Monday, 26 May 2008

Somewhere - The Hot Puppies (Purr Records)

Ooh, you can't accuse The Hot Puppies of having no sense of pop drama or a lack of sparkling ambition. 'Somewhere' is an expansive fantasia of a song that sees the band grabbing you by the hand and flying out across the rooftops to meet your fairy-tale self. Its a song of diamond stars winking above darkened treetops, of chasing dreams and catching them on the other side of the rainbow, of making you use words like 'gorgeous' and 'swooning' and 'these kids are crazy, but I love 'em!'. Its an insanely epic flight of fancy and if it doesn't get your spine tingling, you are clearly clinically dead.

Singer Becky embraces her inner fairy princess, her voice swooping and soaring above an enchanted forest of sound. She's a knowing Dorothy in a 21st Century Oz (no coincidence that the way the first word is sung echoes the opening of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'?). Click your heels together three times and let the almighty pop woosh carry you to "somewhere we can build our fires and find a new way to be young."

Available on ltd edition 7" vinyl from

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Blow Up Records

Blow Up – we’ve all done our hip wee mod shoe shuffles down at Blow Up at some point in the club’s history. Be it at the (long gone) Laurel Tree in Camden when the place was clogged with members of Menswear and Spanish mods questioning me closely on the make of my scooter (er, the non-existent make). Or at the (also long gone, hmm, there’s a theme emerging here) Wag Club, grooving to the bands and clambering up and down the stairs. Or possibly even hanging out after a Saturday night gig in the stinky (literally - the place smells of toilet cleaner) old Metro. But, you know, Blow Up do records too! They’re a record label with all sorts of eclectic musics to choose from. Lets have a look, eh?

Baltic Fleet is a road movie of an album. Not a sun-dappled, rolling out along the blacktop dose of Americana, but something more European and cerebral. Written by keyboard player Paul Fleming whilst on tour with Echo and the Bunnymen, the album works beautifully as a series of sonic snapshots, moments snatched and captured amidst the flurry of life on the road. Almost entirely instrumental, it’s a collection of musical mood pieces that spin from thumping beats and harsh electronica (‘Double Door’, the Nordic drone-rave of ‘Reykjavik Promise’) to delicate flickers of sound eked out sparingly (the ruminative ripples in a pond of ‘Pebble Shore’). The tracks that do deal explicitly with the U.S. still sound European. The graceful ’48 Hour Drive (Boston)’ is soothing, speaking of grey dawns and foggy eyes, of endless miles being eaten up in a mesmerising blur. ‘To Chicago’ with its flashes of female vocals is other-worldly and drowsy and gorgeously Neu!-ish.

Opener ‘Baltic Intro’ is essentially a drum solo with wibbling, wooshing noises, trains rattling down tunnels and Will Sergeant’s guitar samples. Don’t get the fear though, as this is followed by ‘Black Lounge’s’ serious motorik pummelling, a delicious autobahn beat straps you into the song nice and snug, like a Krautrockin’ safety-belt and you’re away. There are all sorts of sonic textures to be tempted by - wooshy, beepy bits; fair helpings of echoy, shoegazey guitar strummage – the sumptuous, staring out to sea kind; portentous piano playing; luxuriant soundscapes to lose yourself to. This is 21st Century Kosmiche musik, a round the world trip you can take with your eyes closed.

