Monday, 17 October 2016

The Future is Female

My last spate of gigs was dominated by bands with women leading or involved: Brix and The Extricated, Flatmates, Colour Me Wednesday, Fear of Men, Poetic Pilgrimage, Belly, Honeyblood, Chorus Girl, Dream Nails. And my future live plans all look predominantly female too: Brix and The Extricated, Popguns, Honeyblood, Allo Darlin, and (with luck) The Pretenders... It's damned exciting times for music. Much of this is serendipity. A new wave of female-centric bands has arisen, and I'm grateful. It's not that I'd ever consciously shun male music (impossible), as that would make no sense - it's just that it seems like there is a new mood, new opportunities, new vision.

Things feel creative for women. Music is so disparate now, music-press-invented movements are not really an option anymore. Homegrown/DIY is where it's at - which is necessary. There feels more space, more voice for women. The internet has offered more of a platform for women's issues to be highlighted and taken seriously (Everyday Sexism, Safe Gigs For Women, both excellent, vital campaigns). Fanzines/zines are being picked up by a new generation, giving new voice and spreading the word about important issues like never before. The closure of so many small venues, the erosion of corporate music media voices has left room for lots of incredible, community-instigated projects to crop up: DIY Space For London, and gigs in similarly autonomously spirited/run places; benefit gigs are back (the Conservative government are crushing funding for women's refuges, for example and projects like Loud Women gigs are raising funds).

All of this is for celebration.

'Nobody's telling me I can't
Nobody's telling me I shan't
No one to say "you're doing it wrong"
I'm at my best
I'm Where I Belong''

The Pretenders:

Sleeper's fantastic final album

Britpop revivals don't often centre on the many women involved in that mid-90s musical movement. This seems ironic as Sleeper's frontwoman, Louise Wener, famously wore a T-shirt that read: 'Another Female Fronted Band'.

This post is for anyone who doesn't take Sleeper seriously. They wrote fantastically melodic songs that stand the test of time, Louise Wener's voice is wonderfully strong, and there was that effervescence of guitars-in-the-charts, typified by those ebullient times, that hasn't been replicated since. Sleeper also wrote some tenderly sad, slowly lovely, epic ballads that really resonate even more with me today.
I've always defended Sleeper, baffled at detractors. But I never bought that third, final album - until last month. It was with a mixture of trepidation and glad, keen eye that I picked it up in Guildford Record Collector. The cautiousness was only borne of recalling the music press savaging it in reviews in the late 90s, which I'd believed. I'd always quite liked She's a Good Girl as a single, and I have it on tape somewhere. But there was a real feeling of a shift at the time, things felt a touch darker somehow. Maybe it was the serious look of Lousie Wener in the video, and the song's overall sound and mood change. I was still in my teens and I wanted the overt fun. We'd been used to the cheeky winks and knowing grins that dominated Britpop (I cringe at all that now), so this new seriousness, this maturity of sound was perhaps something I wasn't quite old enough to appreciate. I was used to instant pop, light-hearted hooks, something that inspired a bop.

I can really appreciate the shift, now. Listening, now, to Pleased To Meet You, there are still a few of the old hallmarks, like Stephen Street's chirpy, overly parpy horns and the seesaw, two-beat guitar slicing, both of which Blur also anointed their mid-period records with; plus Louise Wener singing in her wry, sly way, and all the romantic scenarios.

There's a lot more to Pleased to Meet You, though, and that's why I felt drawn to writing this blog. It's an album I'm really (pleased!) I bought. I had forgotten just how fabulously bursting with pop splendour Romeo Me, another single, was - that song is current favourite on repeat play. There are also some obviously great, pop hits like Firecracker and You Got Me, which are both sing-along perfect.

Sleeper re-enact the slow, woozy balladry of The It Girl's closing trick (Click...Off...Gone), with a slew of awe-inspiring songs at the end of their last album: Because of You (dub heavy beats, interlaced with sweet-sad strings and a really haunting vocal sweep), then there's Nothing Is Changing, which is one of those Autumnal, late-night songs that muses in dramatic melancholy. The album actually decides to end on one of their older style, all-out pop songs, with merry synths, brilliant bass, and a cracking chorus.

I can't help but feel that Sleeper - and Louise Wener as focal, vocal point - get judged far too often, and too harshly, on their more overtly (but not that frequent) 'wink and a nod' type songs - the songs about relationships that have unabashedly 'forward' choruses (how dare a girl/woman state those sorts of things and feelings!) - when the slower ballads are really quite moving, touching; incredible.

