Tuesday, 9 December 2014

When the cider starts flowing

I’d quietly started sipping the apple juice in a boogaloo bar on the other side of the street – I guess they were still putting out the chairs in The Red Hedgehog – because I was uptown in Highgate to see the ever wonderful Euros Childs ‘in concert’.  A sudden blast to the end of 2014 – a new long player (well 32 minutes or so) from the man himself and a series of dates to accompany the release of Eillaaig. 

The Boogaloo bar was once the haunt of Shane MacGowan and his brand of roogie boogie - his picture was on the wall – he was by the fire – he wasn’t on fire – I guess that would happen though – accidentally set himself alight – on an any given night.

The cider was strong in there. And when the cider starts flowing there’s only once place we’re going. To see Euros Childs in an intimate venue across the road.

The cider was flowing there too. All bottles from off licences sold at twice the price for a good cause. In fact a heady mix of strong cider and the eternal waft of a lit joss stick greeted my arrival to The Red Hedgehog. For some reason I chose a seat which pretty much meant I was looking at Euros’ back for most of the night. Just like the poster advertising the tour.

It would have felt a little odd to be seated right in front of him. You know Mark Chapman like.

Now - you know my unwavering bias for Euros Childs. So this review of sorts will simple tell you to go see him – buy his new album – and ask him to make another one – so we can all do this again next year.  So here goes – as I said the cider was stronger than me – I hope to recall the night the best I can.

The support act for tonight was Euros Childs – so it was two sets for the price of one. Never knowingly undersold is Euros. So the first set was the new record by. An odyssey (and oracle) of piano and words – like watercolour brushes dipped in water – trails and swirls. The new album -  Eillaaig – which I presumed was welsh – well he’s from another land this man – is actually a made up word – there is no translation there is only it’s fixedness to this album. It doesn’t translate to any world language – but then again Euros seems otherworldly at times – all angles and twitches – spreading utter joy wherever he lands.

This album is other worldly.

The album has this Satie/ repetitive/ Brian Wilson/ Mozart triads (that’s not a gang – I’m talking about the notes) discordant subtlety throughout it – mixed with sentiment and feeling. Of walks and old buildings – wood and smoke – it kind of conjures up the air – you feel like you’re outside when you’re listening on the inside. The piano is taut – crisp like winter mornings – but slowly filling with warmth as your cheeks begin to glow in icy sunshine.  Simple bass notes – holding the ethereal floating top end in place – not letting it drift away.  It’s full of honesty – and reminds me of arriving in halls for ‘singing practice’ dusty floors and piano masters (sorry that makes me sound so public school – it was comprehensive schools in Scunthorpe I’m referencing here – just so you know – I mean it maaaaaaan)

It’s classical in so many ways – possibly conceptual.

The Red Hedgehog was probably the right place to play. It had this awkward honesty about it to – all woollen hats and slight confusion. Euros seated at the far end surrounded by red chairs and candles and general tat – pushed to the back. The majority of the new long player is instrumental – you don’t always needs words. And besides we’d get those in the next half.

Suffice to say – It was great to hear this – without already hearing it first – a bold move on Euros’ part?  Not really – I think his audience – and it’s always growing – this night was sold out after all – I think his audience can take the risk too. You are always pleasantly surprised/ satisfied by his music making and I’ve been playing the album every morning since hearing it that first time.

It is my winter warmer.

So with the album played and hands clapped – Euros departed in readiness for the second set. It was costume changes and roadies testing equipment whilst we waited.

It wasn’t. It was an empty piano and more joss sticks. 

I don’t think there was a costume change – but there was an ‘entrance’. Appearing from the back to rapturous applause Euros was back (and of course my view was his back) to play some more – to put the soul in the rock and roll (or was that Denim?) This wonderful set mixed the old and the new – with his usual humourous insight and meandering tales we are accustomed to as part of the Euros audience – as I said there’s a gentleness to this star performer – that comes out in a humble manner – but he does make me laugh. He could do an ‘in conversation with…’ evening and it would be just as fun. Ok – well nearly as – because when Euros breaks into Ursula’s Crow (can you break into Ursula’s Crow – he’s not Elton John milking the masses?) you remember that it’s the songs that make you sing and grin.

