Monday 31 December 2007

Anoraking: The Dream Turns Sour

Oh dear, the old build 'em up, knock 'em down response kicks in...

The Primitives in Melody Maker, November 8 1986:
"Yeah, we really have got an anorak and we're gonna BURN it. On stage. We're waiting for the right moment. A lot of people have been trying to bash this scene on the head recently. It's about time this 'Nice-little-anorak-band-can't-quite-play-very-well' music scene came to an end'".

Simon Reynolds (hurrah!) interviews Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes in Melody Maker, February 7 1987:
'Why do they loathe the anorak thing?

Andrew: "I can see it had its good points...before it became a defined cult. Like the way it was a reaction against Goth and the return of the hippy. And the way there's a lot more girls in bands, not just as window dressing, but as drummers and bassists."

Margarita: "But I hate the new rules and uniforms that solidify, the way that what was once a joke is taken seriuosly, so that people slavishly start wearing what Stephen Pastel has been wearing for years. And I hate this whole aura of tweeness and cute childishness that hangs over the scene."

What's "Splashing Along" all about?

Andrew: "Oh dear this is going to sound terribly anorak! It's about going to a club called Splash 1 which was this pivotal anorak club, in the pouring rain, to see this girl I was in love with...At the moment I'm considering writing a song called 'Fuck Off And Die' in order to change our image!"'

Mr Reynolds, as is his want, muses carefully on the nature of anoraked-up 'pure pop', leading to a most entertaining conclusion:

'As the second and third waves of shambling bands immitate their predecessors, we get a kind of logic of inbreeding (like pedigree dogs, the aim is for new levels of 'purity'), leading to more and more grotesque breeds. Can you imagine what the progeny of The BMX Bandits will look like?!?'

Melody Maker, September 26 1987:
'Everybody, from that scene, is crappy nowadays. How we can laugh at people's gullibility, how we can snicker over those with a copy of "C-86", amazed at their naivety. A bunch of Anorexic Krankies playing at pop; showcasing the nadir of shambling, heralding a brief new age of more fulsome student pop. So The Shop Assistants crumbled, so The Mighty Lemon Drops pegged their noses over such shoddy suggestions, stalked off and are still pegging out. What a wasteful scene, with its hollow premise and shallow promises.'

Wow, such vitirol! And for what? Why, an article on the brilliance of The Soup Dragons of course! Written by Goth King Mick Mercer in which he apparently 'finds where they left their anoraks and why they lost their innocence'. Oh the humanity!

Even Talulah Gosh put the boot into the 'scene' in Melody Maker, June 13 1987:
‘…there was no surprise that these gentle urchins were placed at the centre of the minute indie "cutie" scene. Maybe there was only them there.
Matthew, a decidedly untwee figure, has an answer, " All that is such a contrived style, and there are all these terrible fanzines with recipes for sweety sweety yumyum cake who suggest going for picnics with ginger beer and playing Buzzcocks tapes."

What can they mean? Incidentally, pictured above are a few pages from cutester indiepop fanzine 'Troutfishing In Leytonstone', ca.1987.

And then there was
'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels: a hatebomb' a brilliantly written rantzine by a rather bitter and twisted Peter - previously known as 'Pete Honey' of Baby Honey fanzine. This fanzine dripped sneering vitriol at pretty much everyone - the NME for being:

'basically SCUM, just a bunch of white do-gooder voyeurs'

fanzine writers for being:

'sycophantic paedophiles eagerly discussing Marigold's new haircut...Fucking hippies.'

the 'Take The Subway To Your Suburb' compilation;

'...when I bought it my immediate intention was to put a knife mark through the grooves of every song on the lp except 'Get Out Of My Dream...'

'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels' was compelling writing from someone thoroughly disillusioned by a micro-scopic music scene:
'All these enthusiastic sixteen year olds going on twenty-five, wearing their hearts all too painfully on their stripey sleeves, shambling as in 'a shambles', given credibility by jerks like The Legend! twittering on and dull fanzine-types without one single fucking original thought between them, who'll tell me how their summer began when they bought the Desperadoes single ("but they're not pressed in red/ so they buy the Soupies instead") all of it perpetrated by inane and smalltown attitudes and the sheer MEDIOCRITY of the likes of The Chesterfields...'

Looking at it now, it's amusing how worked up the poor love got over such irrelevant minutiae, especially when the fanzine's denouement reveals the not very mind-blowing news:

'Emily and The Clouds are two of the four greatest bands on the planet right now, along with Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain. THAT is a fact. Take that knowledge, and make your own contribution to the new soul vision. Oh and for God's sake...BURN IT DOWN'

It's still a good read though.

See Eighty Six

1986 and at least the first half of 1987 were a heady whirl of indiepop sunshine yummy fun jangly goodness. Through the 'marvel' of the Royal Mail, I plugged into the mysterious world of fanzines...blimey! there were people out there getting candy coloured pop kicks the same as me. The Legend! raving about The Soup Dragons and Beat Happening and The Primitives, Troutfishing In Leytonstone getting all over-excited and suggesting:

'...the BMX Bandits DESERVE murdering for daring to release e102/sad 12" two months after the 7"'

or going twee-mental over Talulah Gosh:

'oooooh Talulah Gosh this flexi-disc IS the WONDERFULLEST thing all summer...just like that RUSH of excitement when you were six and it was time for the jelly and ice-cream at your birthday party'

Then there was Jump Away! written by Simon Williams who ended up writing for the NME and setting up Fierce Panda records. We met him at an Avons gig in the wee tiny Suffolk market town where we used to spend Saturday nights getting our teenage kicks. Quite odd that he was there as it really was (is) in the middle of nowhere. This is what happened:

'28th March 1987
We all hit swinging Bungay and went in The Fleece for our first half. Then hit The Tuns for a second, it was a bit swirly in there though (‘swirlies’ probably best translates as ‘townies’). So into Charlies where the support band The Sick Shirts (or something???) were playing with Baz on guitar or bass or whatever wearing a v. silly wig. They were ace and rather shambly. When they’d finished we were hanging about outside and found a bloke with bleached hair selling a fanzine called ‘Jump Away’ so bought a copy each ‘cos it had the Mighty Lemon Drops and JAMC and things.

Then, then, The Avons played and we wigged on down. They were marvy, grooving with all the old faves and some kind of countryfied new ones. Yeah, yeah! ‘Is Billy There?’ twangle twangle aceness.
The Avons are hip to the beat in this sorry town, daddio. After they’d finished, we spoke to the fanzine bloke who was called Simon Williams. He lives in London and goes all over the bleedin’ place to see gigs. He’d been to see The Wolfhounds and McCarthy in Norwich last night. He had Soup Dragons badges like mine and a fab Bodines badge. He’s seen Primal Scream only they weren’t that good, so he thinks they should retire ‘cos ‘Velocity Girl’, ‘Crystal Crescent’ and ‘All Fall Down’ were ace but they’ve nowhere left to go (perhaps a little premature with your judgement there, Mr Williams?) We all talked for ages about gigs ‘n’ stuff, although Simon said he’s more interesting when he’s happy, ‘cos tonight he was sad. He didn’t know why, but he could feel the sadness overwhelming him. That’s what happens when you visit Bungay, you know.'