Having heard Sleeper's final album Pleased to Meet You, I feel like I really do cherish Sleeper ever more. I feel like that album pointed towards a solo career for Louise Wener - but I can't help but feel that women got fewer chances like that than the men of that indie era (maybe this will change?). It's the same with Justine Frischmann - she could have done something really cool in a solo musical guise, I'm sure. It comes to mind that maybe it was only Sophie Ellis Bextor that kept on, solo, and her band, Theaudience, were in the strange - but good - sort of lull after Britpop.

In essence: Sleeper are to be reassessed seriously, now. Reformation and a gig would be very welcome. Not only did I not get to see Sleeper live in 1995 (or 1996, or 1997, or 1998) when I was a fan, but I reckon Louise Wener ought to be recalled and influence a new generation with it. What Do I Do Now remains one of the lyrically and melodically best songs of Britpop, so I must leave you with that!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Chorusgirl, live @ The Finsbury, London, 12 October, 2016

One of the best new indie-pop bands to come from Fortuna Pop, and of recent times. I am hooked on the bright and melodic, chorus-pedal-laden brilliance of Chorusgirl, and glad of their being around right now.

This was a free gig, which also introduced me to Dream Nails, who were bouncy, giddy fun - the kind of female-gang, punk-pop we took for granted in the mid 90s. I've just been reading about their feministic drive and zine-making, which makes me love them even more.

Interview with Chorusgirl over at Godisinthetv.

The Chameleons, live @ The Crauford Arms, Milton Keynes, 28 July, 2016

Spellbinding gig in a small city - just a couple of photos of Mark Burgess for now, still need to write up my thoughts!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Love of Reggae

Better known as Prince Buster, Cecil Bustamente Campbell was a pioneer of bluebeat, ska and rock steady.

With the sad news of his passing, I felt it was high time I wrote about my love of reggae (on this blog that's mainly about indie rock). It's a genre and a longstanding passion of mine that few of my friends and family are aware of, to be honest. I've been building up a small but precious collection over the years.

I know that my draw to reggae can be pinpointed back to the reggae pop hits of my teens in the early 90s - It Keeps Raining, as covered by Bitty McLean was one of the first singles I bought on tape. Baby I Love Your Way by Big Mountain was a massive smash hit song of one of the greatest summers of my teens, a song that my classmates used to sing by the swings at lunchtime. Shine by Aswad was another perfect August summer's day burst of pop. All this gloriously upbeat, warmth and all these lilting, bass-happy, love songs being around grounded me in my love of reggae.

Maybe what cemented it all, was years later, after turning to guitar music, getting into The Clash, feeling and appreciating reggae's influence and also their use of dub bass and reggae time signature in their punk songs. The Clash's cover of Pressure Drop was pivotal - and many of the songs on the band's first album too (particularly, their version of Police and Thieves - although I'm aware that this wasn't received well by Jnr Murvin and Lee Perry - and their own White Man in Hammersmith Palais. In their later catalogue, of course, the almighty Guns of Brixton, surely their pinnacle feat).

The legendary imprint, Trojan Records brought out some superb boxsets of compilation series, really accessible stuff suited to the curious beginner. There was Rock Steady, collections of Dub and so on. Those boxsets were 3 discs, and came cheap, between £6 and £12 in shops like Fopp and HMV. Island Records brought out a great compilation called Islands in the Sun, too. They've been my education - covering great breadth of artists and versions. 70s and 80s films like The Harder They Come and Babylon were also influential to me (I even had to track down one of the films on VHS from eBay as it was yet to come out on DVD).

One book I would recommend is: Young, Gifted and Black, The Story of Trojan Records, for setting the historic scene and naming the important figures and a look-back on the context for reggae's development. I've seen books like The Rough Guide series which look useful too, for learning your stuff.

I love digging around at record fairs, discovering specialist record shops - Soul Brother Records in Putney, Honest Johns in Kensal, and People's Sound on the once infamous All Saints Road in W11. I have a few albums on vinyl, but it's a costly genre as it sounds best on wax.

I thought it was long overdue that I write a music blog post about my all-time favourite reggae songs. Mostly, rock steady, as I've come to realise that along with dub, it's my favourite genre.

Pat Kelly: Somebody's Baby:
A song that can always raise me up - and I love the female power of it, and the use of patois - Queen of The World, by Lloyd & Claudette:

Of course, Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals:

The Harder They Come, by Jimmy Cliff:

Johnny Too Bad, by The Slickers:

Dub from Jnr Murvin:

007 (Shanty Town), by Desmond Dekker:

Rudies All Around, by Joe White:

Rock Steady itself, from Alton Ellis:

And the mighty Al Capone, by Prince Buster:

Sunday, 20 September 2015

In anticipation of my first Morrissey concert

It's not that I stand by every word this man could ever utter ‐ nor that I could forgive him anything... It's the songs, and it's his voice, and how ‐ even to this day  he can be a saviour of sorts*.