He has that touch – light and airy meets well timed delivery. With a run through of some of the wonders of Situation Comedy (Second Home Blues and Tete-et-Tete)  and Summer Special (That’s Better ) and the majestic Ends (the Open Window, Spin that girl around, Parent’s Place – you can find how that song gets me elsewhere in my writing about Euros) And a thankful  outing for Bread ( I don’t mean we stopped and popped to Gregg’s) all baroque and crust – one day Jonny will release a second album – Euros said so – it might be the Joe Meek one.  There was How Do you Do from Son of Euros, Dust from the Cousins album and a wonderful version of Pretty Ballerina by The Left Banke that nearly rounded off the night. Euros should do a covers album at some point. You know it would be beautiful.  Euros even waited for a member of the audience to get back from the toilet. Well that was me – I told you about all this flowing cider and where it leads. And besides there was only one toilet – the other was screened off – for the rock stars I guess – or possibly because of the plumbing.

Euros finished off the night’s proceedings with a glorious uproarious Poodle Rockin’ finale. And that was it. Huge applause and shuffled chairs. Out into the bracing night air with a (miracle) grin and a wide eyed stare.

I don’t think I can make the later London shows – it feels treacherous – but there are young ones to look after and presents to buy and wrap and turkeys to feed and crackers to stuff or something. You never know – I just might find myself there.

An evening with Euros is somewhat irresistible.

Buy his album.  Buy all his albums. You even get a note from the National Elf himself. And elves like to make us happy at Christmas (or summat like that) 

I haven't got a video of the night - so here's a link to Euros' sound cloud site: 

And a lovely version of The Open Window

Friday, 21 November 2014

NWA (Noise with Attitude) Part 2

‘I'm going down to the place tonight,
To see if I can get a taste tonight,
A taste of something warm and sweet,

That shivers your bones and rises to your heat’

You see Jim always puts it best. 

Arriving early at The Troxy – in the scuzzy end of the east of London – where gentrification has yet to set in. Limehouse was an apt place for the return of the mighty JAMC – this wasn’t central London west end and bright lights – it was on the periphery – standing at the edges – but not wanting to get in – instead looking out. Leather jackets turned away from the surburban and mundane.

When I first heard Psychocandy – courtesy of my brother – it felt like the most thrilling piece of vinyl for a long time. At this point I had an understanding of who Spector was, rock n roll was played in the house – I liked it  - but here was rock n roll for my generation (not theirs) it was full of energy and anger – confrontation and isolation  - bravado and moments of doubt. It took the scowl of Lou Reed and wedded it to a maelstrom of white noise. It was coming from the tough streets of Glasgow – it was frothing at the mouth and screaming from its lungs. It echoed my steel town boredom and hormone fuelled adolescent – spotty kids playing guitar licks.

Jim and William felt like me and my brother – except we probably didn’t fight as much. But there was that insular – extrovert thing going on. And it’s evident tonight – whilst Jim’s upfront, slight swagger and confident (in parts) – William hangs in the wings – turning his back on us and towards his amps – his screeching and wailing emanating from his guitar is his only communication.  He’s Ron Asheton to Jim’s Iggy.

So tonight at the Troxy it’s the return of Jesus and Mary Chain - back to their beginnings – who McGee declared the ‘best band in the world’ way back in 1985. Would they still be? Can a set of outsiders  from Glasgow – now embraced  by the mainstream – still astonish the world?

The evening starts back to front or ‘upside down’ (see what I did there?) – they’re always contrary these fucking scots – aye – I’ll just do it my way – so they do - opening with ‘encores’.   From the opening chords of April Skies it’s clear that they are here to take no prisoners. They are going to assault the ears and lead us right into a mess of sound. Whilst the sound is loud it’s clear that William is controlling the intensity. Jim’s not always clear in the mix – but it isn’t muddy - just brutal at times – and never more so than on Upside Down – a song I never thought I’d hear in a live setting – I was 13 when that single emerged in 1984. I am 43 now.  It still rattled with chaos – as Jim forever upending his microphone stand – paced and prowled the stage as William layered the sonics and filled this wonderful venue with a snarling noise.

Then it was on to Psychocandy.

From the  opening promotional film for East Kilbride  all shot through with flame as the celluloid burnt and warped  through the jump cuts and repetition of motorbikes, youth, buildings, hands, fights, decay and blurred shapes and swirls the JAMC are here to entertain.