Cosmic shenanigans of an entirely Other order come courtesy of The Bongolian (aka multi-instrumentalist Nasser Bouzida). From the title, you may be forgiven for thinking ‘A Psychedelic Trip to Outer Bongolia’ is nowt but a cheeseball goof-fest, possibly even a goofball cheese-fest – kitschy lounge doings of the sort made ‘popular’ for two seconds in the late nineties by the likes of Bob Downe. But, hurrah! that’s not what The Bongolian is about at all. This isn’t easy listening for ironic twatsters, this is galactically groovy space soul. There’s a lot of hard-core Hammond action, great swathes of funky organ twiddling demanding you immediately cut a rug. ‘Feel it’ is The Spencer Davies Group kicking it in tin-foil space-suits. ‘Rock Me’ is snotty sixties garage spun into orbit, stomping along on a dirty bass-line, then weirding out amongst the stars with some oddball whirry bleeping sounds. ‘The Horn’ switches pleasingly between a sweetly summery organ riff and sinuous 70s cop show funk. ‘Space Meter’ is a low-down, hip-swinging psychedelic astro groove that Primal Scream are wishing they thought of. ‘Paris Colonade’, sounds like a breezily sophisticated spin around the city and we’re promised Holly Golightly is somewhere on the track amongst the Gitane-tinged ‘la la la las’. ‘Marimba Down At The Hare’ contrasts elegant, almost Japanese sounding marimba playing with some slippery jazz piano.

All this, the album sleeve urges you to note, created in an entirely sample-free environment, with a spot of backwards guitar where needed - just like in the olden days when tricksy playing and a canny ear was all the eager sonic explorer had to hand. And a primed set of bongos, of course.

Mockingbird Wish Me Luck are yet more Swedes going pop! Orchestral pop with a wee nod to Belle and Sebastian in their stylings to be precise (check their record cover design).
Their album ‘Days Come and Go’ is chocka with rinky-dink tunes that fill out into sweet-hearted, expansive sing-alongs thanks to some nifty instrumentation. There’s mariachi brass expanding the songs into super wide screen sunset anthems, folkily baroque trills of flute, ice-cream tingles of glockenspiel... Mockingbird Wish Me Luck are an eight-piece band and they sound like it.

Centre-piece song ‘Days Come And Go’ packs all in all of the above and chucks in a massed choir of voices for good measure, ensuring that epic sweep is full-on. “Take me out tonight, take me somewhere where someone cares” they sing, lyrically echoing The Smiths on ‘Let’s Watch The Sunrise’, a catch-in-the-throat, banjo-plucking pop lament soothed smooth with brass and percussion. ‘Step In Concrete’ lilts along irresistibly, twinkling amongst Afro guitars, topped with a trumpet solo. ‘New Beginnings’ is made for doing an indie-pop quickstep too. ‘Summer Again’ winds up with a Camberwick Green music box whirr built from banjos and glockenspiel, toyshop pop. By the time ‘Days Come and Go’ has been and gone, you’ll be fully summer-shined. A pop album for picnic days and warm nights of dancing with all the windows open.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 9 May 2008, Hammersmith Apollo

Much has been made of the revitalising effect of old Nick’s nasty old Grinderman project on The Bad Seeds repertoire – the way playing bone-crunching raw eyed swamp rock has fired them up. Certainly the latest Bad Seeds album, ‘Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!’ sees our Dark Lord in a playfully rockin’ mood (and using the punctuation of an excitable twelve year old girl). So as we settle into our circle seats, feeling quite young in comparison to our fellow audience members (all traces of past gothery erased – these are nice mums and dads reliving their big-haired youth), we wonder what delights there are in store. Surely the band won’t be able to surpass the last time we saw them - a sublime mix of the devotional and the deranged, complete with gospel singers.

Whomp! Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds hit us right between the eyes from the get-go and don’t let up for two hours. They are spectacular, filled with a ferocious lust for life, booting their older songs up the arse and dragging us by the hair on a rip-snorting ride around the new album.

The Bad Seeds are on top form – men who mean business. Aside from Mr Cave himself, Warren Ellis is the obvious star of the show. Looking like a wild eyed prophet who’s just staggered in from the wilderness, crazy old man beard and hair a-flurry, he wrenches diabolical shrieks from guitar and viola alike. You’ve never truly seen a man play viola until you’ve watched Ellis terrorising the instrument. Who knew you could treat it like that? During ‘We Call Upon The Author’ he’s on his knees, supplicant in front of a crazy guitar/mandolin thing alternating between torturing noise from its depths, pounding on the floor with his fists and going into unlikely backbends to reach for the microphone.

