End of Year Review // Captain Wilberforce // Kaiser Chiefs // Plastic Fuzz // LIMA Festival // The Hair // Leeds Academy
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Magazine Editorial LIMA Festival The Fight Before Christmas Albums of the Year 20 - 11 Captain Wilberforce Albums of the Year 10 - 1 Plastic Fuzz The Out-Of-Towners The Hair Second Hearing - Your Demos! Academy Leeds Album Reviews Single Reviews Live Reviews Vibrations Recommends
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Demos Send them in to: Rob Paul Chapman, Editor, Vibrations Magazine, Trash, 9a Albion Street, Leeds, LS1 5AA
So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun. Here’s to the future now… …oh, it’s no use. I can’t go on like this. I’ll come clean with you, its mid November just before we go to press and I feel about as full of Christmas cheer as your average turkey.
a few. We picked the 20(ish) with the most votes, grabbed a few willing volunteers, set the tape running, and argued.
The world economy is in freefall, England are getting battered by India (unlikely to change by the time you read this), I’m a Moron Get Me Back On Television is seeping toxically through our screens once more, you can’t go to any town centre without the risk of running into Dane Bowers turning on a small row of fairy lights, every office wants to rope you into a Secret Santa (seriously, has there ever been a worse idea than Secret Santa? You might as well just chuck a tenner on the fire and knit your own novelty socks that you’ll NEVER WEAR), you have to queue for everything, and Il Divo are number one in the album charts (with Stereophonics depressing close by).
At the end of the process we collectively and democratically voted on what we liked the best and drew up a Top 10, with 10 more besides that we really liked but didn’t make the ten, and one extra one where we couldn’t decide whether it was local or not (probably not).
BAH. And, to a certain extent, HUMBUG. I am not anti-Christmas at all. However, I am anti Christmas in November. And even the first week of December. In fact, pretty much until Christmas Eve, which is when I do my Christmas shopping. Ironically, to avoid the crush of people trying to avoid the crush by shopping in November. So, with the world going to hell in a fast car purchased entirely on easy credit that we now can’t afford petrol for, it was time for an artificial festive adrenalin shot. The Vibrations office needed cheering up. So we thought to ourselves, what makes us happy? There was a lengthy silence. Someone made a suggestion. It was decided that pulling the legs of Daddy Long Legs and burning ants under a magnifying glass didn’t count. So someone made another suggestion: Great music. But more so, ARGUING about great music. Oh, and beer. We liked that too. So, all back to mine to drink beer (or fruit juice in Sam’s case) and argue about music. We asked the entire Vibrations team to put forward their suggestions for the best local album they’d heard this year. Some went to town by suggesting
Now, before the Vibrations office is literally inundated with an email about the evils of “lists”, I will put forward the case for the defence: IT’S A BIT OF FUN! We are not definitively declaring anything better or worse than anything else. This is purely down to what we, as an editorial team, enjoyed the most between November last year and November this year. Also, at this festive season, feel free to use it as an informal guide to Christmas Present buying. Everyone you know is bound to like at least one of these records, so what better than the gift of music? (He asks rhetorically) And if it helps keep our local scene buoyant, so much the better. However, we’ve got masses more besides in this issue. We sent Chris Thomas out to track down The Hair, after their recent excursions round the country with some local act who’ve been tipped for big things called – and I think this is right – The Kaiser Chiefs? Anyone heard of them? Plus, our most recent and prised acquisition Steve Walsh gives us his insight on the Leeds Improvised Music Association (LIMA), we’ve got interviews with some of the artists to make our Christmas List, and more reviews than you care to shake a Norwegian pine at. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the past year’s worth of Vibrations and we look forward to welcoming you back next year. Right, I’m off for my bowl of gruel before I’m woken by the Ghost of Christmas Novelty Records. IF THAT PINK AND YELLOW BLOB COMES ANYWHERE NEAR ME I’M CALLING THE POLICE! Rob Paul Chapman
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the opening Thursday night, so for me the Festival moseyed into view on Friday with Home of the Brave, which is, as reedsman Richard Ormrod says, all about cowboys. Which means that percussion legend Paul Hession, guitarist Jonny Flockton and Rus Pearson on bass join Ormrod on the trail in search of musical nuggets panned from Western film themes and songs, like ‘The Big Country’ and Doris Day’s seminal ‘The Deadwood Stage’. The band revel in the absurdist possibilities of their gleefully self imposed framework but are more than capable of some serious shit as well. Sonic Stories have existed as a duo for more than ten years, but for this gig vocalist Kari Bleivik and guitarist Rune Mandelid utilise some LIMA colleagues to fill out songs usually played using a sparse electronic accompaniment. Mandelid has an acutely abstract style of playing which manifests itself in the tunes and arrangements and its not always clear that the expanded band are entirely on his wavelength. Still, the songs have a brittle beauty and Bleivik’s clear and precise voice easily copes with the enhanced sound.
Photography by Bart Pettman
Friday night came to an end in spectacular fashion with an utterly electrifying performance from the splatter jazz punk of Minghe Morte followed by a thrilling appearance by the full LIMA Orchestra, with British sax legend Paul Dunmall guesting. The Minghe Morte trio of Colin Sutton on bass, guitar and electronics, Christophe de Bezenac on sax and electronics and Chris Bussey on drums and electronics, has recently been augmented by Andrew Plummer, who provides heavily treated vocals and, well, screaming. More significantly, Plummer’s outrageous physical contortions and flailing energy seem to have catalysed an explosion of energy in the band. In forty hectic minutes, they kick the crap out of punk, pummel heavy metal into submission and drag the entrails of jazz screaming across razor wire. And really, it says a lot when the only thing that can follow them is the twenty-four strong LIMA Orchestra, playing a new composition, Anamorphosis VII, by its musical director Dave Kane. The piece is structured around composed passages interspersed with sections of conducted improvisation. The
dramatic and dynamic flourishes of the first half generated an electrified atmosphere that provided a spine tingling platform for the more contemplative and blissed-out second half to float on. It’s testament to the composition and the LIMA players that some typically fiery playing from Dunmall in no way overshadowed the performance.
Matthew Bourne on keyboards. If Destroyed Still True represented perhaps the most conventional jazz band of the whole Festival, playing structured tunes with solos and melodies all played in a big, beefy, easy swinging style. Despite being poorly miked up, Johnny Tomlinson’s peeling, swirling, at times near abstract piano was a highlight.
First set proper of Saturday was by Deathqustik, a variation on Leeds punk jazzers Deathqunt that, oddly, features exactly the same personnel. The stik variant seems more of a platform for easy going improv in search of a groove than its spikier qunt relation, though. And they perform in a virtually empty bar at four in the afternoon so I guess you could excuse their indifference. 7 Hertz fare little better in the audience stakes, but their elegant and sophisticated contemporary chamber music makes a strong connection with the attentive few. Usually a two fiddle, clarinets and bass quartet, the trio perform with no apparent concern for the absent violinist.
The Festival came to a fitting climax with an extraordinary performance by The Bilbao Syndrome, who take the LIMA urge to experiment with performance to extremes. With the stage bathed in only ultra violet light, the band (Matthew Bourne on keyboards, Chris Sharkey on guitar, Andrew Plummer on vocals, Colin Sutton on bass and Chris Bussey on drums) stride on stage dressed in glaring white and sporting sun glasses, and proceed to grind out a kind of aggressively reined-in but still brutal minimalist metal that recalls, in approach if not style, nothing so much as Kraftwerk’s similarly parched take on electro pop. There’s not much variation in the music, with Plummer’s strangulated voice providing the only hint of animated release from the grind, and in truth it’s an experience that probably relies heavily on its visual aspect to work at all. The band may well be a small, temporary stepping stone along LIMA’s path of development, but it points to possibilities that take in jazz, rock, improvisation, theatre and spectacle that could take them, and us, to some pretty startling places.
The Geordie Approach provide the first striking example of LIMA’s interest in experimenting with modes of performance. Saxophonist Petter Fadness, guitarist Chris Sharkey and drummer Stale Birkland perform in near darkness, utilising electronics as much, if not more than, their main instruments. The darkness removes the temptation to examine the mechanics of how the music is produced and forces you to concentrate on the heaving and convulsing sound. The set is totally improvised but has a wild architectural logic, with Sharkey even finding time to coax Birkland through a pounding section of math rock. The female accapella quartet Royst couldn’t present a more stark contrast. Kari Bleivik features once again along with Maria Jardardottir, Anna Stott and Cecilie Giskemo, the fiendish arrangements of the songs providing a severe test of each woman’s range and technique. Many of the songs are sung in their native Norwegian but whatever language they use there’s a simmering power and surging beauty in everything they sing. If you think there’s a strong and totally unapologetic feminist streak to Royst, you’d be exactly right.
