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.