Jump Away!' was less 'ooh spangly popfun!' and more 'here is a semi-political rant piece about the state of indie music', with added photo-stories featuring a shop dummy. There's an entertaining piece in issue 3 entitled 'Flying The Fashionable Flag? The Independent Investigation' that rambles on for several pages randomly ranting about chart pop, indie bands selling out and 'the derisory term of shambling'. Poking a stick at what he described as 'the Subway Sector', Simon summed up the scene thus:

'Puerility! Youth! Vitality! Shortbackandsides blackplimsoles Creation LemonDrops FireStationTowers Subutteo Polkadots Ladybird campvocals SoupDragons brightcolours cuteshirts bashfulsmiles simplisticlyrics Woodentops Trumpton HeadmastersRitual satchels CamberwickGreen love Truck beguile Train brighteyes Tractor escapefromtheharshworld stripeyteeshirts childrenoftheunderworlduniteinsmilinginnocence'

And then we discovered a fellow local Pop Kid when we were sold 'So Naive!' at a gig (possibly The Rosehips??) at Norwich Arts Centre. This was exciting, as indiepop-kids were almost like mythical beings to us, not people we'd actually run into unless we maybe attended one of those iconic gigs we'd heard happened in magical-sounding London venues called things like Chalk Farm Enterprise, Bay 63, Room At The Top. But here was Mike in his stripey tee shirt and chelsea boots (and black jeans, obviously) proffering this indiepop-tastic paper celebration of all the things we loved.

There were only two issues of 'So Naive', the second one possibly even twee-er than the first, e.g:

'Mary Day by The Razorcuts still makes me cry sometimes even after all the times I've heard it. And 'I Heard You The First Time' was simply so so sad and Gregory's voice is just so perfect that The Razorcuts have to be the most ace fabby band in the whole wide world'.

Lordy! No wonder people wanted to throttle the tweesters. Part of the fun of being a pop kid was the fact that it really annoyed people though. Just when we were supposed to be grown up, when our peers were swanning around with perms and stillettoes and discussing diets (and that was just the boys - ho ho), we revelled in growing our fringes into our eyes, wearing anoraks, shaking tamborines, eating Smarties. Not that subversive, but amusing nonetheless. God bless indiepop and the fanzine nation.


Ah, The Soup Dragons! Much maligned Scottish scamps of eighties indie pop. And yet for a while there, I loved 'em. The itchy excitement of their first single 'Whole Wide World', or the chaotic splurge of 'Too Shy To Say' with it's super cute opening lines: 'I've fallen in love with the daffodil that sits upon your window sill. It gives me an excuse anyway, 'cos in truth it's you but I'm too shy to say'. 3 minute rushes that captured the adrenalised buzz of, just, y'know, being young and feeling like you could get up to any old nonsense, mess about, have some larks, sing effervescent, shouty, buzzsaw guitarred-up pop songs.

When I discovered a contact address on the back of second single 'Hang Ten' I sent The Soupies a letter. And they, or rather guitarist Jim, sent one back! This missive from Motherwell in Scotland arrived one Christmas Eve (see spiffy Soup Dragons 'notepaper', right). It was so exciting, it made my Christmas. These days I guess ver kidz are forever Facebooking and Myspacing and generally electronically galivanting with the 'stars', but in 1986 to make actual contact with someone in one of my fave indie-pop bands was a twinkly miracle.

We swapped letters some more. Jim told me about the band's plans, about new songs they'd recorded, including the sweet-hearted 'Soft As your Face':

"It's a bit of a departure for us, 'cos it's basically all acoustic guitars, sort of Freddie and The Dreamers meet The Cure (- who mentioned the bloody Buzzcocks?!), with Burt Bacharach thrown in for good measure".

There were details of gigs they'd played, and planned on playing:

"I don't know if you'll be able to go or not, but we'll be supporting The Mary Chain this Saturday at Brixton Academy, so that should be a laugh, what with the fact that there'll be over five thousand drunken people dressed in black throwing up all over the place, as usually happens at Mary Chain gigs."

I got sent badges and a couple of ridiculous photos of Jim and drummer Ross (right). The photos were all kind of raggedy at the sides. In the letter was an explanation:

"Sorry about the state of the photos but I don't own a pair of scissors."

Eventually, the letter writing petered out. The Soup Dragons went a bit wrong ('Backwards Dog') and then very wrong (the Baggy bandwagon jumping years), but I was always impressed that Jim had bothered to make the effort to write.

Sunday 30 December 2007

Why Can't We Just All Get Along? and Fortuna POP! present The Christmas Covers Party! 15th December 2007, 93 Feet East

Tonight’s premise: Nottingham promoters Whycan'twejustallgetalong? and the lovely Fortuna Pop! have invited a motley collection of their musical chums to come and play a festive bash. There are lots of bands on the bill (seventy-five ‘artistes’ altogether!) so to save us getting bored, their remit is to provide us with three songs apiece – each of which must be a cover. It’s a Christmas Covers Party!

Confusingly, the normal schimndie suspects who usually make up the audience at such events are in short supply, and the hall is filled with extraordinarily up-for-it posh people, dancing to ‘lowest common denominator crowd pleasers’. These ‘crowd pleasers’ range from the mildy irritating (‘Stuck In The Middle With You’) to the teeth-grittingly hideous (pop pap from the 80s – the stuff that drove me into the arms of indie in the first place, seeking an alternative to the crap that spewed from the charts and the radio and everywhere. We hated that music with a passion – it represented the evil Thatcherite leaching of society of any noble values. But hey, it’s alright now, we’ll just listen to it ironically. Or something). The general ambience tonight, helped along by the dodgy old music, is spookily reminiscent of the Official 6th Form Christmas Disco I attended in 1987 (there was also an unofficial 6th Form Christmas Disco where everyone wore pyjamas and there was a bar and a band and a drunk pulling over the Christmas tree, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). It’s weirding me out a tad.

Every now and then a snow-machine expectorates great clouds of erm ‘snow’ (foamy stuff that lodges on your eyelashes, rather like the real thing but more painful) over those of us haplessly standing near the front. It’s all frightfully festive with the bands gleefully knocking out some entertaining/appalling (often in the space of one song) musical moments.

Moments of genius include My Sad Captain’s sweet and breezy rendering of The Flaming Lips’ ‘Race For The Prize’. They are sparkly and jangly and cheer me up no end. Father Christmas (Oli and Clive) is in good form, entertaining us all with Christmas songs livened up with a spot of saw-playing. He’s also learned a modern pop song in order to bond with the young people – it’s Pixies’ ‘Here Comes Your Man’ sounding heart-warmingly jolly as a ukelele-riddled Country singalong.

The Jingle Belles are members of Not in This Town and Saint Joan, along with Emily Chemistry Experiment. They are pious girls, coming on angelically shrouded and halo-ed, eyes cast to heaven, the skies filled with bells pealing…until their heavenly sheets are cast asunder to reveal that The Jingle Belles have actually gone for a sort of S&M/Gothic take on the Christmas theme. Oh, hang on, they're being Madonna (not THE Madonna). They raucously knock out ‘Like A Prayer’ and brilliantly take on hoary old spook-rock number ‘Come To The Sabbat’ by Black Widow. This basically involves plinking out the song’s hippy-skippy pixie riff on a cranky guitar and alternating it with chants of ‘Come, come, come to the Sabbat, come to the Sabbat, Satan’s there’ in ever more histrionic shrieks. It is obviously unutterable genius.

More genius occurs in the form of Keytarded. Their name alone deserves some kind of prize, now add to that the fact that Keytarded are the three Bearsuit ladies dressed in ‘rollergear’ (tiny shorts), each armed with, yes, a keytar. They play a fabulously rinky-dink cover of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ that almost tops (as it were) Frank Sidebottom’s version, especially when the last chorus is rendered in "miaows" rather than, you know, boring old words.

