Monday, 17 January 2011

Trish Keenan

Last Friday afternoon I learned the devastating news that Trish Keenan of Broadcast had passed away earlier in the day. I haven’t felt so distraught at the death of someone I don’t know personally since John Peel died. On the bus early Saturday morning, I listened to ‘The Noise Made By People’ again. As with all of Broadcast’s albums, I played it and played it when it came out, but haven’t listened to it for a while. The drifting, gently otherworldly songs matched exactly with my view of headlights smudging the twilight and London landmarks looming out of the murky grey morning. When ‘Come On Let’s Go’ came on, something about the way Trish sings the word ‘go’- her ‘Hello children everywhere’ singing voice cut with a hint of Brummie – was really upsetting, really brought home the fact that she’s gone.

I’ve been listening to Broadcast a lot the last couple of years, their last release, in conjunction with The Focus Group, ‘Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age’ was utterly perfect, from the sleeve art to the incidental found sounds to the esoteric influences of the songs, and the accompanying hauntological videos, it seemed to chime with my current interests, and Trish seemed to embody all that was intriguing about the record. I don’t have many ‘role models’, but Trish was one, a woman with a real fascination for and love of odd and obscure musics. Interviews with her and Broadcast partner James Cargill would reveal a rich seam of interesting records, films, books and artists I could then go and investigate. Even better were the Broadcast Radio Mixes the pair put together, full of weird and wonderful Library music, Radiophonic clips, spectral folk, curious electronica etc. Earphones in, I could walk around in a world haunted by Broadcast’s charity shop, crate digging finds. It was great to see a woman fully immersed in what’s usually seen as a geeky bloke’s universe. Women can be geeky about music too. And Trish managed to be geeky and look cool at the same time, her style mutating from second-hand 60s dresses to priestess of a beat coven. Last year I couldn’t resist buying a dress that was on sale in a musty ‘vintage’ shop on Holloway road. I thought of it as my ‘Broadcast dress’ because it looked like something Trish might wear.

Lately, I had been eagerly awaiting a new Broadcast album, excited to find out what path the band might take next, wondering whether they’d explore further the experimental territory they mapped out during the improvised first half of their 2010 Ether Festival performance. I’m so glad I got to see this, their last London show, it was the kind of concert that thoroughly absorbs, takes you on a journey, so that when it ends you look about blinking, feeling like you’ve woken from a lucid dream. I’m going to keep with me the image of Trish, abandoning her table of analogue synths for one song to take centre stage, singing in her pure, soothing voice, gliding backwards and forwards whilst a monster projection of her shadow veered across the back wall, the mesmerising focus of the ritual.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Loves / Standard Fare / Evans the Death, 4 January 2011, The Lexington

Ah the Winter Sprinter. Remember this Track and Field curated annual gathering of schmindie-minded folks? It wasn’t just the usual London gits snuffling their way into the New Year with a bit of beer quaffing and band scrutinising, but people making a right proper effort from up North and that (all hail the couple who came down from the outer reaches of the Scottish Highlands in order to see Herman Dune or some such and who looked at us in disgust when we said we couldn’t be arsed travelling as far as Kilburn). It was an ace annual lark wasn’t it? Well here we are again at (Not) The Track and Field Winter Sprinter. Fortuna Pop! have proudly taken up the first-thing-in-Jan-pop-fest baton and are waving it excitably in our Christmas-dulled faces. Yay! But also Gah! Headliners Shrag have had to cancel due to illness. But then again Hurrah! we get to see a band we ain’t seen before instead.