Wire-thin, managing to carry off a look that no fifty-something man should really be attempting, Nick Cave is squeezed into a tight jacket, pinstriped kick-flares and pointy Chelsea boots. He looks like a character from ‘Yellow Submarine’. Later, he emerges wearing a skinny-fit ‘Dig…’ tee-shirt plundered from the merch stall and Good God he looks amazing; rushing frenziedly across the stage; cavorting out to tease the front row of the audience; hurrying back and forth to bash out a few notes on his keyboards; doing crazy Cave-esque hands-above-the-head disco belly-dances. He even goes for the full-on rock-out factor by strapping on a guitar for odd numbers. This isn’t the Cave of reflective sojourns behind a piano that’s for sure. The man Entertains. And that’s before you even get to The Songs.

‘Tupelo’ rumbles stormily, complete with a vast, thunderous night sky as a backdrop. It’s screamy and sweaty and full of thrillingly intense viola desecration. ‘Deanna’ is full-on vaudeville, a crazy-eyed clap-along. ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’ takes up the music-hall thread, the audience encouraged to join in with its half-camp/half lamenting refrain of "Oh! Mama!" which they do with gusto. ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’ rollicks around menacingly. ‘Let Love In’ is given a Johnny Cash make-over, in the way Johnny Cash gave ‘The Mercy Seat’ a make-over (a song, incidentally, conspicuous by its absence tonight – but really, there’s such an embarrassment of riches on display here its presence is unnecessary). ‘Today’s Lesson’ and ‘More News From Nowhere’ are both unspeakably groovy in different ways (one a Stooges/ organ-funk swagger, the other laconically swinging).

Cave introduces ‘We Call Upon The Author’ thus, "Check this out. This is worth the price of admission alone." He’s right, the band ransack the entire history of garage rock, funnelling it into a hypnotic hurricane of a song, before cracking it with white out blue-funk NoiZE. Jeez, no wonder they need two drumkits.

There are few concessions to Cave’s sublime oeuvre of big bad ballads, we get ‘The Ship Song’ (squeals of joy from the audience) and the ever gorgeous ’Into My Arms’, but that’s really not what tonight is all about. To prove it, the set ends with a double flourish, ‘Hard On For Love’, as nasty as the title suggests and a terrifying ‘Stagger Lee’, the stage illuminated blood red, Cave screaming at the top of his lungs. Argh!!

Here’s ‘In The Ghetto’ with a young Mr Cave looking thoroughly skagged up, but damn! totally cool. See how beautiful he is with that magnifique explosion of hair? Who knew heroin was such a great conditioner? Man, what a crime it is that that hair is slowly being lost now. Can’t we get a preservation order slapped (no pun intended) on it? Luckily, thanks to the cannily cropped press shots and artfully framed videos (the edge of the frame always seems to come just above Nick’s eyebrows?) we can try to not notice the obvious and keep our memories of those raven-tressed glory days intact.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Tamborines / Roy And The Devil’s Motorcycle – 2 May 2008, Dirty Water Club

It’s been a while since we’ve been dahn the Dirty Water Club, and in our absence time seems to have progressed. It’s no longer 1967 with the garage / psych kids in the back of The Boston Arms, we’ve fast forwarded a decade and the place in crawling with ye olde punk rockers – there’s a blue mohican on display and everything. We clutch our drinks as Johnny Throttle do their unreconstructed punk rock maniac skinny body thing across the stage. Johnny Throttle's singer is that crazy bloke who used to be in The Parkinsons. Maybe this is why these punksters are here? They don’t seem all that interesetd in proceedings though, nor in The Paper Dolls who are girls in the garage rock ’n’ roll ladies (and mans) from the USA and rattle along entertainingly enough. Meanwhile, The Tamborines are feeling a bit unnerved by all the punker-ing, what will they make of The Tambos’ Velvets-JAMC-Feedback-Psych smash up?