Keytarded are joined by a duo of fabulous ‘backing dancer’ boys (out of Bearsuit), one of whom looks like a living Simpsons character and does some brilliant expressive facial work, really capturing the sensation of horror incurred when going ‘down, down, down into a burning ring of fire’. The three song rule is broken, but it doesn’t matter as everyone’s having glorious fun, especially during ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ which we all bellow along to, shamelessly. Again the ghost of Christmas past raises its head: at the Official 6th Form Christmas Disco, Fiona Riches brought along her copy of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and with much fanfare insisted on playing it, much to our indie-minded abject disgust. It’s good to exorcise these horrors.
Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Saturday 22 December 2007


Like any good researcher, I have gone back to the source material to investigate the persistent, dewy-eyed concept of C86 as a genuine 'pop movement'. The 'source material' being some old music press cuttings and fanzines I have kept carefully archived for an occassion such as this. I knew they'd come in handy eventually.
Here we see a frankly embarrassing attempt by late, not very lamented music rag 'Record Mirror' to capture the essence of 'Cutie', basically suggesting that it involves taking on the behaviour of a toddler: chocolate buttons, Winnie the Pooh books, colouring books and crayons, Snoopy sunglasses. Still at least it's grasped the basic premise behind the 'scene' - a d.i.y. , eschewing the mainstream, punk rock attitude. Buzzcocks and The Undertones are suggested as the holy grail of Shambling bands. In order to be a Shambler, the article urges you to tape stuff off John Peel, search for snake belts and paisley ties in charity shops, carry around a Penguin Modern Classic and 'perfect the coy under-the-fringe glance'. Honorary Anorak Wearers include John Noakes, Christopher Robin, Kevin Turvey and Percy Thrower (!!)

Record Mirror's pitiful band-wagon-jumping is nothing compared to the old bollocks dreamt up by i-D magazine, however. Glance, if you dare, at their 'Cuties' fashion spread. What is going on there?! According to the styling blurb, these crazy kids are dressed head to toe in clobber from Next and American Classics. It's all distressingly wrong. The accompanying blurb reads as follows:

'Also known as Shamblers or Shabbies (????!). Cuties like indie bands such as The Soup Dragons, The Pastels, BMX Bandits, Talulah Gosh, The Smiths, The Shop Assistant, Half Man Half Biscuit and even the Housemartins. Childlike innocence and assumed naivety permeate the Cutie scene - their clothes are asexual, their haircuts are fringes, their colours are pastel. Cuties like Penguin Modern Classics, sweets, ginger beer, vegetables and anoraks. Heroes include Christopher Robin, John Noakes, Buzzcocks and The Undertones. This is the bubblegum brigade.'

Note the alarming similarities to the Record Mirror piece. It's almost like i-D trawled through an old pop mag that was lying around and nicked some 'style ideas' from it.

Sunday 16 December 2007

They're MY Bloody Valentine, Not Yours

Score! Somehow, we've managed to get hold of tickets to next year's feverishly anticipated My Bloody Valentine Roundhouse knees-up/ ear bleed-athon. As far as I can work out, this will be my eleventh MBV ear-battering.
Here is a poster from the first time I beheld the majesty of MBV, at The Goldfish Club, held at Norwich Arts Centre on February 3rd 1988.
here for more. Scroll down even further and there's the bit about MBV playing the Creation alldayer, the moment 'You Made Me Realise' was first unveiled to our gleeful (painful) ears. Hip hip!

Oh yeah, and how about
here for the two sweaty nights of bliss at ULU. Everybody was there.

Christmas 1991 was extra special.
It was cold and foggy, I wore my favest new charity shop purchases - a gold lurex shirt under a pink suede mini-dress (hey, we all looked fly in them days) and tottered along for two nights of humungous building-destroying festive NOISE at the Town and Country Club (aka The Forum). During 'You Made Me Realise' I jammed my fingers in my ears and timed the churning white-out of sound in the middle. It lasted 12 minutes. I never understood how Colm kept drumming like that. It was genius. And the way Debbie attacked her bass, driving it into the ground with her whole body. That was genius. At the end we were all handed these fliers that slagged off the T&C for charging excessive commission on merch, with instructions to buy our MBV tee-shirts by mail-order. Sticking it to the man. Oh yeah.

My final date with the Valentines was 7th April 1992 at Brixton Academy, the last of three nights of the Rollercoaster tour (we attended every night, obviously). It was MBV's turn to be bottom of bill followed by Blur, Dinosaur Jnr and The Jesus And Mary Chain. I got in on a guestie, thanks to my pals, hardcore MBV followers K and M. Even so, we had to smuggle in booze. This involved huddling in one of the Academy's side-doorways in the pouring rain whilst a litre bottle of vodka was decanted into two empty half bottles that K had enterprisingly brought along. K and I then each fitted a half bottle doon the front of our troosers. Classy times!

Monday 10 December 2007

Print Workers

Here is a cutting from Melody Maker, circa 1987, by some unnamed writer, which gives quite a sharp overview of the indie fanzine culture of the time. Can you imagine a piece in today’s NME using words like ‘acculturation”? Images are of my ancient school folder, I apparently went beserk with the old graffiti-writing during English lessons. I especially like the random mention of 'Heroin' amidst the biro-based indiepop explosion.

‘The fate of fanzines is intertwined with the music for which they evangelise. Media attention for the whole C86 chimera (a lumping together of jangly feypop, Creation’s nouveau rockism and sub-Beefheartian shamble-thrash) peaked between 1985 and ’86 and, since then, bands and ‘zine writers have faced the same dilemma – crossover or exile. The “best” writers have entered the music press, just as the “best” bands have signed to majors.

The horns of the dilemma are peculiarly painful because, just as indiepop defines itself against chartpop, so fanzines define themselves against the music press, which they see as senile/corrupt/lazy/trendhopping/careerist/out-of-touch-because-metropolitan. Like the groups who seek to regenerate a lost “pure pop”, fanzines espouse “pure” writing – a gush of naked enthusiasm/vitriol unmediated by theory, speculation, or indeed any of the protocols of criticism (objectivity, balance).

Just as anti-pop needs the charts to dramatise itself against, so fanzines need the music press to lambaste for its “deficiencies” (of passion, responsiveness). Fanzines are hooked on the heady mindset of paranoia/martyrdom/in-the-know one-upmanship/exile. But as the media actually gets more and more comprehensive, to sustain that feeling of superiority means evangelising for ever more uncorrupted, virgin, frankly unlistenable musics – zines like THE ROX and RUMBLEDYTHUMP celebrate the sub-sub-Beefheartian scramble of Ron Johnson type bands, while THE LEGEND!, TROUTFISHING IN LEYTONSTONE and ADVENTURES IN BERESNIK rave about the hyper-fey romanticism of the post-post-Postcard groups.

The supreme dead end to this acculturation, this post-modern constructed “innocence”, comes with the flexi-zines. Starting with their anger at Creation for bringing out 12-inch singles (when all their band’s songs are two minutes long), fanzines like ARE YOU SCARED TO GET HAPPY? moved towards the idea of the seven inch flexi as a statement – the idea being both that cutiepop’s flimsy, tiny rush sounds best on flexis played on jumble sale mono Dansettes, and that lo-fi is a Luddite gesture against the yupwardly mobile CD-conscious sound of chartpop. What a vainglorious retreat from the future!’

Sunday 9 December 2007

The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming – Club 8 (Fortuna Pop!)

Club 8 are Johan (also to be found in The Legends and spanglingly mighty indie-pop maestros the Acid House Kings with whom Club 8 share a glittering acheyness to their at-first-glance perky popsongs) and the sweet-voiced Karolina. This is their sixth album. I’ve dipped into the band on occasion before, thanks to those wonderful curators of all things Swedey pop, Labrador records, and its nice to see them getting some UK action via Fortuna Pop! records.