Those expecting Douglas and Bobby to be in the line-up may well have been disappointed - but it’s fair to say they left way back then and have pursued their own rock n roll dreams. So we might not have the iconic two piece kit but we still have the brothers Reid and that Spector beat to bring is in and hold us enthralled for the next hour ( I know the long player is only 43 minutes – but we had to clap you know)

I often return to Psychocandy – I’ve been dipping in over the past 30 years. It’s still raw and honest and surprising. The Mary Chain were my Velvets, my Stooges, my MC5 – I hadn’t heard those bands at the point Psychocandy emerged – well maybe the Velvets but the other two I can honestly say were not part of my record collection. They would come to be - because of this band.  And this combination of metal machine music with the ‘ba ba baas’ of sraightfoward rock n roll was revelatory.  You couldn’t predict that sound. You have to remember this was Wham time, Culture Club and Live Aid. We’ve got Band Aid again – right now – and right now we’ve got The Jesus and Mary Chain. They’re not trying to feed/ change the world – it’s just pop music (with an edge).  And oh what an edge – this felt out of nowhere –it felt juvenile but understood it’s past – yet they were dismissed as a ‘band who couldn’t play’ and  because when no one takes you serious - that makes you feel so dangerous – and therefore anything goes.  From bedrooms come great dreams and schemes – couple this to a defeated working class and a riot strewn landscape then the JAMC’s brand of desolation blues was bound to chime with some of us.

So here it was tonight- in full aural glory. This was a run through from track one to track fifteen ( see that pop pickers – 15 tracks – value for money) As I said it was controlled chaos – I saw My Bloody Valentine way back when – and they were just too loud – lost in the mix – not creating aural landscapes but just causing hurt.  This was explosive – but with modesty – it didn’t take over – Pyschocandy is a testament to the tunes that were played here tonight. The feedback is not added  - it’s integral to the sound – that ringing sound uh huh huh.  William is riffing and revving and the five piece are in full flow from the start.

This looking back to a seminal album does not mis-fire.

I am a moving and a shaking throughout. And I’m in the seats above. God knows what’s happening on the dancefloor.  It’s hard to pick out a moment with a concert like this – you kind of dive in and suck it all up. You experience it – maaaaaaaannnn.  But I guess ‘ In a Hole’ felt special – evoking that frenzied appearance on the Whistle Test and the first time I heard it in session on Peel – that’s my Mary Chain special one – and then of course there’s  'Never Understand' and 'Taste of Cindy' and, and, and. So it’s all buzzsaws or chainsaws and scowls and screams – Jim’s frontman posturing still hypnotic despite the thirty year gap – his voice was great – as I said hidden at times in the mix – but powerful nonetheless.

And then with the brief ‘ It’s So Hard’ (the only one that I feel sounds like it may have come from ’85 – with its Bunnymenesque bass and guitars) it’s over. It is all over.

Game Over – and it was.

When Psychocandy emerged it was a game changer – it would ultimately lead to the Gallaghers and Radio One’s embracing of the independent scene. Culture isn’t the same as it was – it never will be. We don’t do nostalgia here. This wasn’t nostalgia tonight - this was a revisit of one of the greatest rock n roll records ever made.

No swindle was involved.

Here is Upside Down - courtesy of Plastictoy1 - he or she captures the intensity

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Here's to lots more dots: The Pale Blue Dots

I received a copy of Lots of Dots through the post the other day. It’s the new (long) player from The Pale Blue Dots. Actually it’s the first long player from The Pale Blue Dots. It was good to see that the thinking, the talking and writing has finally paid off. I was beginning to doubt whether any of this would ever surface and run its rings around the world.

If you don’t know already – because these things get around town – by word of mouth, internet ravings and rumours and releases – The Pale Blue Dots are Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford and Richard Chester. Richard is one of my best friends – is my best friend. Good friends. We’ve spent some real good times together and I’ve always appreciated his musical ear(s). Bunf was known to me through the Furries – and that pretty much makes him a musical genius – there hasn’t been a band like the Super Furry Animals before or after. They captured that freeing of sound the 90s let in – briefly combining rock and roll with psych and soul all topped with chemical beats and treats. 

It was Welsh independence writ large for the masses with guitars and furry suits. And here it is again - without the suits but just as experimental.

As you know – I have had access to part of The Pale Blue Dots for some time and have been raving and raging about them for two years now. Ever since Richard sent me Additional (which is yet to see the light of day) a tune all awash with Jeff Lyne, flourishes and strings I have felt this band had a finger somewhere on the pulse of rock n roll (that's the widest definition of rock n roll - you could just call it music) So where to begin? I should do some sort of plodding Mojo review – two paragraphs and a press release. Give four stars and bang it up. But I think it deserves a little more praise than that – but then I am a bias fucker.