What is the Leeds Improvised Music Association? Formed around three years ago from a coiterie of jazz musicians, both students and staff, at Leeds College of Music, LIMA is a large, collectively organised
group of predominantly young musicians who’ve grown up listening to a wide range of different types of music and see nothing wrong with mashing things up to see what comes out. This leads to some pretty outlandish musical output, but it also means that LIMA bands frequently play at Leeds venues with local indie bands, or at least those indie bands who have at least half an open mind. This means you’re likely to see LIMA artists enlivening gigs at venues like the Brudenell Social Club, The Packhorse and Santiago’s as much as in a concert hall. Apart from its regular student contingent, LIMA features Leeds’s very own free jazz legend Paul Hession as well as, strangely enough, a significant number of Norwegian musicians. Apparently the Norwegian connection came about entirely by chance as Leeds College of Music developed a reputation for being sympathetic hosts to Scandinavian musicians. Fortunately for us, this means that there’s a strong sense of cultural engagement and enrichment in the activities of LIMA. In just three years, LIMA has built reputation that has garnered top awards for some of its bands (If Destroyed Still True), as well as established connections with the influential F-Ire Collective in London (the well spring for the likes of Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland). Indeed, LIMA represents an artistic and cultural resource of the sort that few British cities can boast, and its membership are set to play a significant part in the development of contemporary music for decades to come. Get in at the ground floor at www.limaonline.org.uk. Steve Walsh
The Rabbit Project is a new quintet performing compositions by hyperactive bassist Dave Kane. The music is propulsive, highly complex and yet always seems pleasantly poised on the edge of anarchy, a mood enthusiastically stoked by the band’s leader and the irreverently impish vibrations 7
Opportunity Knock-out? As yet another programme hits our TV screens subliminally promising a life of infinite wealth, fame and artistic respect for someone just like YOU! Sam Saunders ponders the method and the madness. After a gentle autumn week in the Lakeland Fells, I sat down on a Sunday morning to write something thoughtful (but waspish) about pay-to-play gigs, unsigned band competitions and TV talent shows. Computer compulsions had to be dealt with first: check last.fm; skim Leeds Music Forum; follow up a track or two; check work email; check personal email; get diverted. The standard routine. As fate would have it, today's diversion led me right back to the main task: email@example.com had sent me a nicely typed email: "The new series of Orange unsignedAct with Sony Ericsson finally hits your telly screens this Sunday 2 November at 12:40pm on Channel 4 â€“ prepare to be amazed. ... Who rocks with one arm?" (they continued) "Who rubs Kelly up the wrong way? Who crashes and burns? ... Channel 4 - turn on, tune in, rock out". I was a little excited, despite the nausea. My votes to have International Trust included among the victims of this bizarre broadcast had come to nothing (bar the email). So I set the machine to record with a simple squeeze of the inscrutable remote control device. And went out. Luckily, clocks go back in the Autumn, so all I had on my return was some Hollyoaks, a short and unpleasant glimpse of Jo Wiley talking nonsense and a few seconds of a pudgy "record label boss" who looked, sounded, and was scripted, as a tribute to David Brent. It was utter tosh. Of no interest to anyone interested in music, honesty or sanity. I had been spared: but the task remained. What on earth do Orange UnsignedAct, Emergenza, Surface Unsigned, The X Factor, pay-to-play and all their devious cousins have to do with local music? And why do my
prejudiced old guts writhe with mistrust and dislike? To find an answer there are plenty of clues in the writings and websites of Walsall musician-cum-entrepreneur Jon James (Jay) Mitchell. Mitchell seems (from website fragments still bearing his name) to have worked with the controversial American talent show company Emergenza before setting up his own UK version - Surface Unsigned. Look out for them, as they are already recruiting for the Leeds heats in 2009. (See http://www.surfaceunsigned. co.uk) Mitchell puts a lot of energy into promoting and defending his operation and seems to be sincere about wanting to make his living from helping otherwise unnoticed bands get a whiff of wealth and fame. See one of his contributions on The Organ's website at http://organart.freeforums. org/a-response-t241.html for a good example. Check the rest of the thread while you're there. His logic on the "pay-to-play" debate is convoluted. But somehow I don't care. Many pop musicians already pay huge sums just to rehearse, buy instruments and transport their equipment to gigs that will never pay back their investment, however many times they play. The point is that whatever the contractual and semantic details, there is still something much bigger that winds me up about what he and all the others are doing, and I think I know what it is. When competitions, auditions, talent shows, TV humiliation gapeathons and all the rest go wrong, it's always the same beast in the wings. The Beast of Hopeless Delusions. It's a chimerical beast. One of its parts is greed - drawn into madness by the illusory smell of money and fame. Another part is power. Whenever naive or over-enthusiastic novices encounter what they mistake for wisdom; the chancer, the charlatan, the
self-convinced dreamer with a media presence (TV, web or whatever) grabs the opportunity to manipulate and dominate, for the pleasure of being in charge, or for the money they hope to make. The last part of the beast is lack of self-respect. How much does Simon Cowell despise himself? Deep down, a great deal is my guess. How sad are those teens and twenties who tell themselves that the squalor, dishonesty and tawdriness of some parts of the music business are in some way "essential" or "part of the deal"? How many songs have you heard about "not giving in to the man" from bands who willingly suffer stupidity and unfairness from tinpot hangers-on and self-inflating small shots? The Beast of Hopeless Delusions has hypnotised them into thinking the tormentor wants to help them "make it". So. As you sign the form and hand over the measly ÂŁ25 "returnable depositâ€? just ask yourself: "what am I doing this for?" and "who am I doing this for?" and, especially "will I tell the truth about what I am doing now, and still feel good about myself in ten years time?" Even for the one in 25,000 who gets a temporary blip in their bank account and a sequence of appearances in the mass media from the event there is no real wealth, respect or pleasure to be had. Times have changed. The elation of music is worth far more than fake gold coins and an uneasy arse cheek on the leatherette sofa of celebrity. The people who long for such things are pitiful, and their shabby X-Factor mindsets should be exhibited as lessons to us all. The real question is whether there aren't twenty other things that would be far better for a band to be doing with their time and enthusiasm than entering this lopsided relationship with an organisation whose only interest is the money that friends and family are giving up on their behalf.
The panel: Rob Paul Chapman Sam Saunders Spence Bayles Steve Walsh Bart Pettman Chris Thomas Non-voting Chairman: Gary Kaye Pictures: Tom Martin To hear the debate in full, download the Vibrations Podcast from www.vibrations.org.uk
'Twas the mag before Christmas, when all through the room Opinions were stirring, as ale was consumed; Nominations put forward by writers with care, To finally compile our review of the year; A shortlist was drawn-up before we assembled And a panel was summoned who almost resembled Some people who know what they’re talking about Although their most striking skill is to point and to shout And so with their shoes lined outside by the door It was a time to put forward our list (and drink more) We would argue together and at the end of the night We’d have our top 20 (and ideally no fight) 10 we would feature as equals together And 10 we would order, coz when pushed they are better Although you should note, though our tastes are quite wide These are only our favourites, not definitive guide But just at the moment we’re about to crack on We realise we’re over, we’ve got 21 The album that’s causing this point of conjecture Was either OK, or should be rejected The reason disagreement rang all through the house: Was it really from Leeds, or from 30 miles South? At first though included, we now couldn’t agree We thought, sod it, we like it, here’s its own category And so we present to you reader loved dearly 20 albums from Leeds, plus one more that’s not really Here’s our list, let us know if you think that we’re right Happy Christmas to all, thank you Leeds, and goodnight… vibrations 10
The Fight Before Christmas: 20 - 11
departments is his best yet. The songs are nicely weighted love songs that work just as well as spiritual statements on higher things. Either way they have warmth, human fallibility (fully admitted) and credible desire. The lyrics use everyday words and phrases that snuggle neatly into their tunes (just like the percussion). It's an organic, natural sound: the virtuosity is servant to simple accessibility. (SS)
Gareth S Brown - The Gallows
Bilge Pump - Rupert the Sky It's taken Bilge Pump six years to produce a follow up to 2002's Let Me Breathe, but it was more than worth the wait. Why? Because while the Leeds music scene has blossomed and flourished, and the careers of countless lesser bands have waxed and waned, Bilge Pump have quite simply become one of the best live bands in the land. Rupert The Sky captures the trio at their honed and blistering best; mashing punk, jazz, metal and a frankly surreal approach to lyrics into idiosyncratic songs that sound perpetually on the point of glorious, controlled collapse. (SW)
The Gallows is a song cycle, with nine tracks over fifty minutes of transcendent music. Oboe and string parts hold the melodies while a succession of tuned and untuned percussion instruments add texture and movement. Michael Nyman and Phillip Glass are somewhere in the ancestry, but there is a more rustic, human appeal in Brown's music. This is a record best heard as a single piece, in one sitting with full attention paid. Spiritual and emotional depths are explored with assurance and even a little fun. The beautifully made sleeve and the additional CD "Royal College O'Surgeons" with outtakes from The Gallows and earlier Iron Henry sessions make it a very collectable item. (SS)
Instant Species’ Rick Garnett
Captain Wilberforce Everyone Loves A Villain It seems strange that a radio-friendly collection of Beatles-y pop songs should sound so out of place in the current musical climate, let alone in Leeds. Classic songwriting, meaningful lyrics and intensely hummable tunes make an almost perfect package. Everyone Loves A Villain is the best song Ray Davies never wrote, while No Strings And Ties and Confetti Champagne & Roses are very modern takes on adult relationships. Topping it all off though is the stunning The Girl Who Broke Her Own Heart. Its gorgeous strings and intense atmosphere combine for the most genuinely classy and heartbreaking moment on a very strong record. (SB)
Danny Cope - Colour Me In Quietly low-profile singer-songwriter Danny Cope has already made a couple of very good albums. This latest one, using household objects as percussion and Cope's multiinstrumental talents in all other
Instant Species Miraculous Curative Compound The music itself carries the essence of post-punk song-smithery, boiled and distilled to its most corrosive concentration. No song is over two minutes: most are comfortably below. The sound explodes from track one and stops neither for breath nor apology. It gleams like a weapon. 10 years, 7 albums and a long working relationship with co-producer Carl Rosamund have accumulated levels of cunning and confidence that bury all dead ideas, banish all fillers and leave no cracks for papering. Every bar is needed and every note is used. The medicinal lozenge tin packaging is so good it would eclipse the songs if they hadn't been so well made and recorded. (SS)
Pifco Pifco A Go Go In the tradition of Bilge Pump, Cowtown, D'Asro and all their DIY comrades in Leeds, Pifco do sharply played music with intelligence, fun and a self assured sense of absurdity. The eleven songs stay close to half an hour; brisk, efficient, wall-rattling things that they are. Muscle-bound, spiky-haired guitar riffs are a crucial part. Songs What are you most pleased with about it? The fact that we managed to do a whole album containing songs all under 2 minutes long and how the packaging looked (it’s in a tin – did we mention?). Having had the chance to live with it for a bit, anything you’d go back and change? We’d hire some hard-up students or set up a sweat shop to put together the packaging. What’s the best compliment someone’s paid your record so far? “The fourteen blistering tracks should be in every English home” – Sam Saunders
You’ve made it into the Vibrations 20 Best Albums of the Year. Has that made it all worthwhile? We’re in tears - every compliment makes it worthwhile Were you aware when you were making the record that it was something special? Not really, is anyone? We just did what we liked and if others liked it too then that’s great.
What’s the most amusing piece of criticism the album’s had? “I can’t get the f*cker open!” If you had a vote, which (local) record would you have nominated (needs to have been released between 1st November ‘07 and 1st November ‘08 Tough one... we were very impressed with the Eureka Machines album so probably that.
held together with two or more using a variety of sound effects. Steve's vocal shouts though them, echoing or responding to their fractured inclinations with the timbre of a teenage Mark E. Smith. "All good! It's all good!" he shouts in "Jonny No Name". Fresh as you like. (SS)
The Research The Old Terminal Goodbye trashy keyboard, hello ultra-indie guitar, with Russell Searle’s love-it-or-hate-it slacker vocals and skewed take on relationships still very much present. There is however a darker element to this 2nd album that wasn’t apparent on their major label debut, with a few digs at their previous paymasters straying into the lyrics. The arrangements are a lot richer too – some glorious strings feature on I Think She’s The One I Love’s fantastically uplifting 60s-sounding chorus. “We’ve got our own place and it’s a little piece of heaven, with a studio in the bedroom, and we can do whatever anytime, babe.” Lovely. (SB)
The Sugars -
Various Artists -
Curse of The Sugars
Stench of Muscle
At the beginning of the year, few would have predicted this album being included in any favourites list. Even “20 favourite albums on Bad Sneakers”. The general consensus was: fun live band, but ultimately light-weight, and with the faintest niff of novelty about them. We were wrong. The Curse of The Sugars ploughs the darkest depths of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s soul to channel the spirit of Robert Johnson, the guitar of Johnny Cash and the spit ‘n’ holler delivery of The Reverend Horton Heat at his most bone-chillingly primal. Oh, and still good fun. (RPC)
It’s a fact that the Leeds music scene wouldn’t be half as mind bogglingly good if it wasn’t for the huge number of venues, labels, basement recording studios and promoters that bother to do all the unglamorous stuff that makes all the exciting stuff possible. Stench of Muscle is not the only, or even the longest established, local promoter operating in Leeds, but on the evidence of this compilation they have impeccable taste when it comes to spotting the real sonic innovators from the noisier end of moderno music in our midst. Not to everyone’s taste perhaps, but ideas and energy exude from every track. (SW)
Eureka Machines’ Chris Catalyst
The Rosie Taylor Project This City Draws Maps The Rosie Taylor Project’s debut album is full of dreamy acoustic indie pop; a delicately and beautifully produced triumph. Everything sits perfectly – the light, jangly guitars, and boy/girl vocals, occasional burst of mournful trumpet, and for the most part a noticeable lack of drums. Jonny Davies’ lyrics are utterly compelling, painting the kind of stories that demand repeated listens, while the backing instrumentation – always understated – bring just the right amount of colour to fill the picture. There’s a deftness of touch at work that can only bode well for whatever comes next. (SB)
You’ve made it into the Vibrations 20 Best Albums of the Year. Has that made it all worthwhile? It’s very nice to receive a nod and a wink from one of our favourite publications like this. Can you translate it into seven-figure sales now please? Were you aware when you were making the record that it was something special? Of course - we made it. If you don’t love your own music, who else will? What are you most pleased with about it? It’s a proper album like albums used to be, full of singles but takes you on a journey, like 45 minutes of pop music should. The guitars, bass and drums sound all nice and there’s literally hundreds of vocals on some of the tracks. All that and the picture of us with Charlie the Brudenell pub dog on the inside cover.