On first listen, Club 8 make gentle, comforting music; the caress of Karolina’s breathy vocals, pattering beats, swirls of syrupy keyboards. It’s covered in a light dusting of icing sugar, powder perfect, sweet, slightly twinkling. Imagine a sparkling, Scandi Saint Etienne. But actually Club 8 are quite bleak, with a staring-into-space detachment to their sound. Maybe that’s not icing sugar dusting the songs, but frost. There’s a deliciously glum cast to even the ostensibly upbeat songs here, hinting at a heaviness of heart. Take recent download smash hits ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘Heaven’*. The former canters along cheerily, with a seemingly carefree, handbag-swinging breeziness, kicking its heels to, ooh, get this, sampled Tropicalia percussion. ‘Heaven’ meanwhile, skips about with thrumming bass and bossa beats before launching into a soarily jubilant little chorus. But there’s a guardedness to the vocals; listen to what they’re saying – grieving over a long-lost youth and the inevitable encroachment of death. Reading the album’s lyrics is discomforting:

"I feel tired tonight / keep me out of sight".
"where birds don’t fly / that’s where I’m going to be"
Club 8’s last words here, as the glowing synth sound fades, are "All you wanted to say was goodbye. / Goodbye".

On the band’s web site, this record is described (rather cutely) as ‘Twelve songs that’ll make you sing along to songs about death while dreaming of summer days’. Maybe it’s because I’m listening to this in December, but ‘The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming’ doesn’t immediately strike me as a summer record. If this is sunshine pop, then it’s for a summer experienced through a dislocating haze of anti-depressants. ‘Sometimes’ skates and tumbles on skittering beats and leafy synths, tripping deliciously on minor chords. The brooding, rumbly ‘Leave The North’ is suggestive of dark clouds racing across stormy skies, splashes of sunlight breaking through.

‘The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming’ is an album that sounds like warm breath steaming up frosty windows, fairy lights reflected in faraway eyes, and smiles going distant and dreamy whilst ice cubes melt into vanilla vodka. I tried listening to it on the tube to work and it didn’t sound right, it needs to be listened to in the evening, used as an aural duvet when the dark is drawing in and the lamps are lit. Melancholic medicine with a bittersweet after-taste

* Available from December 10th as free downloads at

Saturday 8 December 2007

Those who cry and run away live to cry another day: Fave Tunes October/November 2007

  • Soft Hearted Scientists - The A470 Song Swirling psych chant, hymning wonders of the Welsh countryside.Oh the joy of a new Soft Hearted Scientists album! Also, check out the way you can sing 'Postman Pat' to their lovely 'I Wanted You'.
  • Tonada Yanomaminista – Devendra Banhart Some of the ‘Smokey Rolls…’ album can be quite Velvety in a Herman Dune kind of way

  • Eggs and Chips – Manic Cough What a good mix in the morning

  • 31st Floor – The Tamborines Rahh! The Tambos at their ferociously fuzzy buzzingest

  • Love Lies Bleeding – Pete Molinari The way Pete’s voice glides up the chorus makes by mind skip a beat.

  • Run Away – Super Furry Animals SFA deliver another perfect pop moment non-shock!

  • See The Light – Sound Carriers The hazy sound of sunspots on faded photos, and dandelion seeds drifting on sultry breezes.

  • On The Drip – Freelovebabies Ex-Spaceman proves infinitely more charming and entertaining than his more notorious erstwhile colleagues. Make sure you see Will Carruthers play live.

  • Disintegration – Hong Kong In The 60s Broadcast-tinged gazing out the window wistful wonderousness

  • Candylion – Gruff Rhys The ultimate comfort song. When I’m sick I want Gruff Rhys to come and sing this to me whilst stroking my hair. Or even when I’m not sick.

  • Sister – Horowitz Delightful fizzbomb fuzzpop from Stoke-on-Trent Razorcut-alikes

  • King Of England – The Hot Puppies Poutily funking bassline carries The Hot Puppies on a victory lap of the pop universe.

  • Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind – Vashti Bunyan Stately Loog-Oldham orchestrated winsome popstrel swoonings.

  • The Coldest Night Of The Year – Vashti Bunyan More lovely Vashti. Sounds like a place where Jaseman Pierce might have found some of his ideas. Maybe Spiritualized should do this as a Christmas single.

Sunday 2 December 2007

The Hot Puppies / Santa Dog / Olympians - Notting Hill Arts Club, 1st Dec

Brrr! On a chilly wind and rain-lashed December afternoon, Notting Hill Arts Club provides a twinklingly cosy basement haven. Even better, those loveable bounders at Sounds XP are in charge, bringing us a bill of scuffed up garage scratching, jangling guitars and robust pop goodness. There are lots of friendly faces here - it’s like a big indie cocktail party, only with cheap, yet appalling ‘house beer’ (although for one round only we do indulge ourselves in a ‘Tropical Martini’ which features half a passion fruit bobbing across its surface like a tiny, abandoned rowboat).

Olympians are The Bridge Gang without their bass lady. To make up for this lack of mixed gender chromosomes, singer/guitarist Jose is dressed in a tee-shirt emblazoned with an ‘XX’, complementing the drummer’s ‘XY’. They ratchet out a sharp short set of scritchy voiced, knock-knee-ed raw garage scrapings. A cover of The Gories ode to everybody’s favourite teenage poison ‘Thunderbird ESQ" fits in perfectly with the snappily strangulated guitar, shuffle-bash drumming and Jose’s forlorn rasp. Afterwards, everyone agrees they’re great.

Santa Dog’s singer Rowena can always be relied upon to be dressed up in a quirkily stylish manner, yet she has a disconcerting Lesley Judd-ishness to her that makes things interestingly uncomfortable as she rocks away on her guitar, like a primary school teacher gone feral. She wriggles her eyebrows, pulling faces to embellish the band’s wooshing pop tales. Silkily janglesome guitar lines ring out, touched with a 60s West Coastian glow, and at times almost detach themselves from what the rest of the band is doing, i.e. expansive guitar pop. Despite their best efforts, Santa Dog just don’t get their claws into me.

When they’re not spinning us round in ruby slippers The Hot Puppies are filling our heads with fairy tale swoopings. Take the Kate Bush melodrama of ‘Somewhere’, which sounds like a mysterious, brooding woodland swaying against a star-scattered backdrop of midnight skies.

Singer Becky is a sparkling jewel of a front-woman, shining from the stage and imbuing the songs with a gorgeous urgency and glam dramatics thanks to her soaring voice. What’s more, The Hot Puppies have got the funk in a bouncy bassed, darkly groovin’ ‘80s way. They are a brilliant pop band, as evidenced by the chewy chunk of funked up gawky pop perfection that is current single ‘King of England’ and swirling epic synth beast ‘Clarinet Town’. The songs make you want to dance and prance, jump and frolic joyfully, which indeed is precisely what everyone did during the band’s Tapestry Goes West festival set. This afternoon, everyone’s more in the mood for gently bobbing about nursing secret smiles, hugging the The Hot Puppies sound close.

What a lovely time we’ve had and it’s only 8 o’clock, time for Sounds XP DJ Vodka Volauvent to play his signature tune, Russ Abbott’s ‘Atmosphere’. We wave our specs in the air like we just don’t care and hastily scarper to the pub.

Thursday 29 November 2007

Sonic Cathedral 28th November 2007

Things of note from an evening of worship at Sonic Cathedral :
1) A spectacular 3-way beard-fest. featuring Nat Sonic C., Barry Tapestry and John Dream Machine. Imagine the static they could produce between them – fuzzed up indeed.

2) A triumvirate of garage classics makes me feel all happy, beginning with the mighty 25 (or so) years before its time proto shoe-gaze warp-athon ‘Mindrocker’ and continuing through the sneeringly splendid ‘Why Don’t You Smile Now’ (I still think The Del-Monas version is the best – pure girl-venom) and the "red with purple flashes" ‘How Does It Feel To Feel’.

3) The way the onstage lights shine upward, casting eyelash shadows that make Miranda Lee Richards look like a doll (in a lovely way) adding to the dreamy, ethereal quality of her wispy folk twistings.

