Monday, 19 December 2016

The Rise and Rise of a Northern Star

I have been meaning to get this down for some time – in fact it’s nearly four weeks ago – and many things have happened in between – but so it goes. I don't write for the NME - I write for me. Anyway - sometime back I ventured to Camden Dublin Castle to see The Stella Grundy Band.  You remember Stella don’t cha?

Stella is a legend. Simple as that really.

Previously and still part of the Manchester ‘scene’  - heady on the music scene. She was part of Intastella. That sudden burst of ‘new pop and soul’ that Manchester is wont to do when it suits. You know just be that little bit ahead. There’s always something going on those cobbled streets.

Now I was a fan of Intastella and The Twist. If you ever had the inclination to read half of my writing on here – you’d know about me and Tony O. You know how that story goes. But I don’t think I’ve written about Intastella – I probably first heard them through a recommendation from my brother Paul – it normally starts there – but it could also have been through those Goldsmiths’ student union days ( daze) all mixed up mates and swapped music. I think there was a lad in the year below – he was in Ariel – they were from Manchester – some of them went off to be The Chemical Brothers – it may have been through conversations – I can’t quite recall – but what I can recall is being struck by the psychedelic shuffles and squelches and this floating honey sound – this sort of lilting voice - all soft yet  - well I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But they looked great – Stella was a force to be reckoned with – I remember listening in to a BBC Radio One live show and back then technology could or most likely would let you down – Stella was having none of it – and let the BBC sound engineers know what she thought. It was great listening for the anarchist in me – not so great for the BBC.  Stella’s still got that steel.

She’s open and honest. Yet you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. I imagine it’s fairly difficult to make it in the ‘business’ as a woman. 

As a star.

As a Northern Star.

And now here she was again. Full on and ready to take on a crowd who didn’t quite know what to expect. A mixture of beards and bomber jackets – hipsters and those who might need hips replacing in a few years. We were a good crowd. A crowd willing to be entertained.  Stella was taking the stage before the ‘headline’ act – Unknown Pleasures – a Joy Division tribute band – we are clearly living in post-modern times maaaaaan.

Saying that Stella’s already re–represented the pop star via her stage production of The Rise and Fall of a Northern Star. It’s quite difficult to disentangle Stella/ Tracy at times as the room bursts with sound collages from Tracy – snatched quotes and lines  - who’s up there on the stage?  Nonetheless what this show does – and it is a show – a show a strength – of resolution – of good times – of  groovy times – is allow Stella to play to her strengths – her skills as a performer. 

She’s has this magnetism  - she begins to command the room – to make them pay attention.

We are treated to selections from Stella’s wonderful album ‘The Rise ad Fall of a Northern Star’, tales of excess and longing – of being in a band – existing. They are delivered with fury and humour – Stella’s vocals mixing wonderfully with electronic grooves and bubbles and bass. Absolutely solid gone. There’s a direct dub lineage in all of this performance – the sound is wonderful – aggressive and loose. Throbbing and delightful.  Guitars screech and delay whilst electronics boil then simmer in this (insta)stella mix – and everything is held down by expert drumming – blending triggered samples and machine beats to the real – this band are incredibly tight – uptight – out of sight.  I hadn’t quite expected it to be this way – there’s pop floating through it all – but you can see the dark side – the excess within – taking the whole thing up a notch.  This is not nostalgia but it looks back at the  ride Stella’s been on. It’s not always been an easy one – sometimes she’s had to carry a heavy heavy weight.  They don’t play Heavyweight tonight – Stella said that it’s because they are working on a new version – I hope it harks back to the early incarnations of the tune – it’s a belter – and I’m definitely coming back to see it played live when Stella and her clan return. Finally we have an old Intastella tune in the mix ( for their No.1 fan) – Skyscraper – a towering dnb floor shaking fest as Stella and the band bring the crowd ever higher – write to the top of the tower block.

They only play for 30 minutes

Stella and her mighty,mighty,mighty band could have played for longer.  The crowd were in the palm of her hand and there for the taking. But you know the adage – keep them wanting more. They do want more. And I am certain Stella will continue to deliver.  

