – sometimes I’ll get to
Yorkshire), a lot of Tom Petty, Blue Roses. A couple of old bands from my youth like American Football. Also, Low I guess, like actually right now anyway. What’s next for Juffage? Currently I’m trying to find a job as I have no money. I have a record coming out in April on Function Records who have decided on vinyl and download only. My next Leeds show is on December 14th at The Well with Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Steve Brodsky of Cave In. Also, at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, I have a multi channel sound art installation, the easiest way to explain it, like a 10 channel loudspeaker installation in the main room, 10 tape loops in the other room sort of running around the walls. It should sound like 5 or 10 songs all playing at once, so they’re gonna overlap in different ways so it’s like one big Juffage song which lasts for about 3 months. www.myspace.com/juffage
“ I WRIT E SO ME IN T HAT MO RE T RA DIT IO NA L WAY”
What have you been listening to lately? Dog Day from Halifax in Nova Scotia (as opposed to Halifax, West 7
TH E F I G H T B E F O R E C H RIS T M AS Back towards the end of October, we sent out the call for the best albums of 2010. By the end of October we had over 50 suggestions, but us here at Vibrations Towers finally settled on our top 20. Our specially selected panel then thoroughly consumed these albums before locking themselves in a room for 4 hours to decide ‘the winner’. No contributors were harmed during the making of this article... but it got close. Photo’s By Daniel Heaton. Castrovalva By Hannah Sunderland. Lone Wolf By Sarah Burton
The Rules — - To qualify an album must be at least 7 tracks in length. - It must be at least 25 minutes long. - At least half of the band members must be resident (or have been resident in the last 12 months) in a West Yorkshire postcode. - The album must have been released between November 1st 2009 and October 31st 2010.
The Panel — Rob Paul Chapman – Former editor of Vibrations and 20 years of session experience as a brass player. Doesn’t much care for “indie-schmindie”. Rob Wright – Current editor of Vibrations Magazine and one who struggles with the concept of brevity. Suffers from post-rock addiction. Steve Walsh – Reviews Editor of Vibrations, writer, columnist, satirist and formerly known as Johnny ErsatzCulture. Understands the dark arts of Jazz Spencer Bayles – Actual-ProperMusician. Also cheapens his art by regularly contributing as a writer for Vibrations. Favours the melodic. Tim Hearson – Vibrations newcomer, writer, musician, whippersnapper and unofficial Voice-Of-Da-Yoof. 8
The List — 20. Cyanide Pills – Cyanide Pills In truth, this album could have been made at any point in the last 35 years, and while that will irritate some the winning combination of punk, doo-wop and a ruthless pop sensibility should be enough to convince a fair few cynics. ‘Dictator’ with its Stray Cats nods is a hugely entertaining jibe at little Hitlers everywhere, ‘Shallow’ is a playful assault on the cosmetically obsessed, and ‘Screw Me Up’ sounds like the Ronnettes fronting The Ramones. And if that doesn’t sound appealing, then this album really isn’t for you. RPC — 19. Pifco – Delivering the Payload Delivering The Payload represents a gigantic leap forward from 2008 debut ‘Pifco A Go Go’, a feat achieved despite the fact that the band’s sound hasn’t really evolved that much at all. Eh, I hear you say, how is this possible? Well, what Pifco are actually doing is applying the same principle of extreme repetition to the creation of music as their Mancunian mentors, the Fall. As any fool will know, repetition is a key element in all great popular music, but to avoid sounding spectacularly dull it’s essential you apply a bit of wit and invention to what you do; Pifco now do that in spades. SW — 18. These Monsters – Call Me Dragon Though not known for keeping it together, These Monsters managed to hold it down long enough to create this post-prog excursion into the psychedelic confines of the band’s collective mind and get it recorded for posterity.
Harking back to ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ with its saxophone-led epic meandering, ‘Call Me Dragon’ draws together the creative energies of this most chaotic of bands into a whole, if only for a brief moment. Narrative at times, decorative at others, this is an intriguing footnote to their unpredictable live act. RW — 17. State Of Georgia – Witches Georgia Lashbrook was the bass player in indie-pop trio The Research. Following their split, she’s turned her hand to crafting sometimes ethereal, sometimes dramatic piano-led pop. She openly admits to “listening to too much Kate Bush”, and while that’s a good touchstone, anyone into Bat For Lashes or Sarah McLachlan will also find much to appreciate. She veers into The Research territory on ‘This Place’, but whereas on a Research record this would be played out with a knowing grin, on here its chorus refrain of “Get out of bed bitch” suggests darker neuroses at work. SB —
11. Insect Guide – Dark Days and Nights ‘Pale and Interesting’ has been an element of the Leeds music scene for a long time, and Leeds three piece Insect Guide have been unliving the goth dream long before the idea of wearing black and looking moody was but a twinkling in a certain Elliot School student’s eye.
16. Jon Gomm – Don’t Panic West Yorkshire’s very own acoustic guitar virtuoso delivers 10 tracks of incredible playing. Everything about this album is impressive – complex rhythms, intricate melodies and imaginative chord progressions. And then you realise it’s all being performed simultaneously by one man and his guitar. There’s plenty of variety too; from the gorgeous pitch bends of ‘Temporary’ to the bluesy slide guitar and badass rhythms of ‘Surrender’, all put together with sensitivity and – I’ll say it – love, leaving you in no doubt that you have just played aural witness to something truly special. TH — 15. William Gray – None Of The Above Bloke + Acoustic Guitar is hardly an exciting combination of thrilling ingredients, but it’s what you do with the ingredients that counts. Here, William Gray serves up a menu of diversity and imagination that will nourish the heartiest appetite. The songs ebb and flow through a myriad of emotional states emphasised by Gray’s charming delivery. ‘Stop the Rot’ is as slight as it is gorgeous, ‘Like Orange Juice On A Newly Pierced Tongue’ a beautiful piece of imagery, while ‘Freaky Dream’ is just plain odd. Each track offers something intriguing with minimum effort. Delightful. RPC — 14. trio VD – Fill It Up With Ghosts It’s not jazz, it’s not rock, it’s not improv and it’s not noise. No, trio VD’s ‘Fill It Up With Ghosts’ is actually a gloriously mashed up, strutting and zinging hybrid of the whole damn lot, jammed
together in a barking mad kind of music that doesn’t have a name yet. And this is the point. Unlike most bands intent on lazily plundering the past, trio VD are actually trying to push the music into uncharted territory. It may not be easy listening, but to my ears it’s a thrillingly exciting ride that’s just too good to miss. SW — 13. Dinosaur Pile-Up – Growing Pains One of our city’s bigger success stories of the year saw former Mother Vulpine man Matt Bigland and chums produce an album that sounds as indebted to classic pop melodies as it does the Foo Fighters. At the record’s heart is joyous, hooky pop songwriting – think Fountains of Wayne in overdrive, Ash’s ‘Meltdown’, or, as shown on the brilliant grungemeets-power-pop of ‘Never That Together’, what sounds almost like Weezer covering the Beatles. SB — 12. Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses One of the more youthful bands on the list, Pulled Apart By Horses demand attention from the off with the no frills ‘Back to the Fuck Yeah’. They manage to straddle and conjoin the idioms of metal and the current brand of guitar pop leaving you with a sound that is accessible and familiar. Did I mention the song titles? Here’s a few gems: ‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’, ‘I’ve Got the Guestlist to Rory O’Hara’s Suicide’ and ‘Meat Balloon’. An immensely fun album from one of the most promising bands on the scene. TH
Influenced heavily by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain and early Cure, ‘Dark Days and Nights’ is Insect Guide’s second album and is a full and lavish affair full of drama, decadence and mystique. The undisputed soundtrack for your darker days and nights basically. RW — 10. Normal Man – That Joyless Vibe Normal Man’s Noah Brown is a genius. Other opinions are, of course, available. Such as ‘Noah Brown is unnecessarily vile and offensive’. But they are wrong. Noah Brown is necessarily vile and unpleasant, and makes for essential listening.
From its genesis in Brown’s Pat Crowne monologues charting the mental unravelling of a deeply disturbed individual, the themes are broadened by the bludgeoning backing of a band marshalled by Adam Benbow-Browne. It is shocking, but it’s designed to make you think, and explore the darkest recesses of the human soul. And to that end, it is devastatingly effective. RPC 9
9. I Like Trains - He Who Saw The Deep Leeds’ history boys go speculative on this self-funded, self-released follow up to 2007’s ‘Elegies to Lessons Learned’. Approaching the concept of concept from a different angle this time, ‘He Who Saw The Deep’ is a beautiful, methodical but ultimately tragic tale of climate change and rising sea levels. It is a more dynamic piece of work than previous excursions that veers from up close and personal to universal and epic and in doing so engulfs you in the bottomless guitars and submarinal chorales. It could have been a very indulgent wallow-fest, but there are actually some good single tunes on there too, so everyone’s happy. Sort of. RW — 8. Quack Quack – Slow As An Eyeball The side project that’s threatening to become the main event, Quack Quack is Bilge Pump drummer Neil Turpin’s part time bit of collaborative fun with two other quietly spoken movers and shakers on the Leeds scene, Moz and Stuart Bannister, that’s matured into the kind of outfit that can produce something as good as ‘Slow As An Eyeball’.
Wholly instrumental bands usually take refuge in earnest seriousness to give their music meaning. Thankfully this trio have ignored that approach and produce music that’s fun, joyous and a delight to listen to without losing any of its creative propulsion. SW 10
7. Cowtown – Excellent Domestic Shorthair As brilliant as its predecessor ‘Pine Cone Express’ was, ‘Excellent Domestic Shorthair’ manages to consolidate the invention and excitement of the former and shape it around some bona fide pop songs. It whizzes about the place like a 2-yearold on jet-propelled roller-skates. But all of this would be meaningless, were it not that this is a collection of genuinely excellent songs. Each one capturing a different sense of wonder, whether it be the use of gaming as metaphor (‘Champion Joypad’) or the joy of playing a new vinyl (‘Perfect Sound Forever’). This sounds like the future, all the best bits of your past, but it is perfectly of its time. RPC — 6. Sky Larkin – Kaleide This follow-up to last year’s ‘The Golden Spike’ bursts into life with ‘Still Windmills’. In many ways the songs on this record are more accessible and a bit less angular, but they still exude almost unhealthy amounts of hipster cool, with Katie Harkin’s voice stronger than ever. It’s a strong set of songs, but best of all is ‘Anjelica Huston’, with its surreal fixation on the aging actress: “As the train left the station, the light hit your face like Anjelica Huston.” Righto… Whatever the lyrics mean, it’s a cracking tune. Huston, we don’t have a problem. Er… I’ll get me coat. SB — 5. Last Night’s TV – Everyone Here Was A Stranger* As the haunting and dissonant leaps of ‘The Streetlight’ build to a gorgeous climax, Last Night’s TV leave you under no illusion as to their inherent musicality that is familiar but at the same time entirely their own. Stand-out tracks include the immaculately crafted ‘Dear Arabella’ and the arresting ‘Way Around’ which showcase the male/female vocals beautifully. It is an album that can work perfectly well in the background, but on closer inspection the record’s depth and class become apparent, with the
minimalistic approach drawing the listener in despite themselves. TH *for obvious reasons, Spence was exempt from voting on his own album, so the mean vote was arrived at by dividing by four rather than five. — 4. Being 747 – Amoeba to Zebra So, the next time one of your favourite bands disappear for two years, don’t worry, as they could well be off putting together a poptastic concept album about the history of life on Earth, and then begin touring it around schools and colleges the length and breadth of the country to open mouthed and disbelieving school kids (not mention a few teachers). This is what Being 747 did, ‘Amoeba To Zebra’ is the result and it is truly fantastic. Dave Cook’s skewed song writing style is entirely suited to this project and the Morricone Brothers help to give the music lots of bite. Oh, and it’s educational. SW —
3. Castrovalva – We Are A Unit Last year’s eponymous debut was a promising start that didn’t quite deliver the goods... this year’s offering is payload city! Ant and Dan called upon graphic and vocal artist Leemun Smith to start the bloody wailing and make up a three for their second album and what a difference it makes – funny, brutal, thrilling, poppy and edgy with references to gangsters, hipsters and playground crazes. It is impossible to tell at first listen where this album is going to take you, but it is somewhere good, and you will go back. Oh yes. You will go back. RW — Castrovalva’s Drummer Dan Brader: As well as being abrasive, aggressive and hugely exciting,
your album is also very funny. Did you deliberately set out to achieve this? We are just really fucking funny! A lot of that was stuff we joked about in the van and things that happened at gigs. I think it’s quite clear we aren’t the type of guys who are overly serious when it comes to this..