Having had the chance to live with it for a bit, anything you’d go back and change? I don’t know because I’ve only listened to it once since we finished it in May or whenever it was. Spending a year or so inside and outside an album makes you not really want to listen to it very much any more. I dare say that I’d want to change all sorts. What’s the best compliment someone’s paid your record so far? We’ve had a load of great national press from The Sun, Kerrang, Rock Sound and others (not bad for a bunch of DIY chancers), but the one that meant the most was a guy who sent us a Myspace message thingy which said it inspired him to start playing music again, having given up fifteen years previous. What’s the most amusing piece of criticism the album’s had? ‘Eureka Machines are here to rock, albeit in the lightest sense’ - from a review somewhere on the Internet. We’ve had no proper slatings, fortunately. If you had a vote, which (local) record would you have nominated? The Grammatics stuff is sounding great. The Kaiser Chiefs album is great, I’m a sucker for a big pop song. Life Processes by Forward Russia is a pretty inspiring piece of work, even though it’s not really my thing. But my Toppermost of the Poppermost would be The Barbarians Move In by Duels. Quite some progression from their debut full of class pop vignettes, which I also loved. It’s a brilliantly bombastic and huge-sounding majestic performance. One that people will come back to in the future, of that I am sure. vibrations 12
Captain Wilberforce: No, not the chap from Hull who bought about the end of the slave trade, this one’s the mild-mannered giant whose second full-length album Everyone Loves A Villain has become the unexpected slow-burner of the year. “Every band has a song that takes them beyond the ordinary,” he tells Spencer Bayles. “Even Whigfield.” Vibrations would like to say a special thanks to Liz Ainge for Captain Wilberforce photography Check out more of Liz’s work at www.lizainge.co.uk vibrations 13
Not many Leeds acts would consciously label themselves ‘powerpop’, mostly because that tag has often lacked a little of the zing and otherworldly coolness that its slightly less knowing cousin ‘indie’ has in spades. And the ultra-vague ‘alternative’ doesn’t cut the mustard. “You can’t call yourself ‘alternative’ because there are too many others out there,” suggests Simon Bristoll - aka Captain Wilberforce - when trying to describe where his own records slot into the music genre pool, “so ‘power-pop’ fits. But who else is power-pop in Leeds?” While it’s true that exponents of oldschool guitar-pop are a little thin on the ground around these parts, the Captain’s recent album ‘Everyone Loves A Villain’ may well go some way in changing that. A pop album with brains and heart, it has everything from grown-up ideas on relationships to a closing lament inspired by Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on the universe. Not your average pop record then. Formerly a member of Theory Of Everything, a Birmingham rock band that split when the rest of its members’ interest waned – their album ‘The Failure Of Arithmetic’ is available as a free download on Myspace – Simon moved to Leeds in 2004 to develop his alter-ego and seek fresh fortunes. His first gig here was an acoustic opening slot at the Tea Time Shuffle. “After never getting a single live review, that
one gig resulted in three. I remember thinking, ‘This is the holy grail of places to play!’” ‘Everyone Loves A Villain’, this year’s follow-up to his debut ‘Mindfilming’, is equal parts classic British pop and punchy American power-pop, from the Kinks-y title track to the Jellyfish-tinged ‘Born Again Brand New Man’. Add in songs like the beautifully string-laden ballad ‘The Girl Who Broke Her Own Heart’ and you have the kind of album likely to be loved and mulled over by fans of classic pop for the foreseeable future. And what is that elusive target demographic? “I get 18-year-olds leaving nice messages on the Myspace page,” he says, “but I think it’s most likely to be 25-50-year-olds raised on Squeeze, the Beatles and Elliott Smith.” While those bands certainly jump out as reference points when listening to the album, Simon lists key influences as being more leftfield acts such as Husker Du, The Replacements and the Meat Puppets. “My musical programming is the Beatles, and they’re all massive Beatles fans as well,” he reckons, “but what they’ve done is take it in a different, heavier direction, whereas I’ve just carried on the tradition.” When it comes down to it though, he admits to being more of a song person than a band person, to which he applies a perhaps overly optimistic
theory. “Every band has one song which has something about it that takes them beyond the ordinary,” he suggests. “Even Whigfield.” ‘Everyone Loves A Villain’ was put together in various homely locations; the drums were recorded in what is now his child’s bedroom – “We have no neighbours, which is useful” - and the vocals in his brother’s basement. It was then mixed and mastered over the course of a year by Carl Rosamond at Billiard Room. But what about those who grumble it’s all a bit too clean-cut? “Some reviewers have said that it could do with being a bit rougher, but it means it can be played across the board, and people can ‘get’ the songs and hear the lyrics.” Mild controversy surrounded the method of initial release – as a free download only available to members of the Leeds Music Forum. Some regular contributors feared it might see an influx of fair-weather forumites who’d scarper as soon as they got the freebie. “If I was a bigger act, like the Kaiser Chiefs for example, and I wanted to give something back to the ‘scene’ that had contributed to my success, giving away a free single to members of the forum would be a great thing to do. You’d get loads of people to the forum and it would build it up,” Simon says. “As they’re not likely to do that, I thought I would. So I went to town on publicising it, spreading vibrations 14
the word about the album and the site. Some people complained, but it worked for me – it got a lot of people listening to the album who otherwise wouldn’t have done.” Simon has realistic yardsticks for measuring success. “As a band it’s all about little victories. If a band you like says they like your album, that’s a little victory. If you play some gigs and people spread the word and you sell a few CDs, that’s another little victory.” A stamp of approval from an influential website or two can help, too. “The American power-pop website Notlame really took to the album - they put it on their front page and sold bunches of copies in the States.” Are there enough anglophile pop fans there to justify going over to play some shows? “No chance,” he laughs, “but it’s nice being a big fish in a small pond.” So does he find Leeds to be a hotbed of originality and inspiration? “Well, everyone in Birmingham wanted to be Oasis or Ocean Colour Scene,” he says, “and even when I came to Leeds, a lot of things sounded stereotypically indie, but I think it’s diversified a lot since.” On the whole, he’s not overwhelmed by what he’s heard. “I don’t think I’ve seen a band from Leeds that has really blown me away, apart from maybe Four Day Hombre at the Leeds Music Awards a few years ago.”
Certainly, FDH (now Hope & Social) would be one of only a few Leeds bands that apply the same level of sheer song-craft to their work as is displayed across the songs on ‘Everyone Loves A Villain’. The tale told in ‘Confetti, Champagne and Roses’ for example, where the heroine’s peers have all paired off and got engaged, might come across like an Eleanor Rigby-style lament, before the big twist at the end - she’s only 16 and so actually has all the time in the world to settle down. But having well-drawn characters is only half of it, and the songs succeed because they’re set to the kind of melodies that are at once memorably original but at the same time reminiscent of Lennon and McCartney’s finer moments. This isn’t surprising though, as some of Simon’s earliest musical memories are of listening to his parents’ Beatles records, not fussed about learning the guitar riffs but “wanting to find out why the melody worked over the chords.” Even now, the rationale remains: “There has to be some kind of hook that pulls me in.”
guilt-free relationship to the next (‘There’s no one to find out, or get hurt, you just use me when you’re bored, no strings or ties, and in the morning I’m gone’)? “No, that one’s more about a type of person. I originally pictured it as a Roxy Music song – I could picture Bryan Ferry singing it!” There is, of course, a definite line between writing meaningful lyrics that resonate, and turning into James Blunt. “It’s about making songs personal to other people without going into the whole emotionless Coldplay thing, which is big and bombastic but really vague. I can see why people buy into it, but when you listen to the lyrics they make no sense.” What’s the antidote? “Give me Elvis Costello or Elliott Smith, someone who thinks about what they’re putting down on paper.”
Lyrically, don’t go looking for insights into his psyche. “I tend to be more of an observer as a songwriter – reading about or watching people’s lives. There’s really not a lot of me in the songs,” he admits, “but I’m usually writing with someone particular in mind.”
Any new year’s resolutions? “I’m still aiming to write a ‘whistle at the kitchen sink’ song,” he says. “But then again you can whistle ‘One Armed Scissor’ by At The Drive-In”.
So you’re not the guy in ‘No Strings Or Ties’, going from one emotionless,
“Buy my album for someone you love this Christmas!”
With the world put to rights, I end by asking about his personal Leeds music highlights of 2008, with which he struggles before settling on The Lodger and Napoleon IIIrd. “’Hit Schmooze For Me’ made my pulse race”.
And finally, how about a seasonal message for the Vibrations readership?