That band is Evans The Death who are all v. young. Look at their little fresh faces – the bastards. They play a crackling selection of popmental songs, with Katherine’s loop the loopy, sweetly gulpy voice the cherry on their wonky cake of tune. Topically, for Katherine has the sniffles, they play 'Catch Your Cold' “for anyone who’s had flu or a cold in the last month” (i.e. everyone). Then there’s ‘Morning Voice’ in which Katherine displays the opposite of a morning voice - not at all croaky and grumpy, but swoopy and catching on little hooks. Meanwhile there are two lots of guitars going clang-a-lang-a lang-a in a whizz-your-heart-up-in-a-blender jangling way, plus a lot of young person’s hair to marvel at. One guitarist has Douglas Hart’s old JAMC hair. The drummer has that sweepy hair that boys have, (a style described, brilliantly, on Achewood as ‘a sideways, microwaved Byrds wig’). The bass player is magnificently gingery of mop. They also have a song called 'A Small Child Punched Me In The Face'. Good one.

Standard Fare charge through their set at a lightning pace so singer Emma can catch her train. We feel bad about detaining them with all our selfish listening to their songs and watching them play and stuff, they were expecting to be first on the bill and out of here by now, so their haste is forgivable. In my head I sort of know I like Standard Fare, but every time I see them I’m always thrilled by just how ace their songs are. Emma’s voice, with its tiny throat-catchy crack, is just the right kind of slightly hurt-sounding. Smiley-faced guitar-strangler Danny is always a joy to behold as he cheerily coaxes out tricksy melodies and skewed chords. A race through the Long Blondish ‘Fifteen’ and they’re done. Bye, then.

This may be NOT! The Track and Field Winter Sprinter, but the T&F spirit is kept aglow by the presence of Mr Paul Wright in the DJ Overlord’s box. He plays some fine rippin’ tunes, from The Bodines ‘Therese’ to a big old chunk of Nuggets garage, so the between bands sounds make for mighty fine listening too.

It seems that the people who say this kind of thing are suddenly all going ‘Oh I think I like The Loves now’ after many years of barely concealed indifference. Well it’s too late ‘cos the band have nearly finished their ‘career’ for good. We are pleased to have been witnessing their spectacle in all its myriad forms since they started. Tonight we get The Loves in competent yet entertaining mode with Simon Love and his moustache playing ringmaster to the band’s rock ‘n’ roll circus. There are tracks from their new album mixed with old faves like ‘Xs and Os’ plus added mid-set horseplay in celebration of drummer Jonny’s birthday. Tonight, being a school night, The Loves line-up does not include singer Jenna, so the lady voice sections go to Alice who gets to sing the foot-stampingly catchy ‘That Boy Is Mine’ as well as swinging her shiny locks o’er her keyboard.

On 'It's...The End Of The World', the part of Jesus (yes) is played on the album by a real-life Velvet Undergroundman Doug Yule. Here, tonight, on Pentonville Road, the part is played by the aforementioned Paul Wright who has the good grace to stand on stage like a goon until he is required to say his lines. This messianic role is initially offered to Bob Underexposed, but he declines to creep the boards for some reason (sanity?) As ever The Loves live experience is a thoroughly enjoyable bubblegum beat happening. Sadly, chances to witness it are rapidly running out.

Comet Gain / The Loft / Veronica Falls, 5 January 2011, The Lexington

Night two of NOT!! The Track and Field Winter Sprinter and, unlike last night, the Lex is packed early doors. There’s a noticeable contingent of hipster kidz, perhaps here for Veronica Falls, a band who have managed to endear themselves both to the oldsters - by sounding like bands did when the oldsters were youngsters - and to the youth by cleverly being young and presumably cool (who knows what’s cool with the kids apart from showing your pants/bum area?)

Veronica Falls begin by singing acapella three part harmonies that are all lovelee, folky, roses-and-morning-dew-ish before they get ripped into with a beat, beat smash colourburst of feisty popness. Those harmonies continue throughout the set, buzzing around the jangling guitars and bumpy drums, they’re one of the things that set VF apart from your usual jangle, smash, lalala indiepop thing and makes them extra special.