If you we’re the panel, what album would you have scored most highly, and what did we miss altogether that we should have included? We’re really really big fans of the Dinosaur-Pile Up album. That should have been way higher than it was. Cowtown’s new stuff makes me want to make serious shapes every time I hear it, and These Monsters too. ALL should have been up the top end. — 2. Lone Wolf – The Devil And I Paul Marshall has reinvented himself. He’s done it in some style too. In amongst an embarrassment of riches, the singles are particularly fantastic – ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Road’ and ‘15 Letters’ being brilliantly executed songs almost overshadowed by their accompanying stop-frame animation videos. For the most part these are murder ballads, with accordingly dark, poetic lyrics and the title track is a magnificently elegant waltz in two parts. I can’t help but think that if Bella Union land him a tour support slot with label-mates Fleet Foxes, this fantastic record would take off hugely. SB — Paul Marshall, otherwise known as Lone Wolf: There is a lot to this album, and it sounded like it was quite a painstaking process to construct. Was that the experience?
Yeah I think you could call it that! I’m very hard on myself in the studio but that wasn’t really aided by the fact that I was sleeping on (the engineer) Kris’ floor in Uppsala, Sweden for nearly 2 months. What would you have scored most highly, and what did we miss altogether? I’m very shocked that Pulled Apart By Horses were not the victors. I think that album more than deserves the title, because quite frankly I think it’s the best album (that I’ve heard) to have been produced by a Leeds band this year. — Hope & Social – April Opening your album with a string quartet is always going to be considered a bold move, and in the wrong hands could easily be dismissed as pretentious folly. But for Hope & Social it works perfectly. With a cracking voice and a varied, creative style meriting comparisons to Elbow (although arguably more exciting) this album delights with ten gorgeous pop tracks of memorable tenacity.
In the absence of a mega-selling breakout band, the key to this year’s list has been the quality across such a wide variety of genres. Would you go along with that? I would go along with that - and I think it’s a good thing. When one band from a city goes stellar I think everyone else gets caught in the blast a little and are either totally ignored or lumped in with them. I think Leeds and the surrounding area have some incredible bands at the moment. The sooner the “premier league” aspect of the music industry is removed the better. What would you have scored most highly, and what did we miss altogether? As I’m a great believer in nepotism I’d say Sky Larkin and Dinosaur Pileup should win because the former recorded their demos in our studio and the latter’s lead singer used to be our merch guy! I’d have put Gary Stewart’s Boy Cries Wolf on there and our very own James Hamilton’s The Causeway Suite and anything Mojo 57 do. —
‘Caught in the Wake’ is fantastic, laden with percussion, interesting time signatures, horn sections and soaring melodies. It is an absolute joy. Anthemic and understated in equal measure, this is an album that triumphs on every level. TH — Hope & Social’s Simon Wainwright: April sounds like a band putting their heart and soul into every track. Each song packs an irresistible punch of sincerity, pathos and emotion, yet manages to be exquisitely uplifting. Was this ever part of a plan, or just the way it turned out? I think we find it quite hard to do anything that isn’t 100% heart and soul - we get quite easily carried away with things. It explains our massive debt. We also recorded and mixed it really quickly so it maintained a lot of energy...and it was Spring and there were loads of daffodils outside the studio door.
Vibrations would like to thank: Lee Boyes of AuraLAB Studios for donating his time, equipment and expertise to make the recording of TFBC possible, Nathan Clarke at The Brudenell Social Club for hosting our increasingly inebriated panel in the conference room, all those who suggested albums for our consideration (there were of course – alas – far too many really great albums for us to include), and to Sally Cooper and her team at our broadcast partners South Leeds Community Radio who will be putting the radio show version of TFBC out as a broadcast and podcasting the near future. Tune in for more details. 11
SAM SA UN D E R S DE C E M BE R C O L UMN “Best of” is a hackneyed old phrase, isn’t it? “Top Twenty” is even worse. The contemporary media world has had to inflate the concept of rank order with illegal steroids to get even a flicker of interest. “Now That’s What I Call Music!” was a brave early effort. Channel 4’s “Top 100 Bands Sounding A Bit Like Nirvana” had its moments. More recently “The Barclaycard Mercury Award” sounds like it offers dodgy credit in space and has run out of credibility in the process. So let’s kill the whole thing. Listen to what you like. Bore your friends with fine distinctions between The Killers and The XX (there are none). Fill up your unread blog with your “Best of 2010”, if it keeps you happy. But don’t expect anyone sensible to be in the least bit interested. That’s my position, I’m sticking with it and so should you. That is, I’m sticking with it until someone as smart as me comes up with a persuasive argument that having favourites is a natural part of cultural life. If my conversion is going to take place, I will have to be persuaded that whenever two people get together, a natural conversation always flourishes around talk of whether one band is “better” than another. Imagine the opposite. Imagine a better world. Imagine it as chatter on the bus, from somewhere down the back, loud enough for you to hear. “Pulled Apart By Horses are excellent!” “Too right. Dinosaur Pile-Up are also magnificent!! “I also rate Ellen And The Escapades, Chickenhawk and Two Minute Noodles” This could go on a bit. And then, at some point, someone might say: “So which gig are we going to then?” And equal esteem united becomes a rush for the door. Everyone heads for The Cockpit to indulge in the fantastic listening experience that is exoteric. “My Favourite New Band!” shouts one, with knowing capitals. “Crap” squeals another, “I saw them last year!” A third waif mutters “Big head. I bet you didn’t. And, mister clever clogs, why are you coming if you don’t like them? Eh? Eh?” Life has become interesting again. I suppose, in a world of real experience, we do actually get quite animated in defending our lowly placed 12
(and unplaced) favourites against the upstart claims of vacuous, overhyped so-called “winners”. We shouldn’t but we do. We are weak. We battle with the nasty practical truth that we compete to have our own opinions confirmed by those we most admire. Strangely this also applies to those we most despise, such as NME journalists and the so called “team” at Vibrations. Why don’t these idiots recognise our judgement as superior to their own?
D OLTS ! F OO LS! AR S E LI C K I NG C R EEPY TR END S PAWN! The thing is, at some banal level in evolutionary history we didn’t get all of Gandhi’s DNA. We are put onto the earth sharing a string or two with Pol Pot, water voles and Elvis Presley. We have the capacity for having fun while mocking dross as well as when we enjoy the cream. Our laughter rings out for the dullards who have put Blood Red Shoes ahead of Nick Cave and we can all feel good as we attend gigs by genuinely inspired geniuses who aren’t even at number 20. The judges didn’t even know that The Flipper Experience exists! Ha! Call themselves music writers? You have to admit, it’s a bit creepy that one of the ways in which we define ourselves as individuals is by making sure we are NOT like them. Them including fans of Arcade Fire, the drummer in Weezer, Vibrations’ writers
and, of course, our parents. Sad bastards the lot of them. Hang on. To end on a more positive note, I would add that my much-exercised and therefore indestructible opinion is that the following albums have brought joy to me this year, even if some of the titles don’t qualify for this year’s issue on technical or other grounds. Napoleon IIIrd’s “Chistiania”, with its squiddly-inventive arrangements; Dinosaur Pile-Up “Growing Pains” for using great harmonies and proper tunes; Cyanide Pills “Cyanide Pills” for going way beyond punk; Pifco’s rattling good yarns on “Delivering The Payload”; Normal Man’s “That Joyless Vibe” for punching out an album I hate but still listen to; The Yalla Yallas’ “Diamond in Dirt” for making a quality album with heart spread thick on the sleeve; Chickenhawk for the magnificence of “Modern Bodies”; Sky Larkin’s precious gems on “Kaleide”; I Like Trains’ chilling “He Who Saw The Deep”; Jon Gomm’s mature and beautiful “Don’t Panic”; Cowtown’s infectious delirium “Excellent Domestic Shorthair”; These Monsters’ ferocious “Call Me Dragon”; Quack Quack’s utterly successful “Slow As An Eyeball”; Lone Wolf’s seriously great “The Devil And I”. Plus the outsider Being 747’s “Amoeba to Zebra” because it’s still a great rock and roll record. Then, because it was (mostly) recorded in Leeds I must include The Who’s, “Live At Leeds” (rereleased this autumn). And don’t forget the ones I couldn’t remember! Feel free to hate me on their glorious behalf. Sam Saunders
HUM A NF LY – A N I NTI M AT E B A N T E RING Humanfly have been part of the musical landscape of Leeds for nearly a decade now, an imposing edifice to the power of sludge, standing tall and black against the horizon like an Ozymandian ruin as heralds of the impending apocalypse. Rob Wright came before them in fearful supplication... and it turns out they’re really nice guys. Photo’s By James West It is one of the most horrible nights of the year so far. Clouds like crude oil soaked comforters drop their cold, filthy load on the streets of Leeds and the roof of the Brudenell. I pity the fool who’s out in this tonight; I pity the fool who has dragged anyone out into this tonight. John and Dave are going to hate me.
“I can understand where that would come from,” says John politely, “that’s not at all where we got the name from. I don’t mind people having that reference, there’s been other references made...” at which point he and Dave have a quick discussion about the name of the guy in ‘Enter the Dragon’ who calls Bruce Lee ‘Humanfly.’ “There was some wrestler called Humanfly,” says Dave. The provenance is looking to be problematic, until John suddenly bursts out “it was said in error.” Dave nods in recognition. “It was Steve Burnley, a tattoo artist,” he says. “He meant to say Superfly, but he said Humanfly instead.” John quickly reassures me that they wouldn’t have been called Superfly before I am too intrigued by images of a black-clad dark funk metal band.
As it is, they come in looking rather chipper and dapper, despite Dave having cut his hand on a defective umbrella. They are both conspicuously not wearing black. “Dave’s got about ten thousand black t-shirts,” laughs John, “and he’s not wearing one tonight!” “I’m trying to phase them out,” Dave says bashfully, . John is guitarist and de facto vocalist for Humanfly, while Dave is the ‘just about’ drummer from the very beginning. Bassist Mat and John’s brother and fellow guitarist Andy aren’t present tonight (and looking at the weather, I don’t blame them) but John is more than amicable and loquacious enough to make up for the pair of them. And there I was, expecting moody blokes. They don’t even get grumpy when I make the obvious Cramps reference. 14
Though Humanfly are definitely not dark funk metal, it is difficult to categorise them at all. Prog metal? John frowns slightly. “It’s a bit of a cliché that bands don’t like to put themselves in boxes,” he explains, “but then there’s all sorts of other things that are involved in that category which I wouldn’t necessarily think that we would be seen as a contemporary of. We have elements of metal to what we do and elements of progressive rock to what we do, but we never stick to a certain format. Which is why we always struggle to define the specific genre that we are – it’s always been heavy, it’s always been extreme, because that’s how we like to play it.” ‘Darker Later’, their recent release has proved that heavy and extreme does not necessarily mean dark. In fact, the audio palate has broadened considerably since the release of
‘II’. John shrugs. “We were not in the position to write anything lighter or experiment more because of the situation we were in at the time.” And that situation was? “We couldn’t practice that much during the week,” confesses John. At the time, they were practising at the now demolished Sponge Studios. “Back then we were only doing two hour practices a week.