In some ways the whole night was an odd one – here we had new exciting sounds taking hold – a new Manchester excursion – demonstrating its roots –and growing new branches – whilst the final ‘turn’ of the night was a Joy Division covers band – they could probably get a slot on the ferries – it was old Manchester – well at least a vision of it – and don’t get me wrong they were alright – and I’m sure there’s a fan base – but it’s not Ian. It isn’t any of them. That happened in 1979. And then it came to an end. I listened to Joy Division in my bedroom – I was 11. It paved the way for this. For connecting with new sounds. 

Stella is making new sounds not treading old ground. 

She’s not just a Northern Star you know.

She’s simply a star.  

You can buy her album here

And you can listen to this right now. 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

How to destroy rock n roll - an evening with The Telescopes

They make fucking noise.

The Telescopes make beautiful fucking noise.

It's been a while since I was actually in New Cross. I pass through it - but don't stop there so much (can't stop, won't stop) - not since those heady university Goldsmiths' daze. Which is pretty much where The Telescopes came in. Okay - I first found my love for their sonic shakes whilst living out life with a bowlhead and bag on the mean streets of Scunthorpe - a northern town to bring you right down.  The Cheree realeased Kick The Wall - summing up all that teenage frustration in guitars and screams.  On hearing Stephen and Co's cacophony I decided that I liked it and wanted to taste a little more - and I pursued it with abandon in my early university time.

So I set about going to a number of gigs of theirs - early days for them and late nights for me. It was clear then - as it was with tonight's concert - that The Telescopes take no prisoners. They just play hard motherfucking rock n squall - and that my friends is exactly as it should be. Early Telescopes had that Iggy/ Stooges/ Spaceman thing going - no down tempo numbers full on sonics and screams.

I sent letters - mainly to Jo - and Stephen as well - interviewed them for a fanzine - jumped myself silly at gigs - supported them in Hull - watched them play with The Mary Chain and then slowly I stopped listening for a while. It was those repetitive beats - pulling me somewhere else.

But now here I was again waiting for a set of something - and to be honest I wasn't expecting it to be that hard - that brutal - but I felt challenged and that's good - it makes you think - it makes you question music. And as that's my bag - tonight's Telescopes - so different to years gone past - but so bloody-minded and similar in repose and attitude - did just that. They destroyed rock n roll for all around and simply put it back together in layers of reverb and hate.

The day was billed as a Psych All Dayer  - but I was making an evening of it. I tend to end up at these things on my own - my 45 year old set don't go in for this type of abuse - so I arrived for a set from Black Seas - a five piece Jaguar guitars and tweed sort of thing - they had noise and jangle - a touch of early valentines and a singer prowling and sending deep reverberations around - I guess it was a Nick Cave type thing - but with none of the presence and he was wearing a Nike t-shirt - so I'm not having that. You've got to put some effort in.

This was followed by a transcendental trumpet and electronica pyschedelic workout by two blokes under the name Hirvikolari - they started with dub echoes and bleeps and pretty much kept it that way as a colossal twenty minute beast was unleashed with modular pulses and repetition. I liked it - I liked their style.

Next - Melt Dunes - young psych upstarts - with loud guitars and hair - I quite like d them to be honest - a bit Sabbath - a bit of this and that - but their was conviction and a sense of  show - some youth down the front showing that he dug it - I liked that - this band will have fans - they will show their appreciation. They finished with a cover -  and I can't remember it's name - but it was fantastic - all
repetitive and shouting - they will certainly make some memorable records.

And then to The Telescopes - this brooding thing - slowly lumbering to the stage from the caves - finally alive and hungry. Stephen has been ploughing this field for some time now - incarnations of The Telescopes - forever looking further and beyond the now - exploring new space with a set of like minded 'cavemen'.  This current line up found Dave Gryphon on three stringed bass - 'Why would I need a G?', Stuart Gardham ( I think - but I might be wrong) stretching the sonics through six strings and John or Jon hitting the skins - warrior like - in control and controlling. Stephen spends most of the night crouched down - kneeling on the stage - listening and adding - sending his vocals spinning out and out into space ringing around and around - merging and melding into one noise - one beautiful noise.