The Fight Before Christmas: 10 -1
between darlings of the alternative and indie scenes will do little to challenge this perspective. But when it comes down to it, this was the only essential hip-hop album of the year in Leeds. So it’s just as well Stewart was firing on all cylinders with a full armoury ranging from upbeat party floor-fillers (Mr. Bouncer, Oh BTI) to considered and articulate social commentary (Squaddie’s Holiday, A Simple Plan). More like this next year please. (RPC)
08 The Lodger - Life Is Sweet
10 Vessels White Fields And Open Devices White Fields and Open Devices offers one of the most technically accomplished, sublimely produced, mind-bendingly intriguing, and massively enjoyable albums you’ll hear anywhere this year. It manages to be both beautiful and brutal in equal measure. I initially made the mistake of trying to play this album whilst driving, and it was only when hauling myself out of the ditch that I realised it is an album that demands your full undivided attention. As a live act, Vessels are utterly compelling. So it is great to report that concerns that this may not have translated to their recordings are smashed as soon as soon as you start negotiating your way through this epic album. (BP)
09 Breaking The Illusion Mixed Messages It has not been a vintage year for hiphop (in fact it is difficult to remember the last vintage year for hip-hop), but in Leeds we had reason to be cheerful when Tom Stewart finally got his act in gear to release this long-awaited debut. It is easy to criticise BTI for being the hip-hop act it’s OK for indie kids to like” and inclusion in this list nestled
The Lodger’s second album is a perfect pop record, comprising 11 bittersweet tales of life, love and regret. It all hangs together much better than last year’s debut, which although great itself, felt like a few singles and a collection of some lesser cuts. This one however, is a richly produced masterclass in short, sharp songwriting. It has a timeless indie sound, which could place it any time in the last 20 years while still sounding fresh as a daisy. in an ideal world, a good handful of these songs would be troubling radio programmers on a daily basis, the likes of The Good Old Days and The Conversation destined for classic status in an alternate universe, and A Hero’s Welcome surely deserves to soundtrack the next inevitable failure of the England football team on Match Of The Day. (SB)
Casio SK1, a drum kit and a guitar only need a crazed voice or two and it’s all done. As far can be told, there is no bass guitar as such (Jon Nash’s known brilliance in that department notwithstanding). The band make do with chunky parts from guitar and Casio to pummel the diaphragm and shake the dancing pants. Drumming is on the nicely heavy side. There is a cunningly Cubist representation of the wonderful sound of George Harrison’s opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” on “Sick of Ketchup”. And while I do love both tune and title for “Kitty Runs Away From Garlic” the best part is probably the guitar part in “Science”. In summary: breathless fun and skills aplenty. (SS)
07 ¡Forward, Russia! Life Processes To some, Life Processes will be seen as the album that didn’t sell as well as the first album. However for the cultured minority it will be seen as the album in which ¡Forward, Russia! found their voice and hit their stride. Where Give Me A Wall (enjoyable though it was) wore its Gang Of Four-related standard check-list of fashionable influences very much on its sleeve, Life Processes draws upon a far broader pool of influences and their application in adding to the component parts of this record is significantly more subtle. It is the album where they launched themselves head-on into scale and ambition and came out smelling of roses. Albeit, fairly angular and edgy roses. A triumphant return that deserves to sell far more than it is likely to. (RPC)
06 Cowtown Pine Cone Express In such hands as those possessed by Jon Nash, Dave Shields and “Hils”, a 1977 Korg Micro Preset, a 1986
05 Benjamin Wetherill - Laura At the invitation of Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel and A Hawk And A Hacksaw), Benjamin Wetherill recorded this album in Budapest and in the nineteenth century fairytale castle in Tura. Heather Trost (violins and viola) and musicians from the Hun Hangar Ensemble were recruited, with Barnes and Wetherill being jointly credited with production. Disparate elements are brought together as a whole album of very distinctive time, place and voice. The songs and arrangements are mostly Wetherill’s own. Extracts from James Thornton’s 1898 “When vibrations 17
You Were Sweet Sixteen” are nestled into “Kissing Under Poplars”. Another Wetherill song “Oh Sorrow” contains parts of the traditional “Lass From The Low Country” and an extract from “Come Sorrow Come” by the 16th century madrigal composer Thomas Morley. “Shallow Brown” is the one complete traditional song. (SS)
Eureka Machines. I was lucky enough to see this album launched at Burley’s finest, Bengal Brasserie. If more gigs gave you a performance like that one, an album like “Do Or Die“ to take home, a vindaloo, and Elvis himself, then maybe the world be a better place. Since then, this CD has put a big smile on my face every time I’ve played it. Unfortunately it looks like I will now be grinning like an idiot for most of 2009 as well. (BP)
03 Duels The Barbarians Move In
04 Eureka Machines Do Or Die! Eureka Machines are great, their songs changed my life, they have magnificent plumage… Their website probably puts it better than I can. If you like big riffs, pop melodies and 27-part harmonies then, honestly, you will have heard of
It is depressingly rare these days to find an album that gets under your skin, but Duels’ second album is not so much something to listen to as something that will become, almost instantly, a part of you. From the very beginning Jon Foulgar’s vocal weaves its way into your psyche, striking you dumb, rendering you motionless, before the bubbling, seething malevolence of the delivery gets to work on your nervous system, all under the watchful eye of James Kenosha’s astonishing production. Perhaps a band needs to go to hell in order to create great art. Perhaps most of the desperately average indie also-rans are just too damn happy for their own good. After the drama of the last few years that saw Duels snapped up, touted as next-big-things and then ceremoniously dumped off the roster, they sure sound monumentally pissed off. And they seemed like such nice boys on the first record… (RPC)
02 Wild Beasts - Limbo, Panto This album has tunes, voices, sounds and themes that will leave some listeners struggling to keep their bearings. No matter, they’ll get it one day. Wild Beasts, a simple guitar band, with two singers and the lightest touches of keyboard, make music that is complex, surprising, inventive and memorable. The outstanding track “The Devil’s Crayon” has that combination of joyful exuberance in the playing and the mournful, articulate reflection in the vocal that made the best of the early 80s singles so good. There are hints of jazz and Afrobeat. There are mysterious lyrics of fondles, football
last.fm data at November 17 2008 (all tracks, all albums, all time) vibrations 18
and minor depravity. Tore Johansson’s production gives the sound something of the Cumbrian Fells about it, like sun breaking through after rain, when the air itself glistens with pride at the wonderful view. (SS)
01 Plastic Fuzz - Dots
The Fight Before Christmas: The Odd One Out And finally… The panel argued into the night, but ultimately decided that the link to Leeds for this next band was just a bit too tenuous. However, as we liked it so much, consider this an added bonus, on a par with anything in our list, so our 21st choice is…
Watch this Fire Spread Picture House Soul
Quite incredibly, every word and note of this 100 song, four CD, four hour feast of musical creativity was written, played and recorded over two years by one man, Mark Shahid. And if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is complemented by a design concept incorporating websites, logos, packaging art and a multi media approach to live performance. The styles covered range from fairly straight pop songs to abstract electronica, utilising almost any instrument you cold imagine along the way. But the most amazing thing about Dots is the consistently high quality of the songs and the fact that it includes nothing that could be described as makeweight filler. (SW)
Having only moved to Leeds a few years ago I admit to being less knowledgeable about local boundaries and rivalries than most. When I was asked to suggest an album for shortlisting Picture House Soul was my instant choice. To my mind it’s the best local album I’ve heard in the past 12 months. It’s Beautiful throughout, at times dark and melodic, but equally able to switch gear to light, open and grand. Practically every track would stand out on any other album, yet despite that they’re not swallowed here with the album arranged in such a way
WTFS’ main man Mark Roberts You’ve made it into the Vibrations Best Albums of the Year. Has that made it all worthwhile? Every musicians’ aim is to get people to listen to and appreciate their music, so yes, every positive bit of press we get makes it all worthwhile because we now know one more person has enjoyed our music… Were you aware when you were making the record that it was something special? I was certainly aware that it was different to most local music, and indeed people have had a very hard time trying to categorise it in the past. Everyone wants to say Arctic Monkeys but I don’t think they can with our music! What are you most pleased with about it? It’s a great debut album. It shows a band in their infancy, creating loads of ideas. I’m chuffed to bits that those ideas work well together and make for a good listen, but hopefully people will be able to tell that this is just the first stepping stone and there’s loads more to come.
that the songs flow rather than compete for your attention. It may not be quite local enough to be local but it’s still an album you should listen to, get your friends to listen to, and watch this fire spread. (CT) Thanks to everyone involved in the compiling of this feature. As with every list, we don’t expect you to agree with us all the time, so let us know what you think we’ve missed, or inexplicably included. It is worth noting that several exceptional albums just missed the cut in terms of the dates they were released. We took our criteria from a release date November 1st 2007 to 31st October 2008. If we were unsure about an exact release date, we went on the date of receipt of our review copy. Unfortunately this criteria discounted notable albums by Napoleon IIIrd and Shatner to name but two (October ’07). Had they been eligible, they would almost certainly have made it judging by the number of nominations they received. National favourites Kaiser Chiefs also just missed the cut the other way (Nov ’08, although reviewed in this issue), meaning they would be eligible for the 2009 list. Any views, feedback, rants or conspiracy theories, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org Having had the chance to live with it for a bit, anything you’d go back and change? I think if we’d spent 2 weeks in a studio I’d be wanting to change this or that but we spent our time recording at home so we could get things as we wanted them. It made for a very long process though! What’s the best compliment someone’s paid your record so far? “There’s a high drama tension to WTFS, an eerie, filmic desperation to their melancholy. If they could play with the Halle Orchestra then it might just end the world.” Fran Donnelly, Sandman, July 2008 What’s the most amusing piece of criticism the album’s had? “Confused and embryonic” Sarah Cosgrove, Rocksound, July 2008 although I quite like that! If you had a vote, which (local) record would you have nominated (needs to have been released between 1st November ’07 and 1st November ’08) This Et Al – Baby Machine [although actually released a full year before our criteria! - Ed] vibrations 19
Band. Man. Concept. Theorist. Modernist. Sole creator of this year’s best album according to the Vibrations panel. All of these things apply to Plastic Fuzz. Rob Paul Chapman meets the human enigma with the 100 song album. Plastic Fuzz has been responsible for more quality music over the last 12 months than any other artist in the area, probably the country, and possibly the world. This is an objective statement, and in the highly subjective world of music criticism, objective statements are hard to come by. The reason that we’re able to draw this absolutist conclusion is because Plastic Fuzz has produced an album of 100 quality songs (independently verified), ergo, unless anyone else has produced more quality songs over a year, then objectively Plastic Fuzz has produced more quality music in the last 12 months than anyone else. However, Vibrations did not get involved in music journalism to be objective. Vibrations exists to exude wildly overexcited hyperbole at the first sniff of something it believes to be special. So let the squarely subjective begin: And we offer you, as a kick-off, that Dots by Plastic Fuzz is the best album produced by a Leeds artist in the last year. Whilst by no means unanimous to be fair, on points and democratic ordering, Dots came top of our list. It bewitched (the majority) of our panel with is stunning inventiveness, scope, scale, originality and straight-forward craftsmanship. To get some housekeeping out the way, Plastic Fuzz is not a band. It is a person. A person who wrote, recorded, played and sang every note of Dots in his bedroom on his own, with the exception of a couple of guest spokenword voices here and there. So, it is not a band of people. To use Mark Shahid’s own word, and one that he refers to on a regular basis throughout our hour together, it is “a concept”. Those who stumble across the website to peruse the other band members who are reportedly Shahid’s brothers and sisters (despite their suspiciously pale complexion given the surname) should be aware that (the real) Shahid is leading you up the garden path. “I think people are a bit confused about the concept of Plastic Fuzz, the 6 members and all that” he admits “There are pictures of random people on the website. But if you’re stupid enough to put your pictures on Myspace,
you’re stupid enough to be in my band!” he chuckles, though you expect only half in jest. “But it was hard to keep the gimmick up as I’d keep getting asked when the rest of the band were going to turn up and I had to explain that I was just a weirdo who didn’t have a band!” Weirdo might be a bit strong, but Shahid is certainly eccentric, if endearingly so. He is charming and speaks in a clipped accent and prone to occasional nervous laughter. However he is utterly certain about what he is doing and trying to achieve. “I am project orientated” he reveals. “Plastic Fuzz is a project. I didn’t want it to be just Mark Shahid: songwriter. I wanted it to be a project so that I could do other things as well. I’d quite like to do the music to a film, and if I did that would be Mark Shahid, it wouldn’t be Plastic Fuzz.” “There are a lot of tangents, especially in a 100 song album. I knew I couldn’t just do a load of electronic stuff. I can’t do 100 electronic tracks. That would just be boring. So I had to think, OK I can use a drum machine here, but then I have to cut that out.” Vibrations wonders whether some people struggle to get past the fact that the album is 100 songs. Would that perhaps put some people off? “People have asked why I don’t put together a 12-song playlist to send out for review. But that would defeat the whole point! he confirms. “I actually thought it would get more attention because of the 100 track thing than it has, but people don’t seem to actually care as much as I thought they would about that.” “I’m glad I did it, because it was a project that I knew I had to finish” he continues. “I couldn’t just say “oh well, I’m 12 songs short…” By 89 it had started to get painful. 11 more songs that I had to write. It got horrible at that point.” “One of the hardest parts was lyric writing” he recalls. “I had a notepad next to my bed and I’d write down whatever came to me in dreams – a psychologist would have a field day!”