You’d get there and go ‘I’ve got these riffs’, go bang bang bang, add ‘em all together and there’s a song. Nowadays and when we were writing the new stuff we were in a better position where we had rehearsal space that we could go to whenever we wanted.” So in essence the big transforming factor was... time? John makes a very bullish noise and lets Dave take over.
“ T HIS IS WHERE Y O UR PA RENT S FUCKED? ” “We took an opportunity,” he says, “someone said ‘do you want to rehearse here and rehearse whenever you want?’ We’d spent loads of years playing the same kind of shows and wanting to commit a bit more to the band. We’ve just had more time to commit... and started to enjoy it a
bit more. Not enjoy it,” he quickly corrects, “we’ve always enjoyed it – I think it’s more enjoying the process a bit more.” John agrees. “I do enjoy the writing process more than I used to, just because there was always the pressure that you were paying for the rehearsal time. Now we just have the freedom to do what we want.” He pauses to take a drink and think things over. “I think whereas other bands would just progress through their tastes, we were already into a lot of folk and lighter stuff, it’s just developed at a different angle as opposed to just ‘okay, now we like these bands so we’re gonna sound like this.’” So the song writing experience has become a more joyful prospect, but I am intrigued as to where those titles come from... it’s just a thing I have. I mean, how can you not be intrigued by the title ‘This is Where Your Parents Fucked’? John laughs at this. “I just want them to stick out and because you brought it up I guess that’s what they do,” he says, “The song titles are not trying to shock anyone, I just wanted it to be a little bit different. I’d like them to have at least a fifty fifty balance of importance. I usually have ideas about what I want to write lyrically, but then I get so wrapped up in the music writing process that the finished product doesn’t come
until a lot later because I like to know the structure rather than just bellowing out random words where they’re not supposed to be.” So was it hard to work with someone else’s words (Rose Kemp’s) on ‘Heavy Black Snow’? He smiles at this. “I’m not particularly... precious about it,” he says, “I came up with some of the lyrics and [Rose Kemp] came up with the title and I didn’t argue with her – her narrative’s in there and I’m totally not opposed to it at all... but if I was singing someone else’s words, I’d feel a bit funny about the situation.” The Rose Kemp collaboration was Brainwash Hayden’s idea and from the sound of things was a pretty fly by wire affair, with their only having done it twice together before their first live performance of it. Not that Humanfly would be averse to collaborating again. But in my usual outspoken manner I have a theory about ‘This is Where...” that I want to suggest that involves a rather Rosemary’s Baby style scenario... which turns out to be completely wrong. I am suitably cowed, but John is very understanding.
“ I CA ME UP WIT H SO ME O F T HE LY RICS A ND [RO SE KEMP] CA ME UP WIT H T HE T IT LE” John and Dave are, it has to be said, an incredibly understanding pair, which probably explains why they have been around for nearly ten years. John looks a bit wistful about this. “We used to play with a bunch of bands all the time in Leeds, always at the Fenton,” he says, semi regretfully, “then they all started to disappear... “ Dave comes in on a positive note. “The good thing about it is that when that band has disappeared all the members multiply into more bands... and you end up with all these mini super groups. It’s healthy.”
“ “If people read other things into what we do,” he says, “what it is about to me might be totally different from someone else – I’m not offended or bothered either way. In terms of ‘this is where your parents fucked’ it’s saying ‘this is just a plot of land – your parents fucked in it, you were born – what’s there to be proud of? What does that flag represent to you, because that’s what it represents to me.”
John goes back to his own bands history. “I guess a lot of bands that have stayed together as long as we have generally gone through line up changes. We’ve not had to do that, but that’s just coincidental really. We’ve just never fell out.” Though they’ve stuck together, they are not adverse to change and have recently moved to Brew Records. “We were on 20 Buck Spin before and they were well up for doing the next record, but by the time that we were ready to put it out, they weren’t ready.” They were looking to release ‘Darker Later’ in a year and Humanfly wanted earlier... as it turned out it took a year. But it wasn’t just about releasing the 15
album that lured them to Brew. “We saw how hard they worked for their bands,” says Dave, “I guess we’ve always been with labels where that’s never really happened with us.” “We needed a bit of a push,” says John. “Not that we’re the laziest band on the planet, but I think we were quite happy that someone would put our records out. These guys are really hands on and it’s kicked us up the arse a bit to... try a bit harder. Maybe we were a bit too precious about certain things and always liked to control them. Now we’ve left it to the Brew guys... they’re good at what they do, we like to think we’re good at what we do.” We like to think so too.
“NOT TH AT WE’RE TH E LAZ I ES T BA ND ON TH E PLANET, B U T I TH I NK WE WER E QU IT E H APPY TH AT S OM EON E WO ULD PU T OU R R EC OR D S O UT.”
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL VIBRATIONS READERS. Leeds Festival Fringe would like to thank all those who took part in helping create and shape and create the first ever LFF event and 14+ all dayer at Eiger Studios. For information on either of these events, please email email@example.com or call us on 07933 699234
THI S I S W H Y W E D O IT KATE WE L L H A M I think I was 15 the first time I interviewed a band. I say ‘interviewed’ as though what I actually did to those musicians in that dressing room in Leeds bore any resemblance at all to what Michael Parkinson did.
Until I was about 19 I always managed to turn what should have been a perfectly straightforward questionanswer exchange into an incredibly painful experience for all involved. Being interviewed by me was an endurance test to see how much someone wanted to be famous. But I didn’t care; I was living the dream. A chronically shy and geeky kid, I was also murderously enthusiastic about music, to the point that I had devised the flimsy justification of a terrible radio show on Bradford Community Broadcasting. This enabled me to go to as many gigs as I wanted, for no money - which was brilliant because I didn’t have any – and more importantly, to meet bands I liked. I would force myself to interview bands purely so I could get a lame quote from a name into a substandard show. Don’t get me wrong, I was no star-fucker, I was just an idiot, and I used to go along to interview these poor people with my mates, who were idiots as well. The fact that we might not even get into the gig afterwards due to be being underage just added to the fun. The crap questions, the awkwardness, the nerves – I dreaded the actual process, but I kept on doing it because I thought it was exciting. Which, compared to school, it was. The bigger the band, the more exciting it was to say that I’d done it – regardless of how well. No matter that the time we interviewed the Bloodhound Gang they spent the entire time taking the piss out of us and trying to make us smell their armpits. Yes, I was a dedicated teenage music journalist, and badly interviewing bands who were haemorrhaging
publicity as part of a conveyor belt of people they would be asked dull questions by that night just proved how much I loved music, right? <Insert growing-up montage here containing lots of booze and falling over> So what’s changed? Well, I’m now a bigger idiot, and so are my mates (hi guys). But the main difference now is my motivation for interviewing bands. In the process of having some sense knocked into me by studying journalism at uni, I’ve interviewed everyone from the Milkman of the Year to someone who’s grown a really big marrow to contribute to stories that I was encouraged to give two shits about. In the process I’ve realised that it’s so much more satisfying to come out with a good interview from a new band than a crap interview from a huge band. Being part of the Leeds and Bradford music scenes as a writer has become an end in itself. I now care about doing a good job for the sake of brilliant zines like this, and for the bands I’m writing about, more than I care about getting my picture taken with the Bloodhound Gang (just). Interviewing a hungry band so early in their career is actually an honour. One of the first interviews that Chickenhawk did was conducted in the back room of the Brudenell. I’d assumed it would last about 15 minutes. I was wrong. A lot of laughing later, and they’d dredged up so many stories of deathwish gigs that I wanted to slap the whole thing in verbatim. 18 months later, Chickenhawk are everywhere.
Random Hand turned their interview for Mono into a four-hour pub crawl around Keighley. It may have been interrupted loads of times with Black Books quotes, drunk friends and arguments about chicken wings, but that sort of helped. Talking to my pop girl-crush Little Boots was a highlight – not yet the festival headliner we now know, she had time to sit down for half an hour, and Vibrations found out that rumours of her auditioning for an unnamed TV talent show were true after all. I saved that question til the end though, just in case she slapped me and left. And that’s what I love about interviewing bands for Vibrations and co. Not just the booze (which does help) but the fact that it’s such a genuine experience, compared with trying to get some new and interesting story from a stranger in a sterile dressing room with the manager staring at you the whole time. No longer a necessary evil in order to get into a gig, an opportunity to show off, or a failed attempt to look cool, interviews are the most enjoyable part of my job. And not with latest overhyped band pushed on me by a PR - reading my dull pre-prepared questions, scribbled on the back of the press release that already has the answers printed on it anyway - but with great bands who haven’t even boarded that tedious PR train yet. 19
PA SSP O RT C O N T R O L SONI C B O O M S I X Yorkshire customs and excise are used to getting many fly by night visitors to our cut-jewel county, but none as fast as the multi-mach Sonic Boom Six. We set our subluminal (but only just) agent Justin Myers to collar fast-moving possible felon bassist Barney...
Are you here for business or pleasure? Yorkshire is the kind of place where those things are not mutually exclusive. I’m here for both: I’m here to soak up the sights and sounds of a modern thriving northern county:
“ AS W E LL AS TO ‘ R O C K T H E KI D S ’ A S HARD AS W E C AN . ” Did you pack that guitar case yourself? Yes I did. Even if we had the cash to lavish on roadies that served our every whim, I’d still be sure to put my guitar back in my case itself because I’m not sure that I’d put anyone through the ordeal of removing my guitar strap after a show. After all the kid-rocking, it gets rather doused in sweat and pretty stinky and, as any good guitarist knows, removing the strap to a separate section of the guitar case prevents condensation and stench evaporating from the strap and ruining your precious instrument. It’s 90% Rock N Roll, 10% sensibleness and forethought. Do you reject the notion that any audience outside the West Yorkshire boundary is ‘the best crowd you’ve ever played for’? ‘The best crowds we’ve ever played for’ are, pound-for-pound, Yorkshire crowds. Especially between songs when they shout things in broad accents. 20
Are you open to flat caps and pints o’ bitter? I’m open to them in the sense that I won’t lambast or look down on anyone partaking in them. I could probably be persuaded to put one on and have a sip if it’s very important to you. But, on any given day, I’d be much more likely to be wearing a Boston Red Sox hat and drinking Heineken and Jagermeister. We heard you have affiliations to The Rebel Alliance. Please explain? Yes, we at Sonic Boom Six run a record label called Rebel Alliance Recordings. It’s all legitimate sir. Rumours of my role within the struggle between the Empire and a covert intergalactic network of resistance are greatly exaggerated. There was that business with the droid but I was found not guilty. It was actually common engine oil smeared on my shirt because my bike broke and I had to fix it. You’ve recorded a cover of ‘Addicted to Bass’. Any other ludicrous habits we should know about? Sometimes I sit behind the computer and do weird interviews with magazines that are tenuously themed as another kind of interview while listening to Elliott Smith on Spotify at work. Anything else to declare? Two handguns, a dodo egg and a big bag of drugs stuck up my bum-end. Thank you. You may now proceed through Passport Control.