This is not an extension of the Super Furry Animals. It isn’t even a solo project – it’s a bit more complicated and I think this first long player reveals it. Its textures and hooks and riffs and rolls coupled with openness and playfulness. It’s the pleasure of listening.  It’s clear that there is an interaction between the two worlds – Bunf’s is different to Richard’s but that shared connection – that understanding is evident in the straight pop boogie of Devastation through to the wonderfully evocative Nebraska.

You can’t quite put your finger on it. It isn’t conceptual – yet there’s a thread running through it. We have references to West Coast psychedelia (Slow Reaction), through soundscapes and Asian melancholia mixed with the funky drummer (Tokyo Hotel Silence or Silent Tokyo Hotel – which had my daughter smiling  - she just loved the idea that the two pieces were essential the same with muddled words) coupled with ramalama Bolan/ Bowie infused boogaloo (Devastation) eighties production and early synth experimentation (Look into my Eyes)  to the wild plains and haunting twangs of the prairie as dusk falls (Nebraska).

And it all works together. From start to finish it evolves and lingers – causually working its way from the short term memory to the long term.

Its an experiment in getting inside your head.

Guitars are distorted and loud, it's full of clangs and chimes  - then things are suddenly strummed and simple – they are sounds in themselves. And you can see that both of these fellas love sound. You can see that they 'get' sound. They get down to 'sound'. (The Sound of the Crowd)

I guess we get a glimpse of what’s inside their heads. It’s quite dark at times. You might keep it upbeat but No Motivation references that sinking slide into busily doing nothing but sleeping. Put that with Slow Reaction – which from its opening piano riff lodges itself firmly in your brain and you’ve got a band struggling to articulate and do.

Except it isn’t.  Because here’s an album full of potential pop hits. Produced by Cian at the Strangetown Studios - there's a lovely space and groove to it all. I mean that I really do. As I said previously these are older fellas writing music for the masses.  There’s a touch of Nilsson, of Alex ‘Skip’ Spence, Jeff Lyne (and his dark eyes) Spector and early electro albums and of course if you really want to you'll hear a nod to the Furries. Bound to - really. Oh and Daf is playing drums.

It's a wide-ranging album and whilst the focus will be on Bunf - this is double labour of love - for both members. It surprises and asks for a response. When I first heard Reach for the Keys – I didn’t get it. It seemed so overblown and vibrating with empty halls and the echoes of children’s voices – with a rolling nursery rhythm beat. But as with all these tunes they have legs – they have feet – they grow. And it's haunting opening - sort of reminiscent of the Tales of the Unexpected - Roald Dhal making earworm pop - soon lodges itself in your brain. Bunf's simply delivery coupled with found sounds and talk - after a few listens I was happily singing along.

Aquarium could be the missing link between the last SFA album and these Pale Blue Dots. Creeping closer now it gives you the creeps. Bunf's vibrato is quite extraordinary. There's a fragility amidst the lush orchestration - as Bunf dazzles his partner with his 'Admit One Extra' pass and get's her in for 'free now baby'. Meanwhile Richard's layering the strings like the bastard son of Barry. Super continents collide my friend.

And what a great collision this is. It's good to have Richard and Bunf together.

You know I was worried about Lots of Dots dark unnerving cover – a little girl slaughtered as a lamb sits by her side. I mean what should I be reading into that? Or it could just be a broken ornament – found in any home across the land and tipped over through excitement and stupidity. You know it’s just a cover  - but there's an undercurrent to it - a subtext. Something which rings out on this (way to short) long player - take Look in to my Eyes - it's all in a look. Concentrate. Something's lurking in this song - something's lurking in this album and I like it.

You know we might miss the Super Furry Animals and I’m not holding my breath for a reunion – although it would be great.

But let’s give this credit.

Let’s give them all credit.

They can all write fucking quality tunes - Gruf, Cian, Daf, Guto and Bunf – with each other - apart - or here with Richard Chester.

I hope this release is the start of something new. I know there are more songs  - lots more dots - absolute crackers - but as first releases go - every tune is great in its own right.  And if me and my kids are singing these songs in the car - then I know you will be too.

They're having a blast. So let's join in.

Lots of Dots is released on StrangetownRecords on November 3rd.

The Pale Blue Dots are in session on Monday on Marc Riley's show from 7.00pm

You can listen to The Pale Blue Dots here.