4) The Warlocks have at least two songs over which you can sing ‘High School’ by the MC5 (albeit at a funereal pace).

5) The Warlocks look odd when they start moving quickly, but at the same time they sound good when they’re taking a scummy Crampsian approach to things and ratcheting up the garage racket.

6) Despite the two drummers (hurrah for two drummer bands – they great!) and a copious selection of guitar pedals (I can see a Big Muff and a Memory Man and er, lots of others) The Warlocks don’t seem to have their old aura of occult majesty and doomy power. The Black Angels are doing it better now. Sorry.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

You Think You Can Dance, You Think You Can DJ - Friends Of The Bride (Young and Lost Club)

In the middle of the night, I drift into semi-wakefulness to find I am conscientiously composing a review of this single. I have concocted a brilliant description of Friends Of The Brides’ sound that involves melding the term ‘Bossa Nova’ with something utterly unlikely and indie-grubby. It seems like a good idea at the time, but in the cold light of day I’m not sure bossa nova or indie grubbiness have that much to do with things here. Or do they?

The key to Friends Of The Bride lies in singer Bobby Grindrod’s passion for all things swelegant. A harnessing of fifties dash and charm plus a certain amount of stylish caddishness. His perfectly pitched knowing croon, peppered with wry eye-brow-raised asides ("Is that a moustache or are you drinking hot chocolate?") is buoyed upon an invigorating helping of hectic brass rushes, scowling guitar and really quite filthy bass. The result, ‘You Think You Can Dance, You Think You Can DJ’ shows you can never have too much swing. Oh boy, does this swing. FOTB are no throw-back pastiche, their sound is an elegant collision between then and now; their lovingly realised period detail is roughed up by a modern rogue-ishness that ensures your toes can’t help but tap, urging you to take off for a silky skim of the dance-floor.

To accompany the single, there’s a sumptuously de-saturated colour film clip that captures FOTB’s curious Through the Looking Glass take on the fifties beautifully. By the end you should be swept off your feet.

Monday 26 November 2007

C86 Bollocks

I keep getting suckered into reading online articles about ye olde so-called 'C86 movement'. The reason I get suckered is that I get a nostalgic glow at the mention of The Shop Assistants, The Soup Dragons, The Razorcuts, Talulah Gosh et al. These were the bands that sound-tracked my teenage popkid years. They're the reason I still can't resist the sound of a jangly guitar and get all excited at the sight of a stripy t-shirt and an overgrown fringe. So I click on the link, browse through the blog, see what folks have got to say about those times.

Generally these articles are written by starry eyed kids who're looking back through pink lemonade tinted glasses to plumb what to them is probably fairly ancient history. I'm all for the kids being wistful and idealistic, but jeez they don't half get hold of the wrong end of the stick sometimes. Like the idea that 'C86' was some kind of pop 'movement' when it was actually just a dodgy NME cassette featuring the kind of songs you taped off John Peel. Sadly, Bobby Gillespie didn't share lollipops (ooer!) with Amelia Fletcher. Gregory Fletcher didn't take tea with an anoraked Stephen Pastel. Do a bit of research, the kidz! Ask Uncle Alistair Fitchett.

There were some good bands and some gorgeously pristine pop moments (The Bodines 'Therese', Primal Scream's 'Crystal Crescent', The Shop Assistants' 'Safety Net', The Sea Urchins' anything, The Primitives' 'Laughing Up My Sleeve', My Bloody Valentine's 'Another Rainy Saturday'...) And then a bit later there were some less good bands who took the sound and watered it down. The kind of bands whose flexis were attached to the later wave of indie pop fanzines that emerged at the tail end of the 1980s. The market got kind of saturated and I got bored with it and moved on.

It's still fun to reminisce though, so with the aim of providing some utterly subjective background info for the kids, I'm going to make the odd post about what indie pop meant to me in the late eighties (Prior to then I was busy being, first, a Durannie and then a mini-goth) ...

...Okay then, how about the track 'Paint A Rainbow' by My Bloody Valentine, b-side of 'Sunny Sundae Smile'. This single was a perfect package of pop goodness - both tracks sublime hits of mainlined fuzzpop. Plus if you bought the 12" you got the equally fab 'Sylvie's Head' and wonderfully titled 'Kiss The Eclipse' I didn't buy the 12" 'cos there was this rule at the time that it wasn't indiepop to buy 12-ers - they were a rip off and a waste and some kind of indeterminate tool of the Man's oppression. Plus I couldn't afford them.

Anyway, 'Paint A Rainbow' - how we loved singing along to this simple, cutely-named tune, shaking our fringes, turning up the treble so the feedback hissed (our favourite pop music always involved hissing feedback, the fizzier the better). At the time, MBV looked like adorable butter-wouldn't-melt, shaggy, mop-tops. Then I read (somewhere?) that the song was about necrophilia. We listened to the lyrics more carefully...Ewwwww! But also, ha ha! Fantastic! The best kind of pop song is one that sneakily subverts the form. And this one certainly did that. In your face pop kids!

Saturday 10 November 2007


This morning I went in Uniqlo's new Oxford street 'flagship store' and was disturbed to note large posters on the wall depicting a rather wizened Bobby Gillespie modelling Uniqlo's range of reasonably priced winter woolies. If, like me, your teenage pop kid years were spent scouring the music press for images of Mr Gillespie in all his bowl-cut, polka-dot shirted glory, then you will understand how perculiar this pictorial encounter was. In order to soothe my nerves, I found it necessary to go in Topshop to purchase this marvellous cat-strewn confection by Dari Meya. Now that's fashion.

Sound Carriers / The Monks Kitchen / Limn / Mixedcases - 26 October 2007, Buffalo Bar

It's the last Friday of the month. This means it's time for The Beat Hotel, and there’s a bumper crop down at the Fortuna Pop! hop tonight. Every one’s a winner.

This is Mixedcases’ (otherwise known as Mark West from Fanfarlo and Wolfie) first live outing and to celebrate he’s playing in his socks so he can use his toes to manipulate the tiny buttons on the pedals and gadgetry that clusters round his feet. Mark has surrounded himself with equipment, creating a nice sort of bedroom studio effect on stage – it suits his softly glowing, synthy, robot-beat space-pop. It’s the kind of music you’d find snuggled on Sweden’s Labrador Records – gentle vocals atop comforting cough candy tunes that can vere towards the itchily unsettling. 'Time To Go Now' sounds like it’s the great grandson of ‘Space Oddity’, or the sound of streetlamps breathing quietly to themselves on a frosty night. Then it all gets a tad raucous with what sound like the birth cries of a new genre – a mash up of soft-hearted indie electro-pop and clashing, smashing d’n’b beatz. It sounds great – a bit uncomfortable, but invigorating.

Limn’s USP is that they have two drummers sitting centre stage FACING EACH OTHER! Fantastic. Sadly, this thrilling state of affairs doesn’t last long as one of the drummers then starts playing guitar instead; scritchy skree high pitched twingly guitar. Limn have a tendency to mix and match instruments, crunching out all manner of oddball sounds, keeping you on your toes, so you’re eager to hear which path of chaotic tuneage they’ll rush along next. There’s Ron Johnson Records-style awkwardly angled cacophony pop, and then a great sixties lounge ‘Take 5’ kind of moment and one that’s sort of jazz with a ‘My Sharona’ bassline (cripes!) Then Limn make songs that have me thinking, ‘Hmm, Battles but on a picnic, or maybe Animal Collective but without the picnic”. The tunes wibble and weave and allow your imagination to wander with them, so the last one, full of angularly tooting ‘Trumpton’ guitars conjures an image of Hank Marvin on a motoring holiday in idyllic English countryside. With a knotted hankie on his head. Joyful.