If truth be told - I didn't recognise a song - there was a fella and his wife  - had waited all day for this - he was wearing a Chapterhouse t-shirt - he didn't stick around - they weren't playing the hits. Not that that would be a bad thing - The Telescopes have an army of tunes - they just decided that this wasn't the place to play them - or if it was - present them in such a manner that meant they became something else. Feedback jazz - was my bag that night.

It's hard to describe the sheer force of this group - it is not noodling or sonic fuckery for the fun of it - it seems to me that they actually want to push the limits of sound. I was on such a buzz on it finishing - it felt like I'd been fought with - punched and dazed - half the crowd had made it through the door - pushed themselves away. It was confrontational pop music. I can only imagine it must have been like witnessing Suicide or Throbbing Gristle for the first time.  It was not for the faint hearted. It wanted to fucking eat us all up - but there was subtlety and simmering within - at one point with all members fallen to the floor pushing their instruments against speakers and stage - vibrating - shaking - as Stephen howled down the microphone there came about a point of sudden bliss coupled with an expectation that we had hit new heights - that rock n roll was dead and somehow it needed to be saved - it needed raizing from the dead. And all that we had learned came crashing down in that sound - it was offerring a new perspective on these South London streets.

The Telescopes were asking us to think - in this nostalgia fuelled era (of which I'm completely guilty - but I mean it maaaaaan - I truly do ) they didn't represent the past - and sell t shirts and CDs of glory days - they simply put that aside - they continued to breathe new breaths - new life and grew into this. I turned 45 this year - why should Stephen be stuck being 19 - we've all moved on. I'm glad I took th etrip back to past memories. I left New Cross just as the Venue crowd were lining up to get in. Times have changed - I first met Duglas from BMX bandits there - I got the feeling that the BMX Bandits would not be on the Venue's playlist tonight.

So why stick with the past?

I feel Stephen an Co are still trying to explore what can be done - they are still kicking against the wall. Even if it means that they don't necessarily play 'Kick the Wall'. Do you get me?

You should try it though actually having a night with The Telescopes. It's modern. It's vital. It's music pushed to its limits.

It's a fun night out.

One from the new long player 

Friday, 17 June 2016

These things have not happened

This is a list of things I have not done. I may get round to it. I do like to write. I never have the time. 

This will remind me. 

I have never written about Andrew Weatherall
Ultra vivid Scene
Lush/ pale Saints
The Sea Urchins
Public Enemy snd power of funk
De la Soul and teh death of the D.A.I.S.Y age
Remember Fun and why they never get a mention 
Syd barrett / Pink Floyd
The Smiths
The Telescopes and Lincoln
Buffalo Tom and the pre grunge time
The Lemon heads
Pixies at Brixton 
Razorcuts and jangling guitars
Sarah Records……properly
Fanzines and hate
The Essential Mix in the early 1990s in Darryl's house or Nick's car
Ministry of Sound and losing it
Strictly Rhythm
The Small Faces and why I fell in love
A Tribe called Quest because they are wonderful
The Bridge House Hotel and Scunthorpe scenes
Cassette tapes and falling in love
The Stone Roses and why the Second Coming was welcomed in this house
Oasis and Blur becuase I was at Knebworth selling programmes
Bill Drummond and the KLF  - except when I talked about it being Grim up North
Sodden streets and eclectic beats ( because that sounds like a good title for a post) 
The failure of Morrissey to ignite a shred of passion
All the mods that you see and growing a beard like Godley and Creme
The World of Twist (again) and not getting Earl Brutus 
Intastella because they were fantatstic
Ocean Colour Scene because Moseley is a good place
The Gardening Club and heavy beats and sweating walls

Wearing red cords and hearing Eddie Flashin Fowlkes deejay

There's more. 

There's always more.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The death and possible rebirth of pop: Animal Collective in hip London times.

