Thursday 30 December 2010

My voice is quiet but my thoughts are loud. Fave Tunes Nov/Dec 2010

Shake The Shackles – Crystal Stilts Excellently titled mopey garage

One By One From Dorney Reach - Wolf People Led Zep monstrousness

Bright Lit Blue Skies – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Sounds like the title says. Also sounds like SFA

Exploring The Landscape - Hong Kong In The 60s A 70s childhood car journey as spring turns to summer

Icy LakesSurf City Doesn’t sound that icy, but does sound like Echo And The Bunnymen trying to be Deerhunter

Goodbye - Best Coast Singsong bratty cuteness with good thumpy drums and the line, ‘I wish my cat could talk’

Silbury Sands – Wolf People If you don’t feel the need to headbang to this you are very wrong

Write About Love - Belle And Sebastian A v. groovy beat tune

Sophie Softly - Gruff Rhys Sugary folk-pop-sike, “She breakfasted on orange flakes and purple pop”

No Strength - The Cavalcade Summer days gentle popiness then fab fizzing fuzz bit mysteriously appears

Mirrors – Crocodiles For the very exciting Krautrocking intro

Monday 20 December 2010

Gruff Rhys / H. Hawkline – 26 November 2010, Toynbee Studios

We haven’t been to Toynbee Hall since the beloved Arts Café, scene of many a top pop happening, was closed. So it’s weird to find that our former groovy gig place is now merely the bar in which us Gruff Rhys ‘aficionados’ are expected to gather as we await the opening of the doors that lead into Toynbee Studios and tonight’s show. It’s even more of a surprise to find that beyond those doors there’s this really nice little theatre, with red velvet chairs and a big stage and everything. Was this hidden gem lurking back here all those times we crammed ourselves into the Arts Café defying health and safety and the fire officer?

We settle in our seats for the support band H. Hawkline, who include alongside Mr H himself, Sweet Baboo on bass. Due to not setting out for the gig until quite late they have opted not to bring a keyboard with them, so we are treated to a scuffed and garagey set. The whole caboodle is endearingly, eccentricly groovy, but the stand out song is ‘Hells Bells’ with its Jonathan Richman vocals, Velvets at their crunchy garage-iest chug, deeply fuzzy guitar AND a false ending.

Burbling away half to himself, clad in a ‘Christmas jumper’ that only he could make alluring, Gruff Rhys’ solo show essentially involves watching a loveable eccentric pottering about in his shed. Spread before him is a table full of gizmos to be employed in piecing together his fine array of songs.

Before he gets to play with his toys, we get an utterly sweet-hearted set played on acoustic guitar. This consists of tracks from first album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth' and songs from the forthcoming ‘Hotel Shampoo’ and is kicked off with the introduction “This song accompanied the genocide scene in a film I was involved with.” There is plenty of this skew-whiff dead-panning throughout the evening. As anyone who’s managed to decipher his on-stage announcements with Super Furries will attest, Rhys is not just a brilliantly creative musician and a pretty face, he’s a bone-dry wit as well.

Amongst the new tracks we get; ‘the first song I’ve written with the word ‘Poland’ in it’; the short and incredibly sweet bubblegum psych-folk of ‘Sophie Softly’, and the cutely funky ‘Sensations In The Dark’. For the latter, Rhys shuffles along the stage to a dark spot to demonstrate a keyboard with keys that light-up. The lighting man misguidedly illuminates him, so Gruff sweetly asks for the lights to be turned down again, “Er, excuse me, I was trying to get into the dark”. This keyboard of wonderment, we are told, also features a rhythm track that sounds like 'Gangster's Paradise' by Coolio. For the purposes of the song, it gets sped up. The adorable, shivery single ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ becomes an entirely different beast played acoustically with just a one note drone from a er, droney box as accompaniment, eerie and wistful.

The first half of the set over, Rhys settles down at the table amongst the bird song albums, children’s percussion instruments, LED drumsticks, decks, metronome and other unidentified noise-making implements to introduce us to his ‘chat show’ entitled ‘Resist Phoney Encores’. The first guest (accompanied by his own ‘theme song’ as Rhys slaps a seven inch onto a turntable), is Sweet Baboo singing ‘Twelve Carrots of Love’ in his inimitable cracked country way.

Next guest, introduced with a spot of Krautrock as her theme tune, is Lisa Jen. She ices frosty clear vocals over “Lonesome Words”, managing to make a simple song with acoustic guitar, metronome and Rhys’ singing into something ethereally beautiful. Jen stays to add her voice to a selection of tunes from Candylion; a brief clap-along assault on 'Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru' a toe-tapping ‘Court Of King Arthur’. The latter, “A song about archaeology, even though I know nothing about it”, gets a reprise when a Scottish voice pipes up from the audience, “Can you play that one again? I was in the toilet”. Gruff obliges with ‘the best bit’ from the middle section of the song and the Scottish bloke is appeased, “Thanks!”

Rhys makes an attempt at a new song, ‘If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)’ which he forgot to play during the first half. Jen is encouraged to beat time on a tambourine, but reveals she has never ‘played drums’ apart from when a friend taught her to play the opening to a Faith No More song (she demonstrates this with a bit of air drumming). The song doesn’t get far before Rhys falters, Jen asks, ‘Am I putting you off?’ and the song is abandoned. Happily it makes an appearance later in the encore and is well worth the wait, a lilting, bittersweet waltz.