He is drawn to abstract story-telling, dropping into specific moments in time of his characters’ lives, a device that he claims to have been inspired to use through his love of Ivor Cutler. “You get images in your head” he explains. “About people’s arguments for example, and you just drop in, tell a two minute story, and then fuck off!” The album is divided into 4 colourcoordinated discs that lean towards different moods, all with exactly 25 songs on each, where the songs arc throughout each disc, purely on the length of the song titles – none of which feature in the lyrics it should be noted – with the short titles at the top and tail of the disc and the long titles in the middle. A strange way to order an album perhaps, and not necessarily one designed to make the record flow. “I didn’t think that people would listen to it chronologically, so it’s designed that way” he admits. “The structure of the album is purely down to the length of the song title. I thought this is going to be impossible to order, it can’t be like a 12 song album, so I’m going to have to think of a stupid way to structure this thing” “When I buy an album, I put it into my iTunes and play it on random” he reveals. “I’m sure the artist would kill me if they knew I was doing that, but I’ve noticed that’s what most people seem to do. I never expected people to play it from 1 – 25 and then change disc” Vibrations expresses surprise at this and states that surely all albums are meant to be listened to in the order that the artist has designed? “And that’s what you’re supposed to do” he agrees “but what would you say if you knew 90% of people didn’t do that? You’d be heartbroken! I’m not the kind of person that listens to an album 1 – 12, I haven’t done that since cassettes! Even then, I used to make cassettes for people, but I used to edit them. I would cut out whole sections of songs I didn’t like!” Vibrations suggests that Shahid should not be allowed near Audacity unattended. “I know!” he laughs. “I remember doing it with the Beta Band. One of the songs vibrations 23
has got this horrible middle section and I was like “why have you done that?” so I cut it out! I’ll edit it out if you don’t make it like I want you to!” Megalomaniac behaviour surely? “Completely!” he agrees. “But part of the concept of Plastic Fuzz is to make it interactive. And that is why there isn’t too much thought put into the structure as you’re meant to choose the tracks you like and put them in the order you want” It’s an interesting point, and one which demonstrates that in many ways, Shahid is the ultimate modernist, adapting to and embracing the realities of the musical world and how art is consumed, rather than clinging to what some might consider outdated ideals. “That’s the way it’s been done forever, that you must do as the artist intended” he reasons. “But that’s part of the reason for recording 100 songs. When a band goes in to record an album, they might record 30 songs. 12 of them might make the album, but I go “what about the other 18?” Maybe I like the songs that didn’t make it onto the album. Why can’t I hear them?” It sounds a genuinely fresh sentiment in a musical landscape where the establishment is either burying their heads in the sand or throwing hissy fits that they can’t treat the world as their oyster anymore. Shahid genuinely seems convinced that art is there for public consumption, for world to decide for itself what it likes. The attitude seems to be ‘What do I know? You decide what you like’. And his solution? “You’re going to hear everything I ever write.” This is the best news we’ve heard all year.
rs The Out-Of-Towne Once of Leeds, but now biding his time between the big smoke and LA working hard at becoming our next major export. We sent Andrew Nelson to catch-up with James Owen Fender on a rare trip “back home”. It was about a year ago and I was running a night down at Trash, with nothing out of the ordinary expected.
Groove Experiment’, and we moved to London to try and make it in music”
I was sat on the door, (god I miss those Winter nights…) when the main act – a Leeds band I’d never heard of – turned up and ambled down the stairs, three of them and a manager, all very genial, and that was it.
Was that a conscious decision?
Then strange things started happening….. Firstly the sound engineer came out and for a word, which usually means bracing yourself to discover what these (insert expletive) had done and how (insert another expletive) expensive it would be. But, to my surprise, he eulogised about how tight they were, “brilliant rhythm section, really strong song…. looking forward to it”. Hmmmm….. Secondly, the manager wanted a word, explaining that there may be a few labels coming down, so would they be cool to get in on the guest list? Again, Hmmm….. The night progressed, and the club started getting busier, until there were loads and loads of people in there. Then came the labels. First was one of the Universal imprints, closely followed by two different imprints, and one from EMI, but then when Ali Valium turned up, I started to think maybe there’s something occurring here…. The music was fast paced, frenetic, New Wave tunes underpinned by an immense rhythm section. The vocals were in turns tender and almost wailed, all underpinned by a bittersweet fragility, a voice unafraid to sing in its own accent, digging into the rich vein of British story telling, not unlike Elvis Costello. Unashamedly great pop music. A year later, we play some pool and chat over some beers (and J20s for the interviewee). He is a thoroughly nice lad, even leaving early to buy fish and chips for his mum on the way home! I ask him about the deal he ended up taking. “Island Records” he reveals. “The president himself came to watch me do a gig and said to my lawyer he’d call the next day, and then he did! I thought with that kind of commitment and being true to their word, they were the ones to sign for” How did an unassuming lad from Leeds come to be on the label that has signed artists like Bob Marley, U2, Nick Drake, Paul Weller, DJ Shadow…. And Mika? “When I was 17 I was in a band called ‘The Tarka
“Yeah, I knew I wanted to be an artist, to really succeed, and even though ‘The Music’, who we knew from school were doing well and stayed put, we decided to go to London, for new experiences and to see what we could do, stand on our own feet” 6 years of gigging followed, touring the country playing at a host of places, including The Moor Music Festival, and making a load of friends including a pre-fame ‘Strokes’, but then in 2007, James decided to see what he could do on his own.
“The president himself came to watch me do a gig and said to my lawyer he’d call the next day, and then he did! I thought with that kind of commitment and being true to their word, they were the ones to sign for” He enlisted fellow Tarkas James and Tom Knox to help, recorded a handful of songs and burned 3 CDs, one of which he sent to a friend at a record label, who liked it and passed it to the A&R people. Within a couple of hours he started receiving calls, within a week he had been playlisted by Steve Lamacq who made him one of his 2008 ‘Ones To Watch’, and then came the bidding war. James has also been busy recording his album, out in the second quarter of the year, with Morrissey and Tiger Army producer, the late Jerry Finn, and Jason Mraz, Cat Stevens and Martha Wainwright producer Martin Terefe, between London and L.A. where he shared studios with Beck and Britney Spears, and “had a bigger studio that Britney Spears. It was crazy!” So lets summarise: From Leeds, writes great music, produces three copies of demo and is on Lamacq, signed to Island Records, recorded debut album in L.A., has the Strokes’ numbers on his mobile, buys his mum fish and chips, and is a proper nice lad. And did I mention he played squash for England Juniors? No redeemable features whatsoever! But he didn’t win at pool. Vibrations one, Rock Star nil!
The Kaiser Chiefs plucking one of Leeds’ best-kept secrets out of obscurity and pushing them out front to open for them on a national tour – as well as being the first band to play The Leeds Academy – would be considered a dream for most bands. “We’ve taken a big step” they tell Chris Thomas If you woke up this morning wondering who to put your money on as the next Yorkshire band to make it out into the big wide world at large, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better bet than The Hair. Although still too young to be called stalwarts of the scene, they’ve been on our radar for the last four years and 2008 seems to have been their year. They’ve been described as pop-heavy indie-rock, new-rave, twitchy-punk and much else besides (we do love to make up our own genres don’t we?) Vibrations is happy to file them firmly in the indie-rock draw though, because they’re good at indie rock, and you shouldn’t be afraid of indie rock if it is good indie rock. It should be no surprise that they are good at indie rock though, given that the last few years has seen them touring with The Sunshine Underground, The Pigeon Detectives and Crystal Castles amongst others. However, in addition to indie rock, Vibrations reserves its journalistic right to drop the word ‘funk’ into any subsequent description. Over the last year they’ve gained Radio One airplay and garnered some great reviews of both their live performances and singles. They’re not exactly waiting with baited breath for NME to declare them ‘your next favourite band’ though. “Who cares” they offer “We’d rather Vibrations did it for us.” “There are two things which stick out in my mind from the past year,” singer Sam Robson recalls “Playing with the Kaiser Chiefs and recording a Radio One session at Maida Vale. Both things that if you told me two years ago I’d be doing
then I wouldn’t have believed it.” The gigs he’s referring to involve the recent tour they undertook supporting The Kaiser Chiefs all over the country commencing with the eagerly awaited opening of The Leeds Academy. You might expect touring with the big boys to be the life of Riley, but it hasn’t been without its mishaps as drummer Vijay explains: “It started in Southampton when we broke the only key to the van” he recalls. “Surprisingly it only got worse from there. We managed to get a new key the next day, but then found out the battery was flat because Sam had left the light on all night. We get someone to jump start the van and half a mile down the road smoke pours out of the engine because the starter motor’s burnt out. “We get to Reading by push starting the van every time it stops and arrange for a new starter motor to be waiting for us in Leeds because we’ve got to get to Glasgow the next day. Because we can’t let the engine stop we have to keep it running while filling it up and trying to hide that from the petrol station attendants. We eventually get to Glasgow to find out that when the Kaiser Chiefs and Late of the Pier have got the day off the next day we’re playing at one in the morning. The lights stop working except on high beam and we drive to Leicester wondering how we’re going to pay for the repairs only for someone to smash into the side of us and write the van off.” It is “character building” as he puts it. With The Chiefs so high profile at the moment, playing with a band at the forefront of the nation’s musical
identity has got to be something of a boost for anyone looking to make their mark surely? Do they think they’ve already made an impact on their audiences? “We played a gig recently in Exeter.” explains keyboard player Neil “Last year or even a few months ago we wouldn’t have pulled much of a crowd travelling to the other end of the country but it was great to see people who’d seen us with the Kaisers and had come down to support us.” “Some people had driven two and a half hours from London to come and see us.” Adds Sam. In the current climate you know you’re onto a winner when people will increase their carbon footprint to a significant extent to see you. “It’s that kind of response that makes you suddenly start thinking we’re going to have to be really, really good” he continues. “Not that we don’t put everything into every gig already, but if people are going to put that much effort into coming to see us we don’t want to forget about that.” Sam was keen to point out that recently released single Blood has sold out of its 1,000 pressings but the Hair are holding back on recording their debut album. “Vijay joined the band about 6 months ago and I feel we’ve taken a big step, almost becoming a new band” admits Sam. “We’re playing in a different way; we’re a better live band. We just look like we’re enjoying ourselves a lot more and we’re writing new songs so it’d be foolish of us to put an album out in the UK too early without capitalising on how we’ve developed.” ‘In the UK’ is the phrase to look out for there. Though there have
only been singles released here, a full album titled Indecisions was released in Japan in 2007. I’m sure we’re all well aware of the strong links between Yorkshire and Japan... yes... Sheffield is twinned with Kawasaki don’t you know? (Vibrations does its research…) In any case the band likes to think of this as the ‘demo album’ now and have no plans to release it for UK consumption. So how has the writing process developed since this big step? “We all like to take a bath together first, chat politics, put on some lavender candles and just relax really, and get comfortable with each other’s naked bodies!” deadpans Sam as the rest of the band shift uncomfortably. “Once we’re past that barrier then we’re ready to go into the practice room.” He pauses before taking a more considered route, and one less likely to see him become a solo act post-haste. “It’s become a group process now, it used to be very fragmented but now we’re all prepared to tell each other we’re doing it wrong.” The Hair are not giving much away when it comes to future releases. “The plan is to be writing over December, January, maybe February.” Says Sam. “We want to have a choice of a hideous amount of new songs... so wait and see.”
“Playing with the Kaiser Chiefs and recording a Radio One session at Maida Vale. Both things that if you told me two years ago I’d be doing then I wouldn’t have believed it.”
SECOND HEARING Normally 20 words per track, this month just 20 words per demo. Still only two listens though. Keep ‘em coming... Bromhead’s Jacket
On The Brain
More lad-rock for you Vicar? No? You don’t know what it sounds like? Of course you do! Oh, never mind.
Sadly for Sean Forde, the market for solo singer-songwriters is more than a little crowded. Stronger songs may do it.
“Let’s grow fins! Let it rain!” – some excellent tips from these moustachioed Londoners on this spiky and ultra-catchy pop tune.
Carl J Jackson - demo Nothing Ever Lasts is average mopery, if that’s a real word. Much better is the possibly autobiographical spoken-word 23 Years.
You Lied is a fine pop song, even if the rest of the songs here border on generic politicised flag-waving.
The Masked Musician Tainted Heavy rock and comedy vocals aren’t the best of bedfellows. Second track sees him losing time and possibly the plot.
The Thirst - demo
2008’s indie bands distilled into one handy demo. Razorlight, the Kooks, the Arctics, they’re all here. If that’s your thing.
Scuzzy Cribs-like guitars, understated vocals and a suitably pointless one-word name surely equates to an indie-rock recipe for great success.
“People replaced by machines – what does it all mean?” Well, probably a lot more factory-line indie-pop, eh? Nice harmonies though.
Stood Up Sat Down
Comes across like a slightly older, more pub-rock oriented Kaiser Chiefs, albeit in need of a few more monumental tunes.
The Nearly Men
Empire Of Lights - demo
Shuffly acoustic indie pop; no defining features to set them apart. Misguided Smiths cover really doesn’t do them any favours.
Great MOR guitar pop, albeit with added subliminal mentions of Mick Hucknall and Rik Waller, which is just plain odd.