“ T HE BEST CRO WDS WE’VE EVER PLAY ED FO R’ A RE, PO UNDFO R- PO UND, Y O RKSHIRE CRO WDS.”
I L I KE T R A I N S FR O M STA G E T O PA G E A launch gig is always a special event, no matter where it takes place. But when it takes place in front of one of the largest aquariums in the world... that really is something else. In danger of being accused of massive favouritism (but hell, I’d be a fool not to ask about playing with the fishes) erstwhile editor and icythyophilist talks to Dave Martin of I Like Trains. Again.
You’ve just played in front of a giant aquarium – how does that compare to playing in any other venue? A better view – better for us performing because we could see into the aquarium whilst we were playing – when we reached the climax of ‘We Saw The Deep’ some really big sharks swam by – that was a real moment...
Does it take a lot of planning to do something like this? It’s a lot of hard work to do these shows in strange places and it’s amazing that you can do it, but it takes a hell of a lot of planning. We’ve been here two or three times to check the welfare of the fish and had meetings and complied to regulations– I’d love to do something like this again, but we’ll give it a little while.
Is this the strangest place you’ve ever played? Good question. I guess so... this is really fresh in my memory, but I’m sure we’ve played some really strange places. I’m going to say yes. The strangest atmosphere – people didn’t know how to react at first.
Was it more nerve wracking playing to a select few than playing a big festival? I don’t know. In the last few weeks, with pledge and all that, I’ve just been run off my feet, so I haven’t really had time to think ‘we’re doing this for our biggest fans who’ve travelled from all over – it better be good, it better be worth the money... and the same with Latitude, with a big tent like that...
I T S O UN D ED R E ALLY G OOD O UT F RO NT – H O W DID I T SO U N D F OR Y OU ?
touring with Editors we were playing to six thousand people in an arena – it just becomes this one being– I get excited with these things, but not so much nervous. Finally, the stripped down version of ‘Terra Nova’ was something else – any plans to do an I Like Trains unplugged? Unplugged is different – I find acoustics very difficult, but we’re getting better at it. We did ‘Spencer Percival’ once in Belgium for a radio show that was stripped down with me, Guy and Alistair and... that was fun. It’s fun to do different things and we’ve played [‘Terra Nova’] so many times so it’s nice to rediscover that song. Thank you Dave – you may now go and see to the fish!
We were wondering about that – it sounded awful on stage in sound check, and I was thinking ‘is this a good idea? I can’t really hear what I’m doing,’ then I look around and think, ‘yeah, it’s a good idea but... it’s not designed for this.’ But I’m pleased now we’ve come off stage that we’ve done it.
SOU L C I R C US TR E ND U P S E T T E R S They write pop songs yet they’re properly DIY... they’re unashamedly unfashionable yet they played Leeds and Reading this year... and they might never have happened in the first place. Spencer Bayles catches up with the three ring event that is Soul Circus... Photo’s By Hannah Cordingley
“We used to meet up just as mates going for a beer,” recalls Lloyd Bradley. “Then we thought we could do something a bit more productive.” Crammed into a very cosy storeroom at Eiger Studios, members of Soul Circus are contemplating how things could’ve turned out differently had they not formed a band and, say, started a reading group instead or perhaps a sewing circle. “We could’ve maybe formed a bowling club,” laughs guitarist Paul Wainwright.
Bowling’s loss is evidently music’s gain, as the five-piece indie-rockers are a band very much on the rise. The time may have already come when the concept of a band doing everything themselves doesn’t seem especially revolutionary. For Soul Circus, their hands-on approach to career progression has resulted in a summer of successes, starting with a storming Live at Leeds set in May and ending with an EP release with accompanying tour in October. Oh, and that little matter of playing at the Leeds and Reading Festivals in the middle.
The band formed in 2008, although three of them – Lloyd, Paul and second guitarist Tom Matthews – grew up together in Leeds. “It was never going to be one of those bands where you just meet up on a weekend, have a bit of a jam and see what happens,” explains lead singer Lloyd, “we always wanted to see how far we could go with it.” As a result, they hired bassist Adam Marshall through a friend of a friend, completing the line-up by recruiting drummer Martin Guy via an advert in Scheerer’s.
They’re one of a new breed of band with a mainstream sound but none-more-DIY ethics, actively not seeking management or label involvement, and choosing to do everything – booking tours, arranging releases, maintaining a web presence - themselves. “It’s the way it is nowadays,” says Tom. “If you’re not prepared to do it yourself, no one’s going to come with a big fat chequebook and say, ‘Sit back and we’ll do it all for you’. It’s not just about writing tunes - you’ve got to do the whole administrative side too.”
But, once you’ve set yourselves up and had some initial success, if a label came along dangling a carrot, would you not be tempted to offload some of the legwork so you can focus on the creative stuff? “If they couldn’t offer us anything we couldn’t do ourselves, there’d be no point,” says Lloyd. “We don’t want a label just for the sake of having a label.” Certainly, it would be a decent feat for any label to achieve for the band what they’ve achieved for themselves this year, on the surface going from nothing to the Leeds Festival in a single leap. “To a lot of people, we came from nowhere,” agrees Lloyd. How did you feel going into Futuresound? “I never doubted we were good enough,” says Lloyd, “but a lot of the other bands had been getting a lot of hype locally, bands like Cowtown who didn’t go through - who were one of the favourites to win it. We just felt privileged to be in the competition.” In their heat, they were up against Wot Gorilla?, Bearfoot Beware and Germain. “We were confident that we’d done a good job,” recalls Paul, “but were still very surprised when the result was announced.” Playing at Futuresound was of course a drop in the ocean compared to getting to play at the Leeds and Reading festivals. “I preferred Reading to Leeds,” says Lloyd. “Even though at Leeds there were a lot of people we didn’t know watching us, I could still see my mum at the front, cheering louder
than anyone. But at Reading, you’re playing to a whole new crowd; it’s a case of getting a fresh reaction, and these people don’t owe your band anything.” His experience was made even better by an autograph request after the band’s early afternoon set.
They had a decent response from the crowds at each festival, as Paul recalls: “We had lots of messages afterwards from people saying how they were just passing by, heard the band and liked it. That’s brilliant – compliments from perfect strangers who’d never heard us before; no preconceptions, just based on the performance and the music.” How did the atmosphere differ at each show?
“THEY WERE M ORE RE S E R VED I N RE A DIN G, ” R EF L E C T S LLOYD , “HOLD IN G BAC K A B IT MOR E. ” “Everyone in Leeds was bang up for it,” recalls Tom, “people on each others’ shoulders at 2 o’clock in the afternoon! I had an awesome time in Reading, and the audience was brilliant, but I think they were scared of looking stupid.” A lot of reviews have focused on the energy of Soul Circus’s live performances, validated by YouTube footage of their Leeds & Reading experiences. “If you aren’t into it, then you can’t expect anyone else to be,”
says Lloyd. “It’s never been an issue in Leeds, but we’ve been on tour and played in some places where it’s been half empty. I’ve had to focus on making sure I don’t drop an ounce of energy just because there aren’t as many people there. There’s no point sulking, ‘cos you’ll just make it a rubbish night for everyone.”
The recent tour was in support of their debut EP, ‘Artists & Artisans’ (Lloyd: “You always win with alliteration”). Listening to its big pop songs, one accusation you can fire at them is that they seem to be aiming for the less cool end of the market: we’re talking anthemic choruses rather than angular indie cool. Fortunately, they’re okay with that assessment. “The songs we write probably do have a mainstream element - they’re quite accessible,” says Adam. Tom concurs: “There a lot of arty bands who’re making a conscious effort not to be mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that and I enjoy seeing those bands, but I don’t see us like that at all.”
godfathers like Embrace were selling vast quantities of records? “It is like a guilty pleasure at the moment,” says Paul. “Our genre isn’t loved in the same way it was. There’s this whole thing about niche bands, and how as soon as they get to the size of Coldplay, they’re kind of struck off being cool.”
“ T HIS IS WHO WE A RE; T HIS IS WHERE WE’RE AT.” Particularly in relation to the Leeds scene, it’s been hard for the city’s poppier acts to step out from the long shadows cast by the over-exposed, shamelessly commercial nature of bands like the Kaiser Chiefs and Pigeon Detectives. “The acts that have done well since then have been those from a heavier scene like Pulled Apart By Horses, or the arty stuff anything but catchy mainstream pop,” says Lloyd. “I think it’s only now that bands are starting to see that it’s not such a bad thing.”
That much is clear from the band’s influences. “I think you’re often made to feel guilty about wanting to sound like U2 or Coldplay,” says Lloyd, “and I think sometimes there’s even some guilt in saying we write hooks and catchy choruses - it’s almost as if we should be ashamed of it.” Maybe it’s not just the sound of the records those bands make, but the public perception of everything that goes along with it? Lloyd doesn’t think so: “Just because you sound a bit like them doesn’t mean you’re going to start hanging around with Bob Geldof and save the world! We just like good, catchy songs.” Well aware that the kind of music they’re making isn’t setting the charts alight at the moment, do they yearn for the mid ‘00s, when spiritual 23
Their influences are demonstrated proudly on the EP’s five songs. Lloyd’s disarming vocal style, reminiscent of Tony Hadley at times (ask your parents) is a perfect match for the wall of sound instrumentation that will keep fans of pre-pomp Coldplay and Snow Patrol happy. So why an EP, rather than saving up enough songs for an album? “I think five songs are just about right for a new band,” says Lloyd. Paul sees it as a snapshot: “This is who we are; this is where we’re at.”
They’re also aware of leaving their audience wanting more. “For a long time we were playing every weekend in Leeds,” recalls Paul, “but we realised that if we do a gig every six weeks and make it more of ‘an event’, it’s better for the people who come down and it’s better for us.” The next few months are looking busy. They’ve pencilled in their first headlining show at the Cockpit in January, are in talks with another Leeds band about releasing a split
single, while at the same time working on their next EP. There’s no sign of them giving up any of the control they currently have over their music, knowing that whatever happens next is solely in their hands. “Playing festivals next year is as likely or unlikely as we make it,” says Tom. “If we rest on our laurels now, we won’t play anything.”
IN SE C T G UI D E EAT, SL EE P, P L AY. .. Squirrel feeding, Lady Gaga and chance encounters in libraries. Not all at once, mind. That would be silly. “The masterplan is just to make music and fall asleep,” Insect Guide tell Tom Bailey. Photo’s By Emily Clare Smith
Since forming in 2005, the duo of frontwoman Su Sutton and guitarist Stan Howell, better known as Insect Guide to you and me, have certainly made the most of every opportunity that has come their way. After releasing their debut album ‘6ft in Love’ in 2008 and a remix EP later that year, they were fortunate enough to tour New York, Poland and Norway. Not a bad way to start.