Next though, it’s Roy And The Devils Motorcycle. Tinkering around their MySpace page, I learn that they are ‘three guitarist brothers [who] grew up in a Swiss mountain village. Soon after moving to a larger town with a 'rock club', where they first saw Spacemen 3 and some other sonic pioneers of the time they got immersed in the energy of garage punk and primal rock and roll’ Cor! I’ve been looking forward to seeing them and Christ on a bike! they’re stupendous!

Roy And The Devils Motorcycle look like they don’t give a shit about anything much, a motley gang just mooching onto the stage and then casually locking into these huge outer spaced, hypnotic drones laced with evil feedback, guitars churning and wailing. They do monstrous thousand yard stare grooves driven by nasty ragged garage blues, whiting out into the stratosphere. It’s utterly captivating. The band’s Spacemen 3 influences are easy to espy – there’s a hobo spacerock cover of ‘May The Circle Be Unbroken’ – once also covered by Sonic and Jase – and a song that takes up where the Spacemen’s ‘Suicide’ left off, building an unhinged fireball of sound.
These are exactly the kind of spaced drones we want; raw and menacing and going on for a very long time so you can get properly lost, not someone making floaty noises with a few distortion pedals and thinking they’re the new My Bloody Valentine. Woohoo! Roy And The Devil’s Motorcycle are the mostest!

We haven’t see The Tamborines for a while and here they are with a new old drummer, i.e. the drummer they originally had before the last drummer and the drummer before that. He seems like a very nice man, especially as he kisses me on both cheeks continental style when we’re introduced. He can sure whip up a storm on the old Dirty Water drumkit as well. This heavy hurricane thump is most in evidence on The Tamborines cover of Beat Happenings ‘Bewitched’ which they whip into an evil hoodoo of voodoo sound, Lulu scowling ‘I got a crush on you, I got a crush on you’ cattily. It’s nice to see her take the lead on a song, managing to look menacing whilst stationed behind her keyboards. As ever, the band kick out a magnificent electric storm of noise laced with pop art beats. Even the punks appreciate it.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Harmonia – 19 April 2008, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Tonight is the first! ever! live UK showing of the marv and legendary Harmonia. It’s only been, um, thirty-four years since these kings of kosmiche initially emerged from the Forst countryside with ‘Musik Von Harmonia’ refracting the sunlight into weird new shapes.

As we arrive, Led Bib are going Free Jazz squibbly squonk mental in the foyer. The sound they make hurts our insides and upsets our sense of balance. It makes the lady at the ticket desk scowl testily. We cower in a corner until the scary jazz has dissipated, then make our way into Queen Elizabeth Hall’s soothing wood-lined auditorium to find our seats amongst an ocean of beardy baldy men (inc. author Toby Litt who fits in well).

The beardy, baldy men and us and a small boy who has been brought along by his beardy baldy man dad are in a state of high anticipation. The stage is set mysteriously with three trestle tables swathed in black cloth. Laid out along the tables is Equipment – laptops and wires and stuff. You know the way it works with electronica – lots of Equipment, not very sexy, unless it’s olden times analogue Equipment with big reel to reel tapes and clacky bakerlite switches and dials and things. Which it never is.
Harmonia take up their positions behind the tables. Hans Joachim Roedelius is bald as an egg and wears his trousers old-man high – this is perfectly acceptable as he’s in his seventies. To the left of the towering Roedelius, Dieter Moebius is small and bespectacled. To Roedelius’ right, Michael Rother appears to have hired a younger man to pose as him.