That it's taken me 20 years to be going to see Morrissey in concert I can't begin to explain, but nonetheless I am excited. And it's his solo work I want to hear. I've gradually concluded that his voice became deeper, stronger, at its best after The Smiths. There is such a wealth of work, and maybe his lyrics and song subjects became more varied, and those unique and overwhelmingly great and fascinating melodies are rife.

World Peace is None of Your Business is an anthem for these times, so I'd hope for either that song as powerful opener in concert, or I can hear Kiss Me A Lot as triumphant introduction to the night:
Also hoping for Speedway as a closer ‐ those drums, those lyrics and the vocal delivery, immense:
An unlikely wild card song I would love to hear is Jack The Ripper, as I've just rediscovered/remembered how powerful it is, and how much stronger it sounds performed live:
Morrissey fever is apace. I'm reflecting a lot on certain periods of my life: unavoidably, because he helped define swathes of my life, and connected me to many people, ideas and things. I'm also reading a load of old interviews compiled in book form. I've ordered his new novel from the library, and they are going to buy it in which is brilliant.

More thoughts to follow later, I think.

  (*in the nonreligious, literal sense.)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The early albums of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and teenage summers past

I can't imagine a band as weird (and young) and experimental and exotic sounding as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci existing now. This band caught me off guard, in the mid 1990s, aged 15, enough to rabidly scrawl the band's name on the back of my homework book: spelled GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MONKEY, of course.

From haunting, childish ballads about picnic hampers, to unabashed, anthemic Welsh language jollity, to what sounded like acid trips in the woods, this band soundtracked my transition from GCSE revision to starting sixth form, and they were incredible.

I only tracked down the band's Lucy's Hamper EP in the last five years or so, as hopes of a provincial, commercial music shop selling it at the time were vaingloriously shallow... Getting hold of the band's Ankst Records releases at the time was a real coup, being where I was. I was yet to approve of my parents' record collections, so all this 70s style acid soaked folk mixed with xylophones, recorders, synths, and whatever else Gorky's felt like dabbling with literally blew my mind. Growing up when I did, I can't help but think that teens these days might not be quite so fazed (and dazed) in the here and now, what with all the accessible past. And yet, as I say, I can't imagine anyone dabbling like this, creating anything as imaginative as this. Times are so desperately drab. John Peel is surely running around kicking things over in disgust as he looks down...

The simplicity and stripped back experimentalism of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's early album, Tatay, has the sound of a bunch of young pals delighting in home recording. They've learnt their instruments, but the elements of fun and exuberance are so clear. The colours, the textures created are alive and wild.

Tatay, followed by Bwyd Time, were albums full of ludicrous songs. The band dressed as wizards in a forest on one CD sleeve served to stoke the sense of psychedelic. Cartoons of mystical elves and recruits from Puff the Magic Dragon adorned sleeves too, and I drank it all in soberly but wide eyed and keen, in disbelief.

The intro to the album Bwyd Time, of the same name, probably serves as a perfectly bizarre starting point:
As I listen to the album again, two songs in particular stand out still, and are still evocative of a wonderful summer of 18 years ago:
Miss Trudy, a wacky, dramatic, funny song about violin lessons and smashed up violins that's also a tribute in pretty ballad form.
Oraphis Yn Delphie is a fantastic instrumental song that follows Miss Trudy on the album. It's a swirling haze of brass and playful, sweet humming, simply like nothing else. Certainly not like Menswear or Supergrass!!!

After those albums came the single Patio Song, which was one of the most brilliant, vivid, lilting, alluringly tuneful singles a young teenager could hear. Totally at odds with all the brash 'Britpop' that had come before. Casually breaking into the Welsh language was a natural part of the song, and I only sang along to it more fiercely, even if I hadn't a clue what was being sung. There was no internet about then, so I can be forgiven for just going along with things, open minded, unable to decipher. Whatever it was, it was fucking amazing! Jools Holland saying of the Welsh language singing: 'That in itself deserves a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen', must have sounded like so much insulting bullshit to the band as they appeared on his show. Though it did feel revolutionary to English speakers, and exciting to me as a teenager, it was the band's mother tongue and it was more about our attitudes and our acceptance than offering a patronising 'Well done'!

Diamond Dew as a single was equally heartstopping, then I bought Young Girls and Happy Endings with its super pop catchiness, which was on the radio often. I helped both get into the top 50 of the charts.

The band delighted me so much, they were honestly a hugely pivotal part of why I chose to go and study at a university in Wales for a time.

I can't boast to have learned Welsh, but I do still carry massive amounts of fondness for Gorky's, and they remain truly creatively great.