I can't think how music actually exists these days. None of it makes sense. I think the time is right for bailing out. I don't actually understand it anymore. It's beyond me. I tried getting a handle on it and then it kind of fell away. There's too much out there - it just rings and sings and buzzes and fuzzes and i don't get it anymore. I don't know where to start listening and hearing - i don't know what I like anymore. You can stream this and that - you can start here and here and end up there - you can't settle for long enough to just listen. 

And then you can't write because some fucker is putting it up with samples and soundscapes - podcasts and v-logs - I haven't time for all of that

I just wanted to write, about bands that moved me - but it isn't enough - in a stream of making this pay for that and that 

I ended up at The Troxy this week ( or last week) I was there to see Animal Collective - I'm a fan of Panda Bear really - but fell in love with the electronic analogue hub and rub of the collective along the way. I wasn't a fan way back then - but i am now - post post merriweather and all that. 

So i arrived - all excited - Painting with being one of the best things I've heard this year - in a while to be honest (bar anything related to Euros Childs - because - well he's kind of it really - absolutely guaranteed to affect and effect in this house) The Animal Collective animal truly is a work of wonder and fun - all switched harmony and playfulness - pop and psychedelic in the truest form. 

So I arrive - rushed and unkempt - late afternoon meetings about this and that rolling still in my mind - grab (my coat - grab my hat) a sausage roll from Sainsburys - i live off pork - animal selective maaaaaaaan.  Eventually getting to the change of venue - pack them all in on one night only (the Bush was closed) and made my way upstairs - unrestricted - but difficult to hold down a seat when you're on your own - which is pretty much the case these days in rock venues - in any venue really - i don't talk much - it all comes out on here - in here - another beer? 

Which brings me to this. 

A band from the stable of PC Music - the pin up star or some such shit GTOFY - opening - supporting - or ruining the night before the collective came and semi- saved the idea that music is something to fucking care about.  You see - I don't fucking get it anymore - this Verrucae Salt on crack routine - this Aqua meets the Chipmunks thing - this being taken the piss out of thing. This is not cutting edge - ironic - we can say racist things and just laugh it off - this is the fuckers who Jarvis fucking warned us about now making music. They don't even pretend to mix with the common people. Cameron's fucking daughters - this isn't some fucker with dreads dabbling in reggae - this is cunts with trust funds making a mockery of all that came before - they are despised - not misunderstood - absolutely despised - and when Avey Tare gave it the big shout out - part of me couldn't really give a fuck anymore. 

I have gone beyond my limits. I have had enough. 

But to do justice to the beauty of Animal Collective - I will write this down. I know I'll write again - but it's kind of an audience of one. To be honest if it's today's pop pickers reading this - they wouldn't get past the first paragraph - they'd want this post as an Instagram pic with filters or some such shit. 

But for now I'll try and recall the beauty and wonder of Animal Collective - an inventive and resourceful band of lysergic experimenters and adventurers. Arriving to greets and whoops Animal Collective settled behind banks of electronic cables and dials and faders and keys - alongside a drummer too - he was a little higher up beating majestic time and rhythm to the sonic tinkering down below - Panda Bear on the left (audience wise) Avey on the right and Geologist right in the middle - headlight on and easily spotted. 

Opening with Natural Selection their set slowly grew into a shimmering bleep and harmony monster - controlled and indulgent but appropriate and exciting all rolled into one. At first I wasn't sure how the building was holding up to the sound theatrics - whether the vocals were drowning the melody but slowly and surely they started to meld into one organic thumping beast of a pure pop experience - an animal in itself. Blending skillful harmonic interplay with machines - a soul driven electronic pop workshop - pushing musicality and redefining the pop experience. The majority of the set was drawn from 'Painting with' - a long player that has caused some fuss online in comment sections under videos - I think it's absolutely sublime - well realised - less prog noodles and over introspection. It's a new pop statement for a time when pop has pretty much died ( Christ- I witnessed that in the choice of support - i know I should get over it - but I think i'm scarred)  

As they drop Golden Gal - I'm twitching and a rocking in my seat ( I was high up - it happens at my age) - a song with a sonic thump and squelch - radiating through the wonderful setting of The Troxy - coupled with a set of carved faces and projections and pulsing lights - it's clear that Animal Collective want you to have an experience. And if truth be a told an experience was had - so different to their recordings as songs emerge and sounds becoming melodies and voices begin to rise and rasp over this sampled electronic back beat (and boy do they use it) 

And out of this futurism emerges a nod to the past - Jimmy Mack - all covered in reverb and rhythm as Avey sends out a melancholic message of loss - of hope that maybe Jimmy might come back.  There are nods to the past elsewhere as well - older tracks from Feels and Post Merriweather Pavilion sit comfortably in this pure electronic handling of all material - this band has no guitars - they are not needed now. 