‘Cycle Of Violence’ ends with Rhys sampling and looping his own voice, singing harmonies with himself so that the song floats on a layer of vocal drones. These are topped off with a trademark Rhys scream – also sampled into the mix but its inclusion kept mercifully brief – the guy can sing sweetly, but he sure can holler too.

The room frequently fills with laughter at Rhys’ gnomic comments, there’s obviously a lot of affection for him and his music (with a few sprinklings of lust). This is the happiest, friendliest gig I’ve been to for a long time. And I’ve been to Indietracks.

The final encore sees Rhys joined by all his guests to play Kevin Ayres’ nursery-rhyme-like 'Religious Experience (Singing a Song in the Morning)', its refrain pretty much sums up our evening, “Don’t even know what I’m singing about, but it makes me feel I feel alright.”

Friday 10 December 2010

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart / 14 Iced Bears / The Zebras – 2 December 2010, 229 The Venue

It’s flippin’ freezing out, but a cockle-warming bill of indiepop delights awaits us at ULU-ish place 229 The Venue, which turns out to have a neck-achingly high stage and an exciting /dusty netherworld beneath that stage which we discover upon lifting the little curtain that hides it. Also, the stage is VERY PRECIOUS and you must never, ever touch it with your grimy, ticket-paying, gig-attending fingers. This is made clear by a bouncer at the front who glares and gestures at any misguided fool who happens to rest a palm upon the stage when taking a photo, or just, you know, standing there enjoying the band.

Anyway, The Zebras are on before we can finish getting in the door, so we rush in as they’re sounding pretty fine even from the cloakroom queue. I’ve been vaguely aware of the band (they played Indietracks a couple of years ago, but we weren’t looking), but hadn’t investigated them. Tonight’s set makes me immediately purchase their e.p. ‘New Ways Of Risking Our Lives’. They make me think of The Go Betweens, not just because they’re Australian, it’s their bright shining sound; big, chiming guitars with a tiny touch of hardness, and lovely things happening when harmonies get sung. The Zebras are soaringly splendid and a rousing way to kick things off.

Next, 14 Iced Bears. I have surprised myself by feeling quite excited by this re-emergence of the Iceys. It’s not like I didn’t see them plenty of times in days of yore, but it seems they hold a special place in my heart. I loved 14 Iced Bears because their songs grew from being really quite cutesy/shambly (‘Dolphin Song’ is played) to going kind of spaced ‘n’ slightlydelic (e.g. ‘Mother Sleep’, and don’t forget they’ve been known to cover ‘Interstellar Overdrive’). They play an excellently chosen selection from across their back catalogue that pleases me and the three other people in the room who know all their songs.

Really, it’s a killer setlist, with the likes of ‘Cut’, ‘Hay Fever’, ‘Dust Remains’, the heart-breaking ‘Sure To See’, fizzing last ever single ‘Hold On’ and yes, ‘Balloon Song’ (this one gets a clutch of indie poppers bobbling about like bubbles in a milkpan). My all time fave ‘Surfacer’ gets an airing with its swooshy sun-addled swoon and the set closes with the thrilling Copey sparkle of ‘World I Love’.

Rob's vocals are still sweet-hearted and crystal-tipped, but unfortunately the sound is severely bass heavy, with nuances destroyed in the burble.The band seem on good form though, and they are original members (well, if you count late-period guitarist Tim), not just Rob Sekula and some blokes. Rob takes to the stage sensibly snow-shod in wellies – which makes the swirls of dry ice that precede the band’s arrival very amusing indeed.

I’m not sure 14 Iced Bears have made much of an impression on the youngsters who edge closer to the (very high, must NOT touch) stage in anticipation of the Pains, but you never know, maybe the kids will be inspired to investigate the oldsters’ music. After all, a gaggle of boys next to us gets quite excited when The Smiths are played – singing along with gusto. One of them is wearing a Stone Roses tee-shirt, causing us to contemplate the fact that these persons weren’t even born when our fave bands of the eighties were in their ‘pomp’. It’s like us digging the sixties, excavating the past in search of present day thrills. Mental!

Talking of present day thrills…hey, hey it’s the Pains! And they are on fine ‘n’ feisty form, playing with a lot more punch than at their slightly weary Heaven show earlier in the year (though maybe not with quite as much ‘vivacity’ as at their secret Buffalo Bar gig in the summer – hoo! that was a firecracker). We realise that this is the third year in a row that we have seen the Pains play a December show – what a fine festive tradition. The set is still pretty similar to that of two years ago – top-loaded with faves: ‘This Love Is Fucking Right’, ‘Young Adult Friction’, ‘Come Saturday’, ‘Everything With You’... We’ve seen the band play these songs quite a lot by now, God knows how many times they must have played them, so hats off to ‘em for still managing to make these oldies but goodies into zippy pop blasts of noisy joy.

We get a sprinkling of new tracks, but not as many as we’d been anticipating – especially after the tantalising array of new songage we got at that Buffalo Bar show. The set ends, as tradition/drink seems to dictate with us olden folk jumping up and down gleefully to ‘The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’. The encore bit begins with Kip’s sweet, solo take on, ‘Contender’, before a boom-tastic finale of ‘Gentle Sons’ (with the inside of my head singing ‘The Hardest Walk’ along to it) sends us off into the night mufflered up against the cold, ears happily muffled by noisy guitars.