Korova Shake - demo Musically mid-90s dance-pop, vocally the offspring of Mansun’s Paul Draper and that dude in the hat from the New Radicals.
Liliths Army Drain Me
The Paperpushers Criminal A decent slice of dance music with guitars from former Bright Young Things with an ode to the working day.
The Prelude Moving To The Country, Never Coming Back
Big riffs? Check. Lyrics about redemption and blood? Yup. Occasional demonic backing vocals? Oh yes. A goth metal band, unsurprisingly.
Excellent country folk played by a bunch who sound like they know the inside of a pub all too well.
The Truth About Frank
A Little Bit Red
A Briefcase Full Of Suspicion Is it dance music? Minimal techno? Fans of bleeps, bloops and samples – or indeed experimental electronica - please step this way
Stone Gods Silver Spoons & Broken Bones Sod the Daleks - the terrifying ‘Burn The Witch’ had me hiding behind the sofa. An impressive 80s-influenced rock record.
Mynas If You Work Hard
The Sneakypeeks There’s a really tight indie-rock band here – confiscate their Kooks records and we might see what they can really do.
Vile Imbeciles Bad Ideas Not entirely sure what this is, but it’s an entrancing listen nevertheless. Nu-stoner rock maybe? Beck at his most wigged-out?
Vinnie & The Stars Spaceship Blues Very much a Ronseal title, doing exactly what it says on the tin. Competent if uninspiring. Identical live version included.
Chiming and charming indie-pop with choruses of varying levels of singalongability. Do we award demo of the month? No? Oh. vibrations 31
The Academy Is there anybody left in here, that doesn’t want to be out there? We send Gary Kaye and Helen Barlow to sample the opening of the new Academy Leeds venue playing host to the Kaiser Chiefs on its first night. Man in tracksuit successfully avoided Visiting the Leeds Academy when it opened its doors on October 8th was akin to greeting an old friend. The new refurbished 2,300 capacity venue was packed to the very gills as home grown wunderkinds Kaiser Chiefs almost blew the newly restored roof off the Grade I listed building. The appropriateness of employing that most sing-along-friendly of modern indie bands was all too apparent, given that the former Coliseum once operated as an old time music hall. As the Champagne flowed down my welcoming gullet so the celebs flowed through the doors of the VIP balcony. In truth this was not so much “HELLO” as “Hiya!” and whilst the great and the good on show here would not give the paparazzi a sleepless night, many heroes of the Leeds music scene were on hand to offer their thoughts and support for the Academy Group’s latest foray into big city gig-going. With my companera Helen Barlow in tow (it always pays to have a petite blond at one’s side on such occasions) we scoured the balcony for fresh celebrity flesh to feast upon. A bit of pigeon was first up as we encountered Matt Bowman: “I was a frequent visitor when it was Creation nightclub; I used to come and rave to Love Train on a Saturday night” he remembers. “I even came towards the end of the old Town and Country days. We all wore moustaches and I had a tough paper round so I looked old enough to get in.” The Academy chain has created controversy amongst music lovers in other towns where the group have opened venues (the
implication being that its corporate nature has taken trade and music from smaller, independent venues and bars). Corporate concerns were not an issue for Boff Whalley, key member of Leeds-based folk -anarchists Chumbawamba. “It is absolutely a corporate venue” he confirms “but we’ve played two Academies, in Liverpool and Dublin. We’re a band and if someone asks you to go and play in Dublin to a crowd who want to see you then we’re going to do it.” Once the music began to ring out the venue really showed all its glory. The sound system, which appears to have swallowed up much of the £4.5m refurbishment budget, packed a mighty punch; although happily not at the expense of clarity. The strategically placed soundboards that hang from the roof distribute the noise to almost perfection. Kaiser Chiefs have never sounded so good live and the mixture of sympathetic architectural restoration, aligned with the modernity of the huge sound system, offered a timeless feel as the band ripped through a set of songs old and new. Judging by reaction post-gig, the Leeds legends in the making had made a big impact with the ever-quotable Tony Wright of Terrorvision: “It was brilliant!” he enthuses “It reminds me of the olden days when men were men and sheep were scared. They might have predicted the riots but we predated the riots.” We’re not entirely sure what that means, but we think there was a plug for his upcoming gig in there somewhere.
With the free Champers and rum running out it was time to drag our sorry hack asses down to the after show shindig, hosted in the more intimate club venue next door. Like a pensioners teeth the stars were out as two Leeds stalwarts, John Keenan and the ever-sartorial Dave Beer, rubbed shoulders with modern rock maestros such as Chris Catalyst. General frugging ensued as those originals of the species, Utah Saints, laid down the beats. The task was clear. We needed to bag ourselves a Kaiser Chief. Having spotted Simon Rix I laid in wait like Bill Oddy at a badger snatching. No joy here as he soon skulked back to his showbiz lair. Hark! There is faux Dickensian ragamuffin Ricky Wilson. In my best Bianca voice I called ‘Rickeeeeeeeeeee’. Alas a similar result ensued; even the deployment of the femme fatale Helen Barlow could not encourage this shy woodland creature to elicit some pearls of pop wisdom. Just when all hope seemed lost Helen managed to snare that rarest of creatures on this celebratory evening, a Kaiser with an opinion. Peanut duly obliged: “First night of the Academy, it was a cool thing to do” he enthuses. “The crowd’s chants before we came on stage and between the songs were amazing. We still have the same way that we write songs and perform, but we feel we’ve moved on as well with this new album (Off With Their Heads, reviewed later). Writing a set list is good and it becomes easier the more albums we have out.” We know exactly what that means, and there was definitely a plug in there. vibrations 32
So the Academy comes to Leeds and fills a gap in the venue market that we’ve been feeling for some years now. Its corporate clout will inevitably see more established indie and rock bands drop into our city, where once they would have just whistled past on the M1. We’ve decided this is a good thing.
Kaiser Chiefs, Red Light Company, The Hair @ Leeds Academy - Wednesday 8th October 2008 After the sweet and sour hors d’ouvres served up by The Hair (who were wonderful) and the less than impressive Red Light Company (if the Kaiser Chiefs can claim to be the angry mob then RLC could purport to be the lumpen proletariat) we eagerly await the main course. Kaiser Chiefs really are still the flavour of the month and with mouths watering we cry as one ‘Let the feast begin!’ As the lights blaze bright enough to blind a bat in fog (yes, I know…) the sound of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing serves as a tongue in cheek introduction. Ricky Wilson and co. bound onto stage and
demonstrate a seemingly limitless energy that never appears to flag throughout this seventy minute set. Not only are the Kaisers opening the Academy tonight, they’re also launching their new album, Off With Their Heads; an appropriately ‘Carry On’ phrase, in modern parlance, given the KC’s good time nature and infectiously toe-taping music. Breaking bread with the new single Never Miss A Beat, the band show that they are not yet fatigued enough, 3 albums in, to stop them ripping out yet another contagious anthem for doomed youth. Even the dystopian coda of ‘It’s cool to know nothing’ appears a gleeful celebration of Broken Britain in the hands of these modest modsters. Ricky Wilson might not have the largest pair of hands in pop, but he manages to hold the whole audience in his grip as Every Day I Love You Less And Less sends the crowd into a frenzy, feeding off the charismatic frontman’s vigour. Judging by the band’s attire (and I have to say they are not the most sartorial of showbiz superstars) white trainers are back in fashion.
Enough said! Modern Way is a slice of reinvented semi-New Romanticism that between title and sound creates an aural oxymoron. Songs such as Ruby have already aged well and pour like fine claret into the discerning ear, although the forced 6th Form scansion is hard to swallow in places. New songs Half The Truth (a glam rocker stomper) and Good Days Bad Days (70s Kinks during Ray Davies’ melancholic years) slip down the gullet nicely. During Oh My God all I could think was ‘f**k Lily Allan’; and I don’t mean that in a good way. The encores of The Angry Mob and I Predict a Riot were a more than fitting way to round off a veritable feast of modern indie/ rock. The Kaiser Chiefs are like oysters in that there is nothing remarkable but everything extraordinary about them; a sort of pop paradox, as it were. Bring on the coffee. We’ve dined well and I look forward to seeing the next page in the musical menu. Gary Kaye
REVIEWS ALBUMS Ashley Reaks - Melancholia Harrogate’s Ashley Reaks has a history with the Younger Younger 28s in the late 1990s. Musically this solo album is a more ambitious prospect. The scale is grand. It sweeps across Africa, India, 90s dance, Moby collage, early 80s art/poetry, a Moondog-style instrumental episode and immense dub bass lines. The best of it is large, atmospheric and mystical. My own reluctance to hail it as a work of genius (I believe there will be plenty of people who will) starts with the lyrics. Reaks advertises himself as a poet and an artist as well as a musician. But there are several points in this album where I winced at the awkwardness of particular lines. Poetry has no need to be logical, or rational but poetry cannot be heard if it doesn’t make some concessions to the way that words might sound and develop in the mind of a potentially sympathetic and attentive listener. Imagery cannot work if the images demolish each other or are abandoned. mid-line. Maybe I’m making far too much of what is only one part of a very impressive album. However, at some point any outlandish album has to blend, and to surprise. It has to fit together aesthetically and I really don’t think this album does.
Eureka Machines - Do Or Die Despite the loud guitars, the debut album by Chris Catalyst’s new project Eureka Machines is an album of pop music. This may surprise some, but seasoned Catalyst watchers will know that behind the distortion pedals is a man who genuinely believes The Wichita Lineman to be the greatest song ever written. Which of course is entirely correct. Catalyst understands pop music in the way that twins understand each other. He also understands that you don’t need a single original idea to create something fresh and exciting. As a result, this is a magpie’s treasure chest of – ahem – elements heavily inspired by the work of others. But it doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s not about the component parts, it’s about the whole. Some of the influence is obvious and intentional (the trainspotter-friendly “Yes I Feel Lucky” response to The God Damn Whores’ “Do You Feel Lucky?” being amongst the more amusing), others more subtle, and some probably entirely accidental.
It liberally extracts from dozens of artists, but crucially doesn’t sound like any of them. What it does sound like it is a cross between The Wildhearts and ELO. And this is a good thing. There are some genuinely thrilling moments on this record, and several seemingly contradictionary elements at work. It sounds like it’s been put together with the meticulous precision of the Brill Building greats, yet it still sounds instinctive and inspired. It’s as fresh as a daisy, despite the fact that it could probably have been recorded at any point over the past 35 years, and probably the next 35 as well. Over and above all of that, this album will have you grinning inanely from ear to ear, whilst you pull your very best rock shapes. It is quite possible to do this whilst still appreciating the artistry involved. These are not contrary elements. All hail to the master thief.
Rob Paul Chapman
Liam Finn - I’ll Be Lightning When Liam Finn played at the Brudenell back in the summer, any preconceptions that he was just following in his father’s footsteps (his dad being Crowded House head honcho Neil) were soon banished by a raucous set which saw him create a backdrop of looping guitars before switching to the drums to accompany himself. The debut album he was promoting is a more restrained listening experience - a subsequently released live album perhaps reflects his intentions better - but I’ll Be Lightning is on the whole a fantastic set of well-crafted pop songs worthy of the family name. He’s certainly inherited his dad’s gift for melody, as shown on the glorious and wistfully melancholic Gather To The Chapel and Fire In Your Belly. Then there are the upbeat tracks, such as the brilliant Energy Spent and cracking first single Second Chance, on which the energy of the live show is hinted at. Finn plays pretty much every instrument on the record, showing an artistic flair which certainly marks him out as one to watch. The album meanders a bit towards the end – maybe 14 tracks is a bit long, but as an opening solo career statement, it’s a strong start.