Perhaps they never were. 

It's interesting how all this looks - Geologists nodding - Avey whooping and being lost in the moment  ( kind of like a possessed music teacher) and the Panda Bear holding his mic - in what seems like a nervous disposition until his voice soars and swoops in (endless) harmony with Tare's deeper tones.  I know you're not meant to mention the Beach Boys - but that's why I rate them - they push the relationship with music and voice and that in my opinion this deserves to be discussed in the realms of a post Beach Boys age.  It really is The Orb meets Wilson 20,000 leagues up in the sky. Repetitive melody and heartbreaking harmony. I love it and it nearly restored my belief in the power of sound to change the world.  Nearly. 

And then after The Burglars - they are gone. There's been lots of wonder and awe on between. But for now they leave the stage. Not for long. Lights kick in - they assemble in that slacker Kraftwerk manner and offer us Daily Routine into Alvin Row ( a song from years and years ago) updated for the masses - who respond with rapture and cheer. 

Finally - the beat begins to kick in and those Floridada sounds emerge - a song so instantly catchy that as I depart the crowds are simply humming and singing - unknowingly - unwittingly - because it just lodges in the brain and whirls around and around. 

It's a fitting end to the evening - the song captures the sonic thrill of this collective mining of pop - it's irresistible - filled with hooks - veers into psychedelia and still remains of the past, present and future. 

Which is pretty much what Animal Collective do. 

They are all past, present and future. They are not ironic. They don't preach or try to challenge preconceptions - they make music. 

They make music with heart and soul.

They are a wonderful band to have in these dark times. 

Here is a great performance from 6music - it will get right inside your brains.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Dreamers: A Night with the BMX Bandits

Independent pop music in 1986 was genuinely that – it was independent – fierce in spirit and attitude – it was not part of the plan – it was immediate – simple and available from the right record shops or fanzine networks and tape exchanges.  I remember those times with both happiness and fondness. It was a time of awakening and feeling accepted – or not feeling accepted and knowing you weren’t the only outsider.

Not that I was an outsider – a loner – that was never my bag – give me a slightest hint of an audience and I’d be performing to it – liked the sound of myself see – clearly I still do – or I wouldn’t write this.  Yet 1986 was a formative time for many.  I was 14 – nearly 15 – growing up – the weight of the world sitting heavy on my shoulders and then along came all of these bands – shambling as John Peel said or jangly this and that – as various music journalists coined it. One newspaper  - the NME put some of this emerging independent experimentation together ‘on tape’ ( I’ve got it on tape – well a tape of the tape)  they called it C86. 

 As a rolling stone of  a tape it gathered momentum – it’s now viewed as a pivotal moment in defining an era – it didn’t feel like that at the time – it was just a tape with some songs on it that the NME gave away that week – some of them were shit songs ( you decide?)

However as the apocryphal story goes ‘this tape’ begat all other indie bands from that ground zero – thus we have that tape to thank for fucking Slowdive or The Chesterfields. (joke – natch)  However – it’s fair to say there was a lo-fi revolution taking place – The Smiths had opened our eyes  (another apocryphal story) and now out of that re-appreciation of rock n roll came these bands with 'soul' - not all about the hits but rather these bands were making something with integrity. It didn't matter that many of these fledging singles sounded cheap - under produced - it was all about existing - perhaps being on the outside of the mainstream - but here you could set the agenda.

