Archive for November, 2007

Current listening: Bella Hardy

29 November 2007

Hurrah Hurrah Hurrah. Bella Hardy has been nominated for two awards in next years BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. I have not yet heard the whole of her album “Night Visiting” as I have it on good authority that it will be in my Christmas stocking this year (regular comments since September from a particular sibling along the lines of “Don’t buy it” seem to be a fairly clear indication) but she has received plenty of airplay from the usual folk friendly radio shows and the songs which I have heard sound wonderful. Plenty of traditional tunes and some of her own as well and fiddle playing and singing at the same time. I first heard her on a cd by The Pack received from the aforementioned sibling with (I think) about 10 other talented young folkies, including  all of 422 (another band well worth seeing live if you get the chance. they are fantastic). Like 422 and the likes of Jim Causley, I think she has a very bright future ahead of her. You can hear some of her music including her award nominated own composition “Three Black Feathers” at her my space page. It’s lovely. Needless to say I am looking forward to the 25th December.


My 1988

22 November 2007

I have been getting nostalgic over the last few days, thinking about my years in Manchester from 1988 to 1992, and in particular my first year there in 1988/1989. Music has always been an important part of living and I still listen to a lot of music from that era. I think for many people, their college years play a massive part in determining the music they will be listening to for the rest of their life and that was certainly the case for me, if not by way of specific bands then certainly styles of music. I spent a while earlier in the week casting my mind back to what I was listening to then and the albums and songs which will always take me back to that time. Wednesday night The Ritz, Thursday night the Hacienda Temperance Club, gigs in the Student Union bar,  beer in Jabez Clegg, veggie grub in On the eighth day, heading into town on my bike at least once a week to Piccadilly Records and Eastern Bloc to check out what had come out that week, food shopping in Rusholme – Kwiksave, Greggs the bakers seconds store, the Indian shops (completely fazed by the fact that the students from London could afford to shop at a big name supermarket like Sainsburys), saving up to buy the latest cool t-shirt from Afflecks Palace, going over to Sheffield to see a schoolmate to watch the Wedding Present, furnishing the flat with cheap plants from the poundstore on Piccadilly gardens which used to be just down from Piccadilly Records next to that really whiffy chippy, the weekly student market in the union selling indian drapes, multicoloured hippy clothes, and loads of bootleg vinyl and cassettes, weekend trips out to the moors,  the taste of Rusholme for the first time, the Ducie Arms, visiting mates who lived in those weird halls of residence above the precinct, a bit of culture in the art gallery in Whitworth Park, going to all the places recommended in the various student guides, visiting all these strange halls of residence which mates had moved into. In retrospect just seeing how all these different eighteen year olds reacted to total freedom was amazing. Some withdrew, some got depressed, some just carried on as if mum and dad were still watching and some went of the rails completely, indulging in major drink and drug fests. I think everyone found out a lot more about themselves though. Going north was the best thing that had ever happened to me and it’s scary just how much of that time has stayed with me – I can literally hear, smell and taste it at times.

1998 was perhaps my most interesting year musically as there is a clear split between the period when I was still at school and the period after I had started at university.

At school, my inspiration came from my mates in the sixth form and what was being played on the radio by John Peel. There was also a lad I worked with on Saturdays in Superdrug who I discovered on his first day was also really into The House of Love and the Wedding Present and who lent me records which was great. Awfully I can’t even remember his christian name but he was ace. We were both heading into a major adventure at university at the end of the summer and keeping in touch was never a priority.

At university the influences came from all directions, not least from flatmates like Sharpey and Andy Skateboard and the girls in the flat upstairs. Possibly the biggest influence was the fact that I was in the city where everything was happening. The ecstacy fuelled “second summer of love” had just happened and house music was everywhere, The Smiths, the Hacienda and New Order had already put the name of Manchester on the map (and were probably the main reason for a good percentage of the student applications to Manchester at that time – I certainly knew a lot of people for whom they had been a big factor) and the scene was set for a new generation of Mancunian revellers and hangers on to make their mark. Consequently I would find myself at a James and Happy Mondays gig in the Ritz one night, dancing to indie music in the Cellar bar the next, watching Spacemen 3 at the Hacienda the next and getting drunk at a local Irish pub the next after a curry on Oxford Road.