Samuel Thornton Easy Street Samuel Thornton is an LCM graduate who slickly combines his jazz, RnB and funk influences in neat, well constructed songs. Slickly produced and with gorgeous instrumentation, this album sounds like he’s trying to bridge a gap between pop and something distinctly more left-field. The range of
influences makes it perfectly listenable for the non-jazz fan, although the heavy metally guitars roughly a third of the way in take some getting used to. It’s a pretty diverse, eclectic record; challenging in a pleasant way and sonically lush. Some tracks are glitzy and big, others more pared down, with a lot of it emitting a rather commercial feel, particularly the track featuring Hayley Gaftarnick. The voice is distinctive; halfway between old-school growl and smooth crooner, and despite being distinctively English, there’s a lot of old bluesy stuff here as well. At just nine tracks clocking in around half an hour, it packs in a lot of ideas to keep it interesting, but is somewhat too varied to get a real feel for what this guy is about. However if smooth is your thing, there’s a lot to like here.
Various artists Sounds like Syllabus Vol.1: The Beginnings of a Student Revolution Whoever put this together was clearly thinking variety rather than genre or geographical location. This eleven track album features pop, indie, R&B, rap and folk. And as with most compilations, there’s the good and the not so good. The opener by Brighton-based Mimi Soya is the standout – an upbeat rock and pop track with great guitar riffs. “Run Dry” by Kerry Leatham is an acoustic track which showcases her beautiful voice perfectly. Skilf’s rap rant against today’s manufactured pop is interesting and amusing. Most albums feature a token “cheese track” and this album is no different. Let’s Tea Party’s “Barcelona” has to be one of the most cringeworthy, irritating songs written this decade and even more annoyingly, is the one that seems to have wedged itself into my brain, never to leave. Arthur Delaney tries desperately to be a cross between Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley and doesn’t quite succeed. This album is perhaps too versatile. If your bag is R&B, there are two tracks that will float your boat. The rest you’ll skip and people aren’t going to buy an album that features only a couple of tracks that appeal to them. Also, you would think that an album proclaiming some sort of student revolution to be exciting and dynamic. Unfortunately, not in this case. Sandwiched inbetween two pretty good Indie pop songs are an uninspiring, pretty mediocre bunch of tracks.
Kaiser Chiefs Off With Their Heads I suppose I should declare up front that I’ve found the antagonism, both local and national, directed at Kaiser Chiefs a bit mystifying. The band has released three collections of fantastic pop songs, with great hooks and choruses, and yet they retain an earthy, prosaic charm that seems undiminished by the incredible commercial success the band has enjoyed. And, if you can be bothered to look beyond the fog of your prejudices, the songs are lyrically and structurally well constructed and executed. In fact, apart from the surprisingly beefy production supplied by celebrity purveyor of up-market karaoke Mark Ronson, the biggest surprise is that Off With Their Heads sees Nick Hodgson maturing significantly as a songwriter and the band playing with renewed confidence after the slight wobble of Yours Truly, Angry Mob. The lyrics suggest that the band have entered the transitional phase of being sufficiently detached from the social milieu that fed their early songs, but are not yet sure what inspiration they can glean from the lives afforded by their new found wealth and fame. So, many of the songs are about a growing distance between the past and the people who will stay there, or just trying to make sense of how and why the last three years happened to them (‘Yeah we plugged it in/And we turned it on/ And we made it up/As we went along/ And it always happens like that….’). And you will have the choruses of the likes of “Like It Too Much”, “Always Happens Like That” and “Half the Truth” buzzing incessantly round your head when they are inevitably released as singles in the coming months. And you can either just accept that they are bloody good pop songs and enjoy them, or carry on dismissing Kaiser Chiefs merely as purveyors of laddish songs only fit for shouting from the terraces.
The Research The Old Terminal The Research’s debut album, Breaking Up, was a pretty much perfect pop record. The songs, with core instrumentation of bass, drums and kid’s keyboard, covered the oft-trodden ground of relationships, albeit skewed to make them much more lovable than average (“I love you, but I’m scared I’ll fuck it up”). While the personnel remain the same – Russell still mournfully sings his way through these thirteen songs while Sarah and Georgia angelically chime in behind him – there is a major difference. The keyboard has gone,
replaced by a guitar. Probably a wise move, as a second album in the same vein could have lost the novelty value pretty quickly. Of course, chucking a guitar into the mix could have made this album sound like a million other bands, but the Research were always as much about substance as they were style, and while possibly not totally as satisfying as Breaking Up, The Old Terminal does have more than its fair share of highlights. First single ‘I Think She’s The One I Love’ is a string-drenched epic, while ‘Treasure Every Measure’ and ‘Rockin’ The Boat With My Friends’ are indiepop classics headed straight for the dance floor.
SINGLES Edgar Prais - Pop Song#93 Edgar Prais are a smart Scots threepiece band who could be on Bad Sneakers Records, but aren’t. Not much to say really - confident, upbeat, optimistic guitar bass drums, fine voice. Good tune, chunky rather than slimline. B-side “Jaimie” has faster chunks and goes 50-50 on whether to be 90s US power pop or 80s English post punk. Lovable, TV friendly stuff. You don’t need to buy it: you can hear the whole thing on last.fm
In fact the best thing I can say about this song is that I immediately played it again after first hearing it. And had the sudden urge to go clubbing. Despite it being 7.38am on a Monday. And I’m 31. And hate clubbing. Oh, and the B-side is great too. More song-based. Which is likely to convince the remaining stragglers still pining for the YSN days. i.e. me, until recently. I’m glad they’ve arrived. Hopefully they stick around for a while this time. Before the inevitable metamorphosis into nouveaux soft-shoe avant-country jive-techno-jazz. I don’t think they’ve tried that yet…
Rob Paul Chapman
Rhode Island - Suits EP This is bright poppy stuff. Each track has a modest one-word title, a decent tune and just enough instrumentation to keep it fizzy sweet. There is a good variety of quality vocal with ancient synth and guitar sounds. The programmed beats are good enough (I do like to hear a real drummer though) and, by gum, I felt myself drifting into a golden-era early-80s frame of vinyl-single mind. With a hint of funky danceability. (“Men”).
Hurrah! Heads We Dance are back with yet another new direction.
The secret seems to be that the five tracks have been made with a plan in mind and a genuine understanding of that nice balance between thinking and just playing that defines all the best pop music. My favourite track is “Women”, probably for the nice tension between a fuzzy guitar on a good riff and a noodly bleep on some kind of Casio. It has a great tune and is sung with authority.
It has been noted before (not least of which in these very pages) that Pete Wurlitzer changes direction with the frequency of which most of us change our socks. And I mean real people, not musicians or students.
I don’t think anyone else is doing this kind of thing right now. Rhode Island had a promising tune on the 2003 Bright Young Things CD and this EP represents a successful development even if it has been a long time coming.
So, after the misfiring camp-pop of Love In The Digital Age, it’s a swift about-turn into a significantly more dancy direction, and the result is:
Heads We Dance The Human Touch
Something that sounds a bit like Daft Punk. Alright, something that sounds a lot like Daft Punk. OK, something that sounds exactly like Daft Punk? Except for the bit in the middle which sounds a bit like Kraftwerk. But who cares? Because frankly this is better than anything Daft Punk have done in ages. In fact, it would be one of the highlights on Discovery. And if you’re into making music that sounds like Daft Punk you can’t get much better than that.
The Ting Tings - Be The One Why am I reviewing this? God knows. There is a stupidly long 16 bar intro with a weak ice cream van chime of a riff. The main tune lacks spirit and the delivery exudes indifference. Nothing at all like their killer hit. The production tries hard to make it interesting as it grinds on towards a never-ending three minutes. It fails. The Independent mix is two seconds shorter so should be better but sadly it has no vocals. Shame. I enjoyed the band at Leeds Festival this year.
REVIEWS Old Romantic Killer Band (Bad Sneakers) Lover’s Pass
And a guitar at the end that sounds like Brian May… …but they do shout “Oi” three times, so the equilibrium is restored, and thus the world will sleep well this festive season. Without the aid of the best Brandy. Which Neil sounds like he’s already made a good start on. Third best Christmas song ever... …behind The Pogues (which this sounds a lot like) and The Waitresses since you’re asking.
This is a straight-forward rock song and herein lies the attraction – there are no wild riffs, or catchy gimmicks, it’s all pretty understated in the same way that Rob Paul Chapman the band is. However it is still liberatingly full of energy and rock sentiment. They take no prisoners and make no excuses, LIVE it’s loud and raw but not rough. ORKB are great lyrical rockers, very RnB influenced in the old sense of the words (with emphasis on the blues), although this song retains quite a strong pop sensibility. At a neat two and a half minutes it’s charming and genuine and well-honed.
The Scaramanga Six, Vib Gyor, Revere , Angelo Palladino and The Skeleton Crew, Farming Incident and Living in Cities @ Hi Fi Club, Leeds
full band sound - worth a listen. After five years, the Tea Time Shuffle is winding down towards a final boogie in December. This line-up looked more like a double whammy opening night’s bonus that the “last but one”. Madness.
Curtis Eller - Corks, Otley Corks on Bondgate in Otley has a perfect back room, with bar, tables and stage that suits an act like Curtis Eller down to the ground. Anything, in fact, that thrives on a little intimacy and benefits from listening and audience involvement. A bit of jazz, folk, storytelling singer songwriter stuff - ideal. (That said, US stadium band Your Vegas have also played here).