Dungen / Wolf People / Jim Molyneux – Islington Academy, 16 November 2010

Jim Molyneux plays to an exceedingly sparse crowd, but few though we are, we appreciate the way his fingers fly over his accordion. Molyneux plays folk songs old, new and Richard Thompson, and is joined at points by chums on violin, thumpy cajón/cuban box drum thingy and for one song, some excellent combined violin playing/clog dancing.

Prog – eww! what? Growing up in the 80s with my musical landscape dictated by the year zero-ness of punk, I avoided prog and all that crazy hippy shit for a v. long time. Psych was okay, but prog? long old rambling guitar solos, stuff about elves and giants? Jeez! Now though, I have accepted prog into my life. Dungen have probably contributed a lot to my appreciation of this long-time maligned form. And Wolf People have helped me see the light too. I am exceedingly pleased that they are playing tonight as I have been digging their fuggily storming LP 'Steeple' a fair old bit. They have lyrics about raising a glass to sulphur skies, and putting arms around the weather. They have heavy guitars with great funky bits, such as the evil truckin’, whole lotta lovin’ ‘One By One From Dorney Reach’. They sound like Yes, Focus and Black Sabbath. When they play ‘Silbury Sands’ people cannot stop themselves head-banging a bit, because it sounds immense and well rockin’. A large, be-stetsoned man air-guitars like a mental and we know what he means.

Dungen are flat-out amazing, an act of wonderment, and it’s a massive mystery why this gig isn’t packed to the gunwales. Still, the crowd is eager and fanatical, and the hour-long set speeds by.

Singer / main man Gustav Ejstes twists between sitting centre-stage at the piano, piping wiggily on a flute and jumping up to freak out mightily with a tambourine. Hair bear bunch bass player Mattias hunches over his guitar battling a few amp problems (Wolf People shuffle on discreetly with their amp as a replacement) whilst on the other side of the stage guitarist Reine creates eerie and elegant sounds. The set leans on the jazz-tinged skyscape of latest LP ‘Skit I Allt’.

Dungen sound luminous. Their songs wheel and slide, rhythms glancing and changing, underpinned by Johan Holmegard’s furious, complicated drumming. It’s a pleasure to behold a band playing so skilfully together, and not in a widdly guitar hero way - during the fast bits they skim around each other like swallows on a summer evening. This isn't difficult, chin-rubbing music, this is a band letting their creativity fly whilst keeping a tight hold on the tunes. Sometimes they’re languorous, floating through the skies, sometimes they crunch and fuzz, like on old fave ‘Panda’. The high points (and there are LOADS) are firework displays and cloud bursts. Dazzling.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

December Boy -The Loves (Fortuna Pop!)

And so as The Loves stomp ever closer to the end of their ten year tenure as Britain’s best bubblegum garage soap opera, we find them releasing a REAL HUMDINGER of a tune. I have been thoroughly enjoying ‘December Boy’ every time The Loves play it live and now here it is to cherish as a real life record (limited quantities on pink vinyl!) / ethereal sound file.

It’s a huge upbeat pop thing, a big old chimimg wall of sound on which Jenna gets to do a silky swoon of a lead vocal accompanied by Emma Pocketbooks and the erstwhile Liz Love; not to mention ‘real life violins’ and woo! an anthemic key change. Brilliantly, it contains ear-nagging snippets of about a billion other pop hits, e.g. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, ‘The Locomotion’, ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ (yes), as well as the obvious nod to Big Star. Luckily, it’s oh so much more than the sum of its parts, a giant wintery snog with a head full of whirling snow flakes and long lost girl group songs.

‘B side’ ‘Bubblegum’ is a todally groovee, shake yer bubble-butt, wig out baby, go-go garage, freak-out frantic, teeteringly unhinged, fuzzed and shrieking pop-sike attack lead by Simon’s slur-y, sleazy, vocal whine. Your nineteenth nervous breakdown never sounded so much fun.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Give me strength to continue. Fave Tunes Sept /Oct 2010

When We Go Courting - Shrag V. dance-inducing one note guitar clangalanging, and the line ‘Deep in the darkness of June I dissolved in your room’.

Desire Lines – Deerhunter A lush Sunshine Playroom rush

Skit I Allt – Dungen Not sure what they’re singing about, but it sounds like Dungen are having a spangly Scando time

Fountain Stairs – Deerhunter All skyscrapey

Life’s A Gift (Feel It) – Groovy Uncle Really rather more than slightlydelic

Entrance Song - The Black Angels Proper menacing biker psych

Clear Motive - The Higher State Ooh! Byrdsy / Paisley Undergroundish

Teacher – Surf City Like a whipped up candyfloss Mary Chain. Yeah!

Shark Ridden Waters – Gruff Rhys The Groovie Ghoulies on a cruise. I have to listen to this several times a day.

Untitled II – Ulaan Khol Monstrous scree of guitar in a noise landslide

Thee Eager Younger Fraternity Bop pt 2 – Comet Gain (with Crystal Stilts) Desperate, unhinged handclappin’ pop party.

Hearts Of Love – Crocodiles Nasty fuzz with lovely twinkly bits

Imagine Hearts – Ringo Deathstarr Unreconstructed tremolo action. Woobly.

Sunday 24 October 2010

In Debt - Jonny Cola & The A-Grades (Corporate Records)

Jonny Cola & The A-Grades are bastards. Their idea of quirky promotional material is a letter with FINAL NOTICE typed large across the top – so at first glance your heart leaps into your mouth, argh! what? Oh ha ha, the album is called ‘In Debt’.