Yes, I am a compulsive list making bloke.  Sorry, I can’t do anything about it. I love lists.

Whilst at school.

Sugarcubes – Life’s too good/The House of Love – the House of Love & Destroy the Heart & Christine/The Smiths – Rank/Morrissey – Viva Hate/Prince – Lovesexy/The Primitives – Crash/AR Kane – 69/Scritti Politti – Provision/The Fall – The Frenz Experiment/Michelle Shocked – Short Sharp Shocked/Talking Heads – Naked/Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Mainstream/Everything but the Girl – Idlewild/Erasure – The Innocents/Pet Shop Boys – Introspective

Once at university.

Dinosaur Jr – Bug & Freak Scene / Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation / Pixies – Come on Pilgrim, Gigantic  & Surfer Rosa/Happy Mondays – Wrote for Luck & Bummed/The Fall – Kurious Oranj/Butthole Surfers – Hairway to Steven/My Bloody Valentine – Feed me with your kiss & You made me realise & Isn’t anything/Martin Stephenson – Gladsome Humour and Blue/The Wedding Present – Nobody’s twisting your arm/Loop – Collision/Big Black – Songs about Fucking & Atomiser/A Guy called Gerald – Voodoo Ray/New Order – Fine Time/James – Stutter & Strip Mine/Cocteau Twins – Bluebell Knoll/Electribe 101 – Talking with myself/Rapeman – Two nuns and a packmule

There was a definite change in September 1988.

Current listening: Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve Live at GMEX

19 November 2007

God I love this. Downloadable from a link via their My Space site this is a DJ set from Manchester’s GMEX dating from July 2007.  I gather that Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve are actually Superstar DJ Erol Alkan who first made his name on the electroclash scene and Richard Norris (Co-producer of Psychic TV and many others, half of The Grid with Soft Cell’s Dave Ball and writer of a recently published autobiography of Paul Oakenfold).

I have never investigated late ’60s psychedelic rock to the degree that I would like to, having stuck in the main to the folkier end of things and the obvious culprits such as The Beatles, The Zombies, Love, The Doors and Pink Floyd. I have never bought the legendary Nuggets compilation or any Kaleidocope or Tomorrow or Nirvana (1960s version).  That is not to say I wouldn’t like to – it’s mainly down to the fact that there are simply not enough hours in the day and the fact that I don’t like buying stuff and not giving it a good listening to.

I first came across Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve through their beautiful remix of Midlake’s “Roscoe”, followed by their mixes of Peter Bjorn & John’s “Young Folks” and Tracey Thorn’s “Raise the roof” all of which are great, although I am not familiar with the music they have made under their own name.

Anyhow – this is a great juggernaut of a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, bonkers Beatles edits rubbing up against the mighty “My White Bicycle”, with The First Edition (Kenny Rogers(!!) first band)’s  “Just dropped in (To see what condition my condition was in)” and Pink Floyd’s proto-psych “See Emily Play” sitting next to a pretty good edit of Love’s “A house is not a motel”. It must have taken a lot of nerve to remix of some of these tracks, given their classic status, but for the most part it works, the effect of the main changes being to make them more danceable, but without losing their essence.  They still sound as if they could not have possibly been made at any other time.  A favourite track is Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz”., which I believe Nirvana (1990s version) covered on an early single. The only odd track out for me is “Young Folks” which seems somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the prototype mindwarp big beat mayhem.

I can see parallels with The Chemical Brothers combination of dance beats and psychedelic rock in their approach (see “The Private Psychedelic Reel” and “Setting Sun” and  “The Sunshine Underground”), and they do in fact use a Chemicals track here, but this feels less serious, less reverential, more carefree, no holds barred , completely mad and wonderful for it. It’s not quite “Too Many DJs” and ploughs a very different technicolour acid fried furrow but it’s pretty close in terms of sheer unadulterated fun.