“ W E LIKE T RAV E LLING , BU T W E ’ RE N OT S IT T IN G H E R E S AYIN G W E WA N T T O B E S UP E RS TA RS . ” Fast-forward to 2010 and Insect Guide, now a trio completed by former Pale Saints drummer Chris Cooper, have released their superb sophomore effort ‘Dark Days and Nights’. There’s also an accompanying DVD providing an intimate insight into the band, as well as the videos they recorded for each of the album’s ten tracks. Creativity obviously isn’t an issue. “We didn’t want a full expose on the band. It’s not really a film about Insect Guide; it’s a film about the scene that we are in. We’re a very audio / visual band anyway,” explains Su. Stan adds, “I was just a bit bored 26
of band documentaries I’d seen. There are a few classic ones, but a lot of recent ones had just bored me: just showing the bands in rehearsal rooms, and some moody shots of someone looking at their lyrics. You just don’t want to see that.” He may have a point. But that’s another conversation for another interview. “Is it any good? I haven’t seen it,” Chris confesses, to much amusement. So how would the band describe their music? On appearances it’d be easy to mistake their sound ranging from any gothic sub-genre you’d care to imagine, to DIY trash punk – frontwoman Su is the missing link between Siouxie Sioux and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, albeit a lot more feminine and a lot less confrontational than either. “Just noisy, light and shade, dark poppy tracks,” Stan responds with a calm humility, despite much greater musical aspirations. What about your strong sense of style and image: a deliberate choice or purely accidental? Su’s first to respond, admitting, “It comes kind of natural to us. At the same time, we’re not boring people. We like to talk about style, those are fun conversations.” Stan continues:
“We’ve always liked bands that have a strong image, I love them all the better for it. We like the clothes, we like our image on page, we like our videos”. Of course, with the addition of Chris, it begs the question if this has changed Insect Guide’s sound? “I think they’re much more exciting live now…” jokes the drummer, later quipping about how he is always trying to push up tempos. Su
comments, “it works though, there is a chemistry between us… and we’re now like a little triangle on stage”. “A triangle is the strongest shape. And they can’t do without a drummer now,” Chris boasts, gleefully adding, “there was a gig I couldn’t make, and they had to draft in a replacement.” “He was better than you,” teases Stan, “but yeah, it’s changed the way we work, and changed the way we write songs. We used to just work on ideas separately and then take them into the studio. But since we got Chris we spend a lot more time in the rehearsal rooms. He’s got strong ideas.” Clearly there is chemistry. Whilst Su and Stan remain at the core of the band, presumably bound by their shared experiences from the beginning, Chris adds an extra dynamic, bringing a fresh enthusiasm and energy, as well as some light relief during times of tension. ‘Dark Days and Nights’ also marks a blossoming relationship between the band and Squirrel Records, the Leeds based label famed for giving artists more creative control than most. “They’re great because they give you so much freedom,” Su enthuses. “You get this real sense that you can do whatever you want when you’re on Squirrel. And they’re our friends as well now. They weren’t when we started working with them, but now they come round for their tea all the time. I feed them a lot!”
One of the key themes conveyed by the ‘Dark Days’ DVD is the band’s love of Leeds. Su talks fondly of nights at the Cockpit, and how she finds so much inspiration from the city at night. Yet interestingly, none of the trio originally hails from Leeds; Su is the closest, having spent some of her childhood in Huddersfield. “We never were a Leeds band,” states Su, “Leeds did not like us with the first
album, so we ventured off elsewhere. It’s only with this album we’ve started playing Leeds and Manchester gigs and they’ve started to embrace us.”
Despite the slow start, Leeds is now firmly established as their home from home. But I’m curious as to what the band aspire to. Would they be content with the diverse choice Leeds has to offer, or do they have much bigger things in mind? “I’m happy in the rehearsal rooms, I don’t have any aspirations. It’s better than sitting at home watching TV. I’m always happy to be working on music but I’m not desperate to be recognised,” admits Chris. There’s a brief pause before Stan weighs in. “I’m total opposite to that really. I’m not just happy to stay in Leeds. I want to take it out and play it to as many people as I can.” Despite the conflict of interests, things still remain friendly, with not a hint of awkwardness between the guitarist and the drummer, regardless of their contradictory stand points. “We like travelling, but we’re not sitting here saying we want to be superstars,” Su adds tactfully. “We just want to make music and not have to do anything else. The masterplan is just to make music and then fall asleep… next to my mic stand” Having already travelled to much more distant shores while touring ‘6ft In Love’ in America and Europe, what have the band learned on the road? “It was fun; I want to do it again, for longer. I don’t want to come home next time!” Su comments, half joking, half serious.
“ AT T HE T IME IT WA S JUST SU A ND ME WIT H T HE DRUM MA CHINE.” 27
Stan recalls. “The album did really good for us at the time, opened lots of doors. We get a lot of support from Europe and America. And we’ve released our two albums in Japan this year, so we want to go out and play there as well”. Alongside a hectic few years of touring and recording, they’re also developed quite the knack for creating memorable cover versions, including Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Freak Scene’ and Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ – both of which have been championed by Steve Lamacq. More recently they’ve covered Simple Minds’ iconic ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, and Big Star’s ‘Nightime’: the latter for Scandinavian label Eardrumspop, to accompany new single ‘Bats’. “It was fun to begin with, just a fun thing to do in-between recording our own stuff. We just like pop songs in whatever style, in whatever genre. It’s good if it’s got a good chorus,” explains Su.
The band will be rounding off what they will no doubt reflect on as a successful 2010 with somewhat of a Leeds homecoming at Milos on December 9th. The perfect excuse for a festive cover? “Definitely no festive covers!” Su quickly states. “If the last gig at Milos is anything to go by, it’ll be sweaty and trashy to be honest. It’s a struggle. I had a soundman holding the floor monitor for the whole gig.” “It’s like playing in a sardine can,” Chris adds, before Stan reasons, “It is a great atmosphere though, just a bit too sweaty.” And what will 2011 bring for Insect Guide? “Another album, we don’t want to dilly-dally,” Su fires back, before mentioning the possibility of more London gigs thanks to a new promotions company they’ve started working with.
And of course, I couldn’t leave without asking the obvious: where does a name like Insect Guide come from? “I used to work in library when I was a teenager and a man came in and asked for The Insect Guide and it was like a button clicking in my head,” Su recalls. “I’m pretty sure he thought I was mad but a few years down the line and it’s a good band name!” Proof that sometimes the best ideas come from the most unlikely of places.
“ WE DO N’T WA NT T O DILLY- DA LLY,”
Silence in court! This issue’s judge, jury and contributor Tom ‘Old’ Bailey (he isn’t old) opens a critical ear to this latest crop of demos – and I don’t mean student sit-ins! Order! — EP’S — The Strangerhood Fast vocals; even faster basslines; pleasant for a while; soon becomes rather repetitive; like a monkey with a miniature cymbal. — Ajanta – Moonshine Moonshine: Hard to take too seriously, like a Spinal Tap b-side. Fun, but aptly leaves you with a sore head afterwards. Carry Him Down: Some interesting fret-board wizardry, does feel a little bit like ‘Greensleeves’ gone wrong at times. Ritual chanting is always creepy. Indigo Sunshine: Bright and breezy summer fun. Nice acoustic beats with light vox and gentle percussion. Handclaps are too sickly sweet though. — Ben Matravers – Step One Say: Not as terrifying as the EP cover will have you believe. Cheerful enough, but sadly short on confidence and presence. Step One: Described “Dark and aggressive” in the notes, I’d personally go for bleak and mild discomfort. Great sample use halfway through. — Fossil Collective – Honey Slides The sum of Fleet Foxes plus Band of
Horses times by Midlake. Minus the big budgets. Just as soothing though. — Ten – Lowlands Technically brilliant, mellow and atmospheric. Think Sigur Ros on a comedown, minus nonsensical gibberish. Bit of a downer at times. — Dirty Urges – ‘The Bill Hicks EP’ Striking funk / metal combo. Overkill on the effects pedal. No lyrical substance. Should not use Hicks’ name in vain. — Albums — Neil McLarty – ‘ Roseville Grand’ At The Lake: Carefully crafted Americana meets West Yorkshire. Glorious use of antique organs and lazy guitar melodies help to radiate unmistakable warmth. Who’s Gonna Meet You Tonight: Organ deployed to full effect. Shades of The Hold Steady’s slower tracks. One of the album’s heaviest moments by far. Friday Night Heartbreak: Heading dangerously into full-blown square dancing territory, but forgivable given an otherwise consistent and impressive effort. Now shake those hips. — The Dawnriders – The Dawnriders Dawnriders: Songs bearing the same name as the band are never good. They always come across cheesy. This is no exception. — Goldrush Either a brilliant parody, or the worst take on Americana since Bon Jovi
soundtracked Young Guns II. Lacking any authenticity. — The Virgin & The Creep: Much, much better. Acoustic led, with a strong narrative. Unfortunately buried at the end of the album. Worth a spin. — Daisy B – This Town Salvation: Upbeat melody, soulful vocals, great production and a steady rhythm. Hard to dislike, but desperately lacking in the thrills department. This Town: Full of life from the get go. Radio-ready and could easily be mistaken for any current female singer songwriter fodder. — Dressed In Wires – Demonstration Disc 2010: Random electro noises, not to be mistaken for The Clangers. Interesting concept, but very boring and indulgent in practice. YAWN. — GHOSTS - Drum Lakes 28-minute long “collage of songs” that inevitably hits and misses between superbly atmospheric, to half-baked and incomplete. Not. Even. Scary. — Auntie Dope – Live 2010 Mind Over Matter: The Fratellis go lo-fi. Probably written in less than a minute, but not in a good ‘flash of inspiration’ way. — U.F.O. “Let’s go for a ride on a U.F.O./I’m all dressed up and ready to go”. Even The Ramones are cringing. Tom Bailey
A L B U MS Chickenhawk – Modern Bodies (Brew Records) The latest offering from these Brew sweethearts hits all the right spots; for all its chugging and riffery the band prove they are more than capable of writing impeccably crafted tracks. ‘The Pin’ slowly builds in alternating time signatures before a frenetic mood shift that catches you completely off guard. It’s unsettling and when Paul Astick’s vocals kick in, calculated for hopelessness, you know you’re in for a ride. In fact the band manages a lot within what is often quite an unvaried style, but always with their signature chug. Matt Reid’s loose drumming takes some cues from Deftones’ Abe Cunningham with plenty of space letting the riffs breath and adding new potency to each snare hit. Not a wanky, clichéd guitar solo in sight either. That’s not to say they can’t play: ‘I Hate This, Do You Like It?’ begins with some frantic guitar work which sets up the song incredibly (for the record, the video for this song is 5 minutes of zombie horror mixed with some local landmarks highly recommended). It’s an excellent album which should please any connoisseur of the heavier arts, the vocal variety is very impressive (Astick frequently manages to sound like he’s drowning), but the band could make more of those softer contrasts. Other than that, for cracking 30
metal without the stick up its arse, look no further. Tim Hearson http://www.myspace.com/chickenhawk http://www.brewrecords.net/ — Napoleon IIIrd – Christiania (Brainlove Records) Was Napoleon IIIrd ever less than wonderful? Of course not. The opening track, ‘The Unknown Unknown’, reassures current Napoleon IIIrders with a noise reminiscent of ‘Boys in Bands’. The album then spins off into creative orbit and does not return till an abrupt landing at the end of closing track ‘MTFU’. Big tunes, a massive heart and a compulsive search for sonic bric-a-brac illuminate forensically untouchable lyrics. Since his first EP in 1995, James Mabbot has done that rare thing of creating an entire sonic world that is instantly recognisable as his own. Its principal qualities are painstaking orchestration and a perverse commitment to discovering magic in the mundane. In new song, ‘Rough Music’, he sings (as a chorus of many voices) “Heaven is just for creeps and weirdoes/So find yourself an abusive partner and settle down”. It’s dark and bitter, but it nestles in the familiar context of euphoric sing-along and stirring melodies.
