Friday, 18 November 2016

Sincerely, L. Cohen

Leonard Cohen was the master of raw emotion, of inspiring raw emotion. The intimacy of those early songs, and how I felt when I first heard them in callow years, remain with me. The melodies, the cadences, the rhythms so haunting and so richly unique. His music has been a constant to me - and it feels so personal, subtly powerful. He conveyed with power and with poetry: the quiet, the gentle, the majestic, the sorrowful, the lamenting, the lugubriously humorous.

MC Asher Senator @ Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, 20 October, 2016

Libraries do incredible things. Who would expect to be treated to a live reggae MC, after hours, in the reference library? And all for free.

Asher Senator is a man who influenced generations of musicians in reggae, hip-hop, R'n'B. I know he's a big deal, because when I met up with my brother - a DJ and hip-hop and dub fan who's been through the 80s and 90s - his smile said it all when I handed him a signed book! -
Asher's vibrant energy, wit, and warm personality brought the house down. A great sound system backed him as he performed old favourites.

Live performances were interspersed with fantastic old tales from his years working with Smiley Culture. Whilst Smiley Culture is sadly no longer with us, the friendship was relived via all the anecdotes of friendship in youth, starting up in music, and jetsetting. As Asher pointed out, if you were a new MC in 2016, you'd just turn up to the club with your USB stick with your backing track, plug in and go. Back then, Asher and Smiley had to build their own sound systems from scratch, lug their gear around in dodgy old bangers, and got into scrapes.

My favourite story was hearing about the duo's acquaintance with a man who owned a field of the green stuff. Cue a song featuring the lyric: 'Me no wake for 24 hour' !

These days, Asher runs a charity for kids getting into multimedia arts, and it sounds like he's doing a noble job, inspiring future generations, anew.

Asher is a joyous bloke, and it all came through with the songs, readings, and stories. Listen to the songs, buy the book!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Brix And The Extricated, Live at The Lexington, London, 4 November, 2016

My fourth time seeing Brix And The Extricated play live. [Click here for an older live review]

Tonight at The Lexington, Brix's entrance was dramatic, she sparkled from head to foot in shining headdress, glittering eye make up, twinkling gold guitar strap, and (hopefully faux !) fur coat. I have to admit to feeling emotional, even tearful - I think it was feeling overwhelmed and glad to be bestowed a female heroine, centre stage, at last. Decades of gig-going, but back in my teens and the most part of my 20s, what I would have given to have a rock goddess of a frontwoman/role model...! Chrissie Hynde has had a similarly powerful effect, in my 30s, and [I wrote about that here]

The songs and Brix's singing are so powerful. The strength of her voice, so commanding. There were only two moments where Brix lent a slower, quieter quality to her voice (as heard in The Adult Net). Primarily, Brix is unafraid to be loud and insistent, and to sing in a talking punk or rap style, and deliver everything with intent, dead serious. At one point, in a new song, she was pointing, and reaching out to the audience from lowdown, in-your-face, in a 70s punk style: confrontational, or just wanting to demand a direct communication with the audience, on our level.

With Steve Hanley's expert bass, we've obviously got another legend of The Fall. The full band sound is huge and rhythmically spectacular. Hearing songs like 2 X 4 - that rockabilly influence was one of the key things to draw me to The Fall. I'd play along, in my bedroom, with newly bought electric guitar, frantically, inspired. Now I'm dancing along, propelled in awe.

Big New Prinz is the pinnacle of the night, once again. But this time it is epic. We're led in with a slow, swirling intro, wondering what's coming next - Brix whispers the words, and we're taken aback when the song suddenly explodes into action. Winding and grinding on, hypnotic trance effect successful, the song then plays out to its end with every band member leaving one by one. First, it's Brix, and I have to smile that it's her walking out of a song a bit early and not Mark in his trademark nonchalant style. Then the instrumental chords and rhythms dwell magically, before guitar is gone... leaving only that monumental bass with drums. I think we could listen to that legendary sound all night, but soon it slows to an end, and we're left transfixed.

Watching Brix perform, again and again, as I have done, I come away feeling blessed by her confidence, self-assurance. She may be singing songs she wrote in her time in The Fall where Mark E Smith tyrannically ran the show, but now she's the frontperson, she's centre-stage. She's the star.

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!