The tracklist is as follows:

Beyond Space – Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve
Battlescars (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Demo Re-Animation) – The Chemical Brothers
Words – Unknown (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Edit)
Hey Bulldog- The Beatles (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Edit)
My White Bicycle – Tomorrow
Open My Eyes – The Nazz
Bubble Burst – The Small Faces (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Edit)
Uptight – Reggie Cravens Quartet
The Horror Scope – Unknown (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Edit)
Just Dropped In – The First Edition
Love Buzz – Shocking Blue
Young Folk  (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Re Animation)  – Peter Bjorn & John
A House Is Not A Motel – Love (Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve Edit)
The Witch – The Rattles
Save My Soul – Wimple Winch
See Emily Play – Pink Floyd
Once You Understand – Encounter
Banana Splits Theme – Richie Adams and Mark Barkan

Current listening: Ulrich Schnauss “Shine”

16 November 2007

When Take That met Slowdive. No, really. Ulrich Schnauss’ “Goodbye” album makes me believe in time travel. Because this really is like being transported back to the early nineteen nineties when Slowdive and Lush were at their most popular. And really, this record is a very close copy of that sound. All shimmering Cocteau Twins guitars, dreamy vocals lowish down in the mix and drum machine throb. And consequently it sounds amazing.  I am probably being slightly unfair as there is an contemporary electronic edge to many of the tracks which was absent in the early days of shoegaze, but which did arguably become part of that scene with the likes of Slowdive and Chapterhouse adding dance elements to their music and putting out remixes by some of the electronic artists of the day.  Anyhow, it is a great album. So, so dreamy. Not recommended for driving at night with the car heater on as you might fall asleep at the wheel, as I nearly did the other day. Ideal for bedtime listening though. “Shine” is one of my current favourites on there. It is possibly the most commercial moment on the record and does (to my ears anyway) sound like Take That or Coldplay deciding to go shoegaze. Maybe it’s a subconscious connection of the word Shine with Take That but I don’t know … I like it. There are some free Ulrich Schnauss downloads available from his site here which are great but don’t altogether reflect the sound of this new record. Shine itself can be listened to on his MySpace page.


16 November 2007

– 2 all the way to work. Gorgeous skies though.


13 November 2007

P J Harvey at Pitchfork “I think I’m much more selective about what I choose to put around me, musically […] I think that is a getting older thing, I sense more that I won’t tolerate having just OK music around me. It has to be life changing or I don’t particularly want to hear it. I’ve probably narrowed down my listening to other people’s work to just what stimulates me.”

I am with you on that Peej.


12 November 2007

First ground frost of the year this morning. Clear skies and the most incredible blue and pink sunrise, the sky criss crossed by vapour trails. The frost covered trees grasses and bracken at the side of the road were stunning and passing through the Corvedale a great skein of at least fifty geese crossed the sky. The temperature was still -1 by the time I reached my destination at 8am.

Current listening: Bronski Beat “It ain’t necessarily so”

8 November 2007

Scene: Late autumn evening 1984. Roads and streets of small Staffordshire town. Walking home from rehearsals of school pantomime in the dark at 6pm. Crossing the M6 motorway and watching the streaming lights of the cars.  Accompanied by cheap version of Sony Walkman  with permanently installed C90 cassette. Prince “Purple Rain” on one side, Bronski Beat “The Age of Consent” on the other.

Consequently “The Age of Consent” has always been an autumnal album for me, like a soundtrack to a walk in the city streets at night, possibly between pub and nightclub, senses heightened with alcohol and a sense of anticipation (although the town I was resident in at this time was far from a city).

I have been watching the video of this on you tube and can’t actually recall seeing it at the time.  The plot is basically: Bronski Beat are all in prison. Various meaningful looks are cast. Life is hard, as indicated by the strict exercise regime. Then it’s teatime. Afterwards,  evening service with the prison chaplain. Cue mince pie eating competition between Jimmy Somerville and some other bloke.  Barking. Please let me know if I have missed something obvious. But barking in a lovely homespun eighties way. Spot the eighties fashions. Spot the minimal video budget.