The Monks Kitchen seem like they should be Scousers, but I don’t think they are. They play foot-tappy, folk-stroked, shanty-ish songs that twinkle and rumble along on simple bluesy bass lines. A Rickenbacker and a capo-ed acoustic guitar provide a sound like freshly cut grass, full of lovely skittish melodies, whilst the combined Monks vocals add up to some irridescent harmonies. One song makes be go especially melty and unable to stop grinning, and I suddenly realise it’s ‘cos it sounds like The Butterflies Of Love. By the end of their set I'm thoroughly charmed by the sunshine-sparkling-on-the-waves songs that The Monks Kitchen have just conjured so unassumingly for us.

Finally, it’s all aboard a golden cloud with The Sound Carriers to scud about the ceiling on David Crosby’s floatiest, most marshmallow-iest trip. The Sound Carriers are news to me – and hurrah! it’s very good news, ‘cos this is a band that manage to cram in hints of everything you love about the West Coast ‘60s sound: The Byrds, The Buff, Love, CSNY; as well as the retro-futuro sounds of Felt, Stereolab, Broadcast - that dreamily vintage Radiophonic Workshop feel. And then The Sound Carriers throw in a dash of Tropicalia just to liven things up, getting really rarver funky in places.
The band are lead by a string-bending geezer who has an unfortunate default facial expression of deep smugness, as if he knows we're all thrilling to the layers of ringing chords he's knocking out. Maybe he is smug about it - there's no reason not to be. He's accompanied on vocals by a petite, keyboard-playing girl who looks like a cross between Francois Hardy and Juliette Greco, which is clearly a marvellous thing. Also worth noting is the bass player's guitar strap which is decorated with horse brasses - somehow this is quite disturbing. Anyway, a high old time is had by all, swooning and shimmying gently to The Sound Carriers' slightly sinister sun-psych. So much so that the band is able to introduce what could well be the very first drum solo to happen at a Fortuna Pop! gig and yet there is no indie-pop riot. Nice work.

Sunday 4 November 2007


Here is a Candylion I made to celebrate the mind-boggling, irridescent gorgeousness of Super Furry Animals' Roundhouse gig last night. How we danced and sang along and held hands aloft with complete strangers in Furry Solidarity to tunes old and new. A skronky glam-funking 'Baby Ate My Eightball', a chaotically bouncing 'She's Got Spies', doing air-pointing for 'God Show Me Magic', the swoony splendour of 'Runaway' and 'The Gift That Keeps Giving', gut-thumping bass kicking in on the best ever version of 'Receptacle For The Respectable', the usual mixture of gleefullness and indignant anger at 'the man' for the cathartic jump-fest of 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck and...and...argh everything you ever loved about Super Furries ever.

Even when SFA aren't making an effort (no yeti costumes, no alien costumes, no trumpeters dressed as bride and groom, no inflatable demon bears, no tanks, no quadrophonic sound systems, no suits that light-up, no films to accompany each song this time) they can't help but make an effort, so there was a beautifully crafted lighthouse backdrop - with lighting what made it look like the lighthouse was shining it's er, beacon, plus members of the band holding up signs hastily constructed from card and gaffer tape. Oh and Gruff wearing his Power Rangers helmet and singing through the eye, obviously. Effortless, genius entertainment. I love you Super Furries.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Corrie Psycho Suicide Pop

Excitement all round last night in a tension-building, credulity-stretching hour-long episode of 'Coronation Street'. Devil boy David Platt has decided to End It All (or has he?) by plunging his car into the very same stretch of canal that psycho killer Richard Hillman (formerly known as 'Hoppy' Hopwood on 'Grange Hill') attempted to plunge the entire Platt family into some years ago (remember?!) And what does the 'troubled teen' slam into the car stereo to accompany his descent into a watery grave? 'You and Me Song' by The Wannadies. Genius! It's the little things that make me love Corrie.

P.S. Whatever became of The Wannadies I wonder?

Sunday 28 October 2007

One, Two, Three – The Loves (Fortuna Pop!)

People Who Know love The Loves because they have a pick ‘n’ mix feel for all that is good on the great sweetie stall of popular song, slyly cramming handfuls of the tastiest treats into the secret pockets of their vintage overcoats. This new E.P. proves the point marvellously, with four very different pop nuggets, each bursting with melodic goodness.

The Loves’ bubble-gum pop odyssey continues apace with nifty slam-dunk glam stomp ‘One Two, Three’, a song that pretty much demands you do that bending at the hip with your hands wedged in your jeans pockets dance. It’s a classic nursery rhyming singy song-along (see also, er, ‘ABC’) with big boomy drums and backing vocals that sound like they’re being chanted by a stray Bay City Roller fan. Another instant pop smash from Simon Love and his hip to the beat gang. Also, in my head, ‘One Two Three’ keeps morphing into The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s ‘1,2,3 Red Light’, a song covered by The Pooh Sticks, a band The Loves reminded me of the first time I ever saw ‘em (it was a good thing). See, what goes around comes around in the big day-glo daisy chain of pop.*

Oh look here’s a live version of The Loves’ perennial girl-pop ditty ‘Chelsea Boy’! It’s all slinky with oceanic cymbals and little-black-dress atmospherics. Imagine a single tear falling from panda-eye make-up, tracing a glistening path down a pale, powdered cheek. There are bee-hive hairdos, pearly lipstick, and the Kray Twins are probably at the bar. Best bit is when the unlikely line ‘I’d batter you’ is sung in an emotingly straight-faced heartfelt way.

‘When I Get My Gun’ sees Simon Love getting all red-necked and vitriolic, threatening to ‘Skip with your intestines / Play football with your head’ to a twangily, toe-tappin’ chunk of cow-punk, nasal-voiced nastiness. You probably deserve it, mind. That just leaves us with a cheery charge through Jonathan Richman’s ‘Pablo Picasso’ which chug-a-lugs piano-thumpingly with Velvets in the basement vivacity. Nice.

(*Check out the top bendy knees dancing and double tambo action in this olden film of The 1910 Fruitgum Company. Plus! footage of traffic lights - just to get the message across)

Ectogram – Fluff On A Faraway Hill (Klangbad)

Ectogram come from Wales. They have close links with legendary German avant-garde music makers Faust. I mention these things in case they strike you as relevant. Some other points: Ectogram are a band of three people who sound like many more. On their web site, they are referred to as ‘Wales' premier post-tonal dronedelic noiseniks’. ‘Fluff on A Faraway Hill’ is their sixth album.

Ectogram songs build scrabbly, twiggy nests in your head, then scuffle about up there like critters in the loft. Ectogram songs are elemental - they feel like their component parts consist of unidentifiable organic matter; of mysterious dusts and curious stones, eerie weather and unusual mosses. They are constructed of discombobulating layers of textural noise that have a stick-in-your-teeth chewiness. That’s not to say that they make for ‘difficult’ listening though, these are strongly melodic works – you can hum along as sparks of sound snag in the curtains and tendrils of tune whip around the bookcases.

The tracks: ‘Devisor’ warps and drones with a mystical Eastern undertow over bendy skew-whiff notes, whilst vocalist/guitarist Ann Matthews ululates in a girlish tone. For nine minutes ‘Unterrock’ is an exhilarating headlong race through a bewildering forest of pulsing sound, where branches whip back and belt you in the face with little shrieks, with scribbling guitar and lyrics intoned as a mantra. ‘Aspic Liner’ bends and bows in a curiously soothing manner, you can imagine giving yourself up to its rubbery embrace and falling backwards into the dense mattress of sound it weaves from relaxedly epic guitar lines, hypnotic drum rounds and layers of Ann’s voice chanting buried-deep lyrics. It’s good that the album comes with a lyric booklet as it's intriguing to read what’s going on in these songs, ‘a dream of times swollen when crusts made hair curly’ or ‘deer stalker, forest running, algae blooming’, and ‘curmudgeon with his knees bent double’.