The Hardline Optimist’ is probably the Big Hit. Casual listeners might link it with Flaming Lips or Broken Social Scene or something equally spirited, ambitious and North American for long enough to join in: “It began (it began!) with the realisation (realisation!) that the human race must learn to change or die!” ‘Leaving Copenhagen’ fantasises the republic of self, where we can all wave a flag for our own fragile ids, singing “let’s all go to Christiania!” as we march through the littered streets, stopping only to purchase a treasured copy of this magnificent album. Sam Saunders www.myspace.com/napoleoniiird — Insect Guide – Dark Days and Nights (CD & DVD) (Squirrel/Dead Penny Records) Appearances can be deceptive. We all know this. It’s right up there amongst the age-old clichés such as ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Yet upon first glance you could easily mistake Insect Guide for a Goth-pop trio channelling the likes of awful noughties tripe like Evanescence. Thankfully you don’t have to give this second offering from the Leeds based trio too many listens to realise that this could not be further from the truth. Instead you discover a variety of influence and substance from the ten tracks on offer here: innovatively mixing elements of nu wave, Brit pop and shoegaze. An album of both quiet and loud moments, opener ‘Wasted’ bursts into life with its vibrant choruses, as do the anthemic ‘This City’ and ‘Dark Days and Nights’. Elsewhere it is the likes
of ‘Crushed’ and ‘Tape’ that steal the show, passing along in a more subtle and understated way. Making the package all the sweeter is the ‘Dark Days and Nights’ DVD; which provides a fascinating and intimate insight into band, and the Leeds scene they have come to love. Well worthy of a look on its own merits. Tom Bailey www.theinsectguide.com — Dinosaur Pile-Up – Growing Pains (Friends Vs Records/Big Brain Records) I imagine it’s the perennial conundrum discussed by bands throughout the country – if you want to be big, how do you do it? Can you plan it? Or is it just mostly luck? Matt Bigland may be grappling with these very questions himself right now. Catapulted into the public eye earlier this year on the back of brief speculation that there was a grunge revival, Dinosaur Pile-Up were undoubtedly beneficiaries of all this speculation with a national tour to support this, their debut LP. But when you strip away all the media bluster what exactly do Dinosaur Pile-Up deliver? Well, from lead track ‘Birds and Planes’, it’s clear Bigland is in no mood to hang about. The opening chorus drops into instantly surging guitars that thrash along at a furious pace. And that’s basically the template for the rest of the album. It’s tremendously exciting stuff and anyone who likes overdriven electric guitars couldn’t fail to be impressed by the racket Bigland conjures up. But there are a couple of issues with this record. Several of the songs do actually sound like Nirvana songs and secondly there’s actually not much substance to Bigland’s songs. This is exposed on the only acoustic track, ‘Hey You’, which is whiney and tuneless and even here Bigland can’t resist giving it an amped up coda. Steve Walsh www.myspace.com/dinosaurpileup — Killing Fields of Ontario – Shock of the Sparks (Self Released) Something strange happened with the debut album from Killing Fields of Ontario, something I hardly ever get when listening to new albums - I was
hooked from the beginning. Opening track ‘Tired of Being a Man’ provides bouncy feel-good clap along melodies and catchy lyrics, a fool-proof formula for a song you’ll have in your head all day. In contrast, heavier drums and a much stronger rock vibe is apparent on ‘Single Rose’, with pulsating riffs that dominate this stand out track. The variety in styles could have gone really wrong, but no track seems out of place. Instead, ‘Shock of the Sparks’ showcases a vast range of musical ability. Genuine emotion is discernible throughout, highlighted in the more sombre ‘Broken Flowers’, a stripped back song with a single guitar and mellow vocals. Similarities in part can be noted to Munford and Sons and Damien Rice, but copycats Killing Fields of Ontario are not. Shock of the Sparks comes strongly recommended, yet it doesn’t take 12 tracks to persuade you - it’s quite possible that this is an example of too much of good thing. To summarise? Gold-plated folk rock. Stacey Dove www.myspace.com/killingfieldsofontario
Various Artists - Rock And Roll Circus Presents A Collection Of Calamity Vol. II (Rock And Roll Circus) The Rock and Roll Circus is a rehearsal facility on Canal Road, Leeds. This second compilation of its resident denizens offers diversity and quality. Everyone will find a favourite. Astutely, the compilers have put the very best tracks at the beginning of the CD. Cowtown’s ‘(Kim) Deal Breaker’ is a perfect start. Milk White White Teeth’s ‘Dante’s Danceteria’ is fabulous, with
a heart-stopping shift at 2:09 that lifts it into greatness. Play and play again. Then go mental for Ariga Astrobeat Arkestra’s jazz-afrobeat instrumental ‘Lost In Kinshasa’; crunchy, fluid and funky all at once. There are also very current sounds, ably presented by the fuzzed over Insect Guide, the punchy rapper Gold Frank and the luxury acoustic dueting of Jack and Gill’s Daughter. Hail Animator is lively too. Only Milk stick out as the one band making all the rock beginner moves with a track that really should have been omitted. Everyone else - (OK), Blood Oranges, Just Handshakes (We’re British), This Many Boyfriends, The Loud, The Plight, Beretta Suicide, Etai Keshiki and Tenbennys do their respective stuff and set out audienceready stalls. Download it now, at no cost, and savour the sweetness of many cherries. Sam Saunders www.therockandrollcircus.co.uk
EPS The Wind-Up Birds – Courage, For Tomorrow Will Be Worse (EP) (Sturdy Records) It’s a sign of the times that in recent months there has been a resurgence of politically aware music, and The Wind Up Birds can count themselves as contributors to this. Take one part Half Man Half Biscuit, throw in a twist of Chumbawamba with bits of Jam, Kinks and Happy Mondays and you’re somewhere near to what we have on this very Northern sounding EP. Lyrically it’s sometimes clever, always no nonsense, as ‘Good Shop Shuts’ bemoans the demise of the traditional high street. Next up and pick of the four tracks on offer here is ‘In a Yorkshire Call Centre I Knelt Down and Wept’, a bleak ode to the sweat shop of the 21st century. Musically it’s a bit ramshackle in places, but the lyrics more than make up for that as you’re always dying to know what the next line is. Mike Price www.thewindupbirds.co.uk sturdyrecords.wordpress.com — 31
Piskie Sits – The Way I’d Like To Go EP (Philophobia Music) Everyone’s favourite Wakefield slacker band return with four songs that may just serve to confirm prejudices that they are actually just a weird kind of Pavement tribute band. There are, in fact, signs that the band are beginning to develop more of an individual sound. For example, ‘Sick With My Guitar’ pushes a fuzzed up bass to the fore and whips along at a dizzy pace, while ‘Sweet Little Weasel’ has a lovely rolling stonedness feel about it. Elsewhere, old friends are revisited with less effective results, and singer Craig Hale seems to now favour vocal stylings based on Bob Dylan but ends up sounding more like Steve Harley. Suitably eccentric. Steve Walsh www.wrathrecords.co.uk/apiskie.html
S IN G L E S imp – Just Destroyer (Philophobia Music) From its early beginnings of trying to do something different with electric guitars, post rock increasingly pursues teeth achingly complex paths. Thank Slint, then, for a band like imp, who use electric guitars to sculpt ambitious soundscapes without recourse to a single complex time signature and are not afraid to make a melodious noise and enjoy it. ‘Don’t Go Wild’s surging guitars are punctuated by a joyfully languid massed voice chorus, while ‘Birdfeud’ has the same chorus yelping wordlessly. Runs out of steam towards the end but the band already have enough of an individual approach to bode well for the future. Steve Walsh www.facebook.com/pages/ imp/239066040908 — Vessels – Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute (Cuckundoo Records) Sometimes it is hard to let go of the old and embrace the new. Vessels are best known for their incendiary postrock epics, but ‘Meatman’ marks a departure into more ambient territory. Taking a pulse and looped motif as its core theme, it is for the most part 32
Stuart Warwick’s delicious vocals that provide the melody, conjuring up memories of early Unkle recordings. The full version does feature an impressive guitar climax, but this track is definitely an exercise in restraint. For those who want a bit more guitar and drums, never fear; b-side ‘Ornafives’ has them in uplifting spade-loads. Rob Wright www.myspace.com/vesselsband — Holy State – Medicine Hat/Sultan of Sentiment (Dance to the Radio Records) Holy State are part of the clutch of metal bands that seem to be ubiquitous all over Leeds at the moment. Although, unlike stablemates Humanfly and Chickenhawk, the band seem content to utilise more traditional metal tropes. So what we get here are two no nonsense guitar work outs that do a good job of putting a clean, straightforward riffing band at the heart of things. ‘Medicine Hat’ in particular whips along furiously, with pauses only serving to emphasise the next clattering gallop through the riff. On the downside it does sound a bit, well, old fashioned really. Steve Walsh www.myspace.com/holystate —
The Sequins – Man Alive/On the Streets of Japan (Sturdy Records) Man Alive is a fine slice of early-80sinfluenced alt-rock, with choppy guitars and flashes of synth shot through with enough present day riffing to appeal
as much to Cribs fans as it does to New Wavers. In just over three and a half minutes you can pick out sonic references to Split Enz, Dogs Die In Hot Cars and Orange Juice to name but three, and there are moments where it threatens to turn into The King Is Half Undressed by Jellyfish - never a bad thing. Conversely, the other tune sounds like a Razorlight cast-off. Ah well, can’t have everything. Spencer Bayles www.thesequins.co.uk sturdyrecords.wordpress.com — Stateless – Ariel (Ninja Tunes) Stateless have been ‘in the studio’ for a while, but it appears that they are now ready to emerge blinking into the light, an altered beast. From the Greek/Turkish/Spanish guitar sample, it is apparent something fundamental has changed and the steady beat lures you inexorably into something wonderful. Chris James’ vocals have developed a deep maturity and the key shift in the chorus, accompanied by the heavy bass line and multilayered vocals, lend the track some real menace. It is deep and dark, like a pool that you know you shouldn’t dive into but are irresistibly drawn to. Rob Wright http://www.myspace.com/ statelessonline — Middleman – Chipping Away (Blip Records) Middleman, once at the forefront of things, is now in danger of being swept away. What Middleman need to do is release a track that has a truly different and possibly Northern identity. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. The idea of a man driven to the edge by everyday frustrations is ubiquitous but generic. The melody squelches along like a wet sponge, the chorus, while catchy, is hardly illuminating, and it all seems so... lazy. Sorry. The Napoleon IIIrd remix is livelier, splicing gabba and hardfloor beats with stripper brass – a combo you’d never think would work. And you’d be right. Rob Wright www.myspace.com/middlemanuk
L IV E Brainwash Festival @ Brudenell Social Club/Royal Park Cellars, Leeds - Photo’s by Bart Pettman & Hannah Sunderland
Friday — I arrive in time to see Juffage sprawled prostrate on the floor howling into a microphone amidst pounding beats. Similar in concept to David Thomas Broughton, but more electronic: a desperate starship commander on the bridge of his dying craft. Decamping to the Royal Park Cellars, I am nearly flattened by the sound of Nope. Andy Abbot of ‘Tank fame is in full on bass mode with Steve Nuttall on drums. Theoretically, a cyclic super group; actually like being trapped in a steel dustbin under a giant pneumatic hammer. Ouch. Beats plus female vocals equals Bjork/ Bat for Lashes sounding band. Sure, there is an element of that to Nedry, but there’s more to it. Chris and Matt on guitars and laptops remind me of Worriedaboutsatan in the old days... in fact, Nedry is what they’d be if they had a sweet-sweet vocalist like Ayu. Nitkowski are not ‘nice’. Their awesome, double-guitar fuelled mathrash is impressive and exhilarating, but not nice. I could have done with a better view, but musically I am satisfied. The jumpers may look a bit distressed now, but Cowtown remain a force for good. The little smiling glances from
Hils, the outrageously raunchy riffs from Jon, the solid rhythms from Dave – all part of Cowtown’s appeal, though it is the catchiness of tunes like ‘Power Blingers’ that really seal the deal. Little nuggets of joy. I am being whipped in the face by dreadlocks, but even this unpleasantness cannot detract from the pleasure of Talons. It’s a violent, synapse sawing noise full of screaming strings and added crunchy bits. That last bit could be the dreadlocks though. Trio VD are scary; tight jazz with whacked out time signatures, random saxophone and what sounds like Norman Collier having a break down. I need to get out before I join him. Fortunately Two Minute Noodles are nice and loungy, with Neil Turpin in smooth mode. It’s a very pleasant experience, but no way as intriguing as Quack Quack. So it ends as it begun, with one man and his instruments. Dosh is not as out there as Juffage, but his lo-fi electronic set is charming and ambient in a techno-lullaby fashion. Nightynight, Brainwash. Rob Wright — Saturday — Kicking off were Shapes, whose technical riffage left people feeling somewhat impressed. Imagine an even rawer (and British) Underoath. Mimas took to the stage entertainingly mic checking with a series of inconsequential wails, absurd lyricism and quirky enthusiasm. One of the prize nuggets of the afternoon, comparing to a more positive sounding múm or 65daysofstatic. Over to the Royal Park for what Yanni Montoya lovingly call ‘penguin rock’. Admittedly, it’s much like standard rock with continuing allusions to penguins but they manage some pretty hefty style-shifts. Enthusiastic bassist of the day goes to the gent from Loose Talk Costs Lives who lumbered about like a man crotch deep in a rough ocean. Less could be said for the other members but the band’s ska-tinged indie made a good impression nonetheless.