And the song itself is a lovely slow jazzy version of the George and Ira Gershwin song with a clarinet prominently featured which for me is the main source of the atmosphere created by the song.  The song’s lyrics “the things that you’re liable to read in the bible, it ain’t necessarily so” take on a whole new meaning when viewed in conjunction with the group’s upfront gay politics. Well ahead of their time were Bronski Beat.

It’s still a song I like to listen to at this time of the year. 

In the flesh: Karine Polwart

8 November 2007

I went to see Karine Polwart last night at the Glee Club in Birmingham. She were ace. I have only got her first album “Faultlines” and whilst it is all very nice and has at least a couple of real standout tracks (Waterlily and The sun’s coming over the hill) it wasn’t an album that exactly swept me off my feet.  So I have to admit that whilst I was keen on going to see her I wasn’t expecting to be quite as impressed as I was. I suspect that part of  the problem is that I haven’t given the cd enough attention. She played two sets of around ten songs each and mixed up songs from “Faultlines” and “Scribbled in Chalk” with odd tracks that she has recorded with other people such as her contribution to the”Ballad of the Book” cd and her collaboration with Future Pilot AKA. She was accompanied by her brother Stephen Polwart, also on guitar and Inge Thomson (who reminded me of a very youthful Zandra Rhodes) who played all sorts including accordian, bass melodica, cymbal and bells. Karine’s intersong banter indicated that she was a thoroughly lovely human being without any apparent self importance or ego. Her warm voice with its clearly audible Scottish lilt was wonderful and the accompaniment was excellent, particularly her brother’s guitar playing. The one thing that I like her for as much as anything is that she does Politics. She clearly thinks about things (she has a philosophy degree) and is not afraid to write songs which reflect her political leanings. Whilst I have some sympathy with the view that pop music and politics shouldn’t mix (there will always be room for inane mindless eurobeat on my stereo) , folk music and politics have always been bedfellows if not actually the same thing and I don’t actually think that there is enough  politics in any type of music these days (or indeed society as a whole – I suppose that the music which is out there is reflecting the mindset of the population. A worrying thought). Can you imagine the pop stars of today taking part in something like Red Wedge ? (And it did involve pop stars and not just the leftist indie fraternity) If you want to know her views then I suggest you listen to some of her tunes. Her songs are a mix of personal and political themes and sometimes both at the same time and the last thing she comes across as is preachy. Listen to “Only one way” which suggests that we should make all the trouble we can. And why the hell shouldn’t we get off our complacent arses and do something about this awful world we are letting our “leaders” create whilst we play away with our anaesthetic television and media and mobile phones and cars and self involvement and internet (Was that a cry of “hypocrisy!” I heard over there) . The kids in their twenties who work in my office, when asked, admit to never having been involved in a political rally or march in their lives. They can hardly complain when things start to go horribly horribly wrong if they don’t take an interest in politics. (See “Skater on the surface” from “Faultlines”). She also has some great straightforward life songs such as “Follow the Heron” and simple and catchy songs of positivity like “I’m gonna do it all” (which has apparently been taken up as a regular song of choice for infants at a significant number of primary schools across the country. Lucky kids).

 Her humanism shines through and makes for an lovely heartwarming evening with space for thinking as well as celebration.

Current listening: Kylie Minogue – 2 Hearts (Version by Studio)

5 November 2007

The Studio album “West Coast” is certainly one of my favourites from the past year. It sort of blends two of my favourites from 2006, Lindstrom & Prins Thomas’ self titled album and Fujiya & Miyagi’s “Transparent Things” and adding some vocals which are oddly reminiscent of The Cure and there is a bit of Arthur Russell and some Can in there somewhere too. It’s like a coach trip to visit your French cousin in 1980 converted into sound. It’s nothing ground breaking but it’s loping and spacey and beautiful nonetheless.

And now they have converted Kylie’s new single into something which far exceeds the fine but somewhat pedestrian single version.  Don’t get me wrong I do like it but it lacks magic, which is something that this remix does have.  Studio take out most of the plodding beat, add shimmering strummed guitars and end up with a soundtrack to an autumn sunset over a white island beach. At over seven minutes, it is not a moment too long.

“Books and records new wave and disco”