All of their songs are fabulous; Beachy Head, Stephen, Found Love In A Graveyard, have a nervy, rumbly vibe like Beat Happening running down a hill. Classic pop tunes of our time forming before our very eyes! There are covers, too but they don’t quite have the Veronica Falls pop-kick of their own songs, fewer layers of sound maybe? It’s still good to hear ‘What Goes On’ though, as it reminds me how this used to be my fave Velvets song and how we used to wig out to it at the Basement in Brighton (RIP). That’s the problem with VU covers, it’s always nice to hear ‘em, but never as good as hearing the originals. We get another cover, ‘Starry Eyes’ by Roky Erickson which works better as it’s further removed from the original and more um, Veronica-y with its rattley tambourine-topped drums and twinklingly strummy dual guitars.

Each time I see this band they seem to have flourished further, and as this set comes to a close, I’m already looking forward to my next Veronica Falls gig – their fabness seems to be increasing exponentially.

The Loft's Pete Astor is apparently an academic these days, and he certainly looks the part, in hip-prof glasses. Happily he and his fellow Loft men attack their back catalogue with ferocity, showing that old geezers with old songs can still be vital and relevant and not dull old liven-up-granddads searching for their glory days. Astor and Andy Strickland’s guitars crackle. It all goes a tad mid-tempo in the middle, but never mind ‘cos here comes ‘Why Does The Rain’ whee! I love this song and drift into a haze of ‘ooh it’s 1986 blimey!’ jangle-dreams. The old-faves-ometer is revved up further for set-closer ‘Up The Hill And Down The Slope’ which is fleet and firey and sets Comet Gain to dancing in the corner and waving their brollies in the air like they just don’t care. Which they don’t…

Sean Fortuna Pop has given Comet Gain weak beer in an attempt to keep them sober long enough for them to ‘headline’. I’m not sure that ruse has worked so well as they amble on and, by way of an introduction, David Feck sings a rambling stream of (un)consciousness in an amusingly feeble meandering voice…but then they’re off speeding into ‘Say Yes! To International Socialism’. Woo! Comet Gain are never less than highly entertaining even if they barely play a note, but when the songs come whooshing in like this and you’re caught up in their righteous, indignant flow there’s little that can touch them. Of course there’s plenty of dipshit arsing about in between songs, at one point Feck is tortuously tuning up until Jon Slade decides, “That’s good enough for this song”.

There have been murmurings about how Comet Gain are an odd choice of headliner, which Feck addresses by comparing the evening to an episode of ‘Come Dine With Me’. We’ve had the exciting starter of Veronica Falls – ‘scallops and er, kiwi fruit’, then the delicious roast dinner main course of The Loft and now the ‘disappointing dessert’ of Comet Gain, like ‘custard with skin on’.

But then there’s ‘The Fists In The Pocket’ making your stomach rollercoaster and your ears pop, and Ben Phillipson coming along to add vocal harmonies and the whole set sounding scratchy and angry and punk scuffed.

The audience shouts out for ‘Movies’ to be played as an encore, to Feck’s consternation as he can’t remember the chords. The band starts playing anyhoo leading to some very amusing non-remembrance of chords irritation where Feck keeps hissing at the band to stop playing and they ignore him. Eventually the right chords find their way back into Feck’s brain and out of his fingers and the song grows and warps, morphing into, amongst other things, ‘Mr Pharmacist’ until it is finally laid to rest. Feck miraculously manages to do a sort of outro to proceedings sung in the same wavering voice in which he began. Poetic symmetry.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Albums of 2010

Teatime Favourites – Betty And The Werewolves

Everything And More – Dolly Mixture

Phosphene Dream – The Black Angels

Mind How You Go (Revised edition) – The Advisory Circle

Cursed! - The Specific Heats

Rough Trade Shops Psych Folk 10 – Various

Voice Of The Seven Thunders - Voice Of The Seven Thunders

Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter

Before Today - Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Innerspeaker - Tame Impla

Steeple - Wolf People

Skit I Allt - Dungen

Life! Death! Prizes! – Shrag

I Will Be - Dum Dum Girls

Shadows – Teenage Fanclub

Dream Get Together – Citay

Crazy For You Best Coast

Celeste – The Soundcarriers

Places - Hong Kong In The 60s (download for free! at Bandcamp