And your hammering heart isn’t allowed a moment’s respite ‘cos ‘In Debt’ is stuffed with sparkling, strutting glam-Brit pop. Imagine that Britpop hadn’t become a sorry, degraded thing. That the initial shine and shiver had led to euphoric epiphanies and perfectly puckered pop kisses in a starburst universe where guitars scrawled and caterwauled like alleycats. That kind of thing.

Alex’s rather fine voice - a little clipped and Bowie-ish here, glammily sneering there - is shown off to full swooning advantage on slow-burn anthemic opener, ‘Fireworks / Gunshots’, an urban torch song that bursts into beautiful bombast, guitars squiggling all over, setting the tone for this album of rocked-up grubby glam.

A double-handed attack from A-Grade guitar heroes Mauro Venegas and Jez Leather powers the songs along, guitars slashing ‘n’ sneering, hurtling between full-on widdly skree bits, skydiving shimmers and strutting, fuzzed up, headstocks-akimbo riffing.

The glorious ‘Postcode Wars’ speaks of floaty shirts, fly-away scarves and dubiously dyed hair and is a teensy bit disco. Get the louche bass in the chorus, oh yes! ‘Greenhouse’ is deliciously hips-out-of-joint funky. ‘Offline’ is a fist in your face squall of feedback and ferocity, and the darkly luxuriant ‘Hideaway 37’ shivers with strategically placed glitter.

But the elation is cast with shadows, even as the chorus of ‘Marlborough Road’ soars skyward, pulling your heart along in its vapour stream, Alex is singing, “I fell apart on Marlborough Road”. And is that a slightly barbed remark I detect in stompy, snarly, snarky single ‘The Party’s Over’? “We might as well move to Luxembourg, though not for the sake of your bank account”.

For all the pose-striking and pop heroics, ‘In Debt’ has a ferocity of intent, an underlying defiant anger. It’s an album that delivers viciously glamorous battle songs for fighting back against the gloom. A useful arsenal in these dark times.

Thursday 30 September 2010

Indietracks - 23 - 25 July 2010, Midland Railway Centre

Oh look, my Indietracks review has been sitting half-writ on a memory stick for ages. Waste not, want not though, now the dark nights are drawing in, let’s relive the summer. Yeah. That’s what we’re doing.


Woo! We are going for all three days of Indietracks this year. Checking in at our Premier Inn (ooh! get us!) there’s time to greet The Specific Heats who have just arrived back from a fruitless laundrette search before we zoom of into the gauzy haze of a sunkissed July eve in search of pop thrills. A few hundred metres up the road from the Indietracks site, one of our car windows explodes. We stand disconsolate by a pile of shattered glass whilst insurance thingies are sorted. Then return to the Travel Inn, pop-free. Doh!


We get in a steamtrain ride first thing, listening awhile to The Lime Chalks delicate folky songs before settling in a carriage to watch the fields trundle by in the sunshine and to suffer an allergy attack seemingly brought on by the comfy old furnishings.

Back at the festival The Hillfields are opening proceedings on the Indoor Stage with their solid fare of moody jangle – a bit Chameleons-ish in parts? Respect to Rob Hillfield for his acapella vocals on ‘Canvey Island Queen’ – quite a shivery spine moment.

Next, a discovery. The Felt Tips, who I have down as a band to investigate, turn out to be great. Twangly, spangly guitars (alright, they jangle) race by and snatch your heart, Scottish accented vocals sing entertaining stories. With rudeness! There is also touching hilarity to be found in ‘Dear Morrissey’, the story of a fading hero, sung in the style of that hero, “At a rate that’s inverse to your increasing girth, I am losing my interest in you”.

Over on the Main Stage, This Many Boyfriends are EXCITED. They have party poppers and do half-arsed jumps, but we have to wriggle away from their shamblerific funpop to ensconce ourselves on a wooden pew for double church fun. First up: The Give It Ups with their nonsense, sweetly embarrassed indie-popping.

Then it’s Betty And The Werewolves. Due to the band being so ace, loadsa people want to be in the church now, but have to make do with peering sad-eyed through the windows. As ever, B and the Ws are heartwrenchingly, skyscrapingly, joyfully marvellous. They are Happy! They are Noisy! and Fast! with oh so many Tunes, and they still manage to jump up and down despite quite severe space constrictions.

We rush out of church to get all teary over The Just Joans. Like The Felt Tips, they trade in wry Caledonian vulgarity, but have a satisfying swaying-down-the-pub maudlinism, especially on the bitter-sweet likes of ‘I Won’t Survive’ and of course set closer ‘What Do We Do Now’. We all sing along with gusto “The bands we loved are dead!” (this isn’t strictly true, as the bands we loved keep peskily reforming – see tonight’s headliners) and truly, there is nary a dry eye in the house by the end.

Oddly, we then see The Smittens doing their cover of ‘What Do We Do Now’ during their main stage set. Cleverly, the Main Stage has the effect of making everyone who plays thereon sound fantastic. And so it is with The Smittens tooth-dazzlingly upbeat pop.

We laze about on the grass to The Orchids. I only ever got round to buying their first seven inch (‘cos it was on Sarah, natch), so I am a little behind on their oeuvre (Oh and there’s that flexi with The Sea Urchins). Luckily they have the good grace to play tracks from that very disc, so I can feel nostalgic to the sounds of ‘Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink’. Later, I start feeling cold to the sounds of Ballboy and so enjoy their set from a nice chair in a thoughtfully constructed gazebo/library by the tea stall.