Northern Ireland’s MojoFury’s influences are very hard to pin down. It doesn’t matter, they were tight and technical but playing to a diminished crowd. Black Moth made the most of the Royal Park’s dingy set-up with a spot of gothic grunge. For all the pedigree of the later bands, Black Moth delivered some of the meatiest riffs. Not quite the face melting I was told to prepare for but ballsy and raw. Back to the Brudenell’s second room, where Sketches were emitting a pleasant wall of sound. Some particularly nice drumming punctuated an otherwise standard soft-rock affair. Not the most exciting band but definitely one to watch out for. Proving once again that the sound of classic rock is always funny, The Plight stepped on to the Brudenell main stage. Authentic screaming saved it from being completely ridiculous but there was plenty of cocking about going on. Entertaining though, so no qualms there.
On the second stage, some fine loop work was being done by young Howard James Kenny whose inoffensive acoustic sound provided 33
powered by her haunting vocals. You get the feeling that it wouldn’t matter if there were no instruments behind her, which is exactly how good acoustic should sound. Yonderboy were next to take to the stage in the Royal Park Cellars, channelling traditional indie pop a la the Maccabees. They do the genre well and while they are enjoyable, they are not memorable.
a welcome break from the chugging of the main stage. Despite his shyness Howard managed to keep the audience captivated with his well crafted songs. Continuing the ambient theme was the haunting Glissando. Mega-atmospheric with some cracking little effects topped off with one of those ghostly voices you hope to Hell isn’t coming from inside your head. Lovely stuff. Next up was the surprisingly disappointing Chickenhawk who would have made more impact in the Royal Park basement. In all fairness, the band played as well as their reputation implies: raw and ready with some fine screaming, but just not enough grit for my liking. Picky? Yes, but good metal should beat the shit out of you. Chickenhawk gave me a graze
Norwegian jazz metallers The Shining rocked up with minute long blast-beats and all the subtlety of marching around your elderly grandma’s with a pad of ‘Post-its’ marked “DIBS”. Everything about these guys said ‘meat’ and some badass sax solos made it all the more impressive. Not really “jazz”, to be fair, but think of a more brutal Rammstein with sax lines and you’re on your way. After a hefty change over, the immaculate Rival Consoles stepped up for a cracking little DJ set: All the glitches and bitchin’ synths we’ve come to expect from laptop artists and not a wank club tune in sight. Even if DJ sets aren’t your bag, this man has it covered. Finishing off the bands were ‘special guests’, Health, whose bassist wins the award for most hippy looking personage of the night. Very apt for Health’s somewhat psychedelic noise rock sound. Pulsating and synthy is always a cool way to end a night. Tim Hearson — Sunday — The final day was kicked off at the Brudenell by Milk White White Teeth. With nine members making use of instruments from guitars to bongos to cornets they delivered an impressive, swelling performance. Down in the Royal Park Cellars came Master & the Mule, who delivered moments of soaring, System of a Down style grandeur, and then managed to sound somehow dated. That said, when they were good, they were very good. Next Fran Rodgers treated the Brudenell to fragile, romantic folk
Kellermensch brought a touch of the exotic (well, Danish) to Brudenell. Anthemic melodies, paired with the best elements of metal, manage to celebrate what makes the hardcore side of rock so intoxicating, while still sounding original. Codes in the Clouds were the first of the days post-rock bands in the intimate setting of the Royal Park Cellars. Like an ambient 6daysostatic, their tracks build like a wave, enveloping the crowd and then breaking on a crescendo. This is post rock at its refined, emotive best. Castrovalva deliver playful, indulgent screamo with a fantastic, manic live energy. Their obvious on stage charisma makes them the sort of band that you want to find after the show and make friends with, which is a large part of their appeal. Back to Royal Park Cellars for Traitors. The technical ability that backs their post-hardcore sound is impressive but they give a disjointed live performance. Vocals are rarely directed towards the audience, which is a shame because the music should carry them far. Thanks to the inevitable running over of sets, I only caught the second half of Humanfly’s performance. What I saw was tightly controlled electronic hardcore played with conviction. Their songs however, are far too drawn out. This wasn’t bad music, but it was the only point in the afternoon where I was bored. Back in the Royal Park Cellars I was confronted with the ear-splitting wall of sound that is local noise-rock outfit Dolphins. Although they did swallow the vocals slightly, the hardcore riffs
had a brash energy and was well received by a good sized crowd. Feeling fairly cynical about another electronic act, I headed back to the Brudenell for Gallops, and was pleasantly surprised. Progressive electronica with bite, they managed to sound different from anything else I had heard today. Their tracks are intensely catchy and well produced, with a thumping heart behind them. In Royal Park Cellars, Lavotchkin thundered through the small venue with some no-frills hardcore. Their roaring vocals and ferocious guitar produce that sort of bone shaking live force that clears your mind of anything else but the music. I had read some excellent things about Tweak Bird, so it was a quick dash back to Brudenell to see them. Described as jazz-metal, these two brothers combine foot-stomping guitar riffs with sax and impressively refined vocals. Live, they are far heavier than expected, but the experimental aspects of their songs get lost. Blacklisters are a brute live force, and as the frontman swung into the crowd I was cowering, ready to apologise for whatever I had done that had made him so angry. They are incredibly good at what they do, and if heart-pumping punk meets hardcore is your thing don’t miss the chance to see them.
Back to Brudenell for the final band of the day - Japanese noise outfit MeltBanana. Their guitars, electronics and squealing vocals mould together into a sound that moves so fast your brain can’t possibly keep up. All that’s left to do is give in and hurl yourself into
the seething crowd at the front of the stage. Simply amazing. Jess Wallace — Constellations Festival @ Leeds University, Leeds - Photo’s By Hannah Cordingley I’m thrilled to be checking out the line up at the inaugural Constellations Festival. Those smart cookies at Leeds University have assembled a stellar line up. Not surprisingly there are plenty of takers. It’s my first visit to the Mine, a cracking little venue. First up we have Nottingham based 5-piece Dog is Dead. Their fine 7-song set mixes indie pop, lush vocal harmonies, ska and afrobeat; a promising start to the day. The Refectory is packed with about 1000 people to see I Like Trains who deliver a clutch of crowd pleasers including the magnificent ‘Sea of Regrets’. Back to the Mine for Wingman whose line up includes former Old Romantic Killer Harry Johns. His new outfit are a trio and the songs are short, crisp and crunchy. Sky Larkin go down a storm and the Refectory crowd certainly appreciate Kate and co’s return to their home turf. Popping my head into Stylus, I catch the one man sonic cathedral that is Gold Panda although the indifferent sound quality begins to grate after a while so it’s back to the Mine to check out Polarsets. This proves to be a good move as the Geordie trio deliver a sparkling set of catchy danceable pop tunes. However, their newly acquired “best band of the day so far” title is short lived as Local Natives enchant the Refectory crowd. Indeed, during ‘Airplanes’ and ‘World News’ the place is bouncing. Brilliant. Stylus is heaving for the Big Apple art-rockers Les Savy Fav and the bumper crowd are not disappointed as Tim Harrington’s crowd surfing antics work us all into a frenzy. Our hero ends their 90 minute set wearing nothing but boxer shorts with a plastic bag on his head... sexy beast. It’s been a while since I’ve seen local speed metal merchants Chickenhawk and following the release of Modern Bodies, they are so on their game tonight. Picking up my fillings on the way out, it’s time to catch the last
band of the day Broken Social Scene although I hardly hear a note as I’m now virtually completely deaf. Please come back next year. Mike Price — The Scaramanga Six/Trumpets of Death/Ultra-Humanitarian @ Santiagos, Leeds Fledgling Leeds promoters Moose Wrench staged this gig in the upstairs room of a venue probably better known as an after normal hours watering hole. This may explain the almost total absence of a significant audience. I would have thought having The Scaramanga Six as headliners would have guaranteed any promoter a healthy, if very unsober, crowd. How wrong could I be.
Ultra-Humanitarian are Seth Cooke on drums and Andrew Forknell on ancient analogue synth. The pair make a krautrocky, proggy type noise which moves through pre-arranged sections to improvised linking bits and back. They are at their best when locked into a thumping groove, but the improvised bits sound clumsy. Stepping up several gears, the Trumpets of Death are, of course, Leeds folky songwriter Benjamin Wetherill’s vehicle for radical reinterpretations of his songs. This version of the band was a trio, with Wetherill on electric guitar, Laura Parsons on drum machine and Karl D’Silva on bass and saxophone. The absence of live drums has done a lot to sharpen the focus of the music, although Wetherill’s words are just another texture of the music. And what music it is. Driving rock, jagged electronica and unabashed noise now drive Wetherill’s songs, and it sounds fantastic. 35
One wonders how much further out Wetherill intends to go. Although a handful of poeple wandered in when they came on, it must be a long time since a Scaramanga Six audience consisted of a dozen (defiantly seated) people. You could view it as tragic that one of the best live bands in the country had to suffer a gig like this. But you know what, they were bloody amazing. The band stormed though a set made up of classic Scara tunes, even throwing one in from the new album, and threw shapes like they were conducting massed crowd surfing. One of the strangest gigs I have ever been to. Steve Walsh — I Like Trains/Sam Airey @ The Deep, Hull - Photo By Bart Pettman Launching an album themed around a drowned Earth in one of the largest aquariums in the world is, to put it mildly, stylish, but then I Like Trains have always managed to be stylish in an understated fashion.