The dizzy-making ‘Spanner’ is pleasingly disorientating, its elastic guitar stretching and snapping back in a cheerily sickly manner. Noir-ish night-mare jazz-inflected ‘Toolbox’ slithers on flanging guitar and lullaby rhythms before cracking up into flying scraps of tune that flap about like bats on strings and you try not to get them in your hair. ‘Strategy Theme’ has lovely bell-like Dungen-style guitar ‘licks’ (if you will), that gallop and shudder across a bedrock of rattling, echoy drums and serenely gliding vocals. It sounds like the sun shining too brightly and is a sublime note on which to end.

‘Fluff On A Faraway Hill’ is playfully exploratory, packed with noise-making ideas skilfully interwoven to create some fearsome, tough-sounding psychedelia. An immersive sound-scape for hiding yourself in, camouflaged amongst the strange plant-forms. Not dreamy, more the sound of nature red in tooth and claw.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Eggs and Chips - Manic Cough (Purr Records)

Manic Cough have a hamper-load of irresistible, barmy tunes and it’s always exciting when they unpack a couple more and set them out on the picnic rug for you to wolf down whilst swatting at buzzy wasps. This time round you get served a stream-of-bonkersness, energetic knees-up which starts as it ends with a tippy-tappy-tip tickling of the drums, and in between whirlwinds jauntily around with the Cough’s trade-mark skankin’ boisterousness.

"Eggs and chips and Weetabix, what a good mix in the morning" you’re sagely advised and at first you’ll be thinking "Coo! Slits-y free-falling jerk pop!" then you’ll suddenly get reminded of Elastica when they were cheeky and good. And no this isn’t ‘cos you’re listening to ladies singing and thus feel the need to compare them with another band with, y’ know laydeez in, it’s ‘cos Manic Cough suddenly start shouting "st, st, st, STUTTER!"

The wonderous thing about Manic Cough is that they manage to sneak tremendously toe-tapping melodies in amongst their dayglo rioting sticks and stones sound, they’re oddball but irresistible. Oh, and for the love of God, make sure you get yourself the bonus download-only track ‘Blue or Red’, a giddily sinuous wriggle-athon rave-up of "yee-has!" that features the genius clarion call ‘Oi! Oi! Saveloy!’ A must-have pop moment.
P.S. Note sumptuous record sleeve photography by Bob Underexposed

Sunday 7 October 2007

Kontakte / Freelovebabies / Tamborines - 6 October 2007, Melange

Tamborines photograph: Bob Stuart

Aah! This is most agreeable. I'm clutching a beer, lounging in a lumpy old armchair in cosy surroundings that suggest 'Moroccan-influenced hippy pad circa 1968 meets art student squat circa 1988'. To one side Kate of The Guild of Further Art is delicately creating a psychedelic action painting full of purples and greens, eyelashes and Pre-Raphaelite tresses. Around me, the air is juddering (yes juddering!) courtesy of Kontakte, three blokes boxed into the bijou, be-curtained stage in the corner. They are alternately cajoling and abusing their guitars into creating great sirens of drone-laden sound. Naming ones band after a Stockhausen composition suggests a group with lofty ideals, but you really don't need to think much to get Kontakte - they're pretty visceral. Just turn off your mind, relax and join their trip to a spaced state. The likes of 'Pulse Machines' push humming guitar tones and reverberations up against a backing track of imploding spacerock so the room can't help but be pulled in by the music's traction, warping and nodding amongst the Krautrock embers. Their are no vocals, as there's no need for words. Singing would be a distraction here, lyrics would knock your journey off course. 'Motorik' (they don't want you to miss the point do they?) throbs with heartbeat thumps and a spiralling guitar line that echoes back on itself over steadily rising waves of fuzz. The growling bassline calls up the ghost of late, great drone meisters Loop. Aww, I miss Loop. But never mind, 'cos Kontakte take hunks of rhythm and puresoundwaves and make me twitch with glee.

Free Love Babies are Will Carruthers and assorted chums playing sinuous, seedy, snake-eyed blues. They glimmer amidst a fug of dry-ice, sending out lazy smoke rings of sound. Will is something of a charmer with a fine line in raconteuring (as witnessed on the last UK BJM tour), twinkling sardonically in the gloom. And the man can actually sing! Who'da thunk when he was twanging away on his bass behind Sonic and Jase in the Spacemen that he was the one with the interesting stories to impart and the vocal chords with which to impart them?

The Tamborines are never ones to outstay their welcome, ripping through their fab set of cute, but snarly psych pop soundz with single-minded viciousness, but this time their set really does take the cake. Thanks to a toppling mic stand and consequent equipment malfunctions that eat up all their playing time, we only get three songs. This is a terrible, terrible shame as what we do hear is an all-engulfing roar of fuzz pop - it sounds like enormous cracks opening up in the floor to let the sound woosh out. Structural damage not-withstanding, the band heroically complete their set and we squeeze past the dozens of black clad, leather jacketed scuzz boys copping cigs on the doorstep and on into the Hackney night.

Sunday 30 September 2007

I’d like to find a field between the hills: Fave Tunes August/September 2007

Mostyn A Diego – Radio Luxembourg The sound of early Super Furries rolling on the lawn with Gorkys = sunshine goodness. Plus the single has an exciting interactive sleeve.

Get You Out Of My Head – The Sparkling Fountains Of Magic Reality Hoo, boy! Maxed out fuzz all the way. Why don’t all songs sound like this?

Outside - The Asteroid #4 Sky-looping dreampop crash-lands in a field of Barretty pastoralism.

Gift That Keeps Giving - Super Furry Animals SFA obligingly release album of summer-pop psych-dream lusciousness in time for my summer hols. The harmonies on this track make my head turn inside-out.

Horse Riding – Euros Childs Groovy old Euros tickling the ivories like a good ‘un, so you have to jiggle about in your chair with a a stoopid grin on yr face.

Secrets – Tuung Some of the ‘Good Arrows’ album is a tad Sunday Supplement, but this is all twinkling and regretful and sounds like dew-soaked medieval meadows.

My World – The Go! Team Cover of olde schools tv theme has freaky regression therapy effect on my brain.

Presidential Suite – Super Furry Animals Sitting under a tree hypnotized by ticklish Greek waves, I remember how much I love this song. "Sparkling like dragonflies".

The Fire In My Head - Voice Of The Seven Woods Dementedly sinister twangy Eastern mysticism with some serious tambourine bashing and gloopy rhythms.

Derek - Animal Collective Especially the moment when the big thumpy, shuffling bass drum sounds burst out from the skirling loopiness. Also, ‘Derek’ is an amusingly unlikely name for a song.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Tapestry Goes West - Margam Country Park, Wales 11th August 2007

Yesterday, we frolicked under a benign sun that warmed us with gentle afternoon rays (after the rain had briefly tried it on, whistling in a fine mizzle into our cheery faces for a few minutes). Today we roll up at Tapestry Goes West under a feisty fireball that attempts to frazzle all pasty Celtic skins in the area. Lucky I have a face-shading peak to my Robin Hood hat.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: first business of the day involves a jousting display by medievalists The Knights of Arkley. They are accompanied in ramshackle style by the Tokyo Dragons who crank out any old rubbish with a vaguely discernible tune. Really, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a comedy ‘black knight’ being humiliated in battle to the strains of the ‘Grange Hill’ theme as played by a scraggy bunch of rawk hoodlums. Yes, it’s fab. And quite thrilling when the horses thunder past a bit too close to the security, er, rope that ‘protects’ the audience from their flailing hooves.