Boo! Love Is All have pulled out of their Indoor Stage headliner spot. Hurrah! Tender Trap have stepped in and are thumpingly, tune-bouncingly good fun. One of Amelia’s small daughters can be spotted at the side of the stage singing along with gusto, whilst her mum leads the girl-group charge tambourine ahoy amidst the chunky stand-up drumming and fizzing guitars. We think it’s all over, but there’s an encore. And it’s Talulah Gosh’s ‘My Best Friend’. Aeeeeiiii!!! My friend, T, literally sprints from the bar to the front screaming (T is a man in his 40s) whilst I sing along at the top of my lungs. We are the ghosts of indiepop past!

Having enjoyed their fat men moshing Scala set earlier in the year, I stand at the front for The Primitives. Oh look, I just happen to be standing directly in front of Paul Court and his excellent taste in shirts and pointy boots and cord jeans and argh! What’s that moustache thing?! As a ‘bystander’ suggests, Court is wearing “the facial hair of a man called Raoul”. This ruins my enjoyment of proceedings slightly, as does the sensation that the band are maybe not that comfortable with their headlining status. Still, all the old faves are there to be sung along to gleefully. And Paul Court is still cool. If I squint a bit.

Indietracks 2010: Sunday

An Indietracks wedding! This morning the drummer from Ballboy gets married in the signal box and the happy couple process through an arch of drumsticks. We leave them to their kilts ‘n’ champers and go exploring the Midland Railway hinterlands in a Famous Five type way. The sun shines, butterflies bibble, Thomas the Tank Engine (really) rolls into the station and we go for a wake-up train ride.

On our return, Be Like Pablo (from the Scottish Highlands!) are fizzing up the whizzpop. Or maybe whizzing up the fizzpop. Doing jittery power-poppin’ stuff anyway.

To the church for the ever entertaining Winston Echo and his curious songs about normal things. He is entertainingly harsh with his assembled band, bawling, “Did I say you could sit down!?!” and when Jimmy of The Bobby McGees pokes his head in he is dismissed with, “You’re not as famous as you think! FUCK OFF!’ The set ends with ‘Dracula’s Disco Party’ during which we get to make monster noises, “Grrrr, arrrgh, awoooo! Etc”

We sadly forgo The Cavalcade (seen ‘em before tho – sound divine, look like fuck all) in order to scoff a veg burger whilst it still occurs to us to eat. The scoffing is carried out to the sound of M.J. Hibbert apparently slaying the crowd from the main stage and getting ‘#Happiness’ trending on Twitter – ooh! the future!

We are next washed unto the indoor stage on a tide of vodka and ginger beer to await the mighty Specific Heats. Last year they were Discovery of The Festival. This year, they are Most Eagerly Awaited. They rip-roar through a reverbin’ set kickin’ out garage/pop songs of fun times/bad times whilst flapping their paisley capes (PAISLEY CAPES!) Over at the back Keira is all a-grin bashing on the drums. Whilst up front Mat swooshes and canters back and forth wrangling his guitar with style. There are no exploding reverb tanks and no broken down guitars and thus it is the best Specific Heats set I have ever seen.

Now it is time for The Loves all-singing all-dancing (and how!) spectacular on the main stage. A Sense Of Occasion has overcome the band so that they take to the stage to the theme tune from ‘2001 : A Space Odyssey’. They are all dressed in black and white. Simon Love sports a moustache and mighty velvet cape. He hoys footballs at the audience (A Rod Stewart / Uncle Disgusting homage?) For one time only they are rejoined by Liz Love/School. What’s more there are dancing girls ludicrously go-going their way through ‘Bubblegum’ in pink tassly minidresses. A costume-change later the dancers avant garde about to ‘Can You Feel My Heart Beat?’ The songs are as ever a nosebleed pop rush through all your favourite pop history snippets. Then Jesus (Jimmy Bobby McGee again, looking hilarious/disturbing in a ghostie sheet and heart-shaped shades) comes on and gets told off for not taking his cue properly before dancing about with the go-go girls (now in silver bikinis). Come on people, what more do you want?! The Loves are, as ever, a bubbleicious popsike explosion and very funny indeed. You’ll miss ‘em when they’re gone.

We leg it to the indoors stage and just manage to catch one and a half Blanche Hudson Weekend songs. Damn! They sound good. I had meant to leave The Loves halfway through, but just could not tear myself away from the spectacle. And I’m not even interested in breasts.

We make a feeble attempt to see The Millipedes LAST EVER show in the church, but after peering forlornly through the windows and hanging about in the queue for a bit we get distracted and disappear down a chatting-with-friends rabbit-hole for quite a (hazy) while. I am vaguely aware that The Cannanes are on the main stage playing to a bewilderingly sparse crowd. When I look up again it’s time for Standard Fare. Who play a heart-gladdening set as it drizzles on our anoraked heads. A mini dust-cloud hovers above the crowd as we stomp along. Especially to ‘Dancing’.

In the merch tent there are skirts with owls on. More importantly there are advance copies of the new Shrag album. Shrag get mightier every time they play. Here they are on the main stage being VITAL, Helen singing whilst barefoot stamping, guitars scratching and clanging, playing a blood-rush mix of songs old and new, ‘Mark E. Smith’ ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ ‘Tights In August’. You can tell they’re the best just from the titles.