Curtis Eller is a regular favourite in Leeds, so all I really need to say about his performance tonight is how astonishing it is that he manages to The Scaramanga Six, currently a four Sophie Kemp piece, finished off a very strong evening improvise around the same basic pattern work so well every time - making of music with a set that included songs Sevaloco full use of the room he is in (and which I had not heard before - one from 1995 Forever Continues This Way and one from 2009. This in itself should he leaves at some point to great comic say something about he unique standing effect). He’s a master at working an Forever is a long time. audience. of The Scaramanga Six. Tonight the Sevaloco are unlikely to make it that far, power, the noise and the sheer bloody His wonderful old-timey songs of minded wonderfulness rang out. I am but this metal noise is convincing, brisk disasters, assassins, circus performers and accomplished. They invent nothing, in awe. Serious people around me are and dilapidated modernity would be but they do the exhilarating swoops and saying “one of my top five bands of all great just on their own. But when you time… anywhere… no… top three”) double-strength two bass drum pedal have a song as good as “Save Me Joe stuttering with a lot of style. “Tom” (why Vib Gyor brought out a new song or two Louis” it gets turned into tragi-comic do bands insist on failing to identify group therapy with community singing and played classics like Church Bell. themselves?) does a good job of the Their huge sound is built for cathedrals, and a history lesson on racism and the vocals except on the exposed vocal-only arenas and desert festivals. It still Death Penalty, then you have a sure bit in “At The Bottom” which doesn’t worked a treat under the low ceiling of fire, bona fide good time to beat all good work. James and Nick play nicely varied the HiFi Club. times. Sure fire being relevant to Eller’s and proficient stuff, on twin guitars. improvised running gag for the evening. Revere are an eight piece band, playing The presence of naked flames at each The titular track “Forever Continues This a lot of slow-moving but not very melodic table gave him an excuse to get out Way ...” is no more than a bridge into the six-eight ballads: I might be tempted to and about with his radio-linked banjo, standout song “The Last Day of Sun”. describe them as “iLiKETRAiNS (but blowing them all out as the evening It offers a minute of dreamy arpeggios with standing room only)” Stephen Ellis, proceeded. How we wept and shivered followed by a summary (spoken in the central figure, has a very fine singing as he did “Hartford Circus Fire 1944” English and Hebrew) of a story told of voice - the seven other band members and “Sweatshop Fire” Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, minister to King are a little less distinctive. Solomon. It ends with a reminder that Yodelling was also done with gusto forever continues according the law that Angelo Palladino’s voice was rich with heartily recommended for all dispirited all things must pass. wisdom and the blues. His guitar playing conditions and dispositions. is effortlessly heart-tugging - a plectrum If you haven’t grown out of metal music The duet offshoot of The Devil’s and two fingers pulling out more soul yet, or fancy returning to some pretty Jukebox - Shanghai Syncopators - were than a roomful of Primitive Baptists. fresh material for the nostalgic thrill of a good warm-up with plenty of sleazy Some mandolin playing was a bonus big scary riffs, then Sevaloco should treat. Backing band “The Skeleton Crew” jazz, jump-jive and blues tunes. Ukulele suit you very well. I suspect that live playing was top notch and we were were spot on - unobtrusive masters of performances are huge fun. treated to a nice variety of kazoo horn what they had to do. solos. Sam Saunders Farming Incident are a compelling experience. Dave Mays is a perfect Sam Saunders drummer for such a band - solid as a International Trust rock. A new member on guitars makes Let’s Have A Dance Eighties Matchbox B-Line a wonderfully menacing noise and in brighter times the band’s political options Disaster, Jon Jones, The It’s International Trust start to look more in tune with the times. Little Blackhearts, Guilt It’s a Christmas song It’s International Trust’s Christmas Song Dave Procter snarls and rocks. Pursuit @ Trash, Leeds It‘s exactly like every other International Living In Cities opened up nice and Trust song except: Come here, tousle-haired children, for early with better piano than you will I will tell you a tale of darkness and hear all year and a set of well made, Neil already sounds drunk devilry, where blood (mostly fake), mature songs. Zane Keenan (who is It’s got a slow intro sweat (unfortunately disgustingly real) the man behind Living in Cities) is also And sleigh bells and tears (of joy) abounded. To say the keyboard player in Vib Gyor. Some And a glockenspiel solo I saw Eighties Matchbox at Trash on myspace tracks have appeared with a vibrations 36
Hallowe’en is a misnomer - as the stage is on the same level as the floor I didn’t actually see anything, which is a shame as the pictures I saw after were very pretty, though I heard plenty. Excellent local support came from Guilt Pursuit - dark and raw but pretty, sophisticated and kind of Fall-influenced but not as mad. Followed by Little Black Hearts – more of your average rock band – and Jon Jones, so heavily influenced by the headliners that we mistook the beginning of their set for the Eighties themselves (this being further contributed to by lack of stage visibility) although their set was audibly more metal influenced and lower key. It’s been a bit precarious for Eighties since the departure of Huxley & Fownes and being dropped by Island, but this gig seemed the perfect excuse to exorcise their demons and prove Tristan McLanahan is equal to their outrageous outfit. Mixing old favourites such as Mister Mental with newer stuff (In The Garden) they played a tight, exhausting, dangerous set with their trademark treacly bass and smooth vocals. Heavy, but not an endurance test, and still devastating/hilariously insane; underneath this madness can clearly be heard a sophisticated bunch of rock n’ rollers who despite their lairyness play with a professionalism that is quite refreshing. After waiting through three support acts the crowd had formed into a seething, roaring animal that would have swallowed them whole if it could. Here’s hoping this heralds a triumphant return.
¡Forward, Russia!,That Fucking Tank,Chickenhawk, Jon Gomm @ The Brudenell Social Club/Royal Park Cellars, Leeds Now in its third year, the Brainwash Festival, of which this gig was the opening night, has already established itself as an essential event in the Leeds music calendar. Based on volume of gigs alone, it shouldn’t be long before Jon Gomm is a household name. And although his prodigious technique is an extraordinary thing to behold, it (and the technology that helps to extend his sound range) is always subservient to his intense musicality. It’s a shame that his actual songs aren’t as memorable as the way they’re played. Chickenhawk make a hell of a prog metal noise . Guitarist Rob Stephens has a wireless guitar which allows him to wander amongst the audience and even out of the room altogether and still make a furious din. But just like the unfeasibly large effects rack that he bestrides like its some kind of huge metallic turd, the band are all swagger and bluster with no real substance. That Fucking Tank, on
the other hand, use at least a third of Chickenhawk’s hardware and are ten times more potent. Andy Abbott’s blazing guitar style is the bastard offspring of Tony Iommi and James Blood Ulmer, and James Islip’s meagre two drums and two cymbals drive the duo’s economic invention relentlessly. And this was an off night, apparently.
This gig was sold out because rumour has it that it’s ¡Forward, Russia!’s last ever gig, although no-one appears to have told the band this. The band arrive on stage 30 minutes late, do the 45 minute business as usual, Life Processes-heavy set they’ve been playing for the last six months, and play no encores. If it does turn out be their last gig, it’s a massive anti climax from a band whose extraordinary, furious and unique music promised so much. It’s a good job, really, that the 45 minutes they did play, at least after a monumental reading of Don’t Be A Doctor, was as effortlessly coruscating as the best of their gigs in the last four years. Adios.
The wonderfully weird Grammatics close the show. Oscillating melodies backed jaggedly by a spiky sound, a cello and heavy drums becomes quite perversely great pop music that is beginning to make waves and has landed them a deal with Dance to the Radio. Both Grammatics and Pulled Apart By Horses have singles out now that I highly recommend you buy.
Napoleon IIIrd sings about almost dying in one of his songs, Hit Schmooze for Me, which is one of his many experimental pop gems on show tonight. Sometimes he goes a bit Black Dyke Mills, and sometimes he goes a bit Radiohead, but it always works.
Northstar @ Theatre In The Mill, Bradford “Girls who are boys, who like boys to be girls who do boys like they’re girls who do girls like they’re boys always should be someone you really love”.
Grammatics, Napoleon IIIrd, Pulled Apart By Horses, Paul Marshall, Fran Rodgers @ The Cockpit, Leeds
Girl/boy band Northstar could be someone you reeeallly love. Launched as part of Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill’s Development Lab season, featuring new work from innovative makers, Northstar are the best new boyband you’ve never Sometimes Leeds can be a bit pants. Copycat gigs filled with sheep, philistines heard of. and a feeling that nothing is really happening can dissuade attendance for Three bewigged and strapped down girls emerge on stage as Mikey, Luca and many. Fortunately there are still people Hay, a trio bewilderingly good at creating in this vibrant city that don’t fuck about their own hype before a single note has that and still put on gigs with 100% ace line-ups that compel us to disregard the been mimed, and performing with a genuine fondness and understanding of credit crunch, brave the weather, and the boy band phenomenon. drink like fish. First up is solo act Fran Rodgers, who’s The satire bubbling throughout is audience, siting silently on the Cockpit’s pinpoint accurate and at its most devilish filthy floor, are somewhat allayed by her in the mockumentary that accompanies collection of ballads and Mamas and the the performance, which charts the rise Papas renditions. She thanks her crowd of the band from the first classified ad for arriving so early on a Friday evening, to their formation, achieving the delicate balancing act of ribbing the spectacle but it goes both ways. She was lovely. of the manufactured band without rubbishing it. Another solo act, former one half of noise band Concentration Champ Paul On stage the choreography is Marshall, is up next in the Cockpit’s bubblegum perfection and the pulling smallest room. He isn’t as serene as Fran Rodgers. In fact his music is about of a girl from the audience to create an instant pop video was hilarious. Better as serene as leaving the hospital after still, Northstar never resort to an irritating finding out that the child you thought was your own is actually the milkman’s, knowing wink for their audience’s benefit. Northstar are a boyband, but but then remembering that at least this as the festival suggests they are still in means you don’t have to pay benefit. development and probably mostly as a What I mean to say is that this isn’t 100% despair, but it is morose. Excellent singing outfit. arpeggios too. Their “debut song” deserved to be As we go back into the larger setting for either bigger and more epic, or more tonight’s gig, things get loud and sweaty. silly and frivolous, but got trapped somewhere in-between. If they get this Pulled Apart by Horses are definitely right Northstar could emerge as a true not a solo acoustic act playing Mamas teenage sensation. A curiosity perhaps, and the Papas covers, melancholic ballads or otherwise. They are not Jack but we like it. Johnson. At one point the guitarist RWB removes his shirt, enters the audience area and almost decapitates me with his axe. This is what you want from a plugged-in, pumped-up gig – near death vibrations 37
THIS ISSUE VIBRATIONS
RECOMMENDS... Sophie Kemp: New Vibrations writer keen on escaping civilisation At this time of year I find my ability to cope with collective human mania at its feeblest, particularly when I get involved in excessive amounts of unnecessary shopping. My antidote involves:
Bart Pettman: New to the team, takes great snaps, possibly high cholesterol I recommend trying everything… twice. Why? Because you may have done it wrong the first time. For anyone that has not experienced curry with cheese in it, this will be an eye-opener that I guarantee will have you high-fiving me out of gratitude should we ever cross paths. Paneer will improve your life, and you need to get involved. Sheesh Mahal opposite the Kirkstall Road Leisure Complex has gone a long way to satisfying a personal need that is in serious danger of spiraling out of control. On the subject of enriching one’s life, why only be a spectator to Leeds’ music scene? The ways you can be a part of it are innumerable. You can even contribute massively without ever having to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans and pick up a telecaster. The DIY music community in Leeds does what it says on the tin (better to quote the Ronseal ad than Nike, I suppose).
Taking the fuse out of the TV until Christmas is over. Then putting it back in to watch Jools Holland on the 31st whilst staying in with a bottle of wine. Getting the train from Leeds to Morecambe, getting off at Bentham, walking the two and a half miles to Ingleton, trekking round the falls and remembering in six weeks no one will care what you got them for Christmas (as well as laughing at ducks trying to land on frozen ponds. Cruel but funny). Civilisation has however also given us music, film and beer, all pleasant survival aids this time of year. So check out: Buen Chico supporting the Official Secrets Act on the 6th at the Cockpit. Crying by TV On The Radio - such a good song, something about the percussion reminds me of Low (never a bad thing). The Newcastle/Gateshead Northern Lights film festival, running until 6th December, and the Winter Ales festival in Manchester, 21st-24th January.
Chris Thomas: Writer, Cure fan, irritable public transport user
Jackie Hitchen: Equally well versed in exercising both brain and guts.
What do I recommend? Me? Well, I certainly recommend getting more sleep than I am at the moment and drinking less coffee, but let’s put that to one side for the moment.
I recommend getting yourself to The Cockpit on December 20th to welcome Talk To Angels back to their old stomping ground following their first American tour. You always get the feeling that no matter how far this band go, they’ll always return to The Cockpit. If last year’s Christmas gig was anything to go by, this year will be another good one and perhaps another Christmas cover will be thrown in for good measure.
The Cure – 4:13 Dream: When I first heard Only One I thought I was listening to a B-side that I’d missed along the way. Much as the latest Oasis album left me cold for sounding just like I expected it would, I love 4:13 Dream for sounding just like I hoped it would. Cloth Cat Studios: Because community music projects like Cloth Cat can give you so much and ask so little in return. They run great courses on everything from using Cubase, to setting up a home studio or a DIY record label, all free of charge. They also set up gigs and events throughout the year. Oh, and I recommend everyone stop trying to get onto the bus whilst people are getting off. Please.
If your brain gets a bit frazzled this festive season, give it some exercise with a game of Word Twist on Facebook - highly addictive! Also, drink responsibly this Christmas and don’t end up with a hangover so bad that you embarrass yourself by vomiting in a public place, for example, the hairdressers... in front of the local MP’s wife and members of the Alwoodley Bridge Club. Not good. And I really am old enough to know better. Cheers anyway!
Published on Dec 1, 2008
Bi-monthly print music magazine covering bands in Leeds, and West Yorkshire (UK) featuring Captain Wilberforce // Kaiser Chiefs // Plastic F...