Post-joust, it’s time for a spot of mead at the Crimson Moon. Mmm, I’m savouring the honeyed alcoholic goodness, when lawks! Pete Molinari materialises on Stage 2. I’m mightily pleased by this, as I thought I’d missed him on Stage 1 yesterday (dodgy line-up listing again). The thing that always crops up in Pete Molinari discussions is his voice, which is fair enough because Pete Molinari’s voice is a thing of amazement; keening and perfect, sending weird sensations down your spine as it twines itself around songs strummed out on acoustic guitar. These are songs that place Molinari at some mid-point between Chatham and Greenwich Village; blues-lorn country-folk songs that seem to mention whippoorwills and being lonesome quite often. It’s all very relaxing, Pete perched on a chair, looking like he’s stepped out of a Bob Dylan record sleeve circa 1966, dressed in brown corduroy beat-gear, chatting with the audience and gliding through a short set with that lullaby-eerie voice. A contented mead haze settles as we get a final heart-break-sweet cover of ‘So Lonesome I Could Cry’.

Breaking from my reverie, I decide it’s time to investigate Stage 1. There’s a handy slope that looks down on Stage 1, where everyone is sprawled out in the sunshine whilst below us The Redlands Palomino Company do competent, but uninspiring lady-sung country rock. It all gets too much for me (er, the sun does) and I have to go and hide in the shade until Instant Flight come on to do organ-driven power-psych. The singer is looking the part in stripy trousers and a top-hat. Apparently, Instant Flight double as Arthur Brown’s backing band, ah! that explains a lot. We get mod-ish Carnaby Street pop, psych-pomp splendour, bluesy harmonica squawlings, cool, circling psychedelia, a great ‘Incense and Peppermints’ style groove and at one point it all goes a bit Procol Harum. I feel like I’ve time-travelled into one of those old film clips of a ‘60s freak festival. Only, thank the Lord, there are no naked dancing hippies here, just Rob ex-14 Iced Bear lying on the grass and Michael Circulus wearing a big hat.
Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: Michael Circulus blends in with the crowd, despite the fact he’s wearing a big hat and his usual middle-ages filtered through 1972 garb. This is the only place such anonymity is likely to happen to Michael.

I wander back to Stage 2 just in time to see The Cherry Bombers playing ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’, its snotty punk blast is a refreshing sorbet before we are plunged into Wolf People’s world of flute-adelic prog mightiness. They play blues rock with puffy ‘70s flute embellishments and added flights of fancy – ace! There are beards and hair and ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ stylings, but I’m disappointed that the band are just some blokes, not really Wolf People as such, not even a bit lupine or mystical. They say "the next song is a rock opera, but it only lasts three minutes." Swizz! Progged-up, we wander over to see Diagonal who are wearing tight trousers and necklaces and again with the hair and the beards. They’re having a right good noodle, courtesy of a groovy-lookin’ geezer in a hat, worrying a Korg keyboard and ERK! a man in a head-band playing a saxophone. Can someone hurry up and invent punk now please?

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: On the hillside, a moody gang of stags gathers, horns akimbo, gazing haughtily down at proceedings before deciding to high-tail it away from such nonsense.

The Lea Shores have some sound probs, but when they finally kick-in with a rain of swooping axe licks they are the perfect accompaniment to the light show being provided by the steel-works in the distance – tongues of flame shooting up into the twilit sky. The Lea Shores create a maelstrom of early evening swirliness that’s kind of The Cure go shoe-gazing, like single ‘Guillotine’ with its drifty daydream Ride-isms (including Ride-style iffy lyrics: "She’ll cut you down like a guillotine"). As the night-time smell of damp grass creeps into our nostrils, The Lea Shores hit the moment brilliantly, but it’s now time to cross the site to seek out Circulus on Stage 2.

Circulus and Tapestry were made for each other and an eager crowd has gathered to acknowledge this fact, keen to frolic in a medieval frenzy. What’s more Tapestry Lord and leader Barry can be seen onstage, clutching a guitar, clad in a fetching pea-green hooded cape. Much as we adore Circulus, though, we ‘re a tad disappointed to find we’re not getting a ‘greatest hits’ set of full-on loopy lutey loveliness this evening. Instead, Circulus have brought along Alison O’Donnell, one-time member of Mellow Candle. Yes, THE Mellow Candle of legendary ‘70s folky album ‘Swaddling Songs’ fame. I’m enough of a folk nerd to be quite excited by the sight of this elegantly grey-haired lady taking over the stage alongside current collaborator Isabel Ní Chuireáin, but as they calmly unfurl their ethereal music (partly with a few Circulus types, partly alone), the crowd starts getting itchy for a spot of hey-nonnying. It’s great that Circulus are trying to do something a bit special here, and there is a magical mist to proceedings, but the best bit is when we get a few stripped down Circulus faves. There’s no Lo Polidoro supplying sky-diving vocals tonight and no Moogy mooching, although thankfully, there is some mighty crumhorn action. Such is the strength of everyone’s pent-up need for a hoe-down that there’s a giant explosion of energy when the band issues forth with acoustic renderings of ‘Cuckoo’, ‘Miri It Is’ and prog-med anthem ‘Power To The Pixies’. It feels like we’re caught in a village fayre gone dangerously wrong, which is really the best place to be caught.

By this point, night is drawing in and it’s as good a time as any for another trip to the mead tent. This time I try a Strawberry Wine, mainly for the My Bloody Valentine-ness of it. It’s a whirligig trip into a dreamy world of strawberry-filled wonderment. Yum.

Now, I find that wherever you happen to be, there always comes a point in proceedings when raucous foreign garage rock is called for. As the moon and intoxicant levels rise, That point has very much arrived. I savour the strawberry wine’s syrupy-goodness, and ponder the spectacle that is Los Chicos; a demented, thrashing, Spanish garage band who are doing their best to demolish the stage in the name of dirty old fun. With a long-suffering look, the soundman patiently holds up a precariously rocking speaker as vast swathes of the audience mingle on stage with the caterwauling band. Best of all, a random man dressed in a be-feathered bird costume flaps around gaudily, before launching himself in a flurry from the stage. It’s a heart-warming sight indeed.

As a finale we don’t get Cathedral bells in our ears, but the funk-thrash-prog-rave-metal-disco construction that is Chrome Hoof. The earth, or at least this particular patch of it, tips alarmingly and shucks us all into another dimension for the duration of the Hoof’s appearance. They are terrifying and vitalising at once, the band clad in their knights of glam chain mail, flanked by two deeply disturbing dancers who remind me of the Blue Meanies from ‘Yellow Submarine’, only more vicious. Traumatised by the sound of everything we hold dear being torn into bloody shreds then rebuilt as an almighty monster of doom, we make twitching, palsied attempts to keep a grip on the demonic time signatures being thrust in our faces. A glowing-eyed, horned ram-devil looms onto the stage and the crowd cranes forward, appalled and delighted as Chrome Hoof slay the beast before solemnly chomping into its blood-spurting heart. The music churns on, gut-wrenchingly, thrillingly. By the end I’m raving in a dense mass of contorted, grinning faces, amongst them a cackling Will Who-Used-To-Be-In-Spacemen-3.

Ways in Which Tapestry is Not Like Other Festivals: The whole festival has gone scarily feral, choosing to re-enact scenes from ‘The Wicker Man’ by unquestioningly following the Hoof up a hill to gaze at the ram-headed effigy being set alight and devoured by leaping flames. Seriously, the whole crowd are under the Hoof’s spell, and as I dance a crazed jig arm in arm with a complete stranger, I imagine this motley gathering of monks and wenches, archers and serfs being lead deep into the black Welsh night, never to be seen again. Lost in the festival that ended all festivals.

(photos by Bob Underexposed)