The Pooh Sticks have ‘reformed’ for Indietracks. Cor! This has invited much indie popstrel excitement. We wait, bated breath to see what will emerge onto the Indoor Stage. It is Hue Pooh Stick and some youngish blokes making up the band. And Amelia Fletcher doing added vocals. And it’s fabulous. They are the Indie Cheap Trick (a good thing) pure bubblegum power pop, with so many songs to sing along to, ‘Young People’, ‘Cool in A Crisis’, ‘I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well’. Hue passes out a selection of placards sporting slogans ‘Cool In A Crisis’, ‘Indiepop Ain’t Noise Pollution’. Oh! They play ‘Heroes And Villains’, I’d forgotten about this song, but all the words still come spilling from my mouth. And then there’s ‘On Tape’!!!!! so I sing and stomp righteously, like we never got to do in 1987. Sugar buzz pop high!

And so to this year’s kings and queen of Indietracks, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. In ‘our’ world where, to quote Darren Hayman, ‘When we say ‘indie music’ we mean Prittstick and Kafka, we mean wool knit and horn rimmed, we mean Xerox and Fender’, the Pains are mighty colossi, poking their heads out into the land of mainstream, being all successful and that. But Indietracks is their spiritual home, we know at heart they belong with ‘us’ and we embrace them for that.

They play a set full of love, starting with Kip’s solo, acoustic rendering of ‘Contender’, fighting their way past initial equipment problems to whisk us up in a fuzzed whirl, as the sky turns pinky-blue to navy to black. ‘This Love Is Fucking Right’ we all sing, ecstatic. The set ends, as ever, with us jumping and shouting along to ‘The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’…but then there’s lots more – a long old love-in of a set which we end up admiring from the toilet queue.

And then it’s the end of Indietracks for another year. The last furze of feedback unfurls into the dark and its time to trundle home with pop saturated hearts and whispers of next week’s special secret Pains gig sneaking into our ears.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

As for me, I’ll sit and eat a buttercup sandwich. Fave Tunes July/Aug 2010

Morning Haze – The Soundcarriers Sounding like, um, a morning haze, albeit in 1967.

Death Rattles – Woods Sparse but warm with rattly guitars, a big old humming bass and a spooky rooms at twilight feel.

Beachy Head – Veronica Falls Beat-tastic deathwish pop

Brianna - Speak And The Spells Moptops, white jeans, evil guitars, razor blades

Seasons Change – The Advisory Circle / Hong Kong In The 60s Early summer mornings and still evenings

End Of An Error - The Specific Heats Reverbingly perfect hybrid of indiepop and garage

2 To The N – Tender Trap Ver Trap sounding pretty tough in a damn catchy way

It Is Not Meant To Be - Tame Impala – Floaty and Dungen-like

And How! – The Specific Heats Sunny and jangly and heart-racing

Baby I’m An Existentialist – The Specific Heats Reverbin’, hand clappin’ garage twistyness

To B Without A Hitch – Bridget St. John Good old Bridg sounding like a cross between Nico and Nick Drake.

Way Out Hermit – Moonkyte Droney, hummy, sitar-spangled psych. Also: ‘Moonkyte’!

Just War- Dangermouse & Sparklehorse Stick Gruff Rhys singing on pretty much anything and I’m there

Runway, Houses, City, Clouds – Tame Impala Aaahh! Amazing psychprogjazz wonderment stretching out on a sunkissed afternoon

Tights In August - Shrag Your heart dribbles away as soon as the keyboard comes in and that’s before the song’s even got going

Sunday 22 August 2010

Tapestry Super Sonic Sunday, 4 July 2010, Shenley Park

We’re all going on a summer holiday…no we’re not but there is a clapped out red double decker waiting to ‘whisk’ us away for larks ‘n’ hi-jinks in the sunshine. It’s the Tapestry Super Sonic Sunday and after only the smallest amount of confusion (circumnavigating a roundabout three times in a row), we arrive at the ludicrously bucolic Hertfordshire village of Shenley.

The festival takes place within the idyllic confines of Shenley Park Walled Garden, which has been landscaped to create a grassy amphitheatre. The ‘DJ Booth’ is a cute ironwork gazebo. In one corner the Hemel Hempstead Brass band strikes up, filling in the music-free gaps before and after the first couple of bands. They provide a suitably country fete style soundtrack as cheery punters shake out their picnic blankets and peacefully swig their first pints of the day. Ahh, the pints. Everyone’s fave Farringdon joint, The Betsey Trotwood is running the beer tent and truly it is the queen of canvas booze emporia. It’s beautifully laid out, strung with fairy lights, the straw bale bar topped with gingham cloths and ooh! a wooden dresser laden with a selection of fine single malt whiskys (I shall be returning to this later). Instead of flat foamy crap lager there are fine ales and ciders to quaff, e.g. Betsey’s Festivale (a ha ha!) and ‘Barry’s Bitter’ (after organiser and all-round hero Barry Stillwell). We opt for pints of Badgers Scrumpy and Perry in keeping with the rustic theme.

The heat is oppressive – there’s not a lot of shade amongst the herbaceous borders, so we slap on the factor fifty and watch children doing mental inhibition-free dancing to the first band, The Black List – a local band for local people – who have ventured here from er, Borehamwood. As the Tapestry clientele tends to include numerous 30-40 somethings, there are quite a lot of children here having a high old time. It’s great for them as it’s only a small garden and they can be contained by the wall.