And so they begin, stretching delicate ambient sounds out across space, choosing notes carefully. The beardy, baldy men are a bit let down. This isn’t a greatest hits thing. This is three men renowned for their mischievously experimental explorations with sound doing what they do – experimenting, improvising, building precarious structures with slivers of noise. Behind them, a screen twitches with images of themselves as younger men, in monochrome days of longer hair and lots more Equipment. The small boy is lead out weeping silent tears of boredom. After some time, a voice from the audience calls in frustration ‘Make it louder!’ They make it louder, washes of sound filter the room, techno beats thud engagingly. It’s weird to be sitting still and silent amidst an assault of such obvious dancey sounds.

Michael Rother takes up a guitar – ooh! to throw furzy, looping chords into the mix, a motorik backbeat kicks in – aah, that better. Then…more ambient drops of sound. I discover its best to close your eyes and really concentrate on each note, making each one into a little universe to be explored minutely. Time is elastic. How long have we been in here, sitting in the dark, absorbing soundscapes?

Then, finally, finally ‘Immer Wieder’ from meisterwerk second album ‘Deluxe’ ripples and flexes its way across the auditorium, yawing laconically. Beautiful. Underneath its mighty flood you can sense mass sighs of contentment. This is really what everyone came for. As the song comes to a close, too soon, too soon, the audience is euphoric, leaping to its feet to offer a standing ovation. It’s been an intriguing and touching evening.

Phil Wilson - 10 April 2008, Gramaphone

The Gramaphone is full of big grins and bobbing heads. Pocketbooks are playing back-up band to Phil Wilson who’s bashing out a pop euphoric cover of The Go Between’s ‘Lee Remick’. Next, they take on an exhilarating ‘In The Rain’ by Wilson’s olden band, eighties indie poppers The June Brides. It’s a fabulous, fun-filled, life-affirming end to a sweet-hearted gig.

We learn from Phil Wilson’s
MySpace that he has once again taken up music, performing as a solo artiste. Tonight’s gig should therefore not be confused with the brief but jolly June Brides reformation that happened a few years ago
(evidence here).
To make it even more confusing, Mr Wilson is joined by two original June Brides - viola player Frank and trumpet man Big Jon and their set consists pretty much entirely of The June Brides’ back catalogue played along to a backing track. Not that anyone here is complaining. These songs are tatooed onto our fluttering indie kid hearts. Songs that hop, skip, jump and jangle their merry way out of our pasts and back into our arms like they’d never been away. Like we’d never put aside guitars strummed with such violent enthusiasm, trumpets soaring sunbeams straight to our hearts and pop tunes that made us dance stupid steps, singing along fit to burst, ‘Lets shout out loud to prove that we’re alive’. They’re all here, those songs, ‘Every Conversation’, ‘I Fall’, ‘Sunday To Saturday’. Yay! Then there’s the teary, cheery downbeat ache of ‘This Town’ which makes me feel like someone’s walked over my grave – sort of nostalgic and freaked out and happy and sad as the trumpet line tangles its way around my heart and twirls up and over the rooftops.

We also get the Phil Wilson Creation Records solo stuff, like the fab flamenco-tinged gallop of ’10 Miles’, the wistful croon of ‘Even Now’, the country stagger of ‘Waiting For A Change’. There’s even room for a new Wilson song which fits in with the general jangle just fine, perhaps getting a bit lost amongst all the swooning over yesteryear that’s going on.

It may be pure nostalgia, but we get our pop thrills where we can. Oh yes, and can Pocketbooks always be Phil’s band please?

The Lionheart Brothers – 1 April 2008, Hoxton Bar and Grill

Into the heart of darkness that is Hoxton we venture to see these whizzy wee Norwegians fizzing out songs from their fab MBV meets the Beach Boys swirling pop feast of an album. Live, they’re more squirly shoe-gazey and less weirdly-flavoured West Coast bubblegum, but they’re still exhilarating, especially when the one that looks like a small boy dressing up as a Keith Richards new romantic pirate goes mentals with his guitar, throttling it and whacking it around all over the show, making squiddly sqaaww noises for aeons. Fun!