In a venue that feels like the hospitality lounge in a super villain’s lair, Sam Airey looks as nervous as a herring at a gull convention as he opens to a select crowd of about a hundred bodies. His finger-picked guitar and whispery Yorkshire vocals compare favourably with Lone Wolf, but it is sad longing that manifests itself here. With ‘Scott’ as stand in drummer for an injured Simon, it is unclear as to whether I Like Trains will be able to pull off some of the more complex tracks on He Who Saw The Deep until about 36
four bars into their first song. Free of reverb, you can truly appreciate the beauty of their new material, though Dave’s voice does occasionally drown in the deluge of guitars and bass, but the torrential snares on ‘Snake Can Shed It’s Skin’ are truly terrifying. A couple of old favourites make the cut though, including a beautiful stripped down rendition of ‘Terra Nova’ and ‘The Beeching Report’, which is a tear-jerking masterstroke. Happy band, happy audience, happy fish – life really is better down where it’s wetter. Rob Wright — If Destroyed Still True @ The Venue, Leeds College of Music Given that most of the members of IDST have recently graduated from this very college, this was something of a homecoming gig. Sadly, the meagre audience suggests the hometown audience remain largely indifferent to them. Suitably, the band begin with ‘Bingo Wings’, the overture like lead track from their debut and, although the first set takes a while to get going, it rapidly becomes clear that the new material both sounds better and is played with more relish. Which is just as it should be. New tunes ‘This One Knew’, which closed the first set, and the unnamed piece that opened the second were the highlights of the gig. The former moved from an insistant, jazzy minimalism to a hard, driving section with Bobby Beddoe’s gloriously fluid trumpet weaving throughout, and after a brief pause guitarist Nick Tyson executed a similarly inventive solo over the same driving music. Somewhat overshadowed on Seven Dials, Beddoe steps very much to the fore in the new material. But despite the capabilities of the soloists, the most impressive thing about IDST is that they operate very much as a band, unified in creating a sound that’s more than the sum of its parts. The band finish with a brace of tunes from that ever fresh debut, ‘Seven Dials’ and ‘Nothing Great Is Easy’, but don’t they make it seem so.... Steve Walsh
Vessels/Veronica Falls/Stewart Warwick/Juffage @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds - Photo By James West I was hoping to avoid this, but someone dropped out at the last minute. Not that I mind seeing Vessels again. I am really starting to enjoy Juffage, but I’ve already given him a glowing review this issue. Moving on... Stewart Warwick has one of the most impressive and expressive voices I have heard in a long time. Evocative of innocence from the ringing of a bicycle bell to the looping of a stylophone, it is as lovely and genuine a performance as the flowers on his keyboard aren’t. Which leads me onto Veronica Falls, an anachronism, an incongruity echoing Echobelly in their look, their sound... their very souls. It is a polished but empty performance that resonates hollowly in this superior lineup. Wrong band, wrong place. The cynic might state that this was a ploy to make Vessels look even better, but a cynic would be spitting teeth for that tonight. They look exhausted after their stint with Oceansize but totally united – it is a performance as a bright blue autumnal morning, but as warm as a mother’s hug. The new stuff works, especially the new single with guest vocals from Mr Warwick, the old stuff roars triumphantly and I am caught up in a whirlwind of good vibes and mojo regained. Welcome back, the Vessels I love! Rob Wright — Tommy Evans Orchestra @ Wakefield Jazz, The Sports Club, Wakefield
grabbed the audience’s attention from the start. Following Collins was We Sell Seashells who provided a passionate performance, with strong bass lines and quick, pounding drums mixing well with the tuneful, but strangely appropriate electric violin. Sadly many of the songs fell into self-indulgence.
Innovative and fascinating, the Tommy Evans Orchestra is a fine selection of talented musicians trying to capture the life of the composer’s uncle. The unusual vocal harmonies and stylistics portray passion and sadness often without words as the piano flows underneath. The composition contrasts dynamically from one section to the next, both with emotion and instrumentation. With stabs and leaps from the brass sections and flutes while the double bass is almost running away with itself, the excitement and thrill of the music is hard to ignore. The 90 minute ‘The Green Seagull’ is a vibrant suite, to the extent that you feel breathless watching it as it whisks you on its way. Evans is a talented composer, working with accomplished soloists that go from strength to strength in effortless progression. The conducting is very modern and brings another element to the overall theatrics of the music. The Green Seagull was written with intense emotion and, as a consequence, by the end of the evening you may feel personally included in the emotional journey of the story that unfolds. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as emotionally attached to the piece by the end, yet I was struck by the originality and courage to push the boundaries of jazz; I salute a band of cool cats. Daisy Taplin www.wakefieldjazz.org.uk — Juffage/She Sells Seashells/Graham Collins @ The Packhorse, Leeds Graham Collins began the night with his deep, dark acoustic songs which
You don’t often find a solo artist as original as Chicago-born Juffage. The Packhorse provided a brilliant setting for his fast and furious drum-led set, creating a strong sense of intimacy between performer and audience. Juffage (a.k.a. Jeff T Smith) had the whole crowd watching intensely as he sprang from instrument to instrument. A peculiar range of instruments splayed out around him provided the ideal showcase for his vast musical talent. Complex blending of guitars, drums and keyboards alongside sudden flashes of feedback kept everyone’s eyes firmly on Smith. Well written melodies entangled within bizarre loops and powerful, simplistic drum beats. Alex Taylor — Vibrations Festive Picks Christmas time is here, by golly, disapproval would be folly... but for those hardened disapprovers, why not treat yourself to some fine live fare, courtesy of some of Leeds finest beat combos. — Acoustic Ladyland/trio VD @ The Brudenell Social Club, 15 December Busy night for Leeds based guitarist Chris Sharkey – he plays furious Metallica influenced jazz electric guitar in both bands. Doyens of the modern British jazz scene, Acoustic Ladyland are ‘reconfiguring’ themselves after this latest tour, so expect surprises. Trio VD, of course, contributed the token ‘jazz’ selection to the Fight Before Christmas. Should it have won? You decide.... — Jon Gomm @ The Grove Inn, Holbeck, Leeds, 18 December The master acoustic guitar technician and global troubadour plays his umpteen millionth gig in Leeds to an audience that will no doubt include at least one person scratching their head and wondering just how the bloody hell he does all that stuff!
The Sunshine Underground @ Black Flag, Wakefield, 23 December Leeds adoptees SU return for what is likely to be a raucous Christmas party type gig. Dinosaur Pile-Up @ Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds, 31 December Leeds’ chosen Band of the Moment blast away the old year and herald the new with their furious guitars and shouty songs. And I didn’t mention grunge once...oh, balls... — Lone Wolf @ The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 12 January Lone Wolf is or course songwriter Paul Marshall in full band mode, and will no doubt be showcasing the ambitious, literate, complex and songs that feature on this year’s stunning The Devil And I album. — Moose Wrench 1st Birthday @ The Brudenell Social Club and Santiagos, Leeds, 15 January Leeds’ newest left field promoter takes time out to celebrate itself with a fantastic line up including the ever dependable Cissy and the awesome Bilbao Syndrome representing Leeds, with the headliner being ex-This Heat drumming legend Charles Hayward. — Humanfly @ Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds, 7 February - Photo By Hannah Sunderland The ever dependable British Wildlife give Humanfly a chance to make a gloriously massive sound with guitars. Headliners are the excellent Fugazilike London trio Silent Front, with False Flag, the ex-Red Stars Parade and Year of the Man, ahem, ‘supergroup’, making their debut. Possibly. —
ONE F O R T H E R O A D BE N BEL MA R ( T H E N CM ROOM ) It’s a chilly Guy Fawkes Night in Leeds City Centre as I catch up with a ravenous Ben Belmar from The NCM Room, one of Leeds most prominent music promoters and not to be confused with Network Compliance Manager or National Coal Mining. The wisdom is heartfelt, his sandwich looks fucking delicious and would wash down very nicely with the pint I’m holding, and the responses are random yet cunningly coded and not nonsensical or amphetamine induced in any way. Confused? You soon will be… Techno Gent certainly beats Techno Cad. Is that a statement or a question? I suppose if I call myself a Techno Gent, then hopefully as I approach my twilight years the name will always be relevant. Indeed, it will become even more so, unlike, for instance, Techno Youth. It’s got some legs in it. I’m thinking of the long term here. Visitors are like fish, they start to stink after a couple of days. Yeah, they do actually and that reminds me, I’ve bought some rollmop herrings and they’ve been in my cupboard for more than 3 days, so I better get rid of those when I get back.
An ounce of patience is worth a pound of brains. Mmm, patience is a virtue, that’s true enough. For instance, you can get bands that are maybe too cerebral, you know, far too clever for their own good and so they don’t give their songs time to breathe. It’s like a constant feeling of having to rush through this string of ideas because they’re like “Oh, genius,” this constant string of amazing ideas, but then 30-45 seconds into a song and that’s it. I like bands with an appreciation of space and time.
Always keep your eyes on the road. That reminds me of Paul Marshall (a.k.a. Lone Wolf); I think one of his songs is called that. I suppose that would suggest to me:
‘A LWAY S LO O K WHERE Y O U’RE GO ING’
Or even staying true to your own principles and not straying off into a ditch and dying a premature death. Maybe there is a tendency for bands not to do that nowadays and they’re travelling down roads with multiple junctions, taking the wrong fork and there’s nothing there apart from just a sign and they’ve forgotten who they were. They’ve traded themselves in for what they think is a better proposition and found that it’s led to nothing at all. Deep or what? Remember to fight fire with fire. I don’t think I agree with that, although one of my mottos is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. I’ve been to some gigs where I’ve been watching a pretty awful band and wanted my ears to seal over, but I’ve persevered with the set and at the end I’ve felt a stronger person for it. Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Definitely. It can happen with bands that come and then quickly disappear or bands that start with so much promise, something changes and they lose it. When Middleman started practicing at our place about 3 or 4 years ago, they brought out some of the best stuff that they’ve done but then, later on, I thought they lost a bit of themselves, so the magic there was for me then disappeared, but was still great to have in the first place. Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day. In what sense is that to be interpreted? Perhaps every band out there, successful or not, might be liked by someone twice. Bands come in and out of fashion all the time. If a band simply carries on doing what they’ve always been doing then the next generation will be able to appreciate them at some point in the future, so the band haven’t moved from where they are, just people’s tastes.
banter to try and break the ice. I remember the Wonderswan lead singer talking to his audience about some documentary he’d seen on TV about a man who turned into a tree. Of course the crowd went completely silent and he just kept rabbiting on and digging a bigger and bigger hole for himself. I think the drummer had to bail him out in the end. The worst people often give the best advice. Who are the worst people? Anyone who gives me good advice is in my book a good person. If they were bad beforehand, they’re not any more. They’ve just redeemed themselves. Treat each day as if it’s your last because one day you’ll be right. That’s totally true, but quite difficult to do I think. It’s what I like to see from a band, that sense of urgency when they play. Who knows, they could all fall into a vat of door stripper and never play again! You just need to seize the moment and go for it every time. Bands that just go through the motions deserve a bit of stick and should be heckled and told to put a bit of passion into it. Mike Price
ON E OF MY M OTTOS I S ‘W HAT D OES N ’T KILL YOU M AK ES Y O U S TR ONGER’.
Your brain starts working the moment you are born and never truly stops until you stand up to speak in public. I get serious stage fright and I’ve seen band members who suffer from it come out with the most ridiculous 39
Published on Dec 1, 2010
IBi-monthly print music magazine covering bands in Leeds, and West Yorkshire (UK) featuring Insect Guide, Soul Circus, Humanfly