The Hemel Hempstead Brass Band treat us to a bazillion song medley (which includes, erm ‘Jingle Bells’, cheers!) and then Oldboy rampage through some ferocious boogaloo blues. They are led by Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne and his mighty firey axe licks. It all goes a bit seventies dazed and confused (if you ignore the brass band sitting nearby) with vicious boogie - like an amphetamine ZZ Top; low slung blues a la Blue Cheer; country tinged calmer moments, and a fine bit of rockabilly to round things off (this gets an old brass band geezer nodding with approval).

Mister B the Gentleman Rhymer is a whole other kettle of fish. Clad in stripy blazer ‘n’ boater combo, he strums a banjolele and raps in a simply marvellous manner. This is ‘Chap-Hop’ apparently and it really is frightfully good. Tunes include ‘I Say, You! (The Rock Steady Crew)’ and (“what on earth has happened to”) ‘Timothy’ about an old school chum of Mister B’s who has gone rather squiffy “I used to prep with him you see”. If we guess who the song is about, we are told “you may announce it gently in a Sunday afternoon way, if you wish” (it’s Tim Westwood, obv). We are also treated to Mister B’s unique take on a selection of rousing old skool bangin’ choons e.g. ‘Out Of Space’, ‘The Magic Number’, ‘I like To Move It’ &c, &c. Bravo that fellow.

We lounge in the sun, gossip with friends, peruse the fanzine stall, wander round the garden and read about its history on a handy sign-post (it dates back to the 16th Century you know). Whilst this is going on Zun Zun Egui provide a soundtrack of stop-starty art rock with whooshing synths and thunderously funky bass and drums. Sort of Field Music with afro wibbling if you please.

We are excited to discover an unadvertised addition to the bill in the form of German comedian (yes!) Henning Wehn. His set revolves around English / German stereotypes and the relationship between the two countries. Every now and then he’ll check his watch and announce how many minutes of ‘jolliness’ we have enjoyed so far. We are encouraged to clap along to a cheery German folk song, before being informed it was a favourite of the Nazi’s and is basically saying ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ By the end many minutes of jolliness have been accumulated and we feel most efficiently entertained.

After these laughs, it all goes a tad drear with The Trembling Bells. I like a spot of Fairport Convention-influenced folkie do-lallying, but give me Eighteenth Day Of May (R.I.P) with their tunes and psychy grooviness, over this slightly joyless snooze. I am disappointed as I’d been looking forward to investimagating this lot. Things perk up with the last song’s dirty prog-folk droneyness. Maybe the rest of the set was just an off day? Will try them again sometime.

The festival is running early!!!!! What??! When has this ever happened anywhere?

To soak up the booze there are organic burgers, Mediterranean salad boxes and an ice cream-dispensing bicycle. NUM! We eat our tea whilst Kitty Daisy And Lewis get the crowd up off their lazy Sunday afternoon arses to jive to their thumping jitterbuggin’ quiff-a-riffic sounds. There’s a good bit with spitty beatboxing, some mean harmonica playing and Lewis knocks out a spot of evil honky tonk piano. At one point, ska legend Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton leads proceedings, trumpet ahoy - the perfect sunshine soundtrack.

Only now its gone right nippy. We sit on a bench under a hedge to hide from the chill wind and go ahhh! warmth! when the sun peeks out. Luckily, we get ourselves all hot and bothered once The Jim Jones Revue come out to play. You can’t not dance like a loon to the JJR and their rip-snorting, filthily scuzzed rock ‘n’ roll. Best band of the day, oh yeaahhh!

It’s blimmin’ freezing now – what happened to the balmy summer eves we’ve been enjoying of late? As The Magic Numbers take to the stage, I take to the Laphroaig, attempting to conjure warmth medicinally. I also try and snuggle into the crowd to leach a bit of body heat whilst the band lead us through songs old and new. Michelle appears to have become a mean rockin’ heeled boot stompin’ mutha, flinging her bass high to give those jams a right good kicking. Angela is poorly, swigging back the cough medicine (er, not in a Codeine way), her voice breaking down so much she has to abandon croaking her way through some bits.

It’s a warmly received, set, but we’re still chilled to the bone and amble off into the darkness to see if the coach has arrived yet. Eventually it shows up and we charge on alongside ale-addled fellow festivalers, back to the big smoke. The driver insists on playing the radio, even though it’s only partially tuned in so we’re mainly listening to white noise (not in a good way). Shouts of annoyance echo up and down, there’s sweariness and drunken bickering. For a while there, thanks to Barry, we were a blissed out bunch of Londoners getting mellow in the country. Sadly, it didn’t last long.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Dansette Dansette – Tender Trap (Fortuna Pop!)

Ten years (nearly) and three albums in, it feels like Tender Trap are riding a creative high. Flanked by Elizabeth Morris and Katrina Dixon, Amelia Fletcher has created a modern indiepop girl group. This is not to belittle the rumbling bass and snaggly guitar contributed by long-term Tender Trap blokes Rob and John, but the ladies’ harmonies are truly a driving force on this record, bursting from the songs and layering them with a heart flipping loveliness that transforms the band’s music into something really special.

‘Dansette Dansette’ is Tender Trap’s homage to and update on the sixties girl group sound. The title track name-checks Sandy Shaw, Leslie Gore and The Supremes, the album is strewn with ‘Be My Baby’ drumbeats, sha la las, ba ba bas, big echoey guitars, all the ingredients that make up the kind of pop hit that’s sung in matching dresses and beehives with co-ordinated hand jiving. Only not, because hurrah! feminism has happened, so we can still thrill to sugar-sweet pop but not have to cringe because ‘girls’ can now write the songs and, you know, do tricky man stuff like play drums and guitars.