The BMX Bandits have always been on my radar – not quite central – but there – pinging away – I know they are there - do you get what I mean? It turns out they’ve been there for thirty years.  I first met Duglas in South London – it was at a Teenage Fanclub gig at the Venue in New Cross (now home to three floors of independent sounds and lots of covers bands) but at that time they used to put on bands.  I was talking to Norman Blake or whoever and Duglas was there.  We struck up a short conversation about the magic of Brian Wilson.  

HE talked about SMiLE and promised to send me a copy.

He was true to his word. 

He sent me a tape. I don't know where he'd got it from - but it was such a lovely thing to do - he track listed it and put on a few other Beach Boys gems too.  It took another twenty-five years before I could thank him properly - via the wonders of the web (wonderweb?) and connections via cables.

There's something about that attention to detail and wonderfully openness that Duglas and his 'family' of Bandits have that can easily be mis-read - as twee and past it - or creepy and calculated - but if you look close into Duglas's eyes you can see he's been 'for real' since their formation. This is no novelty act. Tonight the 100 Club will be witness to another extension of PuNK (it's where it started maaaaaan) - that freedom to do just what you want to do.

Before the BMX Bandits - we have The School - a seven piece mish-mash of the Shangri-las, Motown, Spector, Beach Boys, The Pastels and dare it say it a C86 vibe - there's a craft in this Cardiff based troupe - horns and xylophones - pianos and guitars - layered vocals and sing along ding a lings - they are perfect in their own right. Reaching right back to the past to come up with something new. They are not twee - they will take you out in the underpass. You should all check them out - I will be doing so again.

And then this thronged crowd witness a beautiful pop performance - finely tuned and honest in its approach. Having read the piece in The Guardian previously – maybe it helped shift that perception of Duglas as eccentric rogue – and placed him in that rock n roll list of tortured artist – confronting his demons on stage through the simplicity of songs like ‘Your Class’. He's the Bellshill Brian Wilson - he even has the hand gestures to match.  

Love and mercy, indeed.

We are party to the wee talks from Duglas peppered with his observations and ultimate belief in love. His talks are funny - he is a funny man.  He eats an apple - he eats a boiled sweet. He plays the kazoo.  He gives us his best tunes.  It's a testament to this band that you can put a song as magical and wonderful as 'Serious Drugs' four songs in and know that you've got belter after belter left for the crowd. 

We are party to a pop band with tunes that should have been high in the hit parade.  I'm not going to try and describe the sound - but this is pure pop craft - there's a nod to the past  - you can't write songs like this without referencing Spector and Wilson - but there's so much more hidden inside Duglas and his Bandits heads - listen to the howling guitars of 'Kylie's got a crush on us' or the Ramones meets The Shirelles stomp of my favourite song of the night 'I wanna fall in love'.  Duglas and CHloe are in fine voice - they swap and harmonise all night - all sixties glamour and well tailored suits. Then there's the beauty of 'The Day before Tomorrow' were Duglas is joined by Sean Dickson (previously of The Soup Dragons) on omnichord. It's quite poignant really - Duglas tells us the tale of choosing their name and how him, Sean, Jim and Norman phoned up Eugene (from The Vaselines) to tell him their choices - how he hated the name the BMX Bandits - so they stuck with it. - and now here is Sean on stage once more with his boyhood pal - they hug after a riotous E102.

Pure class.

And then they are back to tell us of the injunction they have had to get to stop Kylie following them - cue Kylie's got a crush on us and then a blissed out Witchi Tai To to round it all off.

Glasgow in the early eighties must have been an exciting time - oh to be at Splash One. But you know I didn't need to be there - because of it - I've had a chance to hear those beautiful dreaming minds - Duglas, Norman, Sean, Bobby, Stephen, Rose,  - what a gang - what a set of groups.

What a bunch of beautiful dreamers.

It was a pleasure to be with Duglas and his Bandits in The 100 Club.  It's important to be reminded of the power of love. Duglas sings from his heart to yours and makes it seem that everything will work out right in the end. 

Anything is possible in Duglas's impossible dream.

BMX Bandits are thirty years old.  Here's to another 30 years.

Here is a wonderful song from the night - thanks as always to Ruth for capturing it

And here's one from The School