These are big catchy pop songs played with style and wit. Amelia’s silvery voice is sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful, sometimes annoyed (“We’re ready to get mean”). The guitars fuzz and grumble rather dirtily under the rollercoasting, trip-trap tumbling vocals, so one minute you’re going all shivery to the melodies, the next you catch a fizz of feedback and go ‘Yeah!’

The ba ba bas on the swooning ‘Suddenly’ are er, Heavenly, whilst the guitars crunch and reverberate in a JAMC kinda way. The Jesus And Mary Chain get a shout out (literally) on the wry ‘Do You Want A Boyfriend’, an entertaining gallop that manages to poke fun at indie boys AND inspect the notion of girl-pop en route.

The fabulous ‘Girls With Guns’ smashes dipping and diving three way harmonies up against knee trembling twangling Duane Eddy guitar to exhilarating effect. The urgent ‘2 To The N’, an energetic slice of catchiness pummelled along by some gleeful stand up drumming from Katrina, sees Amelia toying with some elementary maths –as is her want as an economics genius (see also previous album ‘6 Billion People’).

It’s not all hurtling one-two-three-four fuzzpop though, there’s room for the odd indiepop epic here; the gliding ‘Grand National’ and album closer ‘Capital L’ which manages to gather up all the elements that have gone before and build them into a heart-thumping, heart-cracking wonder that means you than have to go back to the beginning and play the whole record again.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Indietracks – Indiepop Compilation 2010

Ooh! Only a couple of weeks until we are once again plunged into Indietracks’ pop art world of waving from steam train windows, doing odd crafts, swigging beer in a retired carriage, lounging on the grass, and seeing fistfuls of thrilling bands. This year the good folks at Indietracks have surpassed themselves with the line-up as this 44 track (yeah, count ‘em why don’t you?) compilation amply demonstrates.

Here you will find current fizz pop darlings in the shape of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Love Is All, Allo Darlin’ and Standard Fare; olden tymes heroes The Pooh Sticks, The Orchids (they done a special new song here!), Secret Shine and The Cannanes. Or you can rootle out new sweet-hearts: The Felt Tips’ charming chiming; Internet Forever’s thumping sparklefest; The Blanche Hudson Weekend’s Blondie/Shop Assistants kiss-up in an echo-chamber.

CD1 ends with an invigorating shoutalong with Shrag on ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ which gets your blood pumping ready for CD2, a killer pop comp that takes in the clattery cape-pop of Veronica Falls, This Many Boyfriends’ jumpalong jittering, reverb-fabulous twanglin’ from The Specific Heats and the heart-swooning delicacy of The Middle Ones. See, indiepop can encompass a wide range of musics, The Millipedes’ wiggy Nuggets garage; a spot of breezy ukulele and trumpet wist-pop from Jam On Bread; The Just Joans’ drolly doleful smut-folk (exclusive track hereon!); gauzy bossa nova from Cineplexx; Betty And The Werewolves’ lollipop girlie-punk; La La Love You’s warp-speed hyper-pop. Not to mention the tremendous leap from the sublime to the ridiculous that is made between White Town’s Barretty ‘I Don’t Want To Fall In Love Again’ and M.J Hibbett and The Validator’s ‘We Are The Giant Robots’. It’s comforting to think that if giant robots do arrive to enslave the human race they’ll do it whilst singing this jaunty number.

There’s no excuse for not getting this record really. It’s great for building up yr festival anticipation. Play it whilst combing your wardrobe for perfect Indietracks outfits (e.g. button badges, excellently patterned frocks, way obscure tee-shirts, little corduroy caps, any kind of vaguely mod threads), or as a Derbyshire-bound road-trip soundtrack. If for some reason (what?) you’re not going to Indietracks, listen to this comp and have yr own in-house festival (stock up on fine ales, veg curry, felt badges and er, old locomotives). Finally, you can listen along whilst reliving your pop sozzled memories, looking at everyone’s Indietracks photos on Flickr and reading their hyper-charged reminiscences on the Anorak Forum. Singing on the platform, swooning in the church, dancing like a loon in front of the main stage…this’ll get your spirits soaring once the whole shebang is (sob!) over.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

You’ve been counting all the meltdowns you’ve been having. Fave Tunes May/June 2010

Harlequin – Heron Incredibly English folk rock, you can smell the overcast summer afternoons

One Last - Avi Buffalo Catchy and wistful and sunny afternoon-ish

Francis – Betty And The Werewolves Garagey in a Crystal Stilts way, sounds like strawberry ice-cream and regret.

Helicopter – Deerhunter Embraces you with soft guitars and soothes away the weariness

Radio Dept – Never Follow Suit Like hearing St Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ through the wall.

Teenage Fanclub – Baby Lee In my head this is called ‘Geddy Lee’. Sounds good when sitting in the front seat on top of a number 8 bus first thing on a summer Saturday.

Long Flight – Future Islands Like ‘Sugar’ by My Bloody Valentine playing over an Animal Collective demo.

Sweetest Star – Easter Sun Deliciously aching indiecountrypsychfolkpop for staring at wispy clouds to.

Song – Turid Magical sixties Swedish psychfolk eddying round your ankles

Great Sky Bear – The Reading Rainbow Bratty, scratchy, soar-away pop. Plus the album artwork’s great

Harmonium – The Soundcarriers The